Review by Charlie Tennant, Photography by Robert Barrett
This adventurous neo-soul BRIT nominee certainly did not disappoint a packed O2 Institute. Adding new dimensions with a large band and charming moments that left many fans with a night full of momentos.
Opening the night was Gabriels, a Motown, soul, doo-wop inspired jazz act hailing from LA that offer a fresh feeling – a fitting band to support Celeste. Performing hits from their two gold mine EPs “Love And Hate In A Different Time” and “Bloodline” to an already packed O2 Institute, this engaging three-piece group, with powerful lead singer Jacob Lusk at the helm, was accompanied with backing singers, strings, drums and keys.
It really is no wonder Elton John has coined their popular hit, “Love and Hate in a Different Time”, as “one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the past 10 years”. They channel everything from the doo-wop of The Flamingos to yearning jazz and swooning soul, backed with vibrant gospel choirs with blossoms of electronic synth.
After a slightly delayed set change, likely due to technical complexities between the two large bands, the act took to the stage in complete darkness, with Celeste gliding onto stage soundtracked to a solitary cello. Embellished in a red and blue dress, a homage to Meadham Kirchhoff, Celeste emerges from underneath a veil to welcome her captivated audience to the opening night of her 8-show UK tour. A sprinkling of brass and glockenspiel build up to a new, unreleased song “On With The Show”, a song that employs Celeste’s powerful and seemingly effortless voice.
It’s worth noting here that Celeste bears a vocal range unlike anything I’ve heard before, carrying a wide soulfulness to it, and at moments we are left with just vocals in isolation, which to no surprise carry the songs on their own.
Continuing on this journey through sound, we roll back the clock, arriving at Celeste’s 2019 “Lately” EP, starting with the slow, more familiar number, “Both Sides Of The Moon”, followed by “Lately”, before strapping in for the gripping “Father’s Son”, which gradually emerges from a brass solo, with lashings of dark, heavy sound and sharp cracks of snare. The song observes Celeste’s unknowable emotional inheritance from her father, who died when she was 16. “I heard it’s in your blood, baby,” she sings, “I heard you got the same taste in your mouth.” She pushes her voice up to the roof of the historic O2 Institute venue with enormity and gloss that never fails to amaze.
Arriving at “Tonight Tonight”, a new track from Celeste’s debut 2021 album, “Not Your Muse”. This bright, upbeat number coupled with an impressive band, offer an immense depth with improvisation and solos throughout, making the night all-the-more immersive. The crowd is loving it – from the stools to the balconies, everyone is seemingly mesmerised.
“Ideal Woman” is up next, a lilting slow-burn from Celeste’s new album, almost monological in verse, which sees Celeste defying society’s stereotypes of women and embracing who you are. She travels through her own insecurities and concludes that there shouldn’t be this idea in our heads of an “ideal woman”. “May not be your ideal woman, the freedom that you’d get”, she sings, “Please don’t mistake me for a woman who cares”. This self-assuredness is a theme that is intertwined throughout the entire record.
After a brief pop ear worm, Celeste dials it back again for title track of her new album, “Not Your Muse”. With just vocals and guitar for this one, it shines a particular light on the lyrical quality, of which we learned on a Twitter listening party last year that Celeste claims “this is a song about taking ownership of myself to be and present myself artistically in the way that I want to, to be seen and heard in way which is unhindered by the particular “powers that be”.. I guess by naming my album this it was my statement to those people”.
Celeste asks the audience what they want to hear next, admitting that she’s eager to play one of her “special songs” that she was saving for later. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say not one person is the room was opposed to this idea. “Strange” is up next, and special it was, with a huge voice, lush strings and emotional lyrics, she reflects with resigned curiosity on how two lovers can become awkward strangers in the space of a breath.
Moving through more hits from her latest album, there’s certainly no drop in energy as Celeste continues to dazzle with “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos”, leading into funky “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” which has most of the audience dancing.
Celeste professes “I’m seriously a recluse. I get very scared. So thank you for coming”, before starting to wrap things up for the night with “Love Is Back”, a swaggering hit with glistening brass lines evocative of Amy Winehouse‘s ‘Back to Black’ and sharp percussion accompanied with lyrics that celebrate finding a partner who’s worthy of you.
Ending the main set with 2020 single, “Stop This Flame”, which gained popularity last year being used for the theme song for the Sky Sports Premier League coverage, fuelled by a relentless piano attack that drives the song into floor-filling euphoria.
This wasn’t enough for tonight’s crowd with the audience shaking the floor with their plea for more.
Eventually the full act return to perform an unreleased number, “This Is Who I Am” where Celeste announces, “We’re going do to one more. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t know it, because it will not disappoint.” Disappoint it did not. A gem that most will likely have never heard before; a unique moment that popular acts can rarely deliver these days.