SAN FRANCISCO — There was some shroud of mystery going into Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross’ Thursday night performance at Slim’s. For Simpson, how would she perform after over a decade removed from not only the limelight, but releasing music and touring entirely? For Ross, what material would the soul singer with a supreme lineage bring to the set? Would the fans come out? These questions were answered almost instantaneously after the duo, dubbed simply Ashlee+Evan, took the stage.
The married power couple took the stage to a thunderous cheer from the just about packed room. Simpson and Ross opened with a pair of songs from their recently released EP: “Paris” and “Safe Zone.” Both songs exuded some of the most slick and smooth soul and R&B of the night. Ashlee Simpson’s smokey and sultry vocal served as the perfect contrast to Ross’ smooth falsetto; the two volleying verses back and forth before harmonizing on the chorus. Simpson and Ross’ chemistry is natural and their on stage energy was magnetic, bringing the audience along for the ride.
Ross then took a moment to introduce his wife and make way for her to break out a string of some of her biggest solo hits. The energy was immediate from the first power chord of the upbeat rocker “Lala” and continued all the way through the R&B-infused “L.O.V.E.” and the pop-punk kiss off fist-pumper “Boyfriend.”
Ashlee Simpson stalked the stage from one side to the other, jumping, dancing and swaying. A little time away from the spotlight seems to have done wonders for Simpson. She seemed comfortable and overjoyed in her on stage performance, and her work with Ross has also developed her vocal range and styling. She’s been underrated as a performer and overshadowed by outside controversies that distracted from the music. With those days in the past, Simpson shined on what she does best: putting on a high-energy, fun and enjoyable performance.
Evan Ross then returned to the stage to perform new song “Phases” with Simpson that the duo said should be released in April. The song had a soul feel mixed with a slight Latin flair, almost reminiscent of Santana’s “Maria Maria.” At that point, Simpson left to give the spotlight to Ross for a portion of the show. He performed a pair of crowd-pleasing covers in the Beatles “Come Together” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” The son of the legendary Diana Ross clearly has performance in his blood. His on-stage moves were smooth and both his stage presence and vocal range impressive.
Simpson returned to the stage after a quick-change to perform a classic Diana Ross (or ‘Mama D’ as Simpson called her) song with Ross before moving onto two of the more upbeat songs from their self-titled EP; “I Want You” and “Tonic.” Simpson’s and Ross’ eyes never went long without eyeing the other, and the sensual interplay between the two added a compelling authenticity to the performance without it ever feeling self-indulgent. The pair looked like they have been performing together for years, rather than just a handful of shows. The duo’s band was also a fine ingredient, mixing smooth funk and soul with a driving rock and roll backbone.
The show hit the home stretch with Simpson singing her biggest hit, “Pieces of Me,” which garnered the biggest crowd reaction and singalong of the night. Fans, most in their late 20s and early 30s, sang with as much fervor as they did in 2004. Simpson and Ross closed the show with “I Do,” their modern-day take on a Sonny & Cher ballad, before closing out with the real thing: “I Got You Babe.” Ross made a dramatic exit by jumping right from the stage and making his way to the back of the venue where he stayed to meet with fans, take selfies and sign autographs.
Singer-songwriter Austin Brown, who worked with the couple on their debut EP, opened the show. Brown took the stage with an acoustic guitar, occasionally flanked by a percussionist on a hand drum. Brown slyly blended his own songs with snippets of various covers, even mixing in the occasional Spanish-influenced guitar interlude.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.