In the fifth scene of the second act of William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, the steward Malvolio contemplates a life of success and renown as he conjures the now-famous phrase “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” What the Bard did not mention is that some also have greatness thrust in front of them, as it bounds on stage with a lioness’ mane of platinum-blonde hair, and delivers party-pop perfection with some powerhouse pipes. This was the scene when Rita Ora bound onto the stage of U Street Music Hall to perform her first concert in the District of Columbia this past Tuesday. And lo, what greatness we did behold.
Undoubtedly many in the audience, and around the states, were first exposed to Ora through her collaboration on Iggy Azalea’s third summer smash of 2014, the Katy Perry penned “Black Widow.” Ora seemed acutely aware of this this during her marathon, 50 minute set, performing her vocal parts from the trap-influenced hit as her second number of the night. While just as entertaining for her and her fabulous backing band to perform as it was for the audience to rave along to, Ora clearly did not wish to linger on the music of others. This show, and indeed the rest of her brief “Body On Me” tour, served to properly introduce Rita Ora to the US, and it is an absolute pleasure to meet the real Rita.
The shame, in some ways, of most people knowing Rita’s name and voice through the Azalea hit is that the song, not in any malicious way, severely restricts Ora’s dynamic, mezzo-soprano voice. Her vocal power shone in the night’s slower numbers; the tear jerking, love ballad “Us,” and the night’s closer, the R&B/pop jam “Body On Me.” Indeed it is her uncanny ability to inject flashes of belting amidst perfect vocal and instrumental hooks that makes Rita so dangerous. And beyond her undisputable vocal prowess, Ora’s own music has a delightful eclecticism to it. The UK music scene is well-documented as more eclectic and filled with more risk takers than the US, and that is reflected in the variety of flavors with which Ora spices her live set, with the aid of her band. Drummer Devon Tayler injected Motörhead-worthy double-kick, metal drumming into the DJ-Fresh produced, electro-rave hit “Hot Right Now,” transforming the club hit into an EDMetal explosion. Keyboard player Karina de Piano brought a soulful surge to the electronically propulsive, sensual, and sinfully gospel number “Religion,” guitarist Adam Ross shred his telecaster across songs like opener “R.I.P.” and bass player Joe Cleveland brought the funk and the held down the fort with his fat notes.
Even though Rita sought to introduce the sold-out, jam-packed U Street Hall to her music, the real Rita also likes to have fun with her mates’ music. Whether she was aware of it or not, Ora vindicated those disappointed by the canceled Charli XCX/Bleachers show with a lively cover of XCX’s hit “Doing It,” letting her bratty, pop-punk side shine through. And, beyond that, a giddy Ora took most of the show’s time to showcase the material from her upcoming second album—which has no official title but she promised would drop at the end of November—that she is most excited for. While many artists who promote new music enjoy performing it, Ora was absolutely thrilled by the chance to showcase music from, as she put it, “Only my second album since I got signed seven years ago. It’s about motherf***ing time.” After hitting the crowd with present and future hits like “Poison,” “Body On Me,” and “Roc The Life,” Ora brought the crowd to the pinnacle of uncontrollable excitement when Ty Dolla $ign emerged from the club’s backstage to premiere the trap-laced, dirty club number “Paranoid.” Between the Foo Fighter’s mini-festival at RFK, Taylor Swift’s celebrity guests, and now Rita and Ty, DC has rarely had such a rich year of incredible musical collaborations.
As the night revealed, U Street Music Hall was the ideal venue to introduce Rita Ora to Washington, DC. The intimate, rock and rave ready setting matches Ora’s performance style perfectly, and her personality. As an “all ages” venue and show, it really was all ages, with a handful of families and pre-teens bopping along to the new UK pop royalty’s numbers. Ora even picked a pre-teen devotee, crushed against the front of the stage, to sit by her for the majority of the concert. And to serve as her dance partner. Ora had already won the crowd’s hearts before she stepped on stage, but she still acted like this was a battle to win over the hearts and minds of the uninitiated. And that is why she is such a brilliant artist and performer. Rita Ora gave the audience her best—the best banter, the “best” behavior, the best musicians (who else would bring two back-up singers to U Street?), and her best songs, when others would pander to pre-existing “fans.”
In fact, the only problem with the night was that it ended too early.
Rita graciously blew a parting kiss after eleven songs and fifty minutes of joyous, party pop; and left the crowd wanting hours more. But we few, we happy few in the audience received the rare treat of being present for the birth of the star. The pop music scene has another contender for the title of “Queen,” and her name is Rita Ora.
To learn more about Rita Ora visit www.ritaora.com
- Black Widow (Iggy Azelea cover)
- Roc the Life
- Doing It (Charli XCX cover)
- Paranoid (with Ty Dolla $ign)
- I Will Never Let You Down
- Hot Right Now
- Body On Me