A rain just heavy enough to be annoying and a line wrapped around the block weren’t enough to deter fans from waiting for Leah Dou’s concert at Mercury Lounge last Friday, Jan. 20. The Bejing-born artist and daughter of musicians Dou Wei and Faye Wong, made her first track appearance on her mother’s song “Tong” when she was one year old and her first proper debut as a musician in 2015 in Tokyo. Since then, she’s grown into an irresistibly alluring indie jazz vocalist and performer. She opened for a few shows on Bastille’s most recent UK tour and her show on Friday was sold out and packed to the brim as the crowd buzzed, eagerly waiting for her to perform.
The backing band — a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a programmer — all dressed in stage blacks, holding their own with funky bass lines and electrifying guitar solos but clearly making room for Dou to shine as her own star. For her part, Dou had an oversized striped sequin jacket that caught every ray of the stage lights and refracted them in endless directions, a visual metaphor for her energy. She admitted to being nervous, but it hardly seemed to hold her back.
Her effortless crooning alto wasn’t even that much louder than her band, but her vocals still took center stage and were clearly audible on each part. Without a high range and a good sound balance, it’s hard for even soprano voices to make themselves distinct among the din at small club venues like Mercury — but Dou didn’t sweat. Her runs wove in and out of transitions, her lyrics were clever and enunciated and the crowd sang along to all but the unreleased songs from her upcoming album. Even with her gentle admonishment, phones were up the whole time and taking Snapchats captioned with hearts, exclamation marks and sparkles.
Dou’s live sound is distinctly jazzier than the music videos she’s released thus far, but they each hold their own. Her videos and recordings feel lighter, brighter and chipper. The performance, however, brought out the blues and the chromaticism that are envied by many and pulled off only by the smoothest of smooth. Even though in between songs she was nearly bashful, she was still collected in the way that parents are with a gift they know their children will love.
Her two crowd favorites, “My Days” and “Chimes,” brought screams of adoration from the crowd, though they were only slightly louder than those for her new songs. Dou could do no wrong, either feeding her fans’ insatiable curiosity about her new project or feeding their craving to hear their favorites and sing along with their fullest hearts. The whole set had an unrelenting air of passion unmitigated by occasionally blinding lights and a lack of elbow room.
The performance was special not because Dou pulled it off without a hitch — she did — but for a venue that typically hosts rock bands and locals, Dou pulled in a crowd that made security officials uncomfortable and merch sales skyrocket. It’s a testament to her talent, her fans’ passion and the fact that there’s not only an interest in women and people of color participating in the established New York music scene, but a demand for it.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 23 print edition.
Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]