The Remarkably Talented H.E.R. Graces The Hollywood Bowl Stage For Two-Sold Out Nights
LOS ANGELES, CA- I can’t fathom how an artist would feel headlining their first-ever show at the Hollywood Bowl. The nerves. The pressure. The excitement. Now imagine that feeling after you learn that you’ve sold the venue out. Now imagine THAT feeling when you’ve sold out back-to-back nights. Whatever feeling you are imagining, that’s the feeling that H.E.R., nee Gabriella Wilson, had on August 13th and 14th, 2021 when she did exactly that.
At only 24 years old, H.E.R. (an acronym meaning “Having Everything Revealed”) selling out two straight nights at this storied venue is an impressive feat. Then again, you could almost argue that it was pre-ordained. After all, with a career that’s really only just getting started, H.E.R. already has multiple Grammy Awards, and an Oscar on her resume, halfway towards an ever-elusive EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award) status. Her impact on the modern music scene has reinvigorated the R&B genre, and her two sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl are proof that there are still tons of people who prefer carefully crafted melodies that exude both vulnerabilities and strength wrapped in sticky-sweet vocals that recite masterful poeticism over robotic trap beats and autotuned vocals.
Like many of the special LA Phil-produced events at the Hollywood Bowl, H.E.R. would be accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a portion of the evening. Conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the evening began with two orchestral selections by black composers: Adolphus Hailstork’s 1985 “An American Port of Call” and Duke Ellington’s “Three Black Kings.” The Duke Ellington piece was particularly wonderful. The public may only know of “The Duke” as part of the foundation of jazz, but his orchestral pieces, particularly “Three Black Kings”, are a joy to hear. In “Three Black Kings”, the listener’s mood is swayed in a myriad of directions. From the orchestra’s vibrant percussion section instilling life to the lush string arrangements setting minds adrift to the gospel conclusion of the piece, it truly is a musical journey.
After the conclusion of the Los Angeles Philarmonic’s second piece, H.E.R. stepped onto the stage to begin her portion of the event with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”. It was an inspired, and even bold, selection to start her performance with such an R&B staple, but I found it a bit hard to really connect with as I felt that the audio mix was perhaps a little vocal-heavy. When you have the strength of the Los Angeles Philharmonic backing you, I’d think you’d want the power and subtle intricacies of the orchestral arrangement to really shine… especially with a composition like “Inner City Blues”. I wanted to feel more of that swell from the string section. I wanted the triangle to be more pronounced. Instead, I felt that I could hear more of the nervous jitters in H.E.R.’s vocals to start the show.
H.E.R.’s nerves, however, quickly settle,d and the balance of the first act of the evening had H.E.R. performing 8 additional songs with the L.A. Phil’s backing, including, in order, “Bloody Waters”, “Fight For You”, “I Can’t Breathe”, “Lord Is Coming”, “Hard To Love”, “Best Part”, “Focus” and “Hold On”. In an amusing moment for me, during the performance of “Best Part”, when the male voice, originally performed by Daniel Caesar on the recording, started to sing, the women sitting around me started to squeal with delight thinking that it was, in fact, Daniel who was dueting with H.E.R. at the moment. As H.E.R. would clarify after the performance, it was a 16-year-old member of her background vocalist- who were all phenomenal, by the way- named Miles. Get that kid a contract. He impressed a lot of impressionable women in that moment.
While I thought that there were nice moments with the orchestra during the first half of the show, I really felt like the L.A. Phil’s potential was underutilized. I enjoyed the music, but the tidal wave of sonics that I usually experience when featured performers are accompanied by the L.A. Phil just wasn’t there on this evening. Was it the audio mix? What it the orchestral arrangement? I’m still not sure.
After intermission, H.E.R. took to the stage with just her backing band, and I felt that it was after the break that H.E.R.’s performance really opened up. My guest noted that she had changed into a pair of Converse tennis shoes, and perhaps even that subtle change of costume allowed for H.E.R. to be more comfortable in her skin. She spent much more time exhibiting her musicality whether on the bass, guitar, drums, or keyboards, and I think that really got her into her sweet spot as a performer. Whenever she would jam out on a solo, or venture out onto the passerelle with her instrument of choice, you could feel the vigor in every pluck or strum.
Throughout the second half of the performance, we also got a real sense of her musical influences and inspirations. Starting with “Cheat Codes”, she seamlessly flowed into Lauryn Hill’s “The Sweetest Thing” from the Love Jones motion picture soundtrack. She covered a song by one of her favorite guitarists, Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, which segued into a brief snippet of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” before going into her own “Glory”. The penultimate song of her set was a cover of what she called one of her favorite songs, Coldplay’s “Clocks”.
Like the first half of the concert, I did have issues with the sound mix in the second half. At times I felt like the bass from the venue’s subwoofers was punching into my chest, and for the first time ever at the Hollywood Bowl, I felt like I needed to put my earplugs in because the treble sound was so overwhelming. Trust me, this has never happened to me before, and I’ve seen purposefully loud (rock) acts at the Hollywood Bowl.
My complaints about the sound notwithstanding, it was a fantastic experience seeing such a young talent H.E.R. take command of such an esteemed stage. The sky is the limit for H.E.R., and I can only imagine the grandeur when she returns to the Hollywood Bowl for another sold-out, two-night stint accompanied by the venerable L.A. Phil. Hopefully, I’ll be around and available to attend that performance as well.
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