Show Review: Kelela at The Velvet Underground

By Anisa Moquit

Kelela’s long awaited debut album, Take Me Apart, came out this October. Following 2013’s excellent Cut 4 Me mixtape, & 2015’s Hallucinogen EP, Kelela has appeared on a string of memorable albums from last year such as Solange’s A Seat at the Table, and Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition. So when dates were announced for her tour in support of her upcoming full length album, I got tickets without even listening – I knew it would be her best project yet. Take Me Apart is an expansive, fully realized album that hones in on her individualism, and is focused around a single message: that Kelela doesn’t give up who she is and what she wants.

On the night of the show, I dragged my friend to the Velvet Underground a full hour and a half before doors were meant to open, because I’m one of those people. We arrived to already find a line in front of the Velvet Underground. We huddled together shivering, without regretting our decision to arrive early. You could sense the excitement among the fellow fans in the line. We fell into easy conversation with those around us, and topics ranged from songs we hoped to hear, to other similar artists we loved.

The setup was pretty standard for the Velvet Underground, an intimate venue with a raised stage that we managed to squeeze in front of. Bambii’s opened, whose DJ set induced a staggering amount of “Whoa’s!” from the audience, clearly not expecting such a sick opener. Kelela’s entrance was prefaced with a darkening of all lights, and the use of fog machines. Colour coordinating, the stage band came out dressed in all white before her. It was atmospheric, I was ready, and the crowd was chanted her name as she entered.

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She launched immediately into, “Waiting,”  from her new album. She meant business. The set consisted of songs mostly from Take Me Apart, but with a few tracks from her EP and mixtape that created a surge of energy in the crowd when performed. Kelela held the audience’s attention for the entirety of her set–which is not an easy feat, and everybody was singing along, their voices filled with yearning. Kelela recognized this, and she projected this energy back to us as she came to the front; clasping eager hands, and serenading several speechless fans. I held her hand for about half of a minute. She transitioned into “LMK,” her first single from Take Me Apart, by mimicking a conversation asking a partner to come over to watch Insecure with her (fitting, as she premiered her track “Frontline,” on that show). “…Anyways, just let me know,” she crooned.

Kelela wrapped up the concert by thanking the crowd (Toronto being one of the first places she has sold out), and by paying homage to those who stuck by her since her Cut 4 Me days — a sentiment greeted with roars. She then played “All The Way Down.” During her performance of “Truth or Dare”, the song I was most vocal about wanting to hear, I was congratulated and patted on the back by the girl next to me, and when Kelela played “The High,” I similarly congratulated her, as she was vocal about wanting to hear it. For the encore, Kelela played two tracks from Cut 4 Me: “Cherry Coffee,” and her breakout single, “Bank Head.” During “Cherry Coffee,” the bells singled her re-entry to the stage, and the whole crowd was quiet, enrapt for the song and its sheer intensity. “That’s the hardest part/Seeing in the dark,” Kelela belted out, a hand covering her eye. “Bank Head,” got everyone going again, with people singing  and  screaming along to the soaring high notes her voice was reaching. After that, with a swish of her head and a satisfied smile at the state she saw us in, Kelela exited the stage, leaving everyone in her wake slightly dazed.

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