Kelela is a star. She knows it and so do her fans. For the crowd in attendance for her Saturday night set at Thalia Hall, this combination of creative magnetism and adoration made for a pitch-perfect concert experience.
Following the release of her latest full-length album, “Raven” (her second studio album and first in nearly six years), Kelela played a nearly nonstop, hour-long set to a sold-out crowd of fans who knew every word to every song and had no qualms singing with them all night. It made for a more intimate experience, despite the size of Thalia Hall. Tickets for the show were snapped up within hours of going on sale.
The night began with a rendition of “Washed Away”, the opening track of “Raven”. Dressed in a simple, short black dress and flanked by a choreographed, multi-colored light show, Kelela captured the audience’s attention and placed them in her unpretentious but memorable environment.
Some people don’t need much to go in. When you’re that cool, you can do whatever you want. The audience will be devoted to you, and for good reason. A slow and soulful song, “Washed Away” was a perfect palette cleanser for the evening, preparing the audience for an auditory experience that mixes and glides across Kelela’s eclectic discography of soul-driven electronic music.
Fans looking for a visual spectacle with props and stage setups may feel disappointed when they go to see Kelela’s show. But these elements are not really the point. It became clear within the first few songs of her set — which included “Raven” tracks like “Happy Ending” and “On the Run” — that Kelela was trying to create a specific mood and environment within the beautiful walls of Thalia Hall .
Is it possible to make a dance floor, to make a dance society, at a live show? I certainly think so. Kelela’s live show was, more than anything else, a spectacle senses. Her show was designed to make bodies move, to make people dance, to let the rapturous joy of a pure-hearted dance floor envelop her fans into a frenzy. With minimal audience interaction between tracks, the show soon turned into an atmospheric dance party. There was no need to break up the good vibes and the dance floor, and keep the groove moving from one song to the next.
“This is actually a dance party. This is a live dance party,” she said at one point about halfway through the show. “It’s best to dance.” Her voice boomed through the speakers after uttering the line, and the crowd cheered. Songs like “Rewind” from the EP ” Hallucinogen” from 2015 kept the energy high.
Longtime fans will be thrilled to hear some of the singer’s older tracks like “Go All Night” from her 2013 debut mixtape “Cut 4 Me,” which was also included in this show. “I love playing here. Dance music,” she said, acknowledging the hometown of house music, before segueing into “Bank Head,” another “Cut 4 Me” track. The seamless mix of old and new songs in the set demonstrated Kelela’s keen ability to find a singular voice and sound for her music. Despite her growth — lyrically, vocally — her music still sounds uniquely her own.
Later, about 45 minutes into her set, she thanked the crowd for their support and patience, noting how this moment was different. Many artists who have returned to the stage after pandemic restrictions have found a certain level of audience entitlement that has ruined the shows for both the performer and their fans.
But that wasn’t the case for Kelela’s live set. In fact, I’d say Saturday night’s crowd was the most delightful and respectful of any live show, of any size, that I’ve seen since restrictions were lifted.
Kelela fans supported the time she took to create this new collection of music rather than forcing or expecting anything immediately. Her craft runs counter to today’s standard of music that forces artists to create excessively, sometimes with mediocre results. But Kelela is not like that.
“I love you guys so much,” she said before performing recent single “Enough for Love.” “I want to thank you in a real way. There is a patience and respect I have experienced from my fans.”
The crowd went wild.
“It was never to skip the person,” she acknowledged. And that kind of symbiotic relationship, rare for artists today, ultimately makes for a more rewarding experience, both for listeners, at home or in the audience, and the performer.
Britt Julious is a freelance critic.