No doubt about it, the Cavern is an old school venue. A perfect setting then for a new artist with an old school vibe glowing in her work. After a dozen or so dates throughout her UK tour, Jade Bird delayed her show in Exeter in order to work on her album. I can tell you it was well worth the extra wait.
The Cavern was dense, dark, diverse. A crowd of 150 tried to get a view without treading on each other’s toes as the only light leaked in from the bar and the stage. I found a spot by an archway and dug in for the night. The audience was more mixed than I thought. Students, couples of 30 and 40. There was no ‘Jade Bird-fan’ stereotype. Somehow her music has passed through and united groups of otherwise un-associated folks.
Bird didn’t need any time to ease into the set. Emerging by herself, she picked up a guitar and after a brief hello kicked off with ‘What Am I Here For,’ just herself and that distinctive white acoustic which she wielded all night. The silence of the crowd was something else. A silence packed with awe and expectation. The crowd was captured, ready to listen on. And listen we did.
The three-piece backline joined her afterwards. One bass, guitar and drums. That’s all that was needed. No excess, no special arrangements. Just turn up and play. It suited the tunes and the attitude perfectly.
They jumped into ‘Cathedral’ after a quick adrenaline-fuelled greeting from Jade. She had a nervous energy all night, but you could tell she was loving it. Making spontaneous comments and later hailing that Exeter “is going to be favourite show” of the tour, she was riding the tour wave. It was really nice to see someone so naturally and genuinely embrace the buzz of playing live.
After ‘Cathedral’, ten more people seemed to appear from the bar to hear ‘Uh Huh’. I didn’t like it that much when it first came out. But having heard it live, I get it. Bird nailed every single note, and set a bar that she would reach all night. ‘Good Woman’ followed, and the crowd started to find their voice. You could hear that echo of half the audience singing the lyrics back at the stage.
Then Bird played ‘Furious,’ herself and her acoustic. Nothing else. In my notes for that song, I only wrote two words: “Damn, son.” She didn’t miss a beat. Such an expressive voice with such control. The highlight of the set, no question.
Bird was generous in giving the crowd material from her upcoming album. I counted at least eight songs that she has yet to release, five of which came in the middle portion of the set. While it was intriguing to see what she was working on, you could feel the lack of familiarity slowed the pace. Perhaps too much. However, she did play almost all her releases to date. So beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.
The surprise moment was a rendition of The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ (I know!). It was here you could see the chemistry of Bird and her touring band. There was a sense that they were letting out their inner kids, just having fun playing a silly song on stage. A really refreshing moment, and a great surprise.
60 furious minutes and 15 songs later, she was done. She and the band had a quick break and then returned for an encore. She finished the night with ‘Love Has All Been Done Before.’ A spunky, high energy finish keeping in with her style. All-in-all, a high-energy, head-nodding, scream-along show. Well worth price of admission.
A couple of takeaways. First, I came in expecting a good show, I walked away with a signed vinyl and a chance to have a down-to-earth chat with Jade after the venue pretty much cleared. And I can report she’s as genuine as her music. A sweet, chatty personality and another standout female artist on the scene in ’18, up there with Anna Pancaldi and Rosie Carney. A pleasure to listen to, and to talk to.
Second: people are watching her. Early in the show, I was tapped on the shoulder as I wrote notes for this review and was asked what I was doing. After I explained I was reviewing the show, the fellow introduced himself as a local festival promoter who was considering booking Jade to play in the Summer. After the show finished, I turned to him and said: “I’d put her on if I were you.” I see good things ahead for Jade Bird.
Jade Bird will be joining Hozier on tour in the US, kicking off on 10th March in Buffalo, NY and culminating on 14th April in Spokane, WA. Tickets available here.