SAN FRANCISCO —When JoJo last came through San Francisco, it was with a bang, on the heels of Mad Love, her first album in a decade after being stuck in record label purgatory; a horrible contract that prevented her from releasing the music she wanted her fans to hear. There sheer bombast of that album and performance, in early 2017, created a new image for the “Leave (Get Out)” singer. Big hooks and choruses, and a pop diva persona likely surprised some of her fans. But before that album, while her record deal prevented her from releasing music, she was still writing.
JoJo leaked many of those songs, as well as covers of other artists, online for free. Following the 78-city Mad Love world tour, she decided she wanted to perform some of those previously unreleased songs as well, and that’s what brought her to the Great American Music Hall Friday, on the “Leaks, Covers & Mixtapes Tour.” The entire show, more or less, consisted of B-Sides and covers—songs that only diehard fans would have recognized. To prove her point, neither “Leave (Get Out)” nor her other early career hit, “Too Little Too Late,” made the cut. Not even her last album was represented.
Instead, of out of the roughly 30 songs represented, the vast majority were officially unreleased tracks. A few were performed in full, some as medleys and some received shortened versions. As she described it Friday, fans themselves helped curate the setlist, as she took ideas from suggestions on social media.
“I wanted to make everybody happy, but this set doesn’t cover half of my leaked songs”she said early in the set.
Some of the songs blended from one to the other, but with an appropriately named tour, the fans knew what to expect. JoJo was backed by the same band as she toured with in 2017, sans back-up singers, but the entire show took on a more personal, low-key vibe. This began with her outfit, which wasn’t the sparkly sheer catsuit she wore on her last tour but fashionable sweats (still paired with high heels).
Joanna Levesque played songs that had just been debuted live for the first time at the tour’s start two days earlier. Most were R&B-inflected pop tunes like “I Hate Love,” “The Other Chick,” “Handle The Truth,” “Wonder Woman” and “25 to Life.” All of these songs showed the singer’s ability to write and then sing an R&B tune. Unfortunately, the vocal mix was often buried underneath the instrumentation and the vocals could only be picked out in the quieter moments.
Several of the tunes received the rousing singalong treatment, such as the unreleased “Billions,” which JoJo performed a few times in 2013, as well as covers of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” and Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat.” JoJo spoke at length about her adoration for the latter singer, who was signed to the same label as her, and which has been keeping the late singer’s final two albums locked up.
“They are holding her music hostage just like mine,” JoJo said. She also told other stories throughout the night, from her fondness for strippers, who like to dance to her songs, to gaining musical independence after many years.
Las Vegas singer-songwriter Malia Civetz opened the show with a 20-minute set of soulful ballads. Civetz was backed by a grooving trio that seemed like it’s been playing together for a while. “Do you like me” she sang on one song. “Just let a girl know,” she said afterward, as an aside. Civetz introduced another song by asking, “How many of you like George Clooney types?” The song was about sugardaddies. She finished her set with her newest single, “Little Victories” as well as “Champaign Clouds.”
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.