This hometown show was always going to feel triumphant. Last October, RAYE played a thrillingly intimate gig at tiny west London venue The Tabernacle, giving a few hundred fans a glimpse of the confident, unfiltered musician she has blossomed into since leaving her record label to go independent in July 2021.
Since then, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter has scored a surprise Number One hit with ‘Escapism’, a bass-heavy bop about self-medicating after a breakup, and released a long overdue debut album that is absolutely brimming with ideas. Tonight (March 8), for a few thousand fans at north London’s hangar-like Roundhouse, she performs that career-validating album, ‘My 21st Century Blues’, pretty much in its entirety. So when RAYE tells the crowd “I wanna drag this show out as long as possible”, only a cold, cold heart could object.
Backed by eight musicians including a four-piece brass section, tonight is an elevated affair. The stylish stage design gives off an old-school jazz club vibe, but with a playful contemporary edge. When RAYE sings ‘Mary Jane’, a languid ballad about relying a little too heavily on marijuana during a dark patch, the stage is bathed pointedly in green light. She may have levelled up her production values, but RAYE still manages to translate the warm confessional feel of her Tabernacle gig for a larger crowd. She is chatty, self-deprecating and relatable throughout. Before singing ‘Environmental Anxiety’, a song about climate change that she admits is “chaotic” – in fairness, it does feature the lyric “Boris Johnson’s sniffing coke” – she jokes that she really needs David Attenborough to come in and tell her what to do.
RAYE is also unafraid to be truly vulnerable on stage. She strips down to her underwear while singing ‘Body Dysmorphia’, adding extra pathos to its already devastating lyrics: “I hug my knees, I squeezе my waist / There’s so much that I want to change.” And she remains unclothed for ‘Ice Cream Man’, a haunting account of sexual assault that feels especially prescient given that tonight’s gig takes place on International Women’s Day.
Later, a stripped-down section where she turns club bangers from her major label past into piano singalongs feels like an act of reclamation. “This isn’t my proudest work,” she says before performing her hit Joel Corry and David Guetta collab ‘Bed’, “but my bank balance loved it.” There is a slight lull in the closing stretch, but RAYE has the crowd roaring when she delivers an incendiary ‘Escapism’ as her encore. Tonight, she is living her best life and it’s simply heartwarming to witness.
‘Oscar Winning Tears’
‘The Thrill Is Gone’
‘Five Star Hotels’
‘Hard Out Here’
‘Ice Cream Man’
‘Flip A Switch’
‘You Don’t Know Me’
‘Buss It Down’