This brilliant night of joyful, idiosyncratic pop was the 150th gig of my life – but it felt less like a full stop, and more like a new beginning.
Having fallen in love with Rae’s stunning recent album “Someone Out There”, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see her live. However, being as I am a creaky old indie girl from the 90s, I felt a little bit wary of going to this gig. What was I doing, going to see a young pop starlet who was barely born when I was going to my first gigs? Would I stand out like a weirdo amongst the young hip’n’trendy gig-goers?
However, once I got to Heaven, I was comforted to note that 43-year-old me was far from the oldest person there that night. While it’s definitely true that the crowd at Heaven skewed heavily twenty-something, I saw a fair sprinkling of grey heads, and beards that were more grizzled than hipster. And to be honest, being used to the crush and mayhem of the moshpit at indie gigs, it was quite nice to be at a gig where the only peril was the possibility of being poked in the eye by a man-bun.
The night got off to an excellent start with support from PAULi, an energetic and charismatic singer who won the room over completely. Performing completely solo, his mix of moody hip-hop beats, dramatic samples and captivating vocals made him the missing link between Portishead and Public Enemy that we never knew we needed. He was full of the joy of performing, spending much of his time at the barrier singing directly to the front row and by his own admission “living his best life”, even managing to engage the crowd of hipsters in a bit of synchronised dancing. Definitely one to watch.
Rae came on stage with her band half an hour later, with little ceremony but to massive cheers. Performing within a tubular cube which lit up in various colours to suit each song, she launched straight into the two opening tracks of her album, the serene “Push Me To My Limit” and the majestic “Reborn”, followed by “Morne Fortune” from her first album, before uttering a single word. These three songs, all soaring, blissful anthems with a touch of melancholy, showcased Rae’s breathtaking voice to perfection. I am far from the only person to make this comparison, but so many times during this gig Rae reminded me of a young Bjork in her vocal tones and mannerisms. However, while Bjork’s voice is full of a wild spontaneity and wilful eccentricity, Rae exhibits far more control and power in her voice, with an incredible, seemingly endless energy that fits well with her athletic image.
She greeted us with much warmth after these three songs, and seemed a little dazed by the crowd’s enthusiatic reaction. She promised to try and climb up the walls of Heaven later, something she had seen another artist do at this venue, though alas this never transpired. Sitting down at her keyboard, where she kept her cup of herbal tea for the evening, she sang the moody “Physical Form” before inviting us all to dance to the effervescent “Do It”.
Next up was “Cold”, which was the first song from Rae I ever heard, way back in 2015 when I was first trying to get a handle on the new music this decade has to offer. On record it is a chillingly beautiful duet on with Fryars, but for this live rendition she invited her drummer Geo to take on Fryar’s sections, and they mimicked the stances from the video as they sang.
“Wait for the Rain” began with a crash of thunder and the lamp hanging above Rae’s keyboard swinging as though we were suddenly on board a ship in a storm. The crowd enthusiastically sang along with every “Yeah-eah-eah-eah ooh-ah-ah-ah”, and then again in “Love Again” which bounced into life with its “oooh aaah” chorus.
Following this, she introduced “Dancing With Character” by telling us about a couple from Blackpool who inspired the song, and its title was taken very literally as Rae provided exaggerated balletic dance moves with the chorus.
The next three songs merged directly into each other. “Dip My Toe” and “Under The Shadows” were pop perfection but “Rose Garden” was a highlight, with its thundering techno verses subsiding into cool, serene choruses, and Rae’s voice spanning the heavens. Its ending was immense, as it devolved into a percussion maelstrom and Rae’s backing singer took centre stage to deliver some fierce dance moves.
And then “Atletico” was a storming finale, but the encore began soon afterwards with the sublime “Lower The Tone”. Rae’s solo vocoded vocals and haunting synth refrain escalated into a wonderful back and forth between Rae and her backing singer.
The end was more subdued – a short rendition of “Don’t Go” and a final, swayalong “Somebody Out There”. While I still think this is the weakest track on her album, it was a heartwarming set closer, and hopefully its Radio 2 playlisting will propel Rae towards the kind of success she truly deserves. The song reached its climax as a burly bloke to the side of the stage blasted confetti at us from a huge cannon, and then that glorious moment ensued where grown adults lose all inhibition as they leap up to try and catch a bit of colourful paper. The cannon holder was very enthusiastic as well, carrying on splattering confetti at Rae as she tried to thank everyone and receive a bunch of flowers from PAULi.
And then I was wandering out of Heaven, having acheived my 150th gig. Writing as I do on this blog about so many gigs from days gone by, from over 20 years ago, it can sometimes start to feel as though my best gigging days are behind me, and that the glory days for all my 90s faves are long gone. People of my age are very prone to bemoaning the fact that music today is just not as good as it used to be. And yet, a gig like this, seeing two remarkable performers who were born during that very decade that we 40-somethings are so nostalgic for, made me realise how untrue that is. For there is just as much amazing music around now as there was in the 90s, and it’s still all there to be experienced live here in London. I may worry that my old faves, all now surfing their fifties and sixties, won’t be playing gigs for too many more years. But with brilliant young artists like Rae and PAULi (and so many others: Dream Wife, Hollie Cook, Little Boots, Let’s Eat Grandma to name but a few), I can rest assured that there will be amazing gigs to go to for many decades to come. Even if I’m 83 and have to bring my zimmer frame and hearing aids with me.
So here’s to my next 150 gigs!