The British singer known as Rumer inhabits a world of borrowed artifacts.
Her voice recalls that of Karen Carpenter. Her look is very Laura Nyro. And her song “Aretha” wasn’t just inspired by the legendary soul star – it literally describes the act of listening to Aretha Franklin.
Performing Thursday night amid the boldfaced remains at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Rumer (not to be confused with Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter of the same name) showed off another acquisition as she introduced the members of her band.
“Here he is,” she said, gesturing toward her keyboardist and producer, Rob Shirakbari, to whom she’s also engaged. “I stole him from Dionne Warwick.”
Think of Rumer, then, as a collector of others’ discoveries -- more a magpie than the creature in her song “Blackbird.” But, man, does she borrow beautifully, with a voice that floats like a warming breeze.
Held inside the cemetery’s cozy Masonic Lodge, Thursday’s concert was the final date of a U.S. tour behind last year’s “Into Colour,” which Rumer called her “American record” because she wrote and recorded it in Los Angeles. The singer, born Sarah Joyce in Islamabad to an English mother and a Pakistani father, broke out in 2010 with a debut album that revived the plush sound of late-’60s easy-listening pop – and quickly won praise from some of the architects of that style, including Burt Bacharach.
Yet the effects of fame, at least those she experienced in the U.K., overwhelmed her and, coupled with a series of traumatic life events, led to a total retreat from the spotlight. Rumer sought refuge in Laurel Canyon, where she took up with Shirakbari (who had indeed worked as Warwick’s musical director); together, they created a sumptuously arranged set of songs about a happy escape into a kind of imagined fantasy.
“We need a change of scene / Let’s step inside a different dream,” she sings in “Pizza and Pinball,” “remember how things used to be.” Then she proposes a list of fun-time activities that includes downing a Slurpee (a Slurpee!) and saying “Hey” like the Fonz.
At Hollywood Forever – with opening act P.F. Sloan, the veteran pop songwriter whose life became the subject of the 1970 Jimmy Webb song “P.F. Sloan” – the singer moved through her 90-minute set with an apparent effortlessness that belied the complexity of her melodies. She relaxed her phrasing to a hypnotic crawl in “Slow” and brought a dash of sensuality to “Baby Come Back to Bed.”
“I Am Blessed,” with its descending, hymn-like chorus, was almost absurdly gorgeous. She was even pretty convincing in a lightly funked-up cover of “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” the Hall & Oates song she performed previously with Daryl Hall on his popular Web series "Live From Daryl's House."
For all the purity of her voice, though, Rumer remained weirdly (if intriguingly) opaque, even as she recounted the circumstances of a song such as “Blackbird,” which she said was about learning to let go of certain feelings. Her manner was setting you up for a classic singer-songwriter experience – a confession, in other words. But the music kept directing you elsewhere, never more so than in her hall-of-mirrors rendition of “P.F. Sloan.”
Returning to the stage for her encore, Rumer told the hushed crowd that she was “feeling a bit emotional” and asked her guitarist to move a stool so she could sit down. Then the band slid into “Thankful,” a song in which she sketches a scene of suburban normalcy – “Six o’clock, summer afternoon / Next door’s kids are playing in the yard” – that carried some serious wistfulness, especially for anyone familiar with that world.
And sure, Rumer seemed in touch with it. But not nearly so much as she was with the song’s next couplet: “Doing the dishes at the window, and the radio’s playing ‘Superstar.’”