Corinne Bailey Rae at Vibiana: 'Que Sera Sera' and the sound of comfort
After she had played a dozen songs both old and new, had thrilled a crowded group of cocktail KCRW sophisticates with her cool, rich soul music, Corinne Bailey Rae introduced one last one, a cover version, she said, of a song originally done by Doris Day, but later covered by Sly and the Family Stone.
“Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” of course, which made so much sense that it brought a little ooh of delicious anticipation from the audience, and she and her five-piece band rolled into slow burn of Stone’s last great achievement (so far -- hope springs eternal). The vast Cathedral of St. Vibiana (now renamed, simply, Vibiana), with its interior like a billionaire’s wedding cake and candles fluttering behind the band, got deathly quiet, the musicians began with an a cappella moan perfect for the former church, and the bass and organ lifted into a gospel-like intro. Bailey Rae stepped up to the microphone, touched it, and gently offered the first lines like she was waking from a golden slumber: “When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, ‘What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me …’”
And in our hearts and out of the speakers came the response, as reassuring and true as a mother’s embrace, “Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera sera.” The song as covered by Bailey Rae, as covered by Stone, had that spirit, that feel, its laissez-faire philosophy rendered beautifully.
As she finished songs throughout the concert, which was being recorded as a live session for "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on KCRW-FM (89.9), this little grin would creep across her face, the smile revealing what was happening inside her head, and you felt this genuine happiness for the woman with the dimples and the freshly nail-polished voice. It's a voice that goes where it wants to go, expertly supported by a band of fellow northern Englanders, one that gave the sold-out crowd the songs they wanted to hear: "Like a Star," "Put Your Records On" and "I'd Like To," as well as budding tracks from her new album, "The Sea." Make no mistake, this is KCRW music -- like pornography, it's something you can't really define, but you know it when you hear it (but we'll try): progressive enough without being shocking, adult and contemporary with melodies everywhere they're supposed to be and structures for the ages.
Bailey Rae stayed within her comfort zone, to be sure, but it's a pretty comfortable place to be. (Almost to the point of monochromaticism; you wanted her to push further out than she did.) Her sound draws from a long line of song stylists such as Billie Holiday, Roberta Flack, Dusty Springfield, Sade, Tracey Thorn and Lauryn Hill, and like each of them she owns what she chooses to perform.
But standing atop that cake writ large (replete with a fluffy white carpeted stage), the walls glowing pale blue, pink and orange throughout the night, it was "Que Sera Sera" that was the highlight. We tracked the song's narrative from the narrator as little girl to young woman yearning for rainbows day after day to new mom with children asking the same question, the life cycle in song, from birth through life to wisdom to new birth. Knowledge and wonder -- or, more precisely, the wonder of the unknowable -- was the topic of the moment, and as the song, and the evening, ended with the lines "the future's not ours to see, que sera sera," the crowd delivered one last standing ovation, Bailey Rae gave a benediction and we all filed out, comfortable and warm.
Note: Excerpts from Corinne Bailey Rae's concert at Vibiana will be featured on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on April 9 from 11:15 a.m. to noon.
-- Randall Roberts
Photos: Corinne Bailey Rae and band at Vibiana's. Credit: Courtesy Jonathan Kalan / KCRW