With their powerful country-pop, Jess and the Bandits have come all the way from Texas to tour the UK with Pete Molinari, and ended up winding up in Nottingham’s The Maze. Although not accompanied by her “usual” bandits (those you see in the photos), Jess was still readily prepared to take the venue by storm, with enough gusto to drown a much larger crowd in enthusiasm and zest.
Before she even started singing, Jess had the stage presence and command over the room that few do; fitting the UK’s typical idea of a country singer – cowboy boots, long skirt, denim jacket – she held a certain energy that only comes with experience and self-confidence. Far from the arrogance that many musicians boast, Jess clearly knew she could put on a good show and would still do everything possible to make it the best it could possibly be, adjusting to the audience as needs be.
Although Jess is known for being the face of the band with phenomenal vocals that leads the music, and her bandits tend to form a backdrop to the colour she provides, it is not solely her who can lead the set. Keyboard and guitar solos (prevailing against a broken string in the band’s current single) highlighted that the rest of the band could hold the dominance and weight to carry the performance.
I never like to say that a cover of a track is better than an original, but I think on this occasion I have to make an exception. The band were well aware that – especially as a support – no one knew who they were, or any of their music, so chose to throw in their rendition of Lumineer’s Hey Ho. As fine as it is on its own, Jess’s vocal work added a depth and fullness to the sound which wasn’t present in the original, and held a vibe more alive that could be captured on a studio track. Another cover of the night came in the form of Bonnie Raitt’s Love Sneakin Up On You, which captured the same passion that filled their own work.
The rest of the set consisted of a mix of old and new work, ranging from emancipating and upbeat She Ain’t, with captivating harmonies driving the pre-chorus till Jess stole the show in the hooks, to slower If You Can’t Be Mine, which whilst still holding the buzz of the other tracks, also boasted a controlled power. The latter of the two will be available on the band’s upcoming album, along with Wanted Man, also featured in the show. An overpowering middle eight made the track a standout performance, and hints at the quality the record will hold.
Closing with a Texas country song, the show all but burst with enthusiasm – who said that the UK aren’t ready for country music? Jess’s enchanting stage presence and the overall tight set made it as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen – spectacular.