The British R&B singer is not afraid of a little hard work.

Photo of Estelle

Corporate gigs can be hell. I saw a great Willie Nelson set at a corporate event, but at least a third of the crowd stood at the back and chatted as if a cover band was onstage. Last night, R&B singer Estelle played The Republic at an event sponsored by Rosa Regale, a sweet, bright red wine, and whether it was because the crowd hadn't had enough Rosa Regale or because it took a while for her to get onstage and play a 30 to 40 minute set, the audience was dead. People were clearly there for her and moved close to the stage when she came on, but there was no energy and less enthusiasm. By halfway through though, she had won the audience over through hard work.

There's always a slightly retro vibe to Estelle, from girl group melodies to her sparkly gold mini-dress, but with two backing vocalists, a keyboard player and an audible DJ, she also sounded current, particularly in an electrofunk medley of Madonna's "Borderline" with "I Can Be a Freak" with a hint of Soul II Soul's "Back to Life" thrown in.

Thoughout, she worked the crowd and slowly won them over, particularly on the ballad "These Tears I Cry." She made the song's emotion as physical as possible and didn't just ask the crowd to sing along; she handed the song over to them. The first line or so were a little sparse, but once people realized that they were going to have to sing the words if they wanted to hear them, they did and with passion. After that, she treated "American Boy" like a victory lap, letting the groove and backing singers do the hard work.