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Jessie J is obviously a very popular girl.  The queue of excited teenagers waiting to enter to The Academy tonight stretches at least a quarter of a mile. Once inside, we are treated to one of Manchester’s relatively soulless venues. More modern and purpose built, Academy 1 is the larger of the University halls, providing an adequate if rather uninspiring arena for live music.

To begin proceedings, a single musician takes the stage, tunes an acoustic guitar before playing a basic rhythm. Sounds promising until “Encore” arrive and we enter the realm of karaoke rap. The guitar is drowned out by a bass heavy backing track and Mark, Cairo and Pierre strut their stuff, the crowd going wild.  The teenagers are so hyped at the mere thought of their heroine later, David Cameron stripping could have raised a standing ovation, so please don’t be fooled. “Encore” are dreadful, every stereotypical pose and hand gesture in the book being used to maximum (or minimum, depending on your point of view) effect.  Even Scott the guitarist appeared genuinely nonplussed, laying his instrument down, strolling off stage as if to say, forget it lads, I’m completely wasted here.  “Want more encore” the lads say......... nah, just leave it for now if you will.

As if to echo my thoughts, a girl to the left screams “Thank god for instruments” as Liam Bailey and band enter stage left. (An important detail to remember for later.)  Liam is the main focus this evening after Mudkiss colleagues, Tim Verhaegen and Phil King’s respective single, and Plan B support reviews pricked my interest. Although a smooth soul singer, there’s a hint of reggae within his vocal, live he adds additional rock elements, the sound enhanced by great lead guitar work. Furthermore, Bailey is an extremely confident performer, moving on occasions similar to a young James Brown. 

After playing a beefier version of current single “You’d Better Leave me,” Baileys sense of humour is also apparent, focusing attention on a girl at the barrier, commenting “I’ve never seen anyone look as bored as you darling” before breaking into another velvety number. Aside from a heckler Liam dismisses admirably, the crowd appreciate his talents, especially after announcing “Blind Faith” a Chase and Status song Liam provided vocals for, which is met with rapturous applause.

Sandwiched between Encore and Jessie J isn’t the most comfortable position for Liam Bailey undoubtedly. Captivating a potentially hostile crowd in Manchester tonight demonstrates he has the aptitude to succeed.

I know very little of Jessie J. Some quick research emphasises the 23 year old is from Redbridge, London, neither drinks nor smokes due to experiencing an irregular heartbeat as a child and suffering a minor stroke aged 18.  On that basis alone, I stood amongst her devotees determined to approach the performance with an open mind. As a U.K No.1 recording artist, positives must surely abound.

Literally quivering in anticipation, the crowd are becoming more and more anxious for a glimpse of Jessie. A tremendous cheer fills The Academy as a curtain falls, unfortunately only allowing privacy to the road crew as they arrange the stage set, further frustrating the predominantly teenage gathering. After an interminable wait, the lights are dimmed, the curtain falls and Jessie J plus band emerge. Let me initially focus on the positives. Jessie J has a strong voice, her rhythm section play in time, the keyboard player demonstrates some nice touches and the backing vocalists, while hardly stretched, provide solid support partaking in synchronised movement on occasions.  Jessie also appears a sensitive soul, halting her performance upon noticing a young girl has fainted until the situation is under control.  Later in the gig, instead of throwing all the caps worn by the band during a certain song from the stage, she retains one for the girl in question. Her actions do however display naivety when requesting her fans “please don’t fight” over the projectiles............ In this atmosphere????

Now the negatives. Why do vocalists of the R ‘n’ B genre insist on wailing so much?  I have an overriding desire to grab Jessie J by the throat, screaming, “just sing the song and cut the extended warbling crap please.” During the (emotive) ballads, inexplicably reducing certain audience members to tears, J’s angst is enhanced by facial expressions worthy a podium place within a gurning competition. For those unfamiliar with the practise, an event during which the winner is deemed the person pulling the ugliest face.  The photographers in the camera pit must have had a field day.

Musically, difficult to hear much beyond the bass lines and drums, although I would like to take the opportunity to ask the guitarist a simple question. Why have a pedal board worthy of Matt Bellamy at your feet and use it as a foot rest.  Half a dozen pedals, pressure applied to only one appears rather wasteful.

Track list. A few vacuous ballads, some further vacuous up tempo numbers before the band exit stage left, as Jessie J heads right. Cue much hilarity.Encore. The one where Jessie sings “Price Tag” on a regular basis, followed by the “Dude” one, where she interacts with the audience, allowing them to scream “Mother fucker” with great gusto. There can be no stronger feeling of detachment, stood in a sold out Manchester Academy 1, capacity 1,500, surrounded by 1,499 overly excited revellers, totally missing the point.

Review by Andy Barnes
Video and live photographs by Emma Shepherdson