Gig review: Mabel at The Wardrobe, Leeds

Mabel. Picture: Tom Oldham
Mabel. Picture: Tom Oldham
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Mabel attracts the kind of crowd that turns up at the exact time it says on the ticket.

Exuberant on Leeds’ first night of April warmth, the long, snaking line of young women trails back to Duke Street, snippets of song trickling out of phone speakers, pre-mix cocktail tins clinking, Instagram handles being swapped between new friends. Before the doors have even opened, it feels something like a female celebration, a distinctly different atmosphere to the traditionally indie male gig-goer that frequents The Wardrobe.

This dedicated audience cling to the lip of the stage throughout warm-up Grace Carter, a slick pop performance that hits every note of the radio-ready, neo-soul movement that is proving highly popular right now, albeit lacking in a specificity that allows it to truly hit home with tonight’s highly millennia crowd. ‘Silhouettes’ is the stand out, a humble ballad that soon gives way to a certain deftness that should prick any A&R man’s ear.

As Mabel McVey skips on stage at a timely 8.30pm, the order has well and truly been established. The few men in the crowd stand dutifully back as the women scream: this is well and truly their time. Daughter of Neneh Cherry, Mabel is well prepared for this sort of girl power – with an arsenal of tracks that detail the tricky ins and outs of love and self-worth, she sings in a way that clearly resonates with the young women in front of her.

A call out to find the ‘day ones’ in the crowd pays off as she plays 2015’s ‘Know Me Better’ to huge excitement, but so does ‘Ivy’, a softer ballad that allows her to show off the range of her voice, heavily influenced by the glory days of early 00s RnB. There’s a brief cover of Drake’s ‘Passionfruit’, before an outing of unreleased material that borrows notably from the trends set by the Canadian rapper – ‘Put A Name On It’ is pure tropical-trap, while ‘One Shot’ reads like a sassy kiss-off to commitment-phobes.

Pulling to a close with Radio-1 behemoth ‘Finder Keepers’, what we’ve witnessed tonight is a model case study of the new guard of British R&B. What Mabel lacks in true originality she makes up with slickness in spades, displaying a keen eye for what’s hot right now.

How to take this millennial relationship to the next level? A touch more emotion. On the cusp of being something truly big, we’re ready to get to know the girl behind the music a little better.