After four tumultuous years away from music, Kelis returned to the stage Wednesday night in New York City with a simple mission: dance, dance, dance!
Which is understandable considering what she’s been through. She’s been absent since the release of her last record, 2006’s Kelis Was Here, and you’d be forgiven if you thought the only place she’s been since then is her lawyer’s office. The pop star went through a nasty divorce with rapper Nas last year, and only recently got out of a long alimony battle. (Nas eventually agreed to pay her nearly $44,000 a month.)
More so, she also went to culinary school-at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, no less-and pursued dreams of becoming a sommelier and starting her own line of sauces. She also gave birth to a baby boy last year, named Knight.
But now Kelis, 30, is back with a new label, Interscope, a new record, Flesh Tone (out July 6) featuring production from will.I.am, Free School, Boys Noize, and more, and a brand-new sound: electro-dance. Gone are the R&B shout-outs (“Caught Out There”), come-ons (“Milkshake”), and put-ons (“I’m Bossy”).
At first Kelis looked a little tentative in front of a sold-out audience at Santos Party House in downtown Manhattan. Dressed in a white body suit, a trilly white cape and sparkling tiara, she sashayed her way through the first few songs, including new tracks “22nd Century” and “4th of July,” while her rambunctious fans did most of the sweaty work.
Inspired by, as she told the blog Idolator last year, “the debaucherous nights that you try to forget about in the morning,” Kelis’ new music is a big-thumping blend of European house and classic dance pop. And at Santos, Kelis and her three-piece band worked the house like any good DJ: bleeding each song into the next, mixing in other people’s hits with their own, and reacting to the frantic push and pull of the crowd.
And soon Kelis seemed to relax, shaking off the cobwebs off her long absence from the stage. She belted some familiar tunes, including a medley of Madonna’s “Holiday,” and then someone flipped a switch sending tiny bubbles flying over the crowd, as Kelis transformed “Milkshake” into a frothing, fleet-footed club track. She leveraged that energy for “Brave,” another new song that, like her new David Guetta-produced single “Acapella,” was clearly inspired by the birth of her child. “It was crazy / I had a baby / He’s amazing / He saved me,” she sang, the sweat glistening on her neck.
The crowd loved it, especially when she whipped out “Acapella”-a throbbing rave of a song-sending red confetti streaming over outstretched hands. It remains to be seen, of course, whether Kelis’ whole-hearted embrace of dance music can revive her 10-year-old career. But considering the sharp tunes, it just might. Either way, the singer explicitly acknowledged her situation when she addressed the crowd at the end of the night, a knowing grin on her face, “I never thought I’d last this long … seriously.”
2. “22nd Century”
4. “4th of July”
6. “Trick Me”
7. “Holiday” (Madonna)
11. “Get Along With You”