GABRIELLE + WALLIS BIRD – BRIGHTON DOME 30.10.23
This show, part of the tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the hit song ‘Dreams’ from her debut studio album, ‘Find Your Way’ released in 1993 is now half way through and the Gabrielle rollercoaster rolled into Brighton.
Some reviews earlier on the tour intimated that Gabrielle had struggled with health and vocal problems on stage. Well, that was very clearly not the case this evening when a fully fired up Gabrielle hit the Brighton Dome stage. Clearly whatever had gone before was not on show as we were treated to a quite stunning and commanding performance.
From the first moment when the lights dropped and with an audience waiting on tenterhooks the band and backing singers entered, arms up and clapping and working the audience from the very first note you just knew that this was going to be a special night. With the audience already on their feet Gabrielle sashayed onto the stage and there was no holding her back as the first musical swathes of set opener ‘Thank You’ filled the auditorium.
The stage design itself was stripped down with a limited number of side stage lights, a ruffed curtain backdrop and two risers on which the keyboards and drums sat; it left the rest of the stage for Gabrielle and the band to command. In its way the minimalism of the set actually enhanced the visual side of the show producing a more intimate experience.
This was a night based around a complete crowd pleasing set and what was pleasing was that the big hit numbers were not kept until the end of the performance but were liberally scattered throughout the show. In fact, by breaking out the likes of ‘When A Woman’, ‘Give Me A Little More Time’ and ‘Sunshine’ as the opening songs she set a very high standard for the night. Certainly, it was a great way to open the show and the reaction from the audience who remained on their feet throughout was indicative of the quality of the music and the feel good vibe being extolled throughout.
With thoughtful banter with the audience and explanations and stories built around the songs it enabled Gabrielle to open up and explore the background around some of her past issues and the songwriting processes and ideas that developed into these well known songs. This led to some meaningful, personal and enlightening insights into her thoughts and views at the time as they developed into song material, sometimes as a means of expressing the ideas that were developing, and become the tunes that were to become so popular, and which the audience were calling out for.
After half an hour on stage Gabrielle left and the band took control for two songs, both cover versions. The first the Whitney Houston powerhouse ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and then the Ultra Naté song, ‘Free’, which kept the tempo up and showed the audience the musical ability of the band whilst keeping the audience engaged.
Gabrielle returned to the stage to the Womack and Womack tune ‘Teardrops’, which brought about serious audience participation and singalong.
The set then took a more sedate turn with Gabrielle and the band pulling up chairs in a semi circle for an acoustic session. This enabled the band to take a set of three songs and strip them back to their bare bones, yet adding differing musical textures and dimensions to the pieces. It also enabled Gabrielle to open up vocally and to show the nuances over her vocal ability. As we know Gabrielle has a beautiful soft smoky and hazy vocal, which at times provided an almost melancholic hush to her voice. She has a beautiful, soft and gentle tone, and by playing ‘Walk On By’, ‘Shine’ and ‘Young And Crazy’ a song about living life disgracefully, in this form enabled her to expand and widen the musical form.
Finishing with a rousing ‘Rise’ the audience were singing along to this well known tune and with the crowd singing and the band still playing Gabrielle departed.
However, it was a short break before she returned for the encore which comprised her two most famous hits, being the obligatory ‘Out Of Reach’ and then closing with the anniversary tune ‘Dreams’. If the atmosphere in the auditorium was electric beforehand it moved up another level. With hands held high and voices raised the participation took on another level as they accompanied the band. And so the show was over, ninety minutes after starting, yet the time flew and it did not seem that as the minutes ticked past in an euphoric and delightfully entertaining evening. Gabrielle’s voice was as strong as ever and her stage presence was undeniable. Certainly those seeing the latter stages of the tour will be in for a cracking night.
‘When A Woman’
‘Give Me A Little More Time’
‘Don’t Need The Sun To Shine’
‘Place In Your Heart’
‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ (Whitney Houston cover)
‘Free’ (Ultra Naté cover)
‘Teardrops’ (Womack & Womack cover)
‘If You Ever’
‘Walk On By’ (Bacharach/David) [Acoustic]
‘Young And Crazy’ [Acoustic]
‘Out Of Reach’
Wallis Bird is a Meteor award winning singer-songwriter who applies numerous musical elements to her pieces from acapella delivery through to folk, soul and rock influences. With the support set limited to twenty minutes she was limited with the number of songs that she could play. That said she used the time to the maximum effect with humorous interludes between songs and a variation to her style and delivery.
Arriving on the stage, she bounded on, advising she was going to play for four or five hours, with perhaps another hour after which received the appropriate humorous reaction. Bravely she opened with the title track of her 2016 release ‘Home’, yet sung simply in an acapella style allowing her voice to carry the tune, which is a celebration of being yourself and being comfortable and feeling at home with yourself and who you are.
Picking up her guitar the tune ‘Life Is Long’ followed, with an anecdotal story concerning drunken parents. Interestingly this piece had a complexity in musical style that had a serious Joni Mitchell resonance about it.
‘Love, Peace And Respect’ followed, with Wallis moving around the stage like a dynamo, a pocket rocket working the audience and bringing an intense energy to the show. Though not what I would consider to be a typical support act for this type of show, she was well received and got a rapturous response to the songs.
The set closed with a cover of 4 Non-Blondes ‘What’s Up?’, a song she joked that she had written a couple of weeks before which had the audience completely involved and singing loudly along with her.
Though short this was a powerhouse of a performance. For those who enjoyed this taster of Wallis ability she is playing a show in Sussex in 2024 at Trading Boundaries near Fletching on 12th April. Tickets available HERE.
Wallis Bird setlist:
‘Life Is Long’
‘Love Peace And Respect’
‘I’m So Tired Of That Line’
‘What’s Up?’ (4 Non-Blondes cover)