British pop stars are a different caliber of performer than their American counterparts; there's an authenticity to their onstage banter. When they move from behind the shiny persona for a few moments between songs to talk with the audience, it feels like there's an actual human person underneath the glitter for all to see. Last night at the Ogden Theatre, when Jessie J was talking candidly about her life, career and the times when she wanted to "give up" (a common theme in pop star pep talks with their fans, just ask Katy, Miley, and the woman who invented it, Lady Gaga) she sounded like she meant it. Jessie J came across as humble, real and even goofy — refreshing in the world of shiny plastic people making fun dance anthems for the masses.
Just after 9 p.m., J's band filtered out on stage to the Mark Ronson Bruno Mars-laced hit "Uptown Funk." The crowd was plenty hyped and ready for Jessie, who marched out in vinyl ankle boots, a sea foam green wig (she would later reveal to us that it was, in fact, a wig) and a black mesh mini dress emblazoned with "Denver" on the front. Stomping through "Ain't Been Done" and then rolling into "Domino," the pop singer's voice immediately hit — it was powerful yet flickering, booming through the venue's always-fantastic sound system. The chatting between songs started right away and was something Jessie J would do almost as much as actually sing through out her 90-minute-plus long set.
These extended moments of conversation — which often occurred while J sat on the stage's prop staircase like it was an episode of Sesame Street — revealed that the singer had just gotten into Denver an hour prior to the show. She had driven in with the band a day before, then skipped town and flew somewhere to see her boyfriend. She also told us about her almost getting signed to a girl group, what it was like to live in Los Angeles alone and how much she loved Whitney Houston — which Jessie shared in a shortened cover of "I Have Nothing." It was interesting to hear the star's voice up against Whitney's material and it gave great context to how J clearly developed her own style.
With more than half the show devoted to singing with minimal accompaniment — songs like "Nobody's Perfect" and the Sia penned "Flashlight" — J's voice moved fluidly through the set. Whether it was by choice or the circumstance of how small the stage was for a set-up so large, Jessie and her back-up singers focused mostly on singing and very little on choreography. Also, though she eventually ripped her see-through jersey off to reveal the satin hot pants she flashed her audience with throughout the night, there was only one other costume change, which came in the form of a "shirt that said "BANG BANG" for the encore. It was nice to not be distracted by these usual pop show antics of a million wardrobe switch outs and often exhausting dance routines.
In another candid moment, Jessie J brought a young woman on stage to sing with her. These things happen often at shows like this and it is hard to tell if they are scripted or truly in-the-moment. Whatever it was, it was tears-inducing — the fan awkwardly orbited around J as they talked and sang together, the newbie's voice doing excellent battle with her idol's. By the end of the long and heartwarming segment, Jessie was crying, too. Whether a staged or impromptu show segment, it worked to bring even more humility to the British singer's show.
Jessie J's voice came through with ease on "Who You Are" and "Sweet Talker," but it was her improvisational skills that brought out her vocal strengths as the singer asked two random audience members for their names and wrote a humorous song about them on the spot. It was created right then and there to make the crowd laugh, but it also showcased J's talent for noodling her classic R&B voice around the notes of a made-up melody. She then talked about her first single "Do it Like A Dude" as she steamrolled into the dynamic anthem, now donning a leather baseball cap and having every member of her band do the same. The next costume change was the mesh dress removal — one that sent J's ensemble flying above the audience and into the hands of one lucky fan — followed by an encore that was brief and sweet. Jessie and her band returned for a stylistic remix of "Price Tag" and of course, a compelling version of "Bang Bang," which the singer held her own on without her fellow pop co-stars, Nicki and Ariana.
Like Lady Gaga's show at the Gothic Theatre in 2009, seeing Jessie J at a venue the size and demeanor of the Ogden was a special moment in time; she could only go higher from here. Being able to witness an almost-big star like J on her way up — and yes, she's had few false starts, so she's been on her way up for a while — with her crazy light show and not-so dramatic set of stairs positioned within a beautiful old school movie house like the Ogden was a treat. It was a moment her fans will not likely forget. Lucky for them, it wasn't just circumstance and setting that felt just right — Jessie J was perfectly on point, too. Next time she comes through, it will be at a venue much larger and less intimate. Those of us that were able to witness J up close and personal last night got to spend time with a pop star we will probably never be able to experience in the same cozy way again.
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