Charli XCX, Elliphant, Femme Fitzgerald's October 16, 2014
Fans of British pop starlet Charli XCX who missed her show at Fitzgerald's last night are pretty well out of luck. We're not likely to see her in such a small venue again anytime soon. She's already too famous for the place.
That wasn't the plan, exactly. When her current club tour was booked, it was meant to help break the singer stateside as her new album, Sucker, hit store shelves. But now, after her hook on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" helped propel her to household-name status over the summer, she is broken, baby. Her advance single from the new record -- the bouncy, synthed-out "Boom Clap" -- hit No. 1 on the Top 40 chart, prompting her label to push the release of Sucker back to December in order to prepare a much larger marketing blitz.
That blitz will almost certainly involve putting her on stages much larger than the one at Fitz. The old club on White Oak was packed past the rafters on Thursday night with a strange mix of radio-obsessed teenyboppers and synth-loving hipsters, illustrating the British import's unusual crossover appeal.
There was no room to dance while Charli's openers warmed up the crowd, but folks bounced around in whatever space they could manage. British popster Femme was on first, offering up a snappy style heavily informed by Madonna's early NYC period. Next was Elliphant, who spat rhymes and hooks with a fiery Latin charm over reggaeton and dancehall beats. I was shocked after the show to discover that she's Swedish.
Both ladies sang over bass-heavy DJ tracks, and it seemed fair to assume that Charli would provide more of the same. After all, that's how pop stars do it in 2014, right? The performance her fans got, however, was something else entirely.
The dreamy keys and drum machines of Charli XCX's hits would be replaced on the evening with old-school rock and roll firepower. The DJ was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a three-piece band of young women, tuned up and ready to jam. This was not going to be anything like an Ariana Grande show, or God forbid, the Spice Girls.
Maybe Gwen Stefani. When Charli appeared onstage to a rapturous welcome, she was dressed as a goth knockout straight from the '90s, clad in a black slip, miniskirt, boudoir robe and shiny go-go boots. Evincing no cutesy choreography, the singer instead played the part of a proper rock and roll front woman, and she did it with the swaggering stage presence of a seasoned performer.
Tossing her hair and pumping her fist, she opened the set with the title track from for forthcoming record -- the first of many from the new disc to be rolled out. The ears of the 11-year-olds in front of me might've been burned by its shouted refrain of "fuck you," but two songs later, when the band rocked the hell out of Icona Pop's "I Don't Care," the whole club was vibrating with positive energy as the crowd joyously screamed and pogoed along.
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While Charli has been noted for her '90s revivalist style, she dug back deeper, into the early '80s, for the middle of her set. There was a fair bit of the Cure crammed into the DNA of "Black Roses," and a fat dab of Madonna in "Lock You Up." All of her material, old and new, benefitted greatly from the electrified punch of the guitar and drums, which accomplished the neat trick of turning a studio artist into a bona fide rock star.
The rapturous, sold-out crowd had already gotten their money's worth by the time set-closer "Gold Coins" rocked harder than it had any right to, and Charli hadn't even broken out the big hits yet. A few eyes bulged when the songstress rapped Iggy Azalea's verses effortlessly on "Fancy," sounding something like a tiny, British Zach de la Rocha. "Boom Clap" was merely the icing on the cake. Charli XCX had already delivered well beyond expectations.
It was clear on Thursday that she had graduated from featured guest status to the main attraction. Next, she's going to need a bigger stage.
Personal Bias: Drums > drum machines.
The Crowd: All ages. Like, all of 'em.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Next time, she's gonna be playing at Reliant (NRG). Wait!"
Random Notebook Dump: When the Spice Girls used to shout "girl power," it was cute. When Charli yells out "pussy power," it's not platitude. Charli XCX is powerful, and rated "M" for mature. "Lick it, lick it!" she hollered, as a few parents wondered what the fuck they had gotten their daughters into.
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