Last night, legions of Minneapolis music industry professionals and curious fans filled every corner of the Dakota Jazz Club in search of the answer to one question: Is Emeli Sandé, recent winner of a Critic’s Choice BRIT Award, current top-selling artist in the U.K., and new signee to Capitol Records, worth all this hype?
The EMI rep sent to warm-up the crowd and build even more anticipation for Sandé before she performed certainly seemed to think so, as he promised the crowd that this would be the last time she would play in a venue the size of the Dakota in the United States. But all that hyperbole melted away as soon as Sande emerged and sang her first note. It was obvious from that first song, “Heaven,” that Sandé is already accustomed to playing huge venues back in England, and her voice rang out so powerful and crystalline that it practically overwhelmed the acoustics of the room. Looking like a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and pop phenom Robyn, Sandé slowly pivoted to sing directly to every far corner of the room, and the audience quickly became transfixed.
Musically, Sandé sounded like Rihanna playing a stripped-down set for MTV Unplugged; her backing band was sparse and almost too simple, with just an acoustic guitarist, electric cellist, and drummer plodding behind her cyclical melodies. Everything was arranged so that her voice would be at the center of the songs, but it would have been nearly impossible to drown her out. When she returns in August to open for Coldplay at the Xcel Energy Center, I’m curious if she’ll beef up her stage show with a larger band, perhaps a full string section, or experiement with more bass. (These songs are practically begging to be chopped up into club mixes.)
Her songwriting is quite straightforward, but the more pop-oriented, basic song structures seem to complement the nature of her voice well. Still, it was in her looser, more exploratory moments — the build-up on “Daddy,” set closer “My Kind of Love,” and the emotive encore “Maybe” — where the full range of her voice was on display, and the crowd responded especially well to those runs.
Sandé’s stop at the Dakota was only her fourth show ever in the United States, and came immediately following appearances in larger markets like New York and L.A. Given how poised and personable she was in front of a sea of industry reps last night, I can only imagine how well she’ll perform when she returns to play that big arena later this year. Her full-length debut, Our Version of Events, will be released in the U.S. on June 5.
For more from Sandé and to hear some of her songs live, check out the in-studio session she did with The Current’s Mark Wheat here.
Next to Me
Where I Sleep
Every Teardrop is a Waterfall (Coldplay)
Breaking the Law
My Kind of Love