I’ve loved Kelela‘s music ever since first listening to her Cut 4 Me EP back in 2013 or 2014. Her voice – followed by FKA twigs a few years later – signalled a great resurgence of sultry, rich female driven R&B that now, we’ve seen fully embraced by artists from the US and UK in particular.
Where twigs’ “Two Weeks” had heavy Aaliyah tendencies mixed in with a defined British edge, Kelela’s “Bank Head” and “Rewind” (from 2015’s Hallucinogen record) had a more ‘alt’ sharpness. It’s a sharpness that we’ve seen further explored on the latest Kelela record, Take Me Apart, a record that has brought the US songwriter and performer to wider attention and acclaim. And finally, Kelela has been able to tour in Australia – an event I know myself and many others out here have been waiting years for.
She didn’t disappoint, but more on that in a minute.
Opening the gig at 170 Russell on Monday night was Fortunes. – they’re a duo I’ve heard heaps of but until this point, hadn’t seen them perform live. Stepping out on to the stage, the Melbourne based New Zealanders had a solid crowd gathered for them already, which is a great jump point for any support act. Vocalist Conor McCabe, visibly excited, wasted no time in thanking the crowd and Kelela as well; the disbelief that they were offered this show was evident, but the excited nerves didn’t ruin their confidence at all.
Similar to artists like JMSN and Vallis Alps in particular, the music Fortunes. deliver is perfect for this packed club environment. McCabe’s vocal is reminiscent of Sam Smith’s, though he executes more control over the high end of his range which, for me, makes his voice much nicer to listen to. Fortunes. were late to come on stage due to doors opening later, but the set didn’t feel rushed at all; in fact, I couldn’t think of a more perfect act to lay down the foundations for what was to come…
Kelela’s stage set up was kept minimal; a producer off to her left, two backing vocalists to her right. Clad in white and soon to be drenched in a spectrum of lighting that flowed from icy blues, to deep purples and reds, Kelela’s voice was the first the audience hears. She emerges, singing the opening of “Waitin'”, the perfect song to open the show with. The crowd releases the anticipatory tension that had been building ecstatically.
Throughout the show, Kelela addresses the crowd but a few times, but when she does, the crowd is quick to latch on to each word. Slinking around the stage, taking us through the likes of “Blue Light”, “Enough” and “Go All Night” early, Kelela performed with an almost hypnotic fashion. Her vocals were on point and they were strong. There’s a clarity that comes with them on record and hearing them live just rammed home how much of a consummate performer she is.
Special props must be awarded to the talented backing vocalists Kelela’s got out with her as well; afforded their own moments to shine throughout the show, these two ladies really came through with strong vocals of their own. This is the way R&B should be, in my opinion. Rich vocals that haven’t been over-produced or dubbed to the point of hilarity.
Possibly the most pop friendly tune on Take Me Apart, “LMK”, arrived at a point during the set where things went up a notch; we’d spent time getting used to Kelela and she with us, now we were getting taken to a proper club environment. Ensuing tracks including “All The Way Down”, “The Message” and “Truth or Dare” kept things moody, but bringing in a little cut of Tweet‘s “Oops (Oh My)” during “The High”, not to mention the inclusion of “Frontline” and “Rewind”, brought the energy right back up as the main set came to a close.
As my first show for 2018, this one definitely set a high bar. I get the impression it’ll be a while before we see Kelela on our shores again, but man, what a mark to leave behind.
Photos by Michelle Grace Hunder.
The reviewer attended this show on January 15th.