Some shows give you the sensation of watching a career burst into life but tonight felt less like an arrival and more like the discovery of a fully formed star. Jade Bird, from Hexham in Northumberland, may only be 20 but she has a timeless and ageless quality about her, enabling her to hold the crowd at the Green Door Store in the palm of her hand throughout the entirety of her first ever Brighton gig. BBC Music have already recognised the potential with their addition of Bird to their Music Sound of, 2018 longlist, and she has been generating a large buzz on the other side of the Atlantic where they obviously lap up country-tinged singers. With all that in mind, it was no surprise that this show sold so well with many curious onlookers amongst the already converted.
Support came from Jack Vallier, a likeable singer-songwriter who strolled onto stage at bang on 8pm and then confessed that the first song would have to act as a soundcheck too. As a poppy, male guitar-based singer-songwriter he is already swimming in congested waters stylistically, but he certainly knows his way around a tune and has a great stage presence too. ‘Rebekah’ (named after an ex), was a particular highlight and there was more than enough here to justify keeping more than one eye on Vallier as he releases more material.
Appearing on stage in a red boiler suit and in possession of a wild and wicked laugh, Jade Bird commanded attention instantly. Disarming the audience with her personality, it made the impact of her voice even more powerful following such a relaxed and light-hearted entrance. When singing a gentle track such as opener ‘What Am I Here For’, it has both a purity and gentleness that pierces the heart but on songs such as ‘Cathedral’, it becomes throaty and raw – channelling the spirit of outlaw singers from across the decades. Singing solo until joined by her band for the aforementioned ‘Cathedral’, it was the very first time that her band had played together live. “Wow, that was like ripping off a plaster” she laughed afterwards, but any nervousness on her behalf was misplaced. The crowd were hanging off her every word, and every song was met with a fierce and rapturous applause.
Her reputation as a country singer is, truthfully, not quite telling the whole story. ‘Good Woman’ was a fantastic blues stomp, her phenomenal voice being supplemented superbly by the band now around her. New song ‘Anniversary’ (described as the “anti-Lottery” song with its lyrics: “Baby thanks for leaving me, happy anniversary”) made the leap from a rootsy sound to more straightforward pop-rock. Her adaptability was impressive to behold, and she was like a force of nature tearing through the set list at breakneck speed. It takes some guts to cover an icon like Kate Bush, but Bird successfully nailed this with her piano version of ‘Running Up That Hill’ before an effecting, emotional performance of ‘If I Die’ showed that she literally has everything at her fingertips.
Describing ‘Uh Huh’ as, “Like a punch in the face”, that could only mean that her most famous track ‘Lottery’ was like a glorious reviving breath of fresh air. Bird has spoken of her intimidation at reading the lyrics to The Lumineers songs after discovering that her producer had also worked with them, but lines like: “You used to tell me that love is a lottery, and you got your numbers and you’re betting on me” proved that she is easily capable of this and much, much more. Closing on the uproarious ‘Going, Gone’ and a stunning cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’, the night was over far, far too quickly. It’s hard to describe just how impressive this show was – it is certain to be a night that far more people claim to have witnessed than were actually there. It defied categorisation, dipping easily into blues, country, folk, piano ballads and pop and mastering every one of them. Jade Bird is already making some very special music. If this is just the beginning, then it’s scary to think of what is to come.