This crowd wanted to dance.
“We’d like to leave you with a happy feeling.” Emily King made this generous statement to the crowd during her encore at Music Hall of Williamsburg, but from the second she emerged with a toothy, genuine smile from the top of the stairs, the tone for the night was set. King’s soul-pop records evoke an instinctual happiness, and her live performances make each note seep deeper into the listener. This is music to groove to, and when hundreds of fans crowd onto a dance floor to groove together while King’s voice soars above the sing-a-longs, the energy is electrifying.
King opened with “Sleepwalker,” off her 2015 album The Switch. Phones instantly floated into the air; many weren’t taking photos or videos but FaceTiming in friends and loved ones to share the moment. That community vibe seemed to ricochet back off the stage from King, who often commended the band that supports her flawless vocals. During one song, as King and her backup singer got together to work through some choreographed dance moves, the crowd hollered for the pair. King moves with the flair of Bruno Mars, using the stage more like a ‘60s jazz singer than a pop star. Songs often ended with King striking a pose, and like David Bowie, she knew exactly how to make the most of body angles.
When King ran out of up-tempo songs and swapped them for slower jams, the show began to fall flat. Though King’s voice was powerful and emotive, this crowd wanted to dance. When King didn’t match the audience’s vibe, this pent up energy was never quite released.
During one such slow jam two young men began a conversation. One went on about everything that is great about King, ending with “She’s just the best.” His friend responded, “Not bad to look at either.” “Man,” the first said in disappointment. “It’s not even about that.” While King’s presence is fun and her dance moves fierce, her live performance isn’t about that. Even when you couldn’t move to the music it was still impossible not to be enamored by her immense talent. “Every Part” sounds like a more soulful Carpenters ballad and, like Karen Carpenter, King has an inimitable voice. It may not have been the right audience or the right venue for her voice to shine, but during “Every Part” I was compelled to close my eyes and seek out her voice; when I did, I was reminded how remarkable it is.
King wanted people to leave with a happy feeling, and she succeeded despite the yelling match that erupted when a woman in front of me complained to another, “I’m sure you have a lovely voice but I’d rather hear hers than yours.” The woman singing did not take it well and proceeded to scream the lyrics into the other’s face for at least three songs. By the end of the show both left smiling, a confirmation that music has strong healing powers. King made everyone feel welcome, perhaps due to the fact that almost her entire family was in attendance. But even if King were not performing in her hometown, she still has the capability to make an audience feel at home. Her music is warm and her positive energy is warmer, which makes for the kind of show that makes you want the doors to the outside world never to open.