Kelis was supposed to visit Albert Hall back in March 2020 but we all know what happened…
Over three years later, Kelis came back to Manchester – and she brought all the boys (and girls) to the yard! Indeed, I was surprised by the diversity of her audience. There was a real variety of age, gender and race (and fashion); a real mix of people all united by an appreciation of an RNB icon.
Kelis’ opening act was Manchester’s own Akemi Fox. She wore a red lace co-ord, complete with a thong that hung proudly above her hips. She came to slay.
Akemi wisely began her set with some groovy numbers, which got the audience going, before bringing things down and showing off her southing vocals. She appeared very comfortable onstage, especially later on in the set. She even showed off a few unchoreographed moves, which the audience loved – which prompted her to groove a little more. Akemi is early on in her career and surely still finding herself as an artist but this was a promising performance.
Kelis was accompanied by a band and a single backing singer rather than the usual two or three. She wore a pale pink shirt and denim jeans, both of them coated in glitter. She looked like a camp cowgirl. The stage was simply decorated, with a huge print of her debut album, Kaleidoscope, hanging at the back of the stage, which served as a promise that this was going to be a night of nostalgia.
Kelis edged us in gently, with a couple lesser-known songs, before performing an electrifying medley, made up of her debut single, ‘Caught Ou There’, a brief cover of Soul II Soul‘s ‘Back to Life’, and ‘Millionaire’. The mixing, courtesy of DJ Nikki Beatnik, was perfect – she’s one of the best DJs I’ve seen live.
The next part of Kelis’ set was made up primarily of lesser-known songs, alongside the hits ‘Good Stuff’ and ‘Young, Fresh n’ New’ to keep us excited. But even when she was singing lesser-known songs, she had the audience captivated. Her music is groovy, and she’s got impeccable stage presence; it’s so effortless.
DJ Nikki again showed off her skill when she mixed ‘Bossy’ into a brief reprise of ‘Caught Out There’ and that into ‘Got Your Money’ (which was, interestingly, Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s final song and Kelis’ first) – before mixing that into a song which Kelis danced to. Kelis is not a professional dancer but she sure knows how to (milk)shake it!
Kelis powered her way through her many hits, including ‘Trick Me’, ‘Lil Star’, and, briefly, ‘Finest Dreams’. I was reminded of Ashanti‘s concert last year, in which she sang pretty much all of her hits, many of them only very briefly so that she could fit in as many as possible. Kelis missed out a few (namely, ‘Taking Back My Love’ with Enrique Iglesias, my favourite male artist) but she also wanted to introduce us to some of her other music.
The final part of the main set was the best part of the show. She sang her signature song, ‘Milkshake’ (it’s refreshing when artists don’t leave their signature song until the end of the main set or the encore), before briefly covering Nirvana‘s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Donna Summer‘s ‘I Feel Love’. DJ Nikki’s ability to blend these three very different songs together must be applauded.
This was followed with three of Kelis’ later hits: ‘4th of July (Fireworks)’, ‘Acapella’ (a beautiful tribute to her son, Knight), and ‘Bounce’ – the latter of which is one of my favourite songs (forget ‘Milkshake’!).
The encore was opened with a medley, which began with the backing singer covering ‘Blindfold Me’, before Kelis arrived onstage and briefly sang ‘In Public’. I love that she put her two Nas duets together. I had to leave after this in order to make the last bus back to Burnley but I knew from the previous show’s setlist that the rest of the medley and the final song were not hits. It’s an odd choice to end the show with little-known songs but perhaps Kelis wanted a calmer end to the gig – just like her opening, which was, similarly, made up of lesser-known songs.
Kelis might no longer be making hits but, when listening to her on Spotify or watching her live, you’ll be surprised by just how many hits she had – and even her non-hits and album tracks deserve praise. This was an electrifying, nostalgic night – if you’re thinking about seeing her live, do it!