(Photo credit: Brittany Kamphues)
“It’s been a long time,” exclaimed Jake Shears after performing a handful of songs at St. Paul’s Amsterdam Bar and Hall on November 9. “Six years is a very long time. I always knew I wanted to come back, but I didn’t know if it was possible.”
Shears, who initially appeared dressed in a white top hat and matching ringleader jacket with gold tearaway pants covering the bottom-half of his sequined black leotard, was speaking about his recent return to the spotlight. The former frontman for the pop group Scissor Sisters has spent the better part of the last decade doing everything except his initial claim to fame. He wrote a memoir, performed on Broadway, and left the city of New York for a new home in New Orleans following a separation from his husband. All that, and what one can only imagine is volumes left unsaid, lead Shears to create his debut solo work. The self-titled release arrived online in August, but Shears just recently hit the road in the United States.
That night in St. Paul, the temperatures were resting just below the freezing mark, and the streets were glistening with a fresh sheet of ice brought on from hours of flurries and gusts of strong, midwest winds. Virtually no one was outside, but the venue itself was packed with people from all walks of life. Shears took the stage shortly after nine following a lively performance from his only supporting act, SSION, and what can best be described as a ‘greatest hits’ set from a local DJ. Their greatest contribution to the evening was to close with Caroline O’Connor’s rendition of “All That Jazz,” which the audience sang with passionate hearts. Shears’ band appeared just moments before the song’s close, but they waited until the song reached its conclusion before kicking off their performance. The crowd roared in response, and as their cheers rang out the man of the hour appeared wearing a smile so bright it helped to illuminate the darkened room.
Comebacks in music are a dime a dozen these days, but what Shears was and is attempting at this moment is something else entirely. His mission is more of a second coming, or perhaps it is better described as a reintroduction. Though his set featured many Scissor Sisters favorites, including “Take Your Mama Out” and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing,” the material had been updated to fit his new, rock-friendly sound. That decision seemed as much necessary as it was creative. Shears never mentioned his former band, nor any other credits. He left the past where it should remain, behind him, and focused fervently on what lay ahead.
It’s easy to get lost in the high-gloss production of Shears’ debut album, but in a concert setting, that same material comes to life in new and exciting ways. Backed by one guitarist, a drummer, a bassist, and saxophonist, Shears’ latest offerings rang out with all the raw rock ferocity of an underground punk show. His performance matched this, with constant motion and pitch-perfect singing roaring through his entire vocal range. It was as if he were embodied by Freddie Mercury and Iggy Pop at once, and because of this, he held the whole room in his hand. This was especially true when he walked into the crowd and slowly made his way through the tightly packed audience. He made eye contact with seemingly everyone he could until reaching a bar at the back of the concert space, which he then climbed and stood atop until the song was nearly complete.
By the time Shears closed his set with a rendition of “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie he was covered in sweat. The ringleader outfit he started the night with had been stripped away until only a sequined leotard, fishnet stockings, and shiny dance shoes remained. He could not possibly have been more bare, both in dress and in spirit. The crowd sang along, doing their best to hit every note, and the sense of community that felt present throughout the night felt warmer than before. Shears exited the stage shortly after that, but returned moments later, this time in an outrageous dress, and proceeded to close with two more cuts from his new album.
“This one feels like home,” he said as the first notes of his album closer, “Mississippi Delta (I’m Your Man),” rang out. “Thank you so much for being here.”
When the song reached its climax, the band gathered at the front of the stage. The crowd roared as the musicians took their final bow and they continued long after the last member had left the scene. Some in the room headed to the back, but others lingered in hopes one more song might be played. They stayed until the house lights came up and then headed back into the cold, each hoping the warmth of the room would keep the loneliness of winter at bay.