This was my fourth time seeing Caro Emerald and every time I told people who I was going to see, they’d say “Caro who?” Well, Caroline Esmeralda van de Leeuw, to give her her real name, is a bit of a one woman phenomenon. Able to sell out London’s Royal Albert Hall and O2 Arena and play both the Montreux Jazz Festival and Glastonbury, yet walk down most streets unrecognised.
She’s from Holland, not a country renowned for its musical exports, yet many of her songs are about life on the French riviera. Bizarrely, there’s even a Caro Emerald tribute band from Halifax. And Miss Emerald herself is hard to pigeon-hole, a 34-year-old classically trained jazz diva who sings songs filled with bossa nova rhythms fused with electronica.
What’s unquestionable is her popularity. This was the second year in a row that she’s played the Brighton Centre and once again the audience were mainly fifty-somethings, some of whom had paid an eye-popping £125 for the privilege of sitting at the front. But initially, it was those sitting in the east balcony who got the up-close-and-personal view as Caro began the show from there, picked out by a follow spot in amongst some very surprised audience members singing The Other Woman.
For the next song — Absolutely Me after which this tour was named — Caro had joined her six-piece band onstage. As seems to be de rigeur these days, they were all in regulation black, while she was wearing a bright yellow top that looked like some kind of abstract painting. Sartorially, it was no match for the fabulous red dress she wore at the same venue last time. And I’m afraid, you could say the same for much of the show. In many ways it was very similar, but it never got close to matching the atmosphere.
You couldn’t fault the musicians or the sound, both were top notch. And Caro was in good voice too. The problem lay in the song choice, the production and to a large extent with the audience. Usually at her shows the audience is quickly up on its feet and dancing, won over by Caro’s charm and her band’s similarly infectious music. Not this time. Indeed, it wasn’t until almost half way through that people got out of their chairs. Before, with just one or two exceptions, a run of slowish songs had contributed to the sluggish vibe.
One that did lift proceedings was Pack Up The Louie which she introduced by saying “Just imagine waking up in a different city every morning — that’s what I do every day. It’s great fun. But when you’re travelling you need to pack and it needs to be a very expensive suitcase!” she quipped referring of course to Louis Vuitton. But when you learn she says the exact same line at every show, you begin to question her spontaneity.
Another one that almost, but not quite, got people up on their feet was her jazzy doo-wop cover of Meghan Trainor’s All About The Bass which showcased Jeroen Vierdag on the double bass. But it wasn’t until Liquid Lunch, the fifteenth song of her 21-song set, before it finally happened. Immediately, the audience rose as one and from then on the energy level intensified, everyone clapped along and the atmosphere of the gig completely changed.
To emphasise just how curious the song choice was, she played all twelve tracks from her 2010 debut, but only four from her last, much more upbeat, chart-topping record, The Shocking Miss Emerald.
For the encore, Miss Emerald changed into a sparkly silver top and a black beret and threw off her heels. A rearranged version of Tangled Up was by some distance, the best received song of the night. She followed it with the reggae-infused Helicopter Boy a brand new song, which alongside the rather pedestrian toe-tapper Quicksand doesn’t really augur that well for the new record.
As always, Caro had a great band behind her. Although there were two less musicians than last time. Indeed, Kypski, the DJ whose scratching really made her live sound so interesting, has departed. Props though to her hugely impressive horn section of David Temple on sax and Ben Cummings on trumpet who, more than anyone else, added so much to the sound. There may only have been two of them, but at times they sounded like the Tijuana Brass.
This time around, guitarist Wieger Hoogendorp seemed a lot more subdued than previous shows. He spent less time in the spotlight, and the least said about his toe-curling dance routine during Dr Wanna Do, the better!
Equally naff were the imagery adorning the three vertical screens. Frankly, the graphics on show looked like they’d come straight out of a junior school artroom. Like much of this performance, it didn’t reach the stylish heights one has come to expect from Caro Emerald. If you hadn’t seen her before, you probably would have left impressed, but if like me you know what she’s capable of, you were more likely to leave feeling just a tad disappointed.
Words: Gary Marlowe
Photo: Images Out Of The Ordinary
Follow Caro at @caroemerald