fri 18/09/2020

Kelis, Brighton Dome | reviews, news & interviews

Kelis, Brighton Dome

Kelis, Brighton Dome

Despite crowd goodwill the feisty US singer's Great Escape showcase proves anticlimactic

Kelis, heading off to Memphis circa 1968

When Kelis first walks onstage in a shimmering blue ball dress, a gigantic mane of black hair falling down her back, gay men all about me in the circle seats spring to life, some veering into “Go girl!” territory, others simply shrieking, and one in the row behind calmly saying to a neighbour, “She is just magnificent.” I'd not realised she was quite such a gay icon but this concert offered definitive proof.

When Kelis first walks onstage in a shimmering blue ball dress, a gigantic mane of black hair falling down her back, gay men all about me in the circle seats spring to life, some veering into “Go girl!” territory, others simply shrieking, and one in the row behind calmly saying to a neighbour, “She is just magnificent.” I'd not realised she was quite such a gay icon but this concert offered definitive proof. That said, gay and straight alike proved hugely vociferous throughout, hailing Kelis like a homecoming queen to a Brighton that was midway through the Great Escape music industry shindig.

With a band, made up almost equally of men and women, and a tasty brass section, Kelis came prepared to do her new, southern soulful Food album justice, kicking off with its bouncy opener “Breakfast”. She has been quite the pop chameleon since she first cropped up with the shouty funk-rock of “Caught Out There” in 2000. Never making it – or, perhaps, having any desire to make it – into the Beyoncé league of superstardom, she’s always very much done her own thing. With a streak of sisterly girl power, she’s worked with fellow strong-minded women such as Björk and Robyn, and her own music has gallivanted unpredictably - but often invigoratingly - around styles ranging from stark cutting-edge girl-powered R&B to David Guetta dance-pop.

There are highlights, moments where the funky intent is matched by the band's momentum

What’s bizarre is that just as she becomes the biggest signing vanguard electronic music mecca Ninja Tune Records have had in years, her own sound veers towards Mark Ronson-esque retro. On the album Food itself this is kept somewhat in check by David Sitek’s imaginative production, but tonight Kelis often sounds like just another addition to the acreages of Radio 2-friendly post-Winehouse, post-Plan B pop. She isn’t helped by the fact she spends substantial chunks of time chatting inaudibly to the audience between songs, a blur of tonal mumble. Or that when she tackles older numbers, such as “Millionaire”, they cease to emanate any of their original sass and edge, becoming tasteful cover versions of themselves.

She spends a great deal of the gig sitting down, leafing through pages on a music stand, and it occurs to me that were this gig in Ronnie Scott’s or a small supper club, it might work rather well, an intimate chatty affair where the occasional extended instrumental jazz-outs would blend in. As it is, all these aspects simply add up to a dissipation of energy and excitement in the large Dome venue.

There are highlights, moments where the funky intent is matched by the band's momentum, such as the recent single “Rumble” and a crack at Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”. Kelis is likeable but she is also self-indulgent and she wallows in the crowd's goodwill and desire to party rather than amping it to greater heights. Many of the devoted and very vocal audience might disagree with such an assessment, revelling in her newfound retro-soul stance, but for me, the whole thing is best summed up by the way she throws away her iconic monster hit “Milkshake“ as a brief jazz-funk interlude, passed over between lengthy banter and shimmying about the stage, eyes closed, to saxophone solos.

Overleaf: watch the video for "Rumble"

If this gig were in Ronnie Scott’s or a small supper club, it might work rather well

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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She was shockingly bad

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