The simplest stage can even unite all fans strong in the name of music.
That was the night of Elle Varner’s acoustic gig at the small space of Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Elle didn’t preach fans to bond together but her songs, her soulful voice, her strong acoustic guitar plays, her humorous talks, and her existence naturally made us one union in her concert.
June 21 was the last day of her weekly residency series titled “Acoustically Yours” at Rockwood started at the beginning of June. That was an acoustic concert just like the concert title but the simplest form of a show. Only Elle Varner, her mahogany acoustic guitar, and her Mac. That was it. No drum, no base, and no background vocal. That concert setting was totally my surprise by the artist who brought her debut album “Perfectly Imperfect” to number 4 on Billboard 200 in 2014. I thought Elle would have at least a minimal band.
And the venue was pretty harsh to celebrate the last night of Elle’s concert series. The hall was very hot when the gig started. Rockwood was a small venue but packed with many fans, probably 200-250 people, but we didn’t feel the air. The crowds shouted several times about the temperature and demanded to turn on AC before the show…but Rockwell didn’t listen.
Furthermore, Elle’s earpiece didn’t work.
“You know what? I can’t hear anything”. She said to a sound technician in upstairs soon after scratching the strings a few times even before the first song. Didn’t we all hear the same embarrassing phrase on TV at the night of last New Year’s Eve? I felt the floor was frozen. The sound technician checked the equipment and fixed wiring but couldn’t make a solution.
But Elle Varner wasn’t Mariah Carey who still complained about New Year’s Eve disaster as sound engineering error.
“You know what?….I’m going this first song without it” and started with “Damn Good Friends”
In the nervous silence that couldn’t even hear whisper and footstep, Elle opened her mouth to the microphone. I first doubted if she really didn’t use her earpiece that could be critical for a show. Absolutely beautiful start. Nothing disorder. Her voice was even getting fuller and fuller, and her guitar was getting more powerful as she played. The silence changed to applaud and respect.
But Elle still had one more issue to solve. Heat. No air at all even when the first song was finished. Elle, who wore the black jacket over deep cut V-neck, visibly had a lot of sweat on her face. That was a hot day in June. The non-working air conditioner was simply insulting to a musician who would use a lot of energy by performance.
Elle begged to the fans.
“Can I have five minutes? I’d like to change outfit”.
Everybody agreed and she was off to the dressing room, clearly frustrated by Rockwood’s bad treatment on the last day. Then the audience complained the venue louder about AC because it was their second time to ask. Clearly, Rockwell was far from a perfect condition with air and sound issues.
Elle Varner returned to the stage with her bright smile to extinguish the audiences’ tempers against the venue. She changed to the T-shirt with “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE”, a perfect choice for Elle to show her female power on the live performance.
The song right after returning to the stage was a perfect choice, too. Her smash hit song, “So Fly”. The cheerful uptempo song, also the climax of her debut album “Perfectly Imperfect”, created the positive mood immediately and heated up the audience who sang along loud from the beginning. The atmosphere was more like a big karaoke party or campfire rather than a concert, created bonding by singing together.
Elle succeeded to impress audience her high professionalism strongly with the first two songs. The situation was literary “perfectly imperfect”…the technical issues were too imperfect to have a good start. The beginning could affect entire show. But Elle bounced back the tough condition and performed even better than her recordings. She didn’t make any excuse. That was what a true musician supposed to be, just performed more than what she could do the best from the worst as a show had to go on.
Getting closer to the favorite musicians is one of the best thrills at the live performance, but I hadn’t seen a concert that a musician and fans became one like that night much. Elle Varner’s concert was the place where the chemistry between a musician and fans united together. The small venue helped to be the one, but Elle’s down to earth performance definitely made all to get together. Her voice was so expressional and caught the audience into the world of each song. Elle’s voice was more mature and thicker than her first album and stable throughout the concert. And her voice was getting richer and more dynamic by cheers from the fans as the show moved on. There is no musician whose voice doesn’t get fuller and performance doesn’t get tighter by the applaud from the audience (if there is, that musician is failed). That is the concert chemistry, and indeed, the chemistry was there. Elle’s humorous talk made her fans to feel they wanted to spend with her as long as possible. Her voice, guitar, and talks created genuine chemistry with the audience and added a rich quality to the one person show. The show was filled with the positive vibe, laugh, and love entirely. That was a beautiful night of 1 hour 25 minutes, longer than my expectation for Elle who released only one full album.
Then climax. The emotion reached the beautiful explosion.
Elle Varner spontaneously pulled one of her family members (maybe her manager as well…some of her family including her mother attended the concert) to the stage and let him play the piano. Elle sang “Refill” comically and “Not Tonight” dramatically. All fans enjoyed singing along “Not Tonight” loud with Elle. After the song was a perfect timing for some fans to give her flowers.
“You sound like ya record!! That’s real!! That’s God!” A die-hard fan shouted to Elle. She explained that was why she brought all her daughters to the concert for supporting Elle.
Her soulful and respectful speech touched Elle’s heart. Elle brought that fan to the stage and hugged her. Elle’s tears started falling down.
That was when we all witnessed the emotional bridge between Elle and us.
The fan repeated again how Elle did the show perfectly. All audience agreed.
With the warm support of her fans, including those who attended all three nights, Elle confessed how she had been through. She hadn’t been able to release a new album since her first album in 2012, that was probably the question of her many fans including me. The music business had been tough to Elle although the music was the only thing she wanted to do since she was a kid and only the career she had been done. Obviously, the current situation gave her a lot of frustration and struggle.
But that concert gave her new big pride and hope; her fans. The hall wasn’t empty. The venue was filled with her hard-core fans in the city she was born (she was originally from Brooklyn before moving to California with her family).
Elle continued to open herself emotionally with a very strong message.
“But then look at where I am right now!! I swear God, I swear God. Do NOT give up, and do not look at the way that shit looks because sometimes God is trying to tell you make the best with what you got. I GOT YOU. I gave you everything you need and that’s what you just said to me right now (pointing the die-hard mom). And that’s why…I wanted to do this show because I said fuck that, I’m gonna sing! I have to sing!” All spontaneous truth from Elle’s heart, not the script.
We experienced the power of music. If Elle’s performance wasn’t nice, her good message would be nothing. Even such a brilliantly talented musician with high-level skills had to struggle after the record deal with a major label fell. The artist whose last album peaked at #4 and received many positive feedbacks is now categorized as an indie artist. The music industry changes fast and brutally. Still, Elle strongly stated that she won’t give up during her impressive speech. And Elle proved that she had an amazing talent to be back to success at that night. She is still young with much bright future. Struggles and the don’t-give-up attitude are what everybody has to go through many times during our lifetime. Success will eventually follow after the hard work, even though the struggling period is a doubtful time about future. There might be some fans who felt the same way with Elle on that night. Elle’s message definitely encouraged all fans including me. And Elle’s concert made fans confident that she would be back with better success.
OVERALL POINTS: 93/100
- Performance: ★★★★★
- Excitement/Fire: ★★★★★
- Vocal: ★★★★★
- Instrumental: ★★★★
- Sounds: ★★★★+1/2
- Song orders: ★★★★★
- Stage setting+lighting: ★★★+1/2
- Better than recordings: ★★★★★
- Chemistry with the audience: ★★★★★
EXTRA: AFTER THE SHOW
The t-shirt purchase at the show gained an access to meet-and-greet with Elle Varner after the concert. Of course, the line was long to support Elle after the exciting show! Beautiful Elle was a down-to-earth person.
ELLE VARNER’S DEBUT ALBUM, PERFECTLY IMPERFECT. Grooooovy!!