The idea of an acoustic set generally conjures images of coffee shops and intimate guitar melodies. Pop singer Jess Kent threw that notion out the window on November 16 with a fun and energetic set at the lower east side’s Ludlow House. The red velvet curtains of the club’s third floor opened around 10:30pm to reveal Kent, dressed in a casual white bodysuit and loose pants, and armed with just a microphone, a drummer, and an offstage synth.
Kent began with a stripped-down version of her single “The Sweet Spot,” a reggae-inspired and undeniably catchy meditation on fame and success. After showcasing her powerful voice in the song’s breakdown, Kent moved into “Trolls,” a triumphant ode to Internet haters (“cause you’re just trying to get your fix / hiding behind those fingertips”) with a fun electric synth beat. “You guys too shy to dance?” She teased the crowd. “We’ll see about that!” With that, she launched into “Bass So Low,” a synth-heavy dance song with a funky electric beat. Mid-song, Kent climbed atop the drum kit and sampled Missy Elliot’s “Work It” (building from the lyric “make like Missy / gotta flip it and reverse it”).
Kent’s dressed-down electro-pop beats were certainly enough to get a crowd dancing, but the audience at Ludlow House seemed content with head-nodding and swaying. Perhaps it was the manicured floors and luxurious furniture, but the venue doesn’t really lend itself to the energy that Kent’s music demands. This did little to deter her, however, and the singer ended her set with “Get Down,” her debut single that topped charts in Australia earlier this year. The bongo-drum infused hit drew the best response from the crowd, with several people daring to dance, while seated spectators gave approving nods throughout.
For an emerging artist, Jess Kent seems equally comfortable in both an intimate acoustic environment and a packed stadium. She is at ease onstage, radiating an undeniable cool factor. Much like her songs, as a performer she embodies a unique combination of excitement and chill, drawing listeners in with her fun pop hooks, but holding their interest with a low-key eclecticism. With a debut EP out as of November 18 and a string of NYC concerts, the upcoming year looks promising for the Aussie artist. Maybe she’ll reach the “sweet spot” after all.