"I've never been to Salisbury – can I take you to North London?"
Little Simz knows how to make an entrance. Against a pastel early evening, the Morricone explosion that opens ‘Introvert’ thunders over Larmer Tree Gardens, all divebombing strings, marching snare and breathless falsetto, seemingly twice as loud as anything we’ve heard this weekend. Her band taking care of this gale-force introduction, Simz makes her way out onto the capacious Woods Stage, accepting the crowd’s adulation with the effortless grace of someone who completely understands her own power. As the track slips into the slick, widescreen funk of the first verse, she takes the mic, and immediately this field of 15,000 people belongs to just one.
As ever, Simz’s delivery is lithe and skilful, her lyrics generous and caregiving one bar, wickedly funny the next. ‘Introvert’ having set out her stall in grandiose style, the shivering darkness of ‘Venom’ pulls us back down to street level, before a strutting rendition of ‘Offence’ gives her impeccably drilled band some space to open themselves up, throwing in smart pushes and turnarounds to spice up the studio arrangements without spilling into obtrusive overplaying. The heavenly ‘Pressure’ offers brief respite, its pinwheeling vocal melody a perfect salve for festival-tired ears (it’s Sunday night, after all), which makes the triumphant ‘101 FM’ all the more exhilarating. “I’ve never been to Salisbury before,” Simz shouts as the track begins, “but can I take you to North London?”
The most impressive moments of tonight’s set are those in which the live band most seamlessly combines with the studio backing, whether it’s the drummer sharing a backbeat with 808 breaks or the guitarist contouring melodic samples with tasteful harmonies. In the wrong hands, such polished production could saturate the low-slung grunt of a track like ‘Boss’, obscuring its lean potency; it’s a testament to the skill of the band – anchored by the magnetic charisma of Simz – that they only ever make these tunes more compelling.
By the time ‘Selfish’ rolls around, Simz has End of the Road in the palm of her hand. As she peels off the stage before an inevitable (and very welcome) encore of ‘Woman’, she looks for all the world like the kind of performer we’ve all known she’s capable of becoming for some years now: a generational talent who deserves thousands-strong crowds like this wherever she goes.
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