Few pop artists have had to adjust their expectations in accordance with their failures as much as Sampha Sisay, the London native who held forth in the headline position at the Red Marquee on Friday. Having tried and pretty much failed as a hip-hop beatmaker, he ended up remixing others beats (such as The xx’s, who were playing almost at the same time several meters away). But in the end, he just had to put out his own R&B-inflected pop songs, composed on his trusty piano, and set to keyboards and drums.
Though the motif was simple, the presentation was anything but. Sampha, dressed in an odd white getup that looked as if he hadn’t completely put it on, was completely in charge and had the relatively small audience eating out of his hands. Alternately swooning and declarative, his uniquely hushed vocals made such an impression that people around me gasped at the emotional clarity. R&B has turned into a form that favors style over content, but Sampha doesn’t see much distinction.