|"HAVE you ever seen the show Ally McBeal?" asked Vonda Shepard, just before she sang one of the key songs from the American television series that made her famous. "I thought you had, otherwise you wouldn't be here - and neither would I."|
She smiled, shook her maracas and played the opening notes to the soul classic Hooked on a Feeling, which made the crowd cheer in mass recognition. "Please," Shepard exclaimed, feigning mock annoyance. "I have a career."
Shepard, who was playing the first of two nights at the Empire and has a new solo album out this week, might have good reason to play down the Ally McBeal connection. This is a musician who had sung harmonies for various big names, including Jackson Browne, and released three albums in her own right, before she made her name as a nightclub singer in the popular TV series. On screen, she was regarded as a kind of subliminal conscience for McBeal, her lovelorn blues giving an extra voice to the lead character.
However, without Ally McBeal, Shepard might have had less of a career and more of a brief history. For it took the bestselling soundtrack Songs from Ally McBeal to give the 35-year-old singer a Top Ten record on both sides of the Atlantic. It also not only gave her the muscle to release her fourth solo album but allowed her to revamp songs from her previously ignored back catalogue, including her latest single Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow, which originally appeared on her self-titled debut album ten years ago.
Dressed all in black, Shepard has put together a classy four-piece band - notably drummer Pete Thomas, best known as one of Elvis Costello's Attractions. The stage was decked out in coloured chilli pepper lights, which gave the whole thing a Christmas-all-year-round feeling, and Shepard divided her time between playing keyboards, which were set up at the front of the stage, and doing various dance routines, some of which were almost as bizarre as the infamous dancing baby in the Ally McBeal show.
In between, Shepard endeared herself to the crowd by telling anecdotes and encouraging a singalong. "That's good," she enthused. "Very outgoing." A high point was a version of Lennon and McCartney's A World Without Love, plus a song called Confetti from her new album, to which she strummed a guitar.
However, if audience participation is anything to go by, most people had clearly come along to hear Shepard sing songs from the soundtrack that made her famous - and It's In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song), Searchin' My Soul and Tell Him came in a glut at the end of the show. Shepard returned for two encores, finally accompanied just by the guitarist Val McCallum, to do a version of Dusty Springfield's I Only Want To Be With You, which had most of the Empire singing and clapping along.