KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad calls Kelis the “urban alternative Madonna.”
She’s been a musical cameleon since the release of her debut in 1998 with “Kaleidoscope” – from pop to disco diva – and always someone to watch for interesting expressions of musicality, style and more.
When she arrived backstage for KCRW’s Apogee Session, it was like a goddess emerged, but with none of the goddess attitude. Down-to-earth, gorgeous in a bright purple dress, and full of smiles, she completely commanded everyone’s attention when she walked in the room.
With an 11-piece band, including a horn section led by bandleader Todd Simon, and in a room of just 175 people, she played songs from her forthcoming album “Food” live in LA for the first time. In fact, it was her only LA show before the release of the record, which was produced here in town by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek.
She showed her range in every sense, starting the show with the voice of a baby and then projecting a fierce presence and sexuality that was meant to both impress and intimidate. You can’t keep your eyes off Kelis.
Tracks like “Friday Fish Fry” showed off her vocal power and the strength of her band, with everyone contributing to the heavy breathing beginning. With a chorus of “give me what I want, give me what I need, I’m beggin you please, I’m down on my knees,” everyone in the room was sweating by the end of it. Hot stuff.
During a short interview break, she told host Garth Trinidad that she grew up in music. Her dad was a jazz musician who sacrificed everything for his craft so music was around her all the time to the point that she took it for granted. She said she never had any expectations about her own career and “couldn’t imagine that I would be here right now.” She talked about the freedom in being “oblivious”.
Kelis also talked about her biggest hit, “Milkshake”, saying she wanted to push music forward and was going for a rhythm-based song when everyone else in R&B was crooning. Garth said the Neptunes-produced track is now part of “pop iconography” and when she played it in the second set, the crowd went wild.
She’s always gravitated to a wide variety of producers and her choice of Sitek for her new album had a lot to do with geography. As Kelis tells it, she doesn’t like to leave her house much and when she heard he lived in the neighborhood, it was a major plus. She adds that they “locked in” together right away. She used her other skill set – cooking – to keep the musicians in the studio for long hours while making the record. (She has a food show called “Saucy and Sweet”.)
She saved the two best songs from her new album – the ballad-ish “Rumble” and “Jerk Ribs” — for the end of the show.
Sitek sent Jason Bentley an early copy of “Jerk Ribs” and he started playing it immediately. For good reason, the African rhythmic percussion and funky horns are undeniable and it was even better live.
For the encore, she played “Acapella” (a far different version from the EDM dance track on her 2010 album “Flesh Tone”) before seguing into Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”.
A proper end to an incredible evening of music.
Bob Clearmountain engineered the session which will air on Morning Becomes Eclectic on Friday, April 18. “Food” is out on April 22.
Kelis Live on KCRW Set List
Friday Fish Fry*
Acapella –> Feeling Good
*off the new album “Food”
Dejah Gomez-Woods Background vocals
Shannon Pearson Background vocals
Brittany Brooks Drummer
Brandon Owens Bass
Patrick Bailey Guitar
Dexter Story Keys
Randolph Owens Keys
Todd Simon Trumpet
Claire Courchene Trombone
Tracy Wannomae Flute
Sam Robles Sax