Live Review: Jessie Ware at Alexandra Palace, 18/11/23

The disco diva sets Ally Pally free with a sequinned, floor-filling ode to pop pleasure

“That! Feels Good!”, purrs Jessie Ware. Her opening line, title track and title of her fabulous new album, seducing the crowd at Alexandra Palace for the second of two sold out shows. Or rather, we should say, ‘Mother of Pearl’, her alter ego for the night who has transformed the venue into ‘The Pearl’, North London’s hottest new Pleasure Palace. “Do it again” she coaxes, “Do it again”. 

There can be a sense of resentment at an Ally Pally gig; begrudgingly made to trudge up a giant hill in Zone 3 only to find an even bigger queue at the summit. Any such feelings are absent on this occasion, and occasion is certainly the feeling. The audience is resplendent in sparkles, satins and yes, pearls. Billy Porter can be spotted in an oversize cowgirl hat, mega-watt smile beaming, lavishing hugs upon the children. If it’s good enough for Billy, it’s most definitely good enough for us mortals. 

And how good it is. After the modest success of third album, Glasshouse, Jessie underwent something of a reinvention, or reclamation of herself, with the dancefloor-centric lockdown opus, What’s Your Pleasure, before doubling down into glorious Disco Diva-on-High sexual excess with her latest. Peers such as Kylie and Roisin Murphy have been holding the disco revival flame for years, but no one embodies the spirit of disco motherhood to queer family better than Jessie. Entering in flowing carnal-red chiffon, she prowls the stage, writhes with scantily clad male dancers and commands her family to get loose and “pour the love like strawberry rain”.

The setlist is comprised almost entirely of her last two albums, and it is obvious that is exactly what the children are here for – dancefloor emancipation. A rousing four song opening including, ‘Shake the Bottle’ and ‘Pearls’ ends with first outfit change and first chat of the night, all charm and gushing gratitude. The next section lowers the tempo with sultry jams like ‘Hello Love’, culminating in a big reaction to soulful career highlight, ‘Remember Where You Are’. Another outfit change and extended banter, “I have nothing profound to say”, instead, a firm emphasis on enjoyment and the importance of live performance. She mentions a five-star review for last night’s show and comically defies the reviewers in the room to deny her the further bounty of accolades that she knows are coming her way tomorrow. 

A rare glimpse of pre-Diva Jessie is next with aching ballad, ‘Say You Love Me’ from 2014’s Tough Love. An opportunity to really express her impressive vocal chops, and proof that she can Adele, if she wants to. She doesn’t, particularly, as things get raucous and nasty with ‘Freak Me Now’, the crowd really getting down. The home stretch is filled with banger after banger leading into the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night, ‘Beautiful People’. That is until she enters into the crowd for an encore of Cher’s ‘Believe’, igniting a deafening sing-a-long, before closing with an energetic rendition of ‘Free Yourself’.

Jessie exhibits a masterful command of the audience, and the setlist, with its tempo shifts and wonderful peaks, as her outfits change with the mood from red to blue to black to gold, are expertly curated. In a night filled with joyful affirmations, the one that sticks out most, is the quietly political: “Pleasure is a right”, which has been instilled in 20,000 people over the weekend, and that does feels profound.

Photo credit: Erika Goldring/FilmMagic