CONCERT REVIEW: Corinne Bailey Rae at Union Transfer

The international star stopped in Philadelphia on her Heart Speaks in Whispers U.S. tour.

Corinne Bailey Rae at Union Transfer. Photo by Fabiola Cineas.

Corinne Bailey Rae at Union Transfer. Photo by Fabiola Cineas.

At around 10:30 Tuesday night, the stage at Union Transfer was hazy with smoke—Corinne Bailey Rae had just completed her set, but the crowd didn’t immediately file out. Instead, they began to chant and cheer for the songstress and her four-person band. And just like that, within minutes, Bailey Rae, in her luxe pink jumpsuit, graciously returned to the stage and gave us a 2006 throwback—“Just Like A Star.”

That the 37-year-old British singer-songwriter-guitarist sold out all 1,200 tickets at Union Transfer was sort of a surprise to me and some of her other fans at the show.

It’s not that Bailey Rae isn’t popular—she’ wildly popular nationally and overseas. The first leg of her Heart Speaks in Whispers tour in the spring sold out in most cities, and I remember desperately calling music venues in D.C. and New York for “spare” tickets. (At the time, Bailey Rae only stopped in Philly for a live-streamed studio session at World Café Live.)

But I was shocked to see a line wrapped around the block Tuesday evening because Bailey Rae has always been my little secret. She’s a wiser, older sister who consoles after heartbreak and disappointment. She uplifts. And her music, rife in stanzas about hope, romance, and grit demands intimacy—someone I chatted with in line said that her songs, or ballads, rather, are so sweet it’s like she’s whispering in your ears.

“The fans she has will always be her fans, but I don’t see everyone being about her,” said Lanre Animashaun, a 28-year-old Fishtowner who was at the show alone. “But every year more people will discover her and connect with her deeply. That’s her strength.

Most people I spoke to in the audience hadn’t been to a Corinne Bailey Rae show before and had never been to Union Transfer but jumped at the opportunity to see the artist who made few appearances since her last album, 2010’s The Sea.

“There are only a few artists who make music music,” said James Campbell, 25, who traveled in from South Jersey. “Corinne is one of them. She doesn’t do it for the radio. I love her voice, and artistry and honesty. Her albums are so timeless.”

After a strong open by Detroit’s soulful Mayaeni, Bailey Rae opened up with the upbeat “Been to the Moon,” a whimsical tune about loving someone the second time around. How was it possible that her voice sounded better than the recordings? She looked free on stage, throwing her hands up in pure pleasure and dancing about in a way some people told me they’d never seen her move before.

“She’s really feeling this one,” Charles Gourley, 39, whispered as Bailey Rae strummed her guitar and sang the heartfelt “Till It Happens to You,” with her eyes shut. The Philly crowd was the second audience to see the crew perform “Horse Print Dress,” after a recent set list change. She didn’t play “Enchantment” or “Another Rainy Day” despite forceful shouts for them from the crowd all night.

A highlight of the evening happened when the singer spotted 8-year-old Shaniya Clarke from Delaware in the audience. “You’re probably my youngest audience member,” Bailey Rae said before inviting Clarke to play the tambourine with her on stage. Bailey Rae said she has young girls like Clarke on her mind when she writes her songs.

After the concert I still can’t pinpoint exactly who a Corinne Bailey Rae fan is. Among the people I talked to was a 17-year-old boy from Juniata, a 63-year-old woman from New York, and a group of middle-aged couples.

“Her diverse audience definitely appeals to me,” said Trey Bull, 39. “There are young people in here, old, Black, White, Asian, gay, straight because there’s so much range to her tracks.”

The crowd was definitely tame. I was shocked to be at a concert where no one’s shoulder was permanently stuck to mine, no one spilled a drink on me, no one’s sweat landed on my face and there was no jostling when entering and exiting.

When the encore came to an end, Bailey Rae met every single fan who stood in line in the venue’s lobby, a process that took two hours. I know because I was the last person to join the queue.

“Not often do the artists come out and be so accommodating,” said Toni Bourgeois, Union Transfer’s general manager, “People don’t have to do that, but they’ve been so accommodating as a crew.”

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