Kiesza & Betty Who Bring Retro Magic to Fitz
Photos by Jack Gorman
Kiesza, Betty Who Fitzgerald's April 2, 2015
A Kiesza/Betty Who tour makes so much sense that it's actually kind of surprising that it happened. It's a pairing so natural that it feels like cheating to put them on the same bill.
We're talking two dance-friendly singers who released their major-label debuts within weeks of each other, and who both sound more retro than they do Top 40 but manage to do so without stepping on each other's toes.
If they could pull off what they do in the studio live, then you're looking at a no-lose situation for everyone involved. But no matter how good things look on paper, you have to play the show and see how things turn out. And in the case of Kiesza and Betty Who, they both crushed it in their own ways.
Betty Who is a complete package who just happens to have come around 30 years too late. If you were to produce a film that mocked the tropes of '80s rom-coms, you could fill the sound track with her songs and they'd fit perfectly. Her music is The Wonders to this nonexistent '80s version of That Thing You Do!; everything you loved about the sound of a time without the baggage of nostalgia.
Betty is a great live singer with an infectious live presence. Even when she's singing her more downbeat material, you're still inclined to smile because that's the moment when she draws you in for crowd participation. The way she sings, the way she moves, the confidence with which she carries herself -- she makes putting on a show look easy.
With only one album to her name, her set list is what you'd expect. Other than the bass being too loud in the mix more often than not, the songs work live. "Somebody Loves You" may not be a triumph on the level of "Midnight City," but it gets close when you're screaming it out with a bunch of strangers.
That said, if anyone wants to book an '80s throwback tour with her and M83, that would be cool.
Kiesza is fierce. She commands attention. Her show is designed for rooms bigger than the upstairs stage at Fitz, and if you see her live, you understand why: She could probably kill in rooms multitudes larger than that one.
In fact, her vocals are so strong and her stage presence so refined already that it's almost a shame that her performance leans on some smoke and mirrors. True, we're not talking a Katy Perry-size production here, but if you stripped away the backup dancers with their baffling-at-times choreography and the over-the-top (at times painfully so) light show, you might end up with a show that's even more powerful.
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The highlights of her set were a weird, Amanda Palmer-esque take on Haddaway's dance classic "What Is Love" and an outstanding version of her album closer "Cut Me Loose," which made the case for her having one of the best live voices in the business right now.
That's not to say her dance tracks weren't a blast. She's equally comfortable on the mike doing her house-centric tracks like "No Enemiesz" or her more R&B-laced tracks like "Losing My Mind."
It was a night where neither artist misfired. They managed to stick the landing on everything they played and the crowd seemed super into both artists. If they keep putting on shows like this, the future is bright for both parties. Make the time to see either or, if you're lucky, both.
Kudos to whoever put this little bit of fried gold together, even if it does feel like cheating.
Personal Bias: Kiesza is cool and all, but I was really in this to see Betty Who live. She put out my third favorite album of 2014.
The Crowd: Eager to dance on a Thursday night. Eager to talk when the music wasn't dancey enough.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Hey, Asshole Guy, what was that for?" in response to one of the roadies onstage flicking off someone in the crowd.
Random Notebook Dump: Silly as it sounds, I miss updating you all on calf scrambles and mutton busting.
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