Review, photos, videos: JoJo makes triumphant return after 10 years away

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JoJo, Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque, Joanna Levesque

Photos: Roman Gokhman

SAN FRANCISCO — The last time we heard from JoJo, she was asserting her independence in 2006, when sophomore album The High Road debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and was certified Gold shortly after. That album followed 2004’s self-titled debut, with the inescapable hit “Leave (Get Out).”

Then JoJo disappeared, mired in a decade-long legal dispute with her label, from which she wanted freedom. The school-set video for “Leave (Get Out)” presented JoJo as an independent young woman, with a message opposite that of Britney Spears’ “…One More Time.”

JoJo, Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque, Joanna Levesque

JoJo performs at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Feb. 19, 2017.

In 2017, JoJo has reappeared as a fully fledged diva, confident not just in her solitude but also in her sexuality—Britney circa her self-titled album or In The Zone. JoJo’s 2016 album, Mad Love, hit No. 6 on the Billboard 200 in its first week. An ensuing world tour sold out dates in Europe before making its way to the U.S. last week and San Francisco on Sunday at the Regency Ballroom.

JoJo, Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque, Joanna Levesque

JoJo performs at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Feb. 19, 2017.

While at times her stage presence deflected from the songs being performed, the singer born Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque consistently recovered with her biggest strength: an R&B-suited voice that absolutely kills on mid-tempo grooves and ballads like 2015 single “Say Love.”

Taking the stage in a sheer catsuit, high heels and strategically placed adhesives, JoJo was backed by a drummer, keyboardist, guitarist and two talented R&B backup vocalists. Production was relatively low-key, though a green, sparkling microphone stand that was like a straightened hula hoop.

The set was composed mostly of new songs like  “Fuck Apologies (Wiz Khalifa is featured on the album version),” the title track, “Music” and “FAB.” The latter stands for fake-ass bitches, if you’re wondering. JoJo has no shortage of tell-off songs these days.

JoJo, Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque, Joanna Levesque

JoJo performs at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Feb. 19, 2017.

When JoJo spoke between songs, she was always overpowered by screaming fans (again with the diva comparisons, here). “Leave (Get Out)” was third on the setlist, and surprisingly, it neither drew the loudest cheers nor was one of the better performances of the night, concluding with a sort of EDM freakout that briefly made the song unrecognizable. Only one other track off the 2004 debut got a spin (“Baby It’s You”), while The High Road was represented only by “Too Little Too Late.”

JoJo, Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque, Joanna Levesque

JoJo performs at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Feb. 19, 2017.

At various times throughout the night, JoJo played up sexuality (OK, at most times). At one point, she brought a male fan onto the stage. Her backup dancers tied his hands behind his back on a chair and blindfolded him. And then, well, JoJo proceeded to dance all over him. On the next song, the chair itself was granted its own dance.

JoJo also covered Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” and included bits of Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” on her own Motown-flavored title track to end the main set. She introduced the cover as the song “that changed my life.”

JoJo, Joanna Noëlle Blagden Levesque, Joanna Levesque

JoJo performs at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Feb. 19, 2017.

R&B crooner Stanaj opened the show with a sometimes bass-heavy and sometimes melodic set that split the difference between How To Dress Well and The 1975. Backed by a drummer and guitarist, he was at his best when he sang a capella or accompanied his vocals with a piano, such as scorching hot cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.

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