Joss Stone with Live Orchestra | Review
The Ulster Hall, Belfast • Tuesday 10 October 2017
By Emma McKinley • Photography: Tremaine Gregg
Joss Stone has been operating somewhat off the radar following her initial commercial success back in the early 2000s. Her name is still synonymous, with an incredible vocal talent that places her firmly among some of the biggest names in Soul to date.
It’s apparent that the days of the hippie-chic, nose-studded girl are long gone. Stone, almost unrecognisable, glides onto the stage in a glamorous floor-length sequin gown, sporting bleach blonde hair reminiscent of a Hollywood starlet, who wouldn’t look out of place conducting the entirety of her performance lounging across a grand piano. Stone commences standing centre stage showcasing her immense, characteristically raspy, yet sweet vocals with Burt Bacharach’s ‘Walk on By’ complemented by her orchestra’s luscious, velvety backdrop punctuated perfectly with brass. She departs from the scarf-donned mic stand to wander barefoot around the stage, powerfully delivering a wide range of seemingly impromptu covers and her own material.
As she’s giggling and conversing with the crowd between songs – it’s hard to imagine we are dealing with the same performer. Stone’s bright, bubbly personality contrasts starkly with the heavy hitting nature of her performances. Her charms aren’t lost on the admittedly sparse audience, as she chats lightheartedly about love, heartache and tales of back when she was just a twelve year old girl lining up to audition with ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman for Star For A Night’.
Everything about the performance, despite being generally well polished, enthusiastically received and passionately delivered, lacks an overarching sense of identity. The stylistic overhaul and her impromptu song choices combined with Stone’s digressions in-between leave us a bit confused as to what she’s trying to convey. On one hand, we have a newly imagined siren with a remarkable amount of vocal maturity slaying Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and James Brown numbers; on the other, we have a shaky cover of The White Stripes that simply doesn’t fit in with anything, that left me with the feeling – it’s there just … because.
Regardless, the crowd are clearly enjoying her performance and are standing up, dancing and singing for her cover of Sugar Billy’s ‘Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin’ On Me)’ and ‘Young Hearts’. Returning to the stage to finish with an extended version of ‘A Right To Be Wrong’, she laughs in a break in the lyrics and almost doesn’t recover as everyone laughs along. She scrambles around altering the lyrics of the song to “never ever leave me alone – in an artistic but not a creepy way – as in, don’t be in the hotel room when I get back”. Concluding the concert by throwing sunflowers out into the cheering audience, reminding us all that even though the delivery may have changed; Stone, to most, will always be the ever-free, young hippie girl at heart.