Rushing to the Fine Line Tuesday night I was surprised by a young, gregarious crowd lining the block, anxiously waiting to be let in. For those of you that are not aware, Minnesota has skipped spring altogether. Summer is officially here and you know what that means… tons of live music and hot & sweaty sold out shows.
“I can’t believe this show sold out,” I thought to myself. My friend and I joked about the “enigma” Minneapolis can be when it comes to music. Tuesday night, new, up-and-coming R&B opener Ama Lou and newly-throned electronic-R&B queen Jorja Smith filled up Fine Line to capacity, but then you have a seasoned artist like Jessie Ware (last weekend at Varsity) maybe fill two-thirds of the venue.
Fine Line can be hit or miss, but this week they nailed it. And, they now have an actual pit for photographers! Thank god. My only qualm of the night— it was so fucking hot.
Walking through those doors, I was met with a blast of heat and heavy bass. Ama Lou was maybe two songs into her set. Long, 90s crimped locks and sporting a Wild jersey, the girl was in the zone.
They don’t get my vibe, it is rosé
Try to hold me down, I will rotate
You can’t tell me right if it’s not safe
Heaven not to hell, time to procreate
And I’m the best at my lies you trust in, I
You weren’t the only one that died
A hip swivel followed by a flawless vocal run–synchronized with her Boyz II Men-esque backup singers–Ama Lou’s hit single “Not Always” drew everyone in.
“I love that she has guy back up singers!” said a girl to my right, “Yeah, I noticed that right away. You walk in and you see her front and center, she owns that stage.”
I couldn’t agree more. Ama Lou is only 19 years old, but her vacillating, soulful vocals are well beyond her years. A one-woman powerhouse, this Londoner writes and produces all of her songs. Minimalistic production–a blend of hypnotic, sonic synths and electronic drums–yields to her robust, smoldering voice.
The moment I heard her swing up to soprano for a verse, then effortlessly drop down to a smokey, contralto, I was blown away. So much vocal control for someone so young.
Ama Lou just released her new three-song debut EP, DDD, this past March. Each song is accompanied by a triptych of music videos directed by her and her sister Mahalia. The three D’s represent the times the videos were filmed–dawn, day and dusk. The videos follow Ama Lou’s character through the shallows of an LA crime ring over the course of a single day. Filming is still in the works, I’m excited to see how the piece turns out visually.
The first out of the triad–and possibly my favorite–is single “Tried Up.” When she dropped to a near acapella after the bridge to be met with a bass-pounding chorus–Ama literally dropping her hips to the floor in a full-body swing–the crowd went nuts.
Tried up I’m tried up um try for me huh?
I’m tied up im tied up untie for me
I’m tried up i’m tried up un-try for me huh
I’m tied up im tied up
In person, her voice was raw, strong and pervading. But, I think one of the more striking things about this female artist is the intentionality behind her music. In debut TBC she references the last words of Eric Garner before he was choked to death by police in July of 2014 and in music video for “Not Always,” depicting a woman who identifies as a man and vice-versa, she strives to better represent gender fluidity and identity.
Lou might be young, but she tackles modern-day, politically-charged tensions with a deftness and grace you would see from artists ten years her senior.
Snaps to you, Ama Lou.
All warmed up–literally, the place felt like a sauna–Jorja Smith came on stage.
If you have never heard of Jorja Smith–and aforementioned Ama Lou–I hope this concert recap puts these strong, female artists on your radar. These R&B queens have reigned in heady accolades all over the UK. It’s about damn time the U.S. catches on.
Dressed in sweats, a vibrant crop top and sneakers, a laid-back Jorja met an adoring audience. Soft-lit Edison bulbs dangled from the ceiling and the drummer had incense burning atop one of his cymbals. An intimate, cabaret atmosphere took shape–the perfect setting to compliment Smith’s rousing, honey-dulcet vocals.
The twenty-year-old from Walsall, a small town north of London, has only churned out one EP and a handful of singles. But, after her track “Blue Lights” blew up in 2016, promptly followed by some high compliments from Drake himself, Jorja was added to the shortlist for BBC’s Sound of 2017 Award and won Brits Critics’ Choice Award this past December. She was even featured on Black Panther: The Album that just came out.
Damn. Girl’s been busy.
Like Ama Lou, Jorja Smith is relatively new to stardom. But, the duo has been selling out shows across the U.S. since they started touring together end of March. Lucky for us, they decided to make a pit stop in Minneapolis before heading back home to the U.K. May 18th.
Jorja opened up with soulful track, “Something in the Way,” from her EP Project 11. Jazz drums and cutting, electric guitar riffs tendered to her longing-tinged vocals.
‘Cause only sun in the summer lasts
No holdin’ on and no lookin’ back
Even the sun doesn’t seem to last
It don’t hold on, it’s not comin’ back
Next, she propelled into “Where Did I Go.” Jorja’s vocals at the forefront, rich and confident, she led us through every drip and clap embedded in her jazzy, electro-R&B production. I don’t know who her guitarist is, but if you’re reading this… you were slinging some snazzy, Santana sounds and I was absolutely loving it.
A standout track from the night that took me back to Amy Winehouse days of soul, jazz, blues and a bottle of booze was “Teenage Fantasy.” Staccato verses reminiscent of the iconic Ella Fitzgerald and wild vocal runs that’ll make your mascara run–Jorja’s performance transfixed every wayfaring soul in her wake.
I’ve got a lot of things to do
What if I had been a fool
And thought I was in love with you
I need to grow and find myself before I let somebody love me
Because at the moment I don’t know me
For good measure, she also included a mesmerizing cover of Frank Ocean’s heartbreaking “Lost,” and brassy, booming rendition of “Let Me Down,” her latest 2018 single with London-based grime MC, Stormyz.
There were plenty of soulful ballads to go around, but Jorja closed out the night with a high-energy throwback track–UK garage funk banger “On My Mind.” Everyone belted out the chorus in unison, the entire balcony of Fine Line pulsating from above.
Jorja Smith is making waves, no doubt about it. Just a couple years ago was still a barista at a Starbucks, now she’s touring internationally. Keep an eye out for her upcoming album Lost & Found that will be released June 8th.