Walking into the nearly empty Royale only 15 minutes before the show began, it was difficult not to reflect on how small the crowd was, a sentiment seemingly shared by other people in the room, as audience members looked around at each other and the empty space. As such, the concert began with an extremely personal atmosphere, as if one were about to watch a close friend do a big gig, rather than see an artist who has collaborations with Danny Brown and Gorillaz, as well as millions of listens on Spotify. As the night progressed, and the crowd grew denser and wider, that air of intimacy was preserved as both Kelela and Tiffany Gouché put on a show that was impressively performed, but even more impressively personal.
Gouché opened, and did so in a very unique way. With almost no lighting except for an uncolored spotlight, one could almost assume she was a stand-up comedian rather than the musical act. As she started to tell jokes, walking casually around stage with the mic, one’s half-joking assumption perhaps began to seem accurate. Only when she began to sing did one realize that she is most definitely a professional musician. With incredible control and power, Gouché sang with a soulfulness and emotion that seemed natural for the music she had both written and produced. Her casual banter with the audience landed well, and the crowd responded with enthusiasm whenever her vocals got truly impressive. Singing as well as rapping, her songs were varied and unique, while each being catchy at the same time. “On the Up” was an enthusiastic and fun song, her ad-libs giving the song a playful tone, while her song “Red Rum Melody” eased the crowd into a more relaxed tone. Gouché showed that with minimal backtrack (she simply sang over her own instrumental) and almost no light design, she could still carry a performance on her voice and stage presence alone. With her jokes, asides, and incredible voice, she pulled the crowd in and made it feel personally connected to the show, providing the perfect atmosphere for Kelela to follow into.
Kelela entered dressed in elegant white, supported by a DJ and two backup dancers, both also dressed in white. Kelela took that intimate atmosphere and continued it—while she wasn’t quite as familiar with the audience as Gouché was, she still would move and look around at all present, seemingly making eye contact with everyone. People around would whisper “Did she just look at me?” This question might have sounded weird, except for the fact that it really did seem like Kelela looked directly at each and every person. Adding to the personal vibe was Kelela’s voice itself, being both passionately emotional and tonally flawless. Her rises were incredibly controlled, and even her pitch shifts were consistently perfect. She didn’t dance much, occasionally doing some minor steps with her dancers, but her voice was more than enough to carry the show. The backup dancers provided just enough chorus to her words, if perhaps otherwise being underutilized. The lighting during the show was well done—with her stark white dress the colored lights seemingly changed the color of Kelala’s whole outfit, allowing for some impressive light displays. There was no lighting other than stage and spotlights, and the occasional focused spots on the crowd. Lasers or other dazzling visuals were omitted in favor of a more general wash of color, a choice that fit well with the relaxed, quasi-romantic atmosphere throughout the show.
Credit must be given to the sound mixers of the show, who did an incredible adjusting the levels of audio. The beats for Kelela’s music were almost industrial, with hard bass lines and grinding hi-hats like that of a classic EDM track. At some points, it sounded as if drills and metal were sampled for the beats, yet these harsh tones were paired perfectly with the rich and mellow vocals Kelela provided. Even with Kelela singing with great changes in volume, sometimes holding the mic close, other times holding it an arm’s length away, the levels were always mixed perfectly, and her voice was never drowned out nor was it obnoxiously loud. The DJ in the back mixed well, clearly loving it all, as he sang along to every lyric and danced to every beat.
As a performance it was simple and elegant, yet never boring. The crowd loved her—every hair flip or smile brought cheers, and Kelela took that energy and used it well. As the night progressed, people in small groups began to slowly dance, and a crowd that once felt sparse and distant became close and welcoming. This wasn’t a performance that left one breathless with excitement or tired from dancing crazily. Rather, it was a relaxing and soothing concert with just enough energy to constantly keep it moving. The vocals dominated the show, and for good reason. Attempting to go back and re-listen to some songs by Gouché or Kelela, it was easy to compare them to the concert. What was really impressive was that the live versions played at the concert were far superior. In the end, Kelela put on a soulful and engaging performance that was as intimate as it was impressive, creating a comfortable and mellow atmosphere that made the night truly enjoyable.
Featured Image by Francesca Venezia / Heights Staff