There wasn't a lot of between-song banter last night as Corinne Bailey Rae kicked off her North American tour at a benefit concert for KCRW.
Taking the stage in a simple black halter jumpsuit, she was pretty much about the business of making music. But that business was far from cold or detached. Performing a set that drew primarily on both her eponymous 2006 debut CD and this year's critically acclaimed follow-up, The Sea, Rae and her band were nearly flawless from start to finish.
Only a momentum thwarting mid-set Q&A with KCRW's Jason Bentley threw a wrench in the evening. Though it did reveal her to have a sly sense of humor - she got in a great, playful dig at Kanye West - and allow her to gently swat away any Oprah-esque pimping of her late husband's death.
Working with the same band that appears on the new album, she injected the songs with heavy guitar riffs and old-school R&B grooves, but perhaps the most powerful element of the concert was the way it illustrated Rae's full-scale musicality beyond any notes strummed. She fully immersed herself in the music, liquidly caressing the air and swaying her hips during a slow-burn soul jam version of "Closer," closing her eyes and riding the grooves of "Feels Like the First Time," tapping into something of the Vibiana's own history as she underscored the hymnal aspect of "Love's On Its Way" against a backdrop of flickering white candles, and turning the covers "Que Sera Sera" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Bird" into rousing barn burners.
Though the sound in the Vibiana was stellar, the sound levels were often off, mushing Rae's lovely lead vocals deep in the mix. But when it was just a girl and her guitar, as in the beginning of "Like a Star," Rae was sublime, proving yet again why she's one of the best live performers around today.