Betty Who makes it so damn hard not to love her. From her bubbly onstage persona to an impressive songbook of smart, cutting lyricism, she’s infectious–turning everything she touches into gold. She’s got the adorable, girl-next-door charm, a rather spunky rebellious streak and vocal chops to tear down the Taj Mahal. When she opened her recent show at Webster Hall on Friday evening (April 14) with the stunning a cappella of “The Valley,” the crowd became windswept with emotion. The voice was clear and resilient, adorned with a silky sweet one, which set the stage for one of her most impressive outings to-date. Betty Who, born Jessica Anne Newham, is living her “Glory Days” as we speak, hitting her stride on both her debut, 2014’s well-crafted pop masterpiece Take Me When You Go, and the admirable, freshly-squeezed sophomore follow-up, The Valley.
Who continues to be pop’s most bedeviling and enthralling performer, even if Top 40 doesn’t seem to understand her aesthetic or how to support her brand of sunny Australian tunes fully and unconditionally. A string of new cuts, including the should-be-smashing-right now “You Can Cry Tomorrow,” “Human Touch” (one of her fiercest bangers), “Make You Memories” and “Pretend You’re Missing Me,” came next in her setlist–a dynamic display of her relentless mastery of big hooks and even bigger message songs. “Free to Fly” was one of the night’s best gasoline-fueled barn-burners, leading into the entrancing “Blue Heaven Midnight Crush,” during which Who basked in a sea of blue falling onto her porcelain skin and opened her heart unlike any time she ever has before. Then, when she whipped out her guitar, for the one-two punch of “Beautiful” and her ride-or-die “Wanna Be,” a superstar was born, creeping out from her cocoon and bursting with an explosion of color into the night air. And the crowd knew what was happening. The detonation of screams signified the moment Who transitioned from pop’s best kept secret into its next trailblazer. She doesn’t need terrestrial radio to transform into who she’s always been destined to become.
She then wove together her fiery hit “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Mama Say” with such previous cuts as “Just Like Me, “All of You” and the ’80s-glam “High Society,” as well as her version of Donna Lewis’ 1996 hit “I Love You Always Forever” (which unraveled during her encore). Who aptly bookended the show with “Somebody Loves You,” a debut LP deep track. “I’m around when your day’s gone all wrong,” she rallies, uplifting the spirit of every concert goer, who dared to hide away from the troubles of the world, trivial and monumental. Who upholds all the good and cherished and important things about life: her music speaks on a far grander stage than many give her credit for…and that’s the biggest travesty of all.
Show opener VÉRITÉ, who issues her debut LP Somewhere in Between on June 23, primed the audience with a collection of moods. From the “Phase Me Out” lamentation to the barbed “When Your Gone” ode, the spritely up and comer poured out an impassioned performance. Even when the crowd’s attention was noticeably slipping away, she drew them back in via shattered drops and trembling synths which shot across the dark like lightning bolts. What was most intriguing about her set was the trade off between working the stage and stripping production back on keyboard–a play on nuanced performance style, without compromising cohesive flow or energy. VÉRITÉ is on the edge of something truly great, and only time will tell if she can break through the noise.