JoJo Worthington’s live show demonstrates that no one knows you better than you know yourself. Worthington produces choral-esque vocal harmonies and atmospheric sounds that could fill a stadium, all by her lonesome. She made the long trek on the 401 from Waterloo to Ottawa last week in order to play at LIVE on Elgin, a venue that opened up this past June and has recently employed me for a few serving shifts a week. Worthington asked me to come check out her performance as I had reviewed her latest release 7 (which you can read here) and she is heading into the studio hoping to breathe new life into her sound. So here’s what I thought JoJo:
The most impressive part of the performance is Worthington’s ability to harmonize with herself, over and over and over, until she has many layers of sound waves that wash over the audience like summer rain. Her effective use of a loop pedal allows her to do the work of 20 musicians. A few times she would build up these huge songs then use her technology to speed up or slow down the entire track. Along with an array of pedals, Worthington uses a ukulele run through distortion and some other effects on top of a synthesizer keyboard to build huge soundscapes. She rarely stopped between songs and banter with the crowd was minimal.
Worthington’s ukulele work is originally what intrigued my ears. She seems to have a solid grip on the four short strings and knows how to pluck them. The beats to her music were a mix of programed drums, which were not stellar but got the job done, and tapping out a rhythm on the body of her uke, making for a really cool sound effect and visual. She put a new spin on some of her old songs and remarkably takes her sound from loud and powerful to soft and intimate abruptly, and vice versa. My biggest criticism of the live show was that she stood behind her microphone and synth the entire set. I realize the intricacies of her music keep Worthington pretty well stationary but she should find a way around it to make the audience part of the show as well, whether it is as simple as turning the equipment sideways or as technical as projecting a video behind her. Regardless, her static mobility put the music on display as the main focus, which does show an aspect of true musicianship. Worthington’s vocal mix of howls and wails proves that she does not need actual words to get her point across.
The end of the set took on a more experimental direction with heavy synth tones and soothing ahh’s, finishing the performance with a new tune she titled “Alien”. Her new direction is teetering on more of a chill mainstream party vibe than the last record. It sounds like a song that a Toronto rapper (not Drake) could lay down a sweet verse on. She is bridging her genre, it could be good but it could also go south, Worthington just has to make sure that she attacks the transition with conviction and dedication. Hopefully she’ll be back soon, but it is a ruthless drive and her sound is truly way too cool for Ottawa.