In 2012, rising R&B singer-songwriter Kelela opened for Solange at New York City's Bowery Ballroom. On Monday night, she returned to the same stage -- this time on her own headlining tour.
After releasing her commanding debut LP, Take Me Apart, early last month, Kelela has gained a larger, more mainstream following. The combination of newfound fans with those who have followed her since her acclaimed 2013 debut mixtape Cut 4 Me, resulted in a sold-out show that proved the singer is in the middle of her breakthrough. Her strong (yet not overwhelming) stage presence and eye-widening vocal prowess allows for easy comparisons to the likes of Solange and Moses Sumney -- and proved Kelela is a force to be reckoned with heading into 2018.
Over the course of her 90-minute set, she transformed the already intimate venue into what felt like a gathering of close friends sharing in the universal misery of breakups ("Frontline") and laughing at the relatability of late night invitations ("LMK"). Surrounded by her two-member band of keys and synth and two backup vocalists, all clad in crisp white outfits (reminiscent of how Solange and her on-stage performers all wear red), Kelela playfully introduced "LMK" with a conversational bit delivered through an effect added to her microphone that made it sound like a phone call. She mentioned sitting at home watching Insecure and with a flirtatious twinkle in her eye invited the imaginary caller on the other end to come over at 12:30 a.m. Such a seemingly insignificant moment best highlighted Kelela's character in ways the album cannot; on stage, her lighthearted and laid-back humor is on full display.
As Kelela introduced "Bluff" -- she explained the track is so short because it was written as a letter to someone (it clocks in at 1:12) -- she said, "The first purpose of this letter was to let them know that I knew that they were bullshitting," to which a fan cried out in response, "They always are!" Kelela then took her in-ear monitor out to cock her head and ask what was just said before replying with a proud, approving smirk, "Those are my fans."
Within the perfectly balanced set list of downtempo tracks like "Waitin" and high-energy offerings like "Rewind" off 2015's EP Hallucinogen, one song stood out among the rest: "Better." The track provided the night's most sonically chilling moment, thanks to the backup singers' heavenly two-part harmonies that sounded richer than a menu's most decadent desert. Lyrically speaking, Take Me Apart highlight "Enough" saw Kelela at her most determined as she wailed to the crowd, "It's not enough" -- declaring her sole mission to strive for more. And while she herself may crave something bigger -- whether it be in her personal, or professional life -- she made sure to give her live show all she has.
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