The elevator, whose polite operator noted ‘she’ was 70 years old but quite reliable, made a gentle ascent, an old trumpet-laden jazz tune playing softly in its interior. Inching upward, it passed the Sleep No More activities held in the same spooky building – The McKittrick Hotel, named after Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo – and arrived at The Heath, a space designed to simulate a 1930s train station (complete with snack-filled dining cars). Thrust into a dusky, film noir fantasy upon entry, an intimate crowd arrived for last night’s private show, eyeing the ritzy “Reserved” placards at the center of almost every table. The only light came from the grid of vintage glass globes (circa 1939-1940) overhead, which glowed like purple fireflies and illuminated the hazy, cool air. But even with such an alluring atmosphere, none of this was the true cause of the hushed excitement in the room.
All suspense could be ascribed to the powerful songstresses scheduled to take the stage, including opener Hailey Knox and headliner Elise LeGrow, both on the cusp of new releases, who made for an exquisite and vocally-rich lineup yesterday evening. When Hailey Knox started off beatboxing, applied her looping pedal, and layered in some resonant “sha-la-la”s, the small audience was so enthralled that the sound of a bartender quietly shaking a martini at one point was almost startling. As she layered her soft, honeyed vocals and laid the foundation of her eclectic pop sound, Nick Carbone supplied snappy rhythms as he tapped out beats on an electronic drum machine. Her short-and-sweet set featured songs from her new EP, A Little Awkward – including the ultra-catchy “Take It Or Leave It” and “Awkward” – an excellent cover of Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s,” and even some brand new music due out in January. The crowd was visibly connecting to her relatable lyrics and clever choice of words, with lines like “I may not get it together, to get to your get-together” embodying an introverted mood perfectly. But she had one particular talent that really got the room cheering: a striking impression of a brass solo, made only with the buzz of her lips.
With all that small-show, secret-party excitement in the air, there was a collective burst of “ah”s when Elise LeGrow sang her very first notes. Even dressed in a retro bell-sleeve dress with silver in the stitches, and backed by a deft and lively four-piece band, LeGrow’s strong, silky-smooth vocals were the sole center of attention. She soaked up the crowd’s energy with a truly regal stage presence, always looking totally at ease, centered under the arch of flickering Edison bulbs that help light The Heath’s stage. The well-dressed servers who had been dashing around the tables just moments before stopped in their tracks to take in her performance, which was a dazzling trip to yesteryear, thanks to the subject matter of her soon-to-be-released debut album. Playing Chess, due out in February 2018, is a collection of reimagined songs from the Chess Records catalog, so last night’s show was filled with daring takes on classic numbers that everyone seemed to know – and seemed thrilled to hear played in such different styles. LeGrow’s slow and sentimental version of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” was almost half the original tempo, giving the newlywed-themed lyrics new meaning as she sang them out longingly.
Another great highlight was her cover of “Long Lonely Nights” by Lee Andrews & the Hearts – which, movingly, features drumming by Questlove, Lee Andrews’ son, on the forthcoming Playing Chess. LeGrow spoke of the special collaboration before she performed the song. “It was a very surreal experience, being this relatively unknown little Canadian girl in a studio in Brooklyn, with Questlove in the booth next to me playing drums,” she said with an awestruck laugh. “It really felt like a bit of a dream.” The crowd could immediately relate, because her whole performance had a dreamlike quality to it. Each song from Playing Chess was sort of a double-surprise when it popped up in their performance – the realization that she’d tackled a particular hit, and the admiration that followed when we realized she’d done it so well. All throughout, her singing was hypnotically pure and beautiful; somehow sultry and sincere at the same time. With so much natural talent and such a creative first release on the horizon, her self-described “relatively unknown” status is already slipping away in this city, and surely won’t last much longer.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley