Saturday, November 14, 2015

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: JoJo at Webster Hall's Marlin Room

You can't save me, yeah yeah
You call it love but you hate me, yeah yeah
Lord, I try and I can't say no
You're the pain and the medicine
One taste and I'm numb again
You can't save me, yeah yeah
Lord, I try and I can't say no


The struggle has been real for Joanna Levesque. She's only 24 years young but has already spent more than half of her life singing and performing for other people. Now, nearly 12 years after the initial release of her debut single, "Leave (Get Out)", I was finally able to see her do her thing live.

With her much publicized struggles with Blackground Records officially in her rearview mirror, the new era of JoJo is officially upon us. This past August, she released her "tringle", a triad of new material that is serving as both a gift to the fans who have waited so long and a preview of the album to come -- her third "official" major label release. She recently stopped by New York's Marlin Room at Webster Hall in the second stop (and first officially sold out stop) of her #IAmJoJo tour and you know I had to make sure I was there.

Before I launch into the concert run down, shout out to JoJo's DJ who was spinning only the best 90's R&B & hip hop. Man, I forgot how much I love Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack". Sigh.

The first real "gift" of the night was the opening act -- a man I've long since been a fan of as well. Aaron Camper warmed up the stage and perhaps you might remember that I first stumbled upon Aaron when I saw him "open" for another underground pop artist, Travis Garland (and -- in fact -- a prior collaborator with JoJo's himself) at S.O.B.'s a few years ago. Aaron at the time was keeping busy as a background singer for Mr. Justin Timberlake during his 20/20 Experience promotions and tour and I also spotted him singing with JT during the tour's stop at Madison Square Garden.

Anytime I see Aaron is a treat and that night at the Marlin Room was no different. The main highlight for me was his song "My Heart", a co-write with PJ Morton of Maroon 5. The song is super funky and fun and Aaron mashed it up with The Jackson's "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)". 

Aaron played around quite a bit with covers in his set, including a bit of Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth's "See You Again" before launching into a soulful rendition of Boyz II Men's "Water Runs Dry". 

The crowd didn't have too long to wait before JoJo took to the stage with her band launching right into a hit parade of familiar material. She set up her set to be almost like an autobiography of her career, taking her fans on a trip down memory lane beginning with her debut JoJo album ("Breezy", "Baby, It's You") to her The High Road album ("Anything", "Like That"), to her darker period with "Thinking Out Loud" and her cover of Drake's "Marvin's Room". She finished her set with all three songs off her 'tringle' ("When Love Hurts", "Say Love", and the aforementioned lyrically "Save My Soul") before returning to the stage for an encore performance of a brand new song called "I Am".

The "big" singles were obviously huge highlights for the crowd -- it was clear many of the people present had been JoJo fans since the very beginning like I was. She performed "Leave (Get Out)" early on to a huge crowd sing-a-long. Same goes for "Too Little Too Late". "Demonstrate" -- a missed opportunity single during the Jumping Trains/presumed third album era was also a big hit with the fans.

For me, the biggest highlight (other than hearing some of her old hits performed live) was "Thinking Out Loud", a cut from her Agape mixtape. While I was a little letdown by how little of her mixtape material she did perform (No "Andre"? Plus, Can't Take That Away From Me was one of my favorite albums of 2010, man!), her emotional delivery helped make up for it all.

While I certainly enjoyed her recent 'tringle' release, I didn't truly fall in love with the material until I saw all three songs performed live. This is particularly pertinent for "Save My Soul", a song I haven't been able to get out of my head since seeing her perform live.

Overall, seeing an artist I've loved and respected for so long in a live setting will always be exciting for yours truly but to see her perform in such satisfyingly real and vocally scorching way in an intimate venue like the Marlin Room makes it so, so, so much better. Bring on the album, Jo -- we are so beyond ready for this!

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