The Studio At Webster Hall
Tuesday, September 13
Better than: Doing “Rolling In The Deep” at karaoke.
“Everyone has their own little dance,” Katy B said near the end of her first proper New York City performance on Tuesday night. “So I wanna see you doing yours.” It was a command that was probably unnecessary—the crowd, hand-selected by the MTV bloggy-music offshoot MTV Hive (which was streaming the show live), had been pretty hyped for the bulk of the evening—but it was appropriate, given the British singer’s devotion to depict the club not as a behemoth of bottles and boasting, but as a place for individuals, each with their own baggage and battles to deal with, to sweat out their demons.
It came out in the UK this spring, but Katy B’s debut album On A Mission was released in the US yesterday; whether or not this country is receptive to its goal of slightly humanizing club culture remains to be seen. The album blends name-checkable styles—dubstep, UK funky—with plainspoken, detailed declarations of the thoughts running through one’s mind as she navigates the chum-filled waters of nightife and her own life. The result is the sort of uptempo UK pop that American radio programmers tend to chuck to the side in favor of more blatant appeals to audience’s ears, although you might hear it while shopping in clothing stores that fancy themselves slightly ahead of the mall’s dominant trends.
But if there was ever a singer who could conquer the Great American Dance Floor it’s Katy, who might not have costumes but whose charisma is undeniable. Her late-show call for people to do “their own little dance” was preceded by her showing time and time again how that was done—she got lost in the music multiple times. Which isn’t to say that she got lost-lost; she’s also a practiced performer, having graduated from the UK performing-arts academy the BRIT school, and at certain overly emotional points in her songs she engaged in what a fellow observer called “Adele hand gestures.” But the combination of boundless enthusiasm and practiced professionalism—not to mention her effusively grateful stage banter—made watching her perform feel like hanging out with a friend who just really wants you to hear this one song because it changed her life and it might just do the same for you, too.
What was curious, though, was the decision to augment her sound with a live band that had two horn players, a drummer, a bassist, and a hypeman. On record, songs like the delicate “Broken Record” and the sinewy “Witches Brew” put Katy front and center, surrounded by beds of electronics that aren’t too lush. But the drums and especially the horns felt grafted on at times, blunting the music’s forward-thinking impulses and throwing the songs into an amorphously retro space. At their best, they evoked the smoothest R&B stylings of the ’70s and ’80s; at their most intrusive, though, the music sounded like what would be played in a trying-too-hard rest-o-club at the turn of the 21st century.
Still, the songs pushed through the clutter for the most part, and the crowd was singing lyrics back at her for most of the night even though the album had only officially been on sale for about 21 hours. (“Those are the people that downloaded my album illegally,” she said after her announcement that she’d be performing the uptempo “Movement” garnered cheers. “No hard feelings.”) By the time she reached “On A Mission,” her meticulously detailed glimpse of a night out, the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy, waving their arms and getting lost enough in the music to put away their cameraphones and just dance.
Critical bias: “Katy On A Mission” is one of my top songs of 2k11, and On A Mission is up there album-wise too.
Overheard: “That guy’s getting serious—he’s taking off his shirt.”
Random notebook dump: As someone who dyes her hair at home from time to time, free t-shirts are always welcome swag.
Power On Me
Easy Please Me
Why You Always Here
Katy On A Mission
Hard To Get