DC’s 9:30 Club Was Perfect for Kelela’s Magnetism and Energy

DC’s 9:30 Club Was Perfect for Kelela’s Magnetism and Energy: Read Sam Franzini's review of Kelela’s March 23rd show Washington, DC
Review of Kelela's March 23rd show in Washington, DC

On Thursday, to a completely sold-out audience, futuristic R&B singer Kelela performed hits past and present to an audience so in tune with her message, the synchronicity was uncanny. Pulling from her breakthrough mixtape Cut 4 Me, all the way to her ambient new release Raven, Kelela felt right at home in the midst of it all, dancing, singing, and emoting. Weed smoke filled the air, indicative of her energy (and a meme about her past tweets asking others where to find marijuana on every stop of a tour she completed), and a contributor to the spellbinding effect she crafts.

The reason for the joy and energy was made apparent when learning Kelela hails from DC and grew up in Maryland — “My home!” she exclaimed after a couple songs. Every single person in the crowd seemed to know every word to each song, from the “Stop! Let me catch my breath…” in “Waitin”, to the danceable “Rewind”, to the upbeat “Happy Ending.” This was a crowd that loves and breathes Kelela music, and a true appreciation of the artist was present. After the double header of “Raven” and “Bruises”, Kelela addressed the crowd to show her gratitude toward her fans. She mentioned that, during her years-long hiatus, she felt fans anticipating whatever it was she wanted to put out at her own pace, and emphasized their love of her own individuality and creative process as something that kept her going.

Her voice in concert is exactly like its studio version counterpart, by the way — every ad-lib and astonishing vocal high she reached was in its perfect place. This led to glorious renditions of “Washed Away”, “Enough For Love” and “Bluff”, where the simplicity of each song enraptured the audience. On songs like “On the Run”, “Rewind”, “Contact”, “Happy Ending” (in the middle of which she yelled “Y’all ready to dance?”), her voice commanded the audience as they danced to her more upbeat hits. Transitions between songs were immediate and precise, whether it be what was presented on the album (“Raven” / “Bruises”) or engineered for the concert (“Missed Call” / “Contact”).

The night’s only issue was its length — Kelela performed 15 songs over the course of an hour. The concert could have gone on forever, it seemed, as the audience never lost its energy and was ready to devour whatever came next. At such a shortened tracklist, we lost performances of fan-favorite songs such as “Frontline”, “Take Me Apart”, “LMK”, and “Better” — a foursome I was astonished wasn’t done, especially considering their volcanic energies and gravitas, and, in the case of “Better”, emotional complexity. There is hope, though, as Kelela said that this first go-around of concerts was centered on intimacy, and she promises to return. All the better — Kelela’s performance was extraordinary, blending together dance, electronic production, and pure ecstasy.

At my job the other day, I saw someone wearing a long sleeve shirt that was being sold at the merch table that night — something I wanted, but was sold out immediately (I got a very nice T-shirt instead). I let her know I was at the same concert, and her eyes lit up in surprise. “Wasn’t it so amazing?” she asked, and we talked for a bit about what she played, what we wished she did. Such is the passion and energy Kelela puts into her music and performance, transferred to her fans as deep admiration for the singer.

Words by Sam Franzini


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