With two albums, a string of hit singles and growing list of television and film credits, Paloma Faith is already a star in her native United Kingdom. Now the fiery-haired beauty is ready to make a splash in the United States.
As her sophomore set Fall to Grace moves toward a Nov. 24 Stateside release, the British chanteuse hits the road for her first North American tour. In support of her U.S. debut "Picking Up the Pieces" -- a lush single packed with sweeping strings and Faith's powerful vocals -- a Sept. 18 concert at San Francisco's Rickshaw Stop made her handful of U.S. destinations.
A sold out audience waited with anticipation for Faith, whose latest album debuted at #2 on pop charts in her home country earlier this year. When she finally took the stage, significantly later than expected, she shared her day's travel woes. Per her account, a series of mishaps -- not the least of which was her hair, makeup and wardrobe being temporarily misplaced -- nearly prevented her making the show all together.
"Look at me, I'm basically just a drag queen," she told the audience to a roar of approval. "So when we thought we'd lost the luggage, we said, 'What better place than San Francisco. We know there are a lot of drag queens here!'"
All seemed forgiven once she started her live set, which ran slightly more than an hour. Playing a majority of the tracks from her forthcoming release, Faith warmed up the crowd with "Agony" and "30 Second Love Affair," currently the album's second single overseas. With many in the audience singing along, "New York" proved the only track from her UK debut album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful to make the playlist.
"All the women singers in Britain are singing about how men have ruined their lives, and I don't think that sends a very good example." Faith lamented during one of the (perhaps too many) periods of banter between songs.
"It's placing all the emphasis on men, giving them all the power, like they're the most important thing in life," she said, "And they're not!"
With that, she launched into the powerful message song "Black & Blue."
Somewhat mousy in her interactions with the crowd between songs, Faith was at her absolute best when using her powerful pipes. When singing, even the her questionable fashion (think space-aged lycra drag queen costuming meets '50s housewife) and the venue's lackluster stage presentation and shoddy lighting -- which alternately kept the artist shrouded in darkness or doused in unflattering blue much of the time -- could not overshadow the obvious talent.
Faith was at her strongest when belting her anti-authority anthem "Freedom" -- "This is a giant two fingers up to everything that would hold us down" she told the crowd after, from atop the grand piano. From this lofty new perch, Faith's vocals and physical presence finally commanded the attention she deserved but could not quite muster from the stage itself.
"When I see American acts do the last song, they walk off confidently knowing they will be called back to do an encore," Faith shared toward the end. "Being British, I leave the stage filled with angst, wondering if I'll get the opportunity to come back and perform the rest of the songs I have prepared."
No wonder she worried! Faith saved her best for last.
After bringing the crowd to a sing-along frenzy with the eagerly anticipated "Picking Up the Pieces," Faith returned for the finest performance of the night. Her soaring vocals and rich, emotive interpretation of 1968 blues classic "I'd Rather Go Blind" held the audience rapt.
Faith did more than just pay powerful tribute to the late, great Etta James. She showed even a redhead from London can have soul.
Watch Paloma Faith's U.S. Debut Single, "Picking Up the Pieces:"