‘Keeva’s intimate musicality and Jalen’s dance-inducing tracks made it a night to remember.’
Casually walking into the near empty room, Keeva took to the stage for what was to be a highly intimate performance. Without mention of the track’s title, and with the room containing only a few others, I assumed I was seeing the sound check. As it turned out however, this was the start of her set. And what a set it was to be.
Bearing in mind that there were a handful of people in the audience as Keeva performed her opening tracks, you may think that the performance quality and enthusiasm would be lacking. After all, playing to a near empty room could feel like you’re practicing at home. However, being one of the fortunate few to hear her perform, the atmosphere – yes there definitely was one – was that of intimacy and a sense that this was a performance created especially for us.
Moving through her set, Keeva perfectly showcased her down-tempo soul meets blues musicality and with each track becoming increasingly enticing, the sound travelled through to the bar, encouraging the audience to grow. And as it did so, her acknowledgement led to a real moment of realisation. Chatting to her audience between tracks, Keeva showed us a different personality: One of a lighthearted and cheeky nature. It was a world away from her emotional tracks. Really proving this, at various points in her set she reminisced with us about previous performances, shared anecdotes of when songs were written and expressed how much a fan she was of Jalen. It was actually quite endearing.
While the majority of Keeva’s set was formed of original tracks – none of which were the previously released and reviewed Whiskey – a cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ found its place near the mid-point. Gently stating its relevance in today’s society and self accompanied by lightly swung guitar, her vocal made it a cover that felt original and just as captivating her own tracks. In short, Keeva provided a privileged and select audience with a set full of connection and enticing musicality.
With the first half of the evening being of such an intimate nature – and having not been to a gig at The Islington before – I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jalen N’Gonda‘s set. Sure it was going to be a great set – just much as Keeva’s was – but would his more full on sound suit a small audience? And how would would it work in a venue such as this? However, as quickly became apparent via the sheer volume of the audience – both in number and actual volume – this set was to transport us a world away from the intimacy of Keeva’s.
Getting caught up in the growing crowd, I quickly found myself switching from reviewer to audience member. Positioning myself as close to the front as possible, (well recommended in smaller venues,) I was perfectly placed for getting a sense of the atmosphere. Even without Jalen, or his band in the room, there was a buzz. This was real enthusiasm and as the band made their way through, shortly followed by Jalen, this enthusiasm erupted with a roar of delight.
Throwing us straight into his 50’s and 60’s soulful sound, there was little chance of the set having a so-called ‘warm up track.’ This was no-nonsense. Not even an introduction of what the track was. In truth, it didn’t matter as we were already with him. We wanted a good time, and Jalen, with his infectious musicality ensured we would have a great one right away. With pseudo-60’s style dance moves a plenty, the atmosphere was one which was perfectly summed up by Jalen himself: ‘It feels more like a Friday night than a Wednesday!’ And it certainly did.
Moving through his set, Jalen ensured that we had plenty of opportunities to feel part of the performance, and with effortlessly catchy lyricism such as his, it was impossible not to. However, while this feel good enthusiasm from the crowd was overflowing for the majority – particularly on the choruses of ‘Easy Street’ and ‘I Guess that makes me a Loser‘ – Jalen managed to craft his set as such that we went with him wherever he musically wanted to take us. Perfectly demonstrating this, his solo renditions of ‘When You Belong To Me’ and the spontaneously crowd-harmonised ‘Holler‘ took us a world away from the 60’s inspired party and made for captivating listening.
Taking us back to the full sound prior to Jalen’s solo tracks – during which his band had a much needed few minutes away from the rising temperates within what I will call ‘the sweat box of enthusiasm’ – they made their way back to the stage. Re-energising the set, the thumping kit and guitar led ‘We Fell Out Of Love‘ was as crowd pleasing as anything. Well, when I say crowd pleasing, it was actually much more than that and surrounded by devoted fans, those 60’s style dance moves became more apparent than ever.
However, while this sounds like it would have been the perfect close to the gig, it was nothing compared to what was still to come. Giving us a performance of his latest track ‘Don’t You Remember‘ followed by the groove inducing ‘I Need You‘ we were left wanting more. Thankfully, Jalen realised there was nothing he could do but return for a showcase encore featuring ‘Why I Try‘ and ‘Easy Street.’ With Keeva’s intimate musicality and Jalen’s dance-inducing tracks, it was a night to remember.