Live In London

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is just another tragic part of the human condition. That burning desire to go to every show, to experience what "everyone" else is experiencing, can be a debilitating, cash-draining affliction (I should know), but what if the show you missed was captured on shiny silver disc, warts and all? Would you buy the live album? Surely that would be missing the point because you can’t distill the magic as it happens. Or can you?

"SUPER excited to announce my LIVE CD of my sold out Somerset House performance on Monday!!!! Now those of you who weren’t able to make it can listen to the entire show Click below to purchase:", wrote Kelis on her Facebook page in mid July. The full experience of that month’s Somerset House show (part of its Summer Series) has been committed to double gatefold vinyl/2CD, which means you can enjoy your contraband bottle of Echo Falls away from prying eyes.

"We’ll do some new stuff, we’ll do some old stuff. All in all, I just want to have a good time with you," Kelis tells her live audience and dually the listener in real-time at the start of the album. But instead of looking up at the neoclassical majesty of Somerset House, I’m looking around my bedroom (and thinking it could do with a clean). A live album exists not only to preserve the live music event itself but also to work as a historical document of a particular moment in an artist’s career. The artist in question here is Kelis and the particular moment is the time she went on stage with a big band, horn section and raised the bar from oddball to sophisticated. Or rather, I think that’s what she was doing – because I wasn’t actually there so I couldn’t really tell you.

When Kelis released her debut album Kaleidoscope in 1999, she was a weed smoking alien sympathiser with a rainbow afro. It was a zingy slab of outsider pop and, buttressed by battle cries and declarations of independence, promised Great Future Feminist Fierceness (which, depressingly, didn’t turn out to be a reality – see her backwards views here).

The Neptunes-produced Wanderland came next – less spike, more soul than its predecessor, before Tasty took her to commercial heights in 2003. It’s here that the shiny narrative of success starts to fade a little but in 2010 Kelis came hurtling back with an album of supercharged dance-pop bangers, Flesh Tone. Fast forward to 2014 and she’s a Cordon Bleu chef who has just made a sixth album, Food. Produced by wunderkind Dave Sitek, it swaps the rebel yell of independence for the comfort blanket of domesticity. "Food is very firmly about being a mother and having a child and it’s about what that means," she told Spin in April.

I imagine watching Kelis leaping around to ‘Milkshake’ or spitting out the words to ‘Caught Out There’, eyes and hair ablaze. Fiery, weirdo pop is arguably what she does best, but there’s barely a whiff of it on this album. The flames of her personality have yet to be snuffed out, but if her recent album is any kind of mood indicator then these days, she’s feeling pretty relaxed. The record opens with a big band reworking of ‘Milkshake’. And for a song which usually works like a blast of cold air on the senses, it’s sounding particularly sleepy, and a bit too Riot Jazz for my liking.

A delicate bouquet of jazz flute kicks ‘Bounce’ into gear but then the notes are quickly trampled underfoot by a clunky audience shout-a-long "duh duh duh duh duh-duh duh" shut up! And, I’d never thought I’d find myself saying this, but where’s Calvin Harris when you need him? However, it’s ‘4th Of July’ and ‘Acapella’ that are for me the most depressing encounters on the record, both astounding, pristine electro-pop juggernauts, but both having had the life drained out of them by the succubus of mediocrity (and soft focus piano).

Side 2 of Live In London is bookended by a jazz standard taster (‘Feeling Good’) and a reimaging of 1999’s ‘Get Along With You’, minus edifying R&B shuffle, smoothed over for a rainy day and fused with Kaleidscope compadre ‘Good Stuff’ and the nu-soul of ‘Glow’. When she instructs her crowd to "to do the sidestep" on ‘Millionaire’, this is when a huge, amorphous image of white summer shirts and sweaty necks begins to cloud my brain. I try to shake off the visions, but I can’t stop imagining peoples’ faces, grins, limbs. These live albums can be really distracting.  

‘Breakfast’ & ‘Cobbler’ maintain their choice catchiness, the latter showing off glass-shattering vocal elastics and the former confidently flying the flag for her recent album, but the sole delight comes by way of yo-yo pop dub ‘Trick Me’ – where that shiny live brass section is a welcome addition. I turn to the studio recordings to try and stop a sour taste from forming in my mouth because, for all the show’s heft as an epochal, history-making-moment-in-time, and Kelis as an incredible, inimitable and malleable performer, I guess you really had to have been there.

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