Betty Who brings a glorious dance party to The TLA - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Betty Who | Photo by Chris Zakorchemny

If you think back to when you were first really getting into music; back to when you had a chance to go to a concert you needed to be at so you could just see your pop idol with your own human eyes – that is the emotional temperature of a Betty Who concert.

One look at 23-year-old Aussie Jess Newham, aka Betty Who, and you see a front-woman who is dancing just as much as the fans beyond the stage barrier. Most of those fans were into their twenties at the TLA last Saturday, transplanted back to their carefree teens, begging for Newham to take their hand-written letters and mix CDs. Without that barrier for the “Who Crew” to press up on and extend their hands over, the glorious dance party on the floor would have probably looked a little less glorious — you had to see the persistence of some of them, zealously waving letters for four or five songs at a time.

In that way, Betty Who is a throwback to pop singers who just have it. The it of, “I don’t just like this girl…I LOVE this girl.” This is a conversation that has arguably happened less and less in the past 10 years. If Betty Who rides her first album, Take Me When You Go (RCA) to chart-topping success, it won’t be because of something she’s become or changed into, but because of her evident confidence in who she is.

Sometimes, confidence is sticking with your gut when things go wrong – and last Saturday, things almost went wrong. In the second to last song of their set, the band stripped down the bass-pulsing “All of You,” to an after-hours R&B piano and vocals number. This was Newham’s chance to slow things down and show off her vocal range right before saying “You came here to dance, though, right?” and cuing the full band to kick into dance-party bliss — until it didn’t happen. The backing track on the computer stalled out.

Miles Davis once said “Play what you know, and then play above that.” True to that, Newham and keyboardist Lauren Fuller played on without the track until they got the okay that it was ready, and it shot out like a cannon; there was bass, beats and gleaming fans. If it was a trick to get fans wondering if the song would play out the way it was intended to be heard, no one minded.

Newham has plenty of reason to be confident. She has a viral hit on Youtube, trademark hair, a smooth voice, bombshell hits, the right producer to collaborate with, and most people literally look up to her (Newham is six feet tall, and wears heels on stage). But it’s also the person who fans see dancing and wooing just as hard as them, willing to sacrifice some singing breath for the sake of fun and jumping up and down.

Her music sounds like a modern take on throwbacks with synthesizers and slap bass, but just like that first time people saw Robyn’s dance moves on SNL, she owns it and makes you think “Wow…Who is she?”

High Society (with snippets of “I Want You Back” by NSYNC)
Heartbreak Dream
Just Like Me
Lovin’ Start
Missing You
Dreaming About You
Alone Again
A Night to Remember
Glory Days
You’re In Love
All of You

California Rain
Somebody Loves You

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