The largest choir of the season gathered at The Hollywood Bowl last night for a few harmonious sing-alongs. More than 12,000 people lifted their voices as a wiry, baby-faced conductor in rainbow PJs and yellow Crocs directed a mostly amateur chorus.
In other words, Jacob Collier made his Bowl debut.
The 29-year-old English singer, songwriter, producer and omni-instrumentalist is known for his exuberant live shows in which he makes a chorale of assembled concertgoers, and that’s exactly what Collier did as he emerged from the wings for a near sold out performance last night. Standing at center stage, the five-time Grammy winner divided the audience into three sections, raising his arms and hands to prompt people to sing lower, higher, or even higher than that.
It’s an act of daring, particularly at a show attended by a crew of older subscribers there for the regular Wednesday night jazz series (rather than as pure Collier fans). But it’s hard to resist Collier’s charms as a conductor and all-around musical whiz.
That oversized chorus was just one of many glory moments from last night. Brandi Carlile joined Collier to debut the release of a sweet new ballad called “Little Blue.” Take 6, the a cappella gospel sextet that has long been a Collier inspiration, added velvet backing on an instrument-free version of Stevie Wonder’s “You and I.” The Portuguese singer-songwriter known as Maro brought her soft, lilting harmonies to the song “Lua,” from Collier’s Djesse Vol. 2 album.
Collier was 18 when a homemade video of his caught the eye of Quincy Jones. Since then, he has released four albums, lined his shelves with awards, and collaborated with everyone from Charle Puth and Ty Dolla $ign to Hans Zimmer (the film score composer calls the younger musician his “hero”). Collier is currently working on the final installment of a four-part, 50-song album called “Djesse,” and last night previewed some gorgeous new tracks from that project—all backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Collier’s six-piece band, and conductor Thomas Wilkins.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what material Collier is presenting: He makes the music his own, and there’s never a dull moment in what he delivers. Even covers of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “All Night Long” are re-contextualized with surprising harmonics and striking choices of pitch, beat and instrumentation— Yacht rock becomes immersive art.
Some TikTok-ers and performers have recently been criticizing Bowl audiences for talking when they should be listening, and eating dinner when they should be dancing. And while it’s true that Collier had to work extra hard to make people look up from their wagyu steak and summer succotash salad, it’s also true that there’s nothing quite like watching him turn a venue of non-singers into a Grammy-worthy choir. It’s hard to say how he does it, really. Even Collier admits it’s a mystery. Of his audience chorales, he said this week: “Sometimes it goes miraculously well and sometimes it goes completely wild and crazy, and both results, to me, feel special.”
Here’s Collier with an audience in London:
Special, definitely. For the encore finale last night, Collier again stood at center stage and directed the audience in a transcendent round of “Wild Mountain Thyme,” the Scots/Irish folk song made popular by Emmylou Harris and The Chieftains. With Collier’s hands lifting and lowering, 12,000-plus strangers were suddenly united in song, somehow aligned in key and knowing exactly which note to sing next.