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Kelela Proves Her Breakthrough Has Arrived With Transcendent Concert at NYC's Bowery Ballroom


Kelela Proves Her Breakthrough Has Arrived With Transcendent Concert at NYC's Bowery Ballroom
Kelela Proves Her Breakthrough Has Arrived With Transcendent Concert at NYC's Bowery Ballroom

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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