Kelis hadn't taken the stage in America since 2010. But from her opening notes — in which she took on the standard "Feeling Good," as popularized by Nina Simone — the singer never shied away from the most lavish possible spectacle on stage at NPR Music's SXSW showcase, held at Stubb's BBQ. Backed by a 12-piece band, complete with horn section and backup singers, Kelis reintroduced herself to the world as a transformed artist whose sound looks forward and backward without losing its focus on the present.
The singer most frequently identified with the 2003 smash "Milkshake" — "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard" remains one of the most quotable lines in '00s pop — has evolved and experimented in the decade since. On Food, a new album due late next month, Kelis is fully recast as an inventive and unpredictable soul singer, aided significantly by the production work of Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. In taking some of its songs to the stage Wednesday night, she presided over a full-fledged soul revue with the confidence and gravitas of a decorated soul veteran.
Still, this phase of Kelis' career is about liberation and rebirth rather than a desire to escape past successes; the fizzy playfulness of old has given way to an audacious intensity. Naturally, past hits like "Milkshake" and 2010's "Acapella" make memorably grandiose appearances here. But, like the singer herself, they're reinvented, buoyed by the graceful gravity of a star reborn.
- "Feeling Good"
- "Trick Me"
- "Friday Fish Fry"
- "Forever Be"
- "Jerk Ribs"
- "Rumble" (audio-only)