After postponing her US tour to open up for Paramore in the the UK, Charli XCX finally returned to NYC to serenade us with her brand of dark electro-pop. On this unseasonably cold autumn night, Irving Plaza filled up with excited teenagers (and a few mom and dads), gay men, and the tastemakers of this city—which include but are not limited to Greg K (of Misshapes fame), Betty Who and of course PopBytes. ;)
LIZ, R&B songstress from Hollywood, who has appeared on a 2 Chainz album and recorded a track with RiFF RAFF opened the night. With all of these new male R&B acts flooding the blogs (I’m looking at you How to Dress Well and Shy Girls!), is she the alt-R&B princess we’ve been longing for? I mean, come on, one of the tags on her SoundCloud is #Beyoncepop. That’s brilliant. PopBytes missed her set but we had friends who were there early that caught the magic on stage. “Mariah. Mariah. Mariah,” NuWavePony whispered in my ear as if it were some kind of secret we should keep to ourselves. Does Ariana Grande have some competition for the $2,000 throne that Mimi currently sits on?
Little Daylight spins some tunes from the second floor of Irving while Kitten’s gear is set up on stage. The host, the purple-haired Emmie steps on stage, microphone in hand, asking if all the kiddies are hungry as she throws candy to them before they can even answer her. I still haven’t figured out who this Emmie is and what she does but I have spotted her at almost every show I’m ever at. Is she a professional show goer? Does she live at Santos Party House and Glasslands? I have caught her linking arms with Lizzy Plapinger (founder of Neon Gold Records, who is also one half of electro-dream-pop duo MS MR) and Marina (yes that Marina, the one who killed off her Electra Heart alter-ego this past summer). She does have a show produced by French Kiss Records and actor-comedian David Cross on their YouTube channel FKR.TV where she interviews bands in her bedroom. In her pajamas she prank-calls her mom with MS MR and plays Truth or Dare with Kitten. Whoever Emmie is, I’d love to eat pizza in her bedroom one day.
Kitten is a band that hails from Los Angeles who just released an incredible EP this year titled Like A Stranger (iTunes). Frontwoman Chloe Chaidez is the face of this electro-alt-synth-rock band. She’s only eighteen years old but probably has a more impressive record collection than you do. She was raised by a dad who grew up playing in punk rock bands, who played her David Bowie and Sigur Rós records when she was just a little girl. She mentions the Eurythmics, Explosions in the Sky and Depeche Mode as influences and you can hear all of the above throughout the EP. They are part Bat For Lashes, part New Order. Either way you’ll find yourself swaying side to side, listening to Chloe’s voice fill each song with haunting emotion.
But Wednesday night, Kitten proved to be something else all together. The downtempo tracks sounded like party rock anthems on stage at Irving Plaza. Kitten is all about strange presence. Chloe has several people backing her up on stage. Drums, synths, multiple guitars, backing vocals, bass. There was so much happening on stage, I thought I was watching a different band. I expected shoegazers, swaying on stage but Kitten was thrashing around like rambunctious teens at a punk rock show. I wasn’t sure if Chloe was evoking Willow Smith or Dave Grohl during his Nirvana days while whipping her purple hair around. Their energy flooded the entire venue and their set flew by but not without Chloe doing a handstand and walking on her hands across the stage. This was pure rock and roll.
Jezus Million takes over where Kitten left off spinning songs upstairs. At this point the crowd is officially pumped for goth-pop princess Charli XCX. PopBytes had the opportunity to catch her perform on a number of occasions over the past year. We caught her play three different showcases during SXSW this year. But this was the first time she was going to perform a full set for us and we couldn’t be more excited. Her band poured out from stage left, taking their place behind drum sets, guitars and microphones. What? Since when does Charli XCX have a band? I thought she would have backup dancers before someone strapped a guitar over their shoulder.
Charli waits a few moments then follows her bandmates on stage. The crowd roars when they see her. She’s dressed in a small white leather jacket, in her trademark Britney-inspired short skirt and a pair of 1950s sparkle sunglasses and opens the show with her love drunk track “What I Like.” The crowd knows every word and makes everyone around them aware of it, rapping the verses, the best way they know how, by screaming.
The purple lights illuminate Charli’s white leather jacket and she does her signature hand and arm movements. Jerking her hips from left to right and throwing her hair from side to side. She skips from each side of the stage to rouse every section of the crowd. The lights turn blue and the downtempo synths that initiate “Set Me Free” start playing. Vocally this might be the hardest song off True Romance (iTunes) to perform because the chorus hits some hard to reach notes. It’s also one of the few songs that lack Charli’s signature talk-rap-drawl. It was smart to get this track out of the way since Charli seems to give her all during her performances— running around stage and jumping up and down. She sometimes seems to lose her breath at times and who can sing a song like “Set Me Free” winded?
This time around it seems there is less synth and electro beats to accompany Charli on stage. But she has a band to keep the melodies flowing. But songs like “Stay Away” that are drenched in synth-ether sounded dulled with just a simple chord progression on an electric guitar. It was one of the few moments I wished Charli kicked her band off the stage so she could could lonesomely sing in the foggy synth vapor.
Taking cues from her old tourmate and collaborator (“Just Desserts”), Marina and The Diamonds, Charli knows how to work a crowd. She had the audience hanging on her every word, especially with songs like “You (Ha Ha Ha)” and “Black Roses.” The haunting “How Can I” sounded incredible. Charli turned this track into a heavy synth mosh pit anthem. Lights blinking erratically on stage as she whipped her hair around like the best grunge heroes of yesteryear. The “whiskey-wasted” new single “SuperLove” off of Charli’s forthcoming new album was killer live too.
“Who here knows this fucking song? I want you to sing it for me,” Charli screams into the microphone as the beginning of Icona Pop’s summer smash hit “I Love It” started playing. The song she co-wrote for the Swedish pop duo broke through the summer haze and became a fixture on pop radio. Charli’s version tonight was spectacular—sung in her guttural voice, it carried a weightier tone. I can’t help but wonder if she wished she kept the song for herself. She seems to identify with it just as much as Caroline and Aino do.
Before the night ends, Charli calls Chloe from Kitten back on stage to do a cover of Bow Wow Wow’s version of “I Want Candy” and there is so much energy on stage and throughout the club, I almost forgot it was nearing midnight (on a school night!). 2014 looks promising for Charli XCX. The night after her gig at Irving she performed at Out Magazine’s 19th annual OUT100 Awards rubbing elbows with Mariah Carey and Debbie Harry. Check out her newest single and video for “SuperLove” and look out for her second record early next year.