Gabrielle Cilmi with Asa. Hotel Café. January 26, 2009.

*Featuring guest writer Ian Chili!*
As a music fan and friend of the we like a show girls, I was excited at the prospect of going to see shows with them at the myriad of great music venues LA has to offer. This show in particular was one that I had wanted to see for some time. Unfortunately, the girls were unable to make it and I had to see the show alone. Not an ideal situation by any means, but it did give me a chance to share my thoughts with all of you. And for only $10 I got my moneys worth. So, without further delay, let’s talk about the show...

I arrived late, only getting to see Asa’s (pronounced Asha) last few songs. The unfortunate part being that I ended up liking Asa way more than Gabrielle Cilmi, but I’ll get into that later. As I got my ticket, I rushed into a packed house. Somewhat surprising for 7 pm on a Monday, but it didn’t take me long to see why. On the stage stood a poised, confident young woman, an old soul, in no rush at all and seemingly enjoying every second of her time on stage.

She performed in a simple singer/songwriter type format with just her guitarist and back up singer. And while that format is oft overused, it works perfectly for her, allowing the audience to focus on the 2 things that make her so intriguing: her vocals and her lyrics. Born a French-Nigerian, she draws her inspiration from classic soul, jazz and Nigerian music. The best example of this being her cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, which starts out simple enough with no variations then melds into an Afro-beat masterpiece. Certainly, Fela Kuti would’ve been proud. Simply put, that song alone was worth the $10 to get in.

After a brief intermission, which was marked by the mass exodus of nearly half the crowd, Gabrielle came to the stage. Only 17 years old, she has had tons of success in Australia and the UK - recently winning 6 Aria awards, Australia’s version of the Grammy’s. She is the newest face in the retro soul genre, but has yet to have the success that Amy Winehouse, Adele and Duffy have achieved here in the states. That being said, her single, “Sweet About Me” has only been released for a few weeks.

From the beginning of her set, it seemed almost as if she was rushing to finish. And while she undeniably has some talent, I don’t think she has the maturity yet as a performer to truly own her music. The other problem I have is that all her songs sound the same, though this probably is due to the label wanting to market Gabrielle to a younger, more pop oriented market than fellow label signee, Amy Winehouse. Who knows. Only time will tell if she has any staying power.

Some of the highlights from her set was the opening song, Save The Lies, followed by Sweet About Me. Both are very strong pop songs and should have some commercial success. The only other song to have had any buzz was a doo-wop version of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River.

Overall, it was a pretty good night. You definitely get your moneys worth at Hotel Cafe and it’s a great place to not only hear music from the local LA talent pool, but people making waves all across the world.

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