Far more than just the latest British import, Emeli Sandé reiterated why she’s a rising star during her first Austin City Limits taping. The Scottish singer/songwriter has already conquered her native soil with a brace of hit singles and her debut album Our Version of Events. Given her strong songs, ability to connect immediately with a crowd and, of course, her fabulous voice, it quickly became clear why the States are swiftly falling under her spell.
Sitting at the piano after taking the stage, Sandé launched into one of her hits – the dramatic, bitter ballad “Daddy.” The song’s brooding tone was a bit of a feint, however – once she stood up and took her mic in hand, Sandé dispelled the clouds with a brace of upbeat anthems. “This song is all about good intentions,” she remarked by way of preface to her huge U.K. single “Heaven, “and I hope that you woke up with them this morning.” The gospel-tinged “Free” – another British hit, with electronic band Rudimental – and the quiet, piano-and-strings ballad “Clown” continued her themes of empowerment. A reggae beat wove through the romantic “Where I Sleep,” which also became the first song to include call and response with the crowd. Indeed, audience participation is clearly a must for Sandé – she engaged the house to clap along with “Breaking the Law” and made the people her backing choir on the defiant declaration “My Kind of Love.” Only the sparse heartbreak ballad “Suitcase” – performed almost solely by Sandé and her bass player – contrasted with her messages of honesty, inclusion and a positive attitude. It was a contrast the audience obviously didn’t mind, given the enthusiastic reception it gave the song.
Sandé closed the main set with her biggest anthems yet, all originally collaborations. A number one U.K. hit with British producer/rapper Professor Green, “Read All About It” started as a piano ballad, before the rest of the instruments crashed in to make it a real lighter-waver. She closed with her two collaborations with producer Naughty Boy: the new single “Lifted,” which folded in elements of electrobeat dance and segued directly into the British top 10er “Wonder,” which rode an Afrobeat groove and the chorus “We are full of wonder” into the biggest call-and-response with the audience yet. By the end of the performance, the crowd had joined Sandé and her band in making the “W” sign with their hands – a true sign of her ability to remind us that we’re all in this world together.
Of course, it wasn’t truly over – Sandé and her band came back to encore “Next to Me,” her platinum Stateside single that had the audience on their feet and in the palm of her hand before it was halfway over. It was a stunning end to a stunning set. We’re eager for everybody to see it when this episode airs in the fall. Stay tuned.