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R&B was at the head of Kelis‘ career 15 years ago, followed by neo-soul and electronic grooves, and now, proving that she is the master of reinvention, Kelis entered Melbourne’s Prince Bandroom as a soul superstar.
Kelis’ perfromance defied detractors that claim she genre-hops for the sake of the mode du jour or merely under the direction of top-name collaborators. Instead she proved that these changes in style are part of who she is, that each song contributes to the tapestry that is Kelis Rogers, the person and artist.
Watch: Kelis – Jerk Ribs
Arriving 20 mins late, the gig starts with a bit of a lull. A short a capella intro of Nina Simone‘s Feeling Good contrasts Simone’s unique voice against Kelis’ trademark husky one. Then her backing band kicks in – horns blaring, back-up singer belting, synths popping – and it sets the tone for the evening.
Despite all this it seems unnecessary to start – and end – the gig off this way. It’s to the detriment of Breakfast, one of the highlights of her latest and greatest album Food, which somehow fails to get the crowd moving.
Shortly after though, Millionaire is on the money. Kelis now has got us all in her hands, and she wields her power well over the course of the night. It is clear she is actually enjoying that connection onstage, smiling with us even before doing some diva-like vocals on Cobbler.
A supreme run of songs come next. Trick Me triggers nostalgia and sing-alongs as Kelis dances and roams the stage with swagger prior to a kazoo, sax and trumpet solo that effortlessly transports us to the streets of New Orleans. The heart-wrenching Rumble, lead single and Kelis’ favourite from Food, hits the sweet spot. As does Friday Fish Fry, her fans lapping up the calls and responses.
Listen: Kelis – Friday Fish Fry
“It’s very hot in here,” Kelis says, as if to heat up the audience. She seems to mean it literally though as she takes a seat, almost as if the combination of the crowd’s perspiration and her belting the songs out has taken the energy out of her. Lil Star and a medley of older Kelis songs and collaborations that follow are too muddled to hit their target.
Regaining her energy, Kelis stands to command the stage once again with Jerk Ribs, and the band is standout – that bassline is excellence and the brass section punctuates the chorus to perfection. And then Milkshake is served.
The track is transformed into a big band yet lounge-y version and upped in speed – like Kelis, Milkshake must’ve changed styles over the years. A fan favourite of the night, she pensively comments afterwards that after ten years Milkshake is “still a great song,” almost patting herself on the back for its longevity.
Her last three songs of the main set also prove the timelessness of her career, this time tucking into her electronic bangers. Calvin Harris‘ Bounce (which featured vocals from Kelis) is a party starter, and both the crowd and Kelis shimmy and throw their hands in the air. A re-imagined 4th of July (Fireworks) is now a Daft Punk-era disco version, while the dazzling Acapella follows.
Without a doubt, there’s an encore. It’s a true artist’s encore too – very traditional in how it’s so stripped down, intimate and raw. Kelis opens up about her songwriting process as her band begins the cover of Bless The Telephone to silencing effect.
Seizing that atmosphere, another slow number, Floyd, is well-timed with its floating synths and is an absolute doozy. It’s a masterstroke way to top off the night, one that proves Kelis is – and always has been – a force to be reckoned with.
Image: Kelis at Splendour In The Grass, 2014 / Photo: Ashley Mar