Ana Popovic, in her third decade as a renowned recording blues singer and guitarist, came to the O2 Academy Islington with special guest Toby Lee. Currently residing in the United States, the Serbian-born musician has been a consistent force de blues on the scene, recording in Memphis and Nashville alongside being nominated for a plethora of awards and honours.
O2 Islington, London – 10 March 2023
Words: Monty Sewell
Photography: Robert Sutton
Recording her debut solo album, Hush!, in 2021, she found her first bout of prolonged success and, leaving her guitar studies behind, dedicated herself to performing. What a gift to the music world it turned out to be.
Having never seen her live before, I jumped at the chance. Heading down on a more than brisk March evening, the venue was a welcomed warmth.
With a fearsomely well-dressed stride, Ana Popovic enters the stage with her five-piece band. Buthel Burns on bass, Jerry Kelley on Drums, Michele Papadia on Keyboards, Claudio Giovagnoli on Saxophone and Davide Ghidoni on Trumpet. I think I speak for everyone when I say it’s always a signifier of a good night when there’s a smartly dressed horn section in tow.
Opening with the sensational Can You Stand the Heat, Popovic thrusts us into her world of jazz-infused blues swing. Dripping with rock-tinged energy, each musician onstage plays their part, spinning their note to note perfection yarn with mouthwatering excitement. Object Of Obsession is just as enticing, showcasing Popovic’s guitar swagger on her Fender Stratocaster. Always a good weapon of choice, Popovic wields her instrument with both solo and rhythm expertise.
Love You Tonight gives Michele Papadia a shining spotlight on the keys, adding an unfathomable groove to the already hip-jiving number. Taking on Tom Waits’ New Coat Of Paint comes as naturally to the band as Popovic’s sultry low vocals feel on the track.
Though initially a trained guitarist by trade Popovic strides out in her own range of vocal superiority, both soulful and gritty with that unmistakable blues tone. Next up, we were treated to Power Over Me from her upcoming eleventh album, Power due for release later this year. Undeniably upbeat with that signature Ana Popovic charm, we can only assume the rest will be just as tasteful.
Johnnie Ray, Brand New Man and Ride It all come tumbling out one after another as the heat in the room rises and the drinks are poured. The band itself are incredibly tight, with the only moments of breath coming during instrumental breaks as Popovic douses us with her easy accessibility and party-like momentum. Lasting Kind of Love steadies the pace with an offbeat swing before we’re graced to a Rise Up! encore.
A Friday well spent, and I’m sad to see the evening end. Superfluously effortless with the kind of seasoned performance you hope to see at every show you attend. I’ll definitely be sitting, eagerly awaiting Ana Popovic’s upcoming album.