Last month Sazzie played her first solo UK show at the Camden Assembly. While England’s defeat to Belgium, shown in the downstairs bar, was nonetheless another step towards football coming home, the free show felt like a homecoming of sorts for Sarah McIntosh herself, returning to the UK stage for the first time since her brother Hamish decided to leave the synthpop duo Lovestarrs last year which set Sazzie on a solo course, with a new name and new management. After a break to visit America, and write music for trailers and adverts, Sazzie was back playing to her adoring audience in the city that launched her into the music business as a teenager.
The question was, what would a Sazzie show look like, and what would a keen admirer of Lovestarrs and McIntosh’s first band The Good Natured make of it?
Opening was the promising HAIZ, backed by an acoustic guitarist to give a different angle to her well-produced, funky electropop. The pair gave stripped down renditions of her two singles so far, Betrayed and Talking Shit, which is now close to 75,000 Spotify streams. Acoustic renditions allowed more attention on the lyrics, and they both possess the quality of thoughtful, empowered reactions to setbacks, a trademark of HAIZ’s writing.
She also played Girl Next Door, a recent feature with up-and-coming producer Kova. We were promised that it would be uploaded to Spotify last Friday (it was) and told that its produced, studio version had been listed for play on Love Island. Its sharp, no-nonsense lyrics once again exhibited HAIZ’s smooth vocals. A new song, Ashes, which HAIZ explained was about finding the positives from a breakup, was one of her short set’s highlights and evidence that there is more to come from the Scot.
South Africa born Teenager Stacey Bee was next up. She started her set with a trio of solid covers performed to piano backing tracks which betrayed her pop sensibilities and showed the quality and versatility of her voice: Vance Joy’s Riptide, a particularly tender version of ILYSB by LANY and Ariana Grande’s One Last Time. Next came a new song from Bee’s upcoming EP, due this summer, Dig a Little Deeper. It really is a superb number with a great vocal, imagine a less husky Sigrid and you’re not far off – I can’t wait to hear its recorded version.
Bee finished her set by pleasing the crowd with her most recent single Bad Dancing, co-written with Sazzie – a tune with an infernally catchy beat and chorus, bringing in the sounds of Kylie and Shania Twain. I’d have loved to hear one or two of her other excellent singles; the cute, light and airy debut GRL PWR (which leans strongly towards Lovestarrs’ Good Girls) or the wonderfully cutting indictment of the modern generation Fotoshop (her best ‘pop’ song to date), both set to boppy dance tracks and with more than a whiff of PC Music about them, but as Bee plays larger stages and longer sets I’m sure this will come.
Soon it was time for the main event. With the stage now decked out for a party with inflatables and the Assembly’s iconic behind-stage lightbulbs, we were ready for the hyper-pop shock of Sazzie.
Most of Sazzie’s set consisted of songs from Planet Lovestarr, last year’s album recorded and toured with her brother Hamish as Lovestarrs, now absorbed into Sazzie’s solo catalogue. Her band of guitarist Tom Flack and percussionist Gareth Burnett had previously toured with Sarah and Hamish and were as tight as expected. Interestingly, Burnett opted for electric percussion pads this time rather than a full kit, to give a better range of samples.
Throughout her set, from the second song Bullet (a longstanding fan favourite in her repertoire), Sazzie took several trips into the audience to sing directly to people, like fans of her cult first band The Good Natured became accustomed to. The hot, packed room had the feeling of a raucous gathering of friends or nightclub far more than that of a gig. Of course it helped that many near the front were Sazzie’s friends or long-term fans who belted every word (and I mean every word!) back at the Highclere native. For a venue like this, Sazzie’s stage-craft, honed from years touring the UK, US and Europe, fitted perfectly.
It has to be said, as well done as opener Life is a Bitch was, it was crying out for Hamish’s prominent bass part which really made the recorded version. He couldn’t be in the audience due to a prior commitment visiting Disney World, but it seems that Sazzie’s reaction was a lot more reasonable to him than I’d have been in that situation!
After that, though, the other seven cuts from the album were given really interesting airings which suited the three-piece to a tee. The album re-write of topical single WTF and Without You both featured some superb guitar lines from Flack, while the earthy Barflies was transformed into a club banger by Burnett. We even got a bit of Cha Cha Slide slipped in there for good measure. Although it’s not one of the Lovestarrs tunes Sazzie’s new management Copeland Entertainment are most enthused about, you get the feeling that with its catchy lyrics and irresistible beat a properly promoted re-recording of Barflies could do very well indeed for Sazzie and become a live favourite too.
Next, a celebratory Drop Dead Gorgeous featured more audience participation as Sazzie belted out the lyrics to the room. And for anyone wondering, yes, she can amazingly hit all the high notes she does on the album.
After that we were treated to a bit more fun as Sazzie covered Jeremih’s sultry Birthday Sex, serenading her housemate in the audience.
Closing the Planet Lovestarr section was a pair of the heavyweight singles from the record that really made people sit up and take notice of the duo: Get Your Sexy On (dedicated to Sazzie’s friends, two couples both about to tie the knot) and Somebody Like You. It’s impossible to listen to either without your mood being lifted even higher than it is already, and Sazzie’s pitch-perfect delivery, especially of the grittier Get Your Sexy On, was amazingly uplifting and illustrated the quality of the songs.
The set closed with Sazzie’s first single under her new moniker, the buzzing Do You Work Out?, recorded with Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys, which has already received attention from BBC Introducing among others. As a mission statement it was superb; a boisterous explosion of bombastic power-pop, designed to be blasted on sweltering beaches and in open-top convertibles. Sazzie’s performance reflected this, a deliciously over-the-top affair matching the song’s pounding synth refrain that was all crazy dance moves and mad strutting, for which she even invited a friend on stage.
There was surely no better way to end a genuinely uplifting evening of pop anthems performed to an enthusiastic audience than this. The Lovestarrs tunes had nicely bridged the gap to Do You Work Out?, which may otherwise have seemed weird to a disciple of McIntosh’s darker early work, often compared to La Roux.
A word also for Gaydio DJ Phil Marriott, a long-term friend and supporter of Sazzie who was on the decks between the acts. He played some superb era-spanning classics and remixes to maintain the chilled, party vibe of the evening.
When Lovestarrs went their separate ways professionally, I was disappointed. I thought I’d missed my chance to hear some of my favourite pop songs live. Thankfully, Sazzie delivered just that, while also subtly angling herself towards her new direction as a solo artist through the re-workings of her back catalogue and setting up great hopes for what she’s got in store next.