by Rachel Saywitz
The first thing that struck me as I walked into the small, intimate venue attached to The Middle East was a large crystal perched on top of a stand near the back of the stage. I was extremely intrigued, and while waiting for pop singer Ella Vos to come onto the stage, I couldn’t stop staring at this set piece that seemed out-of-place. When Ella finally appeared in front of the cheering crowd with a soft light on her and a drum placed near the front of the stage. as she started the show off with ‘Words I Never Said’, a track that appears in two parts in her album of the same name, I felt like I was seeing a physical manifestation of that crystal.
It was her crystal-clear voice, that was a true symbol of the gem. Even with some pretty heavy reverb on her microphone, I was able to pick out many of the lyrics to her songs. In fact, Vos sounded pretty much just like her studio voice, high-pitched but not shrill, restrained but passionate. When she spoke to the crowd she seemed slightly nervous but excited; after her first two songs she sheepishly said that she hoped the audience would dance with her.
The setup of the stage itself was sparse, with just Ella who sang and one other musician who handled guitars, the drum machine, and the rest of the electronic backing track. I was initially worried that the music wouldn’t shine with only one person playing all live parts rather than a band, but ended up being pleasantly surprised by the end of the show. The best parts of the set were when Ella got involved in the music by doing more than singing. In the intro to her song, ‘Little Brother’, she banged on a large drum in the middle of the stage as the lights turned changed to a dark green, creating a fun and mysterious atmosphere.
The set list was fairly predictable, as it can be when you’ve only released eleven songs publicly. However, the show was still exciting and even seemed to have a kind of story to it. Between songs, recorded interludes would play referring to times of heartbreak, loneliness, and depression. “My friends are doing everything that I want to do. I’m stuck inside”, went the spoken interlude before one of the more emotional songs of the night, ‘Mother Don’t Cry.’ I couldn’t help but feel like I was intruding into a space of Ella’s life that seemed very intimate. The song was one of my, and ended up being one of the audience’s favorites. When I heard people singing along, I realized that the intimacy was all a part of the experience.
Sometimes, however, the intimacy seemed a little forced. Near the end of the set, Ella moved to a piano to play a slowed down cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic.’ The gesture was cute, and a few audience members sang along, but the piano cover felt a little off kilter and didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the more emotionally charged music that was being played. Additionally, when singing ‘You Don’t Know About Me,’ a fun anthem that got the biggest reaction from the audience, Ella was a little awkward when trying to turn the microphone towards the audience to sing some parts, the gesture didn’t really translate well and not many people sang along.
But these awkward moments are to be expected for a singer that’s debuted her first full- length album and is only on her first headlining tour. At the end of the set, after playing a powerful rendition of her single, ‘Going Down in Flames,’ Ella walked to the piano to play a soft, short ending to her show, the second part of her track, ‘Words I Never Said.’ After dramatically walking off of the stage to a guitar solo playing in the background, it was immediately clear that the small crowd inside Sonia had become enthralled, they shouted for an encore almost immediately after she left. Ella came back to the stage to play two more songs and a flourishing piano solo, looking beyond happy to see an enthusiastic crowd. In that moment, as I saw her smiling face looking into the audience, I could feel her positive energy, radiating towards me in a crystal clear light.