Gabrielle @ 02 Institute 8 August 2018

Gabrielle is an icon.  She has forged her own path since first breaking the charts in the early 90’s and she has consistently achieved this under her own terms.  Gabrielle has co-written all her songs and been enormously successful with them; she is not a front or a vehicle for someone else’s talent.. she is the real deal.  “I write the melodies, the chorus, the top-lines, the lyrics,” she says. “Those choruses people have been singing for years, every melody, that’s me. This is who I am.”  Later this month Gabrielle releases her new album ‘Under My Skin’ and this tour in intimate venues gives her fans a taste of it, as well as celebrating the last 25 years of her career.

Due to Gabrielle’s iconic status I am not completely surprised to see the line of fans queuing to get into the Institute.  When it snakes around the College building on Floodgate Street I think to myself, blimey!  After standing in line and getting my guest ticket from the Box Office I walk up the stairs into the Institute’s main room, because that is where I expected her to be.  The music is booming, the light show is magnificent and the stage is empty.  I am little surprised because there are no instruments on stage, but guess they are maybe behind a curtain… but something doesn’t seem right.  For one, the audience are very, very young, and they are also extremely colourful and flamboyant.  I then think back to the long line outside and the missing support act, and go back into the lobby, where I am informed Gabrielle is downstairs in the Library Room.  I later find out that 10’s Across the Board are playing the packed main room.  That’s the problem with a guest ticket, you can get in any room.

Like the main room, the Library is also packed, which explains the size of the queue outside, and the support Jasmine Douglas is mid-set blasting out his polite soul, backed only by an acoustic guitar and simple percussion.  He has a stunning voice that seems to be able to reach notes normally reserved for female sopranos.  As good as his voice is though, I didn’t really feel the songs or arrangements did anything except direct your attention to how good his voice is.  A great voice still needs a great song; and if to illustrate the point perfectly, here is Gabrielle.

From her media persona I had expected a detached and super cool diva, but Gabrielle could not be further from that.  Yes, she still looks spectacular and stylish, but when she addresses her devoted audience, she is like your best mate; laughing and rabbiting on in a wave of nervous excitement.  It is so endearing.

Some artists are extremely reticent when it comes to gigs promoting their new album, especially after a long break away from the music business.  It seems like they will play it safe by bolstering their setlist with as many old hits as possible to satisfy the fans.  Gabrielle doesn’t do this, oh no, she is so supremely confident in this new work she plays seven songs from ‘Under My Skin’ – out of a set of 17 songs (15 if you count the medley as one track).  That’s almost half of the set!  What is she thinking?!  Well, for a start, the other songs are certified golden and platinum, so even if she just played these you would not feel short-changed.  But the thing is, the new album is f*ing fantastic.  In my review of ‘Under My Skin’, I hinted that the songs all sounded like singles, hit singles, so when they are included amongst actual hits, they do not seem out of place at all.

Opening song ‘Show Me’ is like a statement of intent, but more like “I’ll show you!”  It is a joyous injection of 21st Century soul soaked in a 60s Motown vibe that has always influenced Gabrielle’s sound.  But her songwriting is so good, it doesn’t come over as a pastiche; it feels totally hers.

The older songs in some ways are in a more precarious position, as we have a frame of reference for them.  We know how good these songs sounded on record, but will she still be able to perform them as well now?  Well I can say categorically, Yes!  Gabrielle’s voice is stunning.  She has a unique, unmistakable sound and it is still as good as ever.

Gabrielle’s band (guitar, bass, keyboards and drums) complements her voice perfectly, along with two backing vocalists who blend beautifully with her.  It’s too easy to make a comparison to The Terrell-led Supremes, so I will.  They just sound that good.

The set is perfectly paced with the songs everyone knows punctuating the new ones.  It is amazing to someone like me, who I guess you could describe as a casual fan, how many of Gabrielle’s songs I know, almost word for word.  They feel a part of me.  And I guess this is what Gabrielle is illustrating with the new album title; she makes music with such honest intentions, and from such personal experiences, that you feel they could be about you too.  So although the phrase ‘under my skin’ can have negative connotations, Gabrielle is channelling Cole Porter here.

‘Rise’ ends the storming set beautifully with the backing vocalists coming to the fore singing the Dylan melody that loops throughout the track.  Three encores end the night perfectly, again with the mix of new and old: ‘Out Of Reach’, the only good thing about that damned film; the new single ‘Shine’; and naturally, ‘Dreams’, with the audience in full voice.  I realise that I keep singing the chorus incorrectly when I say: “You know you’ve got to have ‘em”, instead of “have hope”, but when you get a lyric wrong for 25 years it is not easy to change.  Thankfully Gabrielle has not changed either, and her new music and stunning live show proves she is still a contender for gig and album of the year.

Despite Gabrielle’s immense talent and her startling career so far, tonight’s gig shows she is able to remain humble and down to earth.  It is so good to see her back.

Gabrielle’s mini tour continues through August (with some nights already sold out), and the album ‘Under My Skin’ is out on the 17th.  Pre-order it now.

13/08 – Gorilla, Manchester

14/08 – King Tuts, Glasgow

16/08 – Trinity, Bristol

17/08 – Jazz Café, London

Setlist:

Show me

When a woman loves her man

Give me a little more time

Thank you

Put up a fight

Under My Skin

Sunshine

Breathe

Stronger

Every Step

Goin Nowhere / I Wish / Because of you

Rise

Encore:

Out of reach

Shine

Dreams

 

Reviewer: Alan Neilson

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