There were two elephants in the room as Corinne Bailey Rae took the stage last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The first: Rae was without a doubt the most beautiful person in the place, and even if she wasn’t on stage, this would probably ring true. The second: The woman everyone came to see has been through some things; real life things far worse than the typical celebrity melodramas we’re used to hearing about in the tabloids. And yet, none of this affected the amazing 90-minute performance she put on with her five-piece band.
In between the release of Rae’s successful 2006 self-entitled debut and this year’s follow-up, The Sea, Rae’s personal life took an unexpected turn. Her husband, Jason Rae, died in 2008. It was the kind of life-altering event that undoubtedly makes an impact on the work of an artist, but if discussed too much can be seen as exploitative by the audience. For Corinne the former definitely holds true as most of the material from The Sea was inspired by her husband’s death. As she says in the bio on her website about The Sea, ‘It’s not contrived. It’s just open.’
NEXT PAGE: MORE ON THE PERFORMANCE AND A CLIP OF CORINNE BAILEY RAE PERFORMING ‘THE BLACKEST LILY’ WITH THE ROOTS ON JIMMY FALLON
Contrived definitely not, but heavy and weighty would probably be more appropriate words for Rae’s performance. The singer’s grace was evident from the set’s opening song, ‘Are You Here’, a haunting ballad featured on The Sea. As she strummed her electric guitar in a silver jumper, her big black curly mame swaying along with every movement of her head, Rae sang in her soft alto, with just a hint of her United Kingdom accent seeping in.
Rae continued to captivate her audience, not through the power of her voice or animated theatrics, but by the calm she displayed in each song’s performance. Tempos never hovered above a two-step-friendly medium pace and Rae’s singing was solid throughout a lengthy set that included a great Roots-Reggae flavored remake of the doo-wop cover, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You.’ When she moved into the sultry groove of her current album’s second single, ‘Closer’, Rae’s come-ons were slight, subtle, but seductive enough to have the type of men one would usually associate with throwing gang signs, throwing up hand signs in the shape of hearts.
Knowing what Rae has been through in her personal life gave nearly every element of her performance an extra gravitas. No pain was evident, as she was mostly smiles throughout the set, but when she broke into songs like ”Till It Happens To You’, from her debut, one couldn’t help but feel something different in this rendition. Sure, she was singing of a break up, but the extra weight of real-life facts triggered couples in the audience to pull each other closer, some of whom even took to dancing in secluded corners of the performance space.
By the time Rae came out for an encore to perform The Sea‘s first single, ‘I’d Do It All Again’ followed by her band’s rendition of ‘Que Sera, Sera’, the elephants that were there in the beginning of the set had been vanquished. In their place was something more obvious: In spite of all Rae has been through, her music has only grown stronger and so has she.
Corinne Bailey Rae performs The Sea’s ‘The Blackest Lily‘ with The Roots