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Olivia Dean 'Messy' Tour: Dazzling, Magical, Jazz-Soul Pop


 Photo via Wikimedia Commons (licensed under CC BY-2.0 DEED).


Ironically, Olivia Dean’s Messy Tour was anything but messy. Her team managed to do just that by creating a space where you’re enwrapped in dazzling lights, stunning jazzy musical arrangements and the desire to dance with them all night. 


Born in Deptford in SE London, Olivia’s music centres around neo-soul, pop, jazz fusion and R&B. She was named the breakthrough artist of the year by Amazon Music in 2021, and was selected as BBC Music Introducing Artist of the Year in 2023. She released her debut album Messy in June 2023 and the tour of the same name kicked off at the end of last year.


The setlist ranged from the earnest, simplistic acoustics of ‘I Could Be A Florist’, to the grand, strikingly overarching jazz ensembles of ‘Ladies Room’ and ‘Echo’. In particular, the soulful, loving, gospel-like ‘Carmen’, with each song translating Olivia’s personal touch to the ordinary events in her life. It is as if she’s sharing with us the lesson she’s learnt and accepted — that life will be messy no matter what, but within this messiness are also moments that you’d want to cherish, so embrace it all, the good and bad, and go for it.


The stage design was simple but unique, with vanity-style mirrors lined with lights encasing the back of the stage. The band stood on raised platforms, leaving the centre stage for Olivia. While we talk about the visual experience, Olivia’s performance was executed in the utmost professional charm. She exuded an air of confidence that showcased her easiness and comfortability on stage. 


Her body language and movements felt so natural, and it seemed simple to draw the audience in with a delicate lift of her arms, a sharp snap of her wrists, or a shake of her hips. She did the cutest outfit change when she transformed the pink ruffle-layered skirt of her two-piece set into a tight-fit skirt-pants. The crowd cheered with delight as the musical princess signalled that it was time to dance. 

 

The vocoder-filtered vocals of ‘UFO’ started the show in a soft, confessional tone, with only Olivia's voice and her silhouette against a warm yellow light. At the end of the first pre chorus, the white cloth covering the stage (printed with the tour’s logo) was drawn up and the band joined in with grand musical gestures. 


The portato piano instrumentals for ‘Ok Love You Bye’ gave way to the woodwind instrumentals of ‘Echo’, where the soulful drawn out notes of the saxophone solos were topped off by punchy trumpets by the end of the song. ‘Danger’ came through with its bossa nova elements as we lean into the afro-brazilian jazz as opposed to the big-band-soul jazz we had before.


The playful mood slightly hides its presence in ‘Be My Own Boyfriend’, which is undoubtedly the anthem of the night as the crowd sang each word in earnest — “Maybe I’m just what I need. Be my baby, I’m gonna be my own boyfriend”. The title track ‘Messy’ emphasised the message of Olivia's view on life — “No need to be ready, it’s okay if it’s messy.” Things slowed down with the acoustic ‘Dangerously Easy’ and ‘Everybody’s Crazy’.


In ‘I could be a florist’, Olivia wonders about an alternate life where she’s a florist instead of a music artist by listing her choice of bouquets based on the language of flowers. As she floats away from the keyboard in her satin-silk skirt, the band kicked off the energetic atmosphere for the rest of the night with a teasing upbeat bass line of ‘Ladies Room’, while Olivia tossed away the volumed skirt for a lighter mini skirt and pants combo. The elaborate ensemble with overblowing trumpets and ascending saxophone solos brought the energy through the roof.


A cover of ‘Millionaire’ by Kelis and André 3000 was a fun throwback to the 80s style pop with synth-heavy music, bringing everyone to a feverish dance floor. ‘Reason To Stay’ reminded us of Olivia's specialty in her discography — jazz soul, but this arrangement highlighted the bossa nova aspects as well. The guitar and keyboard in reverb-delay lightened up the groove with a dream-pop-like sound.


Olivia surprised fans with a second new song, which was evidence that she is not one who sticks to rules and stereotypes in her music. She played a tune that blended progressive rock in the chorus but dropped into smooth jazz with simplistic groovy percussion afterwards, which was more experimental compared to the rest of her discography. ‘The Hardest Part’ is a vulnerable confrontation about time moving on, and changing that into a hopeful resolution.


To wrap up her set, the loving ‘Carmen’ in full gospel choir is dedicated to Olivia's grandmother, and to all the women who deserve so much more recognition and love, who are “stronger than I’ll ever be”. The crowd chanted in melody, “Carmen, Carmen, Carmen” — our voices filled the room. Finally, ‘Dive’ was the perfect buildup to our farewell as we decided to trust ‘lover-girl’ mode and be willingly emotionally reckless; to live in the moment even as we’re saying goodbye to this surreal experience.


I recommend listening to her ‘Live at the Jazz Café’ album before anything else; it’s what originally drew me to her discography back in 2022. And of course her latest album which titled the tour: Messy.


An artist who has built their discography and musical career on genuine love and passion is one who will enamour her audience with her charm again and again. Olivia Dean certainly succeeded in leaving the audience in a daze after a series of slow-dancing, jumping, swaying and shout-singing as her musical ensemble bedazzled, satisfied and made themselves unforgettable.


Listen to Olivia Dean on Spotify.

 

Edited by Julia Curry - Music Editor

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