Music review: Emeli Sandé at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh

There is nothing modest about her success but, on the opening night of her latest tour, it was clear that Emeli Sandé still favours as simple and intimate a live set-up as her status will allow.

Emeli Sandé PIC: Calum Buchan
Emeli Sandé PIC: Calum Buchan

Emeli Sandé ***

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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This was a relatively plain and somewhat precipitous 90-minute set, covering a lot of ground in the hurry to get from song to song. Sandé was ever the gracious hostess and the way she attacked some of her material suggested she was determined to mine every last droplet of available declamatory expression from her middle of the road material.

Yet she was not comfortable enough to just be with her audience, drink in the excited reaction or, perish the thought, banter with the crowd. Her brief chat between songs was confined to rehearsed motivational platitudes about believing in yourself, following your own path, all that Taylor Swift stuff, while behind her a wraparound sheet bore projected rent-an-inspirational images of candles, clouds, the cosmos, even the New York skyline.

Her new album Long Live The Angels has plenty to offer in that regard. Sandé got stuck into the imagery of Breathing Underwater and the big, breathy, billowing ballad Every Single Little Piece, the testifying force of Sweet Architect and the mawkish, self-accompanied old favourite Clown, yet communicated none of the raw, unbridled emotion suggested by her delivery.

Her slick, reliable band contributed in no small part to the smoothness of the sound but were also poised to cut loose on her feisty drum’n’bass debut Heaven, which sounded cutting edge next to where she has gone since, and Garden, the most sonically interesting of her new songs with its minimal electronic backing and darker trip-hop shading.

The performance finally loosened up with the uplifting Afro pop of Wonder and similarly extrovert pop gospel of Highs & Lows, one of the more naturally celebratory numbers from Long Live The Angels, which segued briefly into a burst of Stevie Wonder’s peerless Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing.

There was also an outing for a newer song Little Bit Longer, a repetitive, fist-pumping anthem with an African gospel backbone, which sounds like it has been written for larger venues than this, venues which Sandé could easily fill, in possibly an indication that this could be the last time we will see her in a hall of this size.