Review: Charli XCX at The Jazz Cafe
It’s Thursday night and I’m at a bar with my friends drinking £7 glasses of wine, the price of which I resent at first but mind less after three. I have a ticket to Charli XCX’s No. 1 Angel show at The Jazz Cafe in my bag but I’m having a good time so I don’t think I’m going to go. Mid-way through the fourth glass of wine I step into the loo, start rooting through my bag for lipgloss, and catch a glimpse of the ticket. Since at this point I’m pretty hammered I raise my head to meet my own gaze in the mirror and ask myself ‘what would Charli do?’ I slam the second half of the glass of wine and strut off to Camden.
That this show is happening at all is thanks to a recent twist in Charli XCX’s route to pop stardom. As a reaction to the further delay of the release of her third album she took to the studio to record a covert mixtape as a gift to her fans and a means of tiding them over until the album eventually made it out. Although the mixtape ended up getting a label release and can be bought for £4.99 on iTunes (thereby throwing its legitimacy as an actual mixtape into question), its content leans towards the unfettered experimentation inidicative of creative freedom. Distance from her label and the involvement of PC Music on production means that Charli has been able to develop her sound in an unexpected direction. It’s less stadium-pop, more club venue electronic, still sickly sweet, but with an edge that’ll cut your tongue and rot your teeth.
Thanks to a journalistic lapse I miss the first two songs of the set but what do you want from me, I got there eventually. Luckily the 40 minute journey has allowed me to sober up a bit so analysis is possible by this point and the place is going off. The new hybrid sound has welcomed in a new hybrid audience of pop princesses and electronic heads, yet the atmosphere is still one of pure irreverence and pretty much everyone is bouncing and singing. Most of the audience knows every word and the first synth stabs of each new track rung in by A.G Cook is met by a scream of recognition.
The transformation of her music has meant also a transformation of sorts in Charli herself. Gone are the props and the all-girl band of previous incarnations. This is a stripped performance that gives her the chance to show a purer side, and to feel a real connection with her audience. Unfortunately, a few technical problems in the initial few songs I hear mean that for a while I question whether or not she’s actually singing, so loud and overpowering are the backing tracks. After a while though the levels even out and her spectacular voice is revealed in all its scratchy vocal-frying glory. Key tracks like ‘3AM’ and her self-professed favourite ‘White Roses’ sound huge, and the closer ‘Girls Night Out’ is certain to be a massive hit. This feels like Charli XCX’s natural habitat - she seems at ease without the paraphenalia and relieved to be able to share new music she’s proud of. She’s on a winding path, but it feels like the right one.
Find Anna on Twitter at @annaerichmond