In a sold-out concert introducing largely unfamiliar material from her recent jazz-influenced album Starlight and peppering through her best-known hits, Joan Armatrading offered a well-received performance. But it was also one which didn't consistently ignite until the final third when she strapped on an electric guitar for some bristling rock which included Me, Myself, I and Drop the Pilot then closed with one the finest of her recent songs, the reflective and sophisticated Summer Kisses, which made up for some of the earlier inconsistency.
While her headset microphone freed her up to roam the stage, she sometimes appeared a little lost while pacing and dancing in front of her three-piece band (bass, drums, keyboards). For the first handful of songs the vocal sound was poor with audible pops, and she was weak in the higher range. It was a case of applauding the singer and the songs which had become part of people's lives, rather than her performance. And new songs like Close to Me came across as lightweight (LA jazz of the 80s came to mind) in the context of her best material.
However by mid-set the sound improved, she found her pace and songs like the terrific Weakness in Me (one of her most emotionally affecting songs) were exceptional and ushered in an increasingly powerful and engaging second half with Cool Blue Stole My Heart and the big chord sound of Call Me Names.
Casually dressed in sandals and a sweatshirt - which rather undercut the cooler, sophisticated material - Armatrading enjoyed an informal relationship with her audience which was also enthusiastic in its applause for local openers The Bads. Their short but impressive set of songs from their new Travel Light album was delivered as an acoustic trio which left them no room to hide but spotlighted their considerable instrumental skills and the assured voices of Dianne Swann and Brett Adams.
So a concert which began and ended very well, but also one when Armatrading sometimes didn't quite spark - as she did in 2007 on the back of her Into the Blues album, an idiom dialled down for this concert - until she found her spot.By Graham Reid Email Graham