The Upcoming

Sara Bareilles at Islington Assembly Hall | Live review

Grumbling piano, thrashing chords and a collective shriek from the heaving audience welcome Sara Bareilles and her band on to the Assembly Hall’s majestic stage. It’s been seven years since Bareilles stormed the charts with her hit single Love Song, a track which has turned her into a household name and also garnered her great critical success. Since its release she has been nominated for four Grammy awards, toured and performed with the likes of Carole King and Elton John and even performed for the Obama family. Tonight, Bareilles joins a London audience for the second time on her world tour, in the wake of her fourth album release, Blessed Unrest.

A juggernaut of zealous energy, Bareilles bounds on stage whooping and screeching along with the crowd. Abounding with dry humour and scathing sarcasm, she appears as a personification of one of Lena Durham’s Girls: filthy mouthed, cracking jokes with acerbic wit always boarding on the obscene yet retaining a friendly edge and forcing you to fall under her charm. “You can call out as many song names as you want, but I ain’t gonna fucking play them,” she calls out with a wry smile, “no really I love you all,” she corrects herself, laughing giddily. Despite only three musicians onstage, Bareilles and her “mini band”, as she calls them, produce a hearty and intricate sound full of twisting layers of buoyant piano, bright guitar, shivering synth, hollow drums and whispering shakers.

Songs which when recorded often sound trite and clichéd sparkle into life in a live setting. Uncharted opens the set with bouncing piano chords played nimbly by Bareilles, intricately dotted with chirpy inflections and achingly sustained high notes. Love on the Rocks fuses sunshine melodies and gentle glissandos with melancholy growls and muddied chords, shifting cleverly into Elton John’s Benny and the Jets, who Bareilles cites as a major influence.

Highlights include a jazzed-up cover of Otis Reading’s seminal (Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay which perfectly showcases Bareille’s salacious voice oozing huskiness with artfully pained sustains and a breathtaking rendition of Come Round Soon. Blues in style, played acoustically on an electric guitar Bareillies attacks the song with a raw lustiness which swoops to dizzying heights in harrowing, Robert Plant-esque wails silencing the audience who sit entranced with pure infatuation.

Listening to Bareilles live captures her in her rawest, most elemental state; her talents as a singer and pianist become ever more striking as her repertoire unfolds. Tonight is a performance not just achieving a burst of momentary joy, but encasing the audience in an amorous warmth which lingers long after the final notes.

Alexandra Sims
Photos: Helen Parish

For further information about Sara Bareilles and future events visit here.

Watch the video for Love on the Rocks/ Benny and the Jets here: