Valerie June at Scala, LondonSupport:
April 25, 2017 at Scala, London
It starts with a sole figure, the drummer, as he takes his place at his kit and slowly but surely builds to tap out a consistent jazzy rhythm. The guitarist, organist, and bassist take up their instruments before Tennessee born, New York based multi-instrumentalist Valerie June appears glittering like a disco ball donning a silvery jacket and all in one top and trousers, while sporting her amazing twisty, curly hair. This is a startling visual opening.
After the opening two songs the full extent of her band, nine in total with the horn section and occasional extra percussionists emerge. This is how the show proceeds fluctuating between a solo Valerie extending to the whole band in full swing while taking in many other numerical forms in-between.
In turn, this reflects the variety and depth of her music as she veers dipping into country, Americana, southern blues, soul, folk, and gospel. So, when the band is at full strength on fourth song, the hypnotic fuzzy southern blues, even desert blues flavoured ‘Shakedown’, from current album Order of the Day, it is the first standout song of many in the show. The contrasting stripped back sound with just Valerie, strapped with a guitar or banjo sharing the stage with her singer friend, who adds a contrasting lighter vocal harmony, is just as captivating.
While this changing of musical styles potentially could create an uneven flow is prevented by Valerie’s consistent powerful Billie Holiday tinged sharp, scratchy drawl. This is also expertly used as a powerful tool to add an extra layer of sound alongside the full band power, as on the immense Afro beat groove of ‘Workin’ Woman blues’. While the evocative ‘Tennessee Time’ is a glorious Memphis country twang. Or, when she reigns in the harsher tones a touch with a range of varying pitches best exemplified on the warming, gentle banjo led ‘Somebody To Love’ and the poignant Lambchop imbued gentleness of ‘Astral Planes’.
The variety extends further as when the show progresses Valerie opens-up showcasing herself as a natural performer. Confidently telling a combination of stories and monologues, even streams of consciousness style flitting about taking in her love of British accents and consequent period dramas, magical powers, a Colorado festival, affectionate mentions of older family members, to the sustained re-telling of meeting Dolly Parton in a dream.
The audience is raptured by every twist and turn, nook and cranny Valerie takes by showing upmost respect during the above stories, and quieter introspective songs, so you would have been able to clearly hear a pin drop. And, also responds appropriately with joyous dancing to the closing Aretha Franklin spirited ‘Got Soul’, as Valerie grooves around all areas of the stage including finding space behind the drum kit.
Valerie June maybe encompassing age old genres but with her spirit, genuine warmth, positivity, and honesty, backed by a very fine band she shimmers, offering personal inner hope as bright as her two eye-catching sparkly costumes.