Live Review: Olivia Dean – Leeds Stylus, 26.04.24

Sat at the piano, mid show, Olivia Dean tells us that she’s anxious being on stage in front of the 1000 or so, sold out crowd at Leeds University. Her performance though, belies those nerves as she delivered a cool and polished show.

Stepping up to venues of this size would understandably generate a few butterflies, despite having aced her set at Coachella earlier in April. Last year, Dean played the iconic (but much smaller) Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. This time, the audience is more than twice that size, and the soulful 25 year old has had a stellar year in the meantime.

Her debut album Messy was nominated for the Mercury Prize and there were 3 Brit Award nods too, for Breakthrough Artist, Pop Act, and Artist. The apparent ease with which she commands the stage and audience justifies every one of those accolades.

On this tour, Dean is backed by a 7-piece band, something of a rarity these days given the expenses that newer artists carry with their touring. They deliver a luxurious, indulgent sound, adding richness to songs like Danger and an upbeat, jazzy feel to Ladies Room. The latter comprises solos from the horn section, and you could have easily been transported to a smoky jazz club rather than a student union.

The band is almost conducted with the flick of the wrist by Dean, who coolly orchestrates the show from centre stage. She’s already an accomplished performer. Smiling, she gives the impression at first of someone who still can’t believe her luck, but then performs with the confidence and ease of someone who’s been at this for many years. There’s a touch of the Motown diva about her, such is the coolness and assurance of the delivery.

There’s a real presence about No Man that gives it all the drama of a Bond theme. There’s humour in the intro to I Could Have Been A Florist – “There’s no deep meaning here,” Dean explains, “It’s just something I would be quite good at!”

There’s a stripped back section mid set that shows some vulnerability and Dean’s ability to hold crowd, even in the quiet moments. Then we are amped up again with Carmen, a party song that rejoices in the journey of her grandmother, arriving in the UK from Guyana. It’s an opportunity too, to celebrate the bravery of many generations of immigrants that add so much to the culture of this country.
Closing out with the breakout hit Dive, there’s no fake encore, just a confident end to an accomplished set. The larger venue clearly doesn’t phase Dean, and if anything, she seems to shine even brighter with the prospect of bigger venues (starting with Glastonbury) to come.

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