Elle Varner Tour feat. Adrian Marcel

It’s crazy how much can change in two years’ time.

Back in 2012, when some of the world was still getting acquainted with the singer’s potential and everyone else had no idea of the star in their presence, Elle Varner came to Houston with the BET Music Matters Tour, joining also-then mostly unknown singer-songwriter Luke James as an opening act for Estelle. She entered the Bronze Peacock Room of Houston’s House of Blues, met by a mostly intimate crowd that filled maybe a little more than half of the room, and kicked off a nice set that set the tone for the rest of the night. She was met with plenty of cheers and applause and even praise; but because most had come for James or Estelle, she didn’t get the very best of the crowd.

Monday night was different.

Two years, one debut album, and a myriad of singles later, Elle found herself in the Bronze Peacock once more, this time as a headliner for her winter mini-tour. R&B crooner Adrian Marcel, opening for Varner, served up selections from his recent Weak After Next EP, including “Searching” (sans features Raphael Saadiq and Snoop Dogg, of course) and “It’s Over,” all but mastering the balance between engaging the crowd and seguing into songs. Marcel catered well to the mostly female crowd, serenading the ones at the front of the stage especially when he launched into his current hot single, “2 AM.” Though Marcel was met with mostly lukewarm reception coming in, by the time he went off-stage, he had certainly earned a few more fans.

After a long break following Marcel’s set, a live band began setting up shop on stage, wearing black shirts adorned with “F*ck It All” so named after the stand-out single from Varner’s 4 Letter Word miniseries of tracks this past Spring. And at 8:50 PM, the lights dimmed and Elle strolled on stage, met with the loudest of cries and applause.

Though Varner gives off a somewhat shy persona, two years clearly changes things. The Elle Varner that commanded the stage at Bronze Peacock was confident, self-assured, and extremely aware of how gorgeous she looked. Adorned in dark lipstick and her token curls, black leather pants and a black bustier top and a Black bubble jacket with her hometown “New York” spread across the back and on the left, Elle embraced the crowd, showing back the same love to them, that they gave to her.

Varner began with a one-two punch of 4 Letter Word‘s stand out tracks, “Cold Case” (made even more haunting by the live drums crashing in the background) and vocalizing her way into “Little Do You Know.” From there, Elle tore through tracks from her Perfectly Imperfect debut LP, performing “Welcome Home” live and carrying “Only Wanna Give It to U” from start to finish and doing the best J. Cole impression ever by rapping Jermaine’s feature verse herself. “I Don’t Care,” whose album version was already built for a neo-soul lounge, was given new life through the live band, Elle herself on the acoustic guitar, keys, and drums enhancing Elle’s emotional vocals. She interrupted her performance briefly to invite a young boy on stage with him since it was his first concert (and I’ve never been so jealous of someone younger than me in my life) and broke out in a cough mid-song, apologizing to the crowd for her moment of humanity.

From there, Elle segued into her current single, “Don’t Wanna Dance,” leaving behind A$AP Ferg’s feature verse and instead feeding off the energy of the crowd to rock out on stage and let her jacket slip off her bare shoulders. And then came “Fuck It All,” in all its of bitter glory and complete with the intro from the single’s music video (an intro that Varner insists is a snippet of a track on her upcoming sophomore album), Finally, Elle brought it all back to her first big single, “Refill,” her high note floating over the live drums.

And then it was over. Elle thanked each of her live band members personally, waved out to the crowd, and thanked Houston for the love shown her. She walked offstage, and somehow the show didn’t seem complete.

So the crowd chanted. “ENCORE! ENCORE! ENCORE!” even as the live band was packing up their instruments. But one by one, they remained, and suddenly Elle, hearing the crowd’s cries, came back out. The crowd’s cheers and chants for her were deafening for a minute, and Elle was a ball of emotion, going from saying “Wow” in awe of the reception to breaking out in tears of appreciation. Once the crowd settled down, Elle cooed her way into a downright sensual performance of “Not Tonight” before beginning “So Fly,” the women in the room fully soaking in the track’s anthemic message of self-love. And she closed it all out with an a capella version “Stop the Clock” after the crowd begged her to perform one more song, even after her bandmate insisted that she was over her scheduled time. Eventually, the band realized they couldn’t leave Elle hanging and so they backed her up on instrumentation one last time.

Varner remained behind briefly to meet and greet some of her fans. One young lady in particular held on to Elle for dear life and was practically hysterical, but Elle wasn’t alarmed or at least she kept her cool. There was something truly genuine about it all, from the way she waved out at the crowd at the start of her set, to the way in which she seamlessly slid between girl with a story to tell in glasses with her acoustic guitar, and crunk Elle with the jacket hanging off her shoulder and dropping it low to “Don’t Wanna Dance.” She was sexy and yet not innocent. Fierce and yet not fearsome.

She was humble. She was human. And after seeing her live, it’s really hard NOT to root for Elle Varner.