Although a Brighton native, Elli Ingram doesn’t often play here. Speaking to us just before the show, she told us it’s because she wants every hometown show to be special, and to be able to give everything to her crowd – and she wasn’t kidding. Her performance was a moving return to a loving audience, where, straddling soul, jazz and hip-hop, she delivered an exceptional rendition of her debut album Love You Really.
Glittering (literally) at the front of her band, Ingram eased us in with ‘Getaway’, its soft and smooth verses building to a defiant, optimistic chorus. The breezy refrain: “Things are gonna get better from here”, pushed against others like: “These motherfuckers trying to bring us all down”, which she almost spat rather than sang. It’s typical of her songs, which often walk a tightrope between light and dark, smooth and harsh.
Built on a churning bassline, next track ‘Sweet & Sour’ challenged any preconceptions of Ingram as a candle-lit crooner – she and her band drew on everything from hip-hop to funk, inviting her crowd to move with them while Ingram told stories with her melodies, relaxing into her songs and playing with her vocals. Tracks like this, ‘All Caught Up’ (an earlier track from her The Doghouse EP), with its catchy main line, and ‘Sleeping Pill’, which would close the show, ensured the audience didn’t lack for energy.
Having said that, when Ingram slows it down, she does it exceptionally well. ‘Rocket’, while undeniably “schmoozy”, as she put it, was an authentic and charming engagement with jazz of the Billie Holiday era. Slower songs like ‘Bells Club’ saw her step back and give her band the space to shine – which they did, without a doubt. ‘Stone Cold’, its tempo dropped by half from the album version, was a hair-raising and emotional rendition that saw Ingram push at her most powerful vocal performance. Songs like this gave glimpses of a voice that, unleashed, can pierce right through you – although, whether to save her voice or to leave you wanting more, she never quite seemed to cut it loose, always pulling back just at the moment the goose-bumps started to rise.
From ‘Better Alone’, early in the set, Ingram was joined by a chorus of her fans, for whom the feel-good and empowering lyrics proved irresistible. They would be her backing singers throughout, turning the “Heys” of ’Before the Funeral’ into a joyous throwback to 90s golden-age hip-hop. They sang the Kendrick Lamar cover that kick-started Ingram’s career word for word, and continuing the chorus of ‘Sleeping Pill’ after she had left the stage. The level of support was warming to see, and gave her the space to feel confident and, as she predicted, give everything.
Most captivating was how personal it felt. Going to see Elli Ingram live is to know her, and she made everyone in the crowd, old or new fan, feel like a close friend. We met her mum and gran (who sang along the loudest from the front row), her boyfriend, (who was manning the merch stand), and she told us all about her dad. As is normal for a debut album, the influence of her icons can be felt on Love You Really – but it’s an incredibly strong first offering, which comes alive and grips you in its performance. I’ve had it on repeat since the show, and am now counting the days until her second release.