Kelly Lee Owens at EartH, Hackney, 2 December 2021

I first came across Kelly Lee Owens at End of the Road in 2019. A late night show in the Big Top, which I got to about half way through. All was darkness, except for the glow of the stage. A silhouetted figure danced by a couple of keyboards, with a swirl of images and light behind her. The beats boomed out of the speakers, deep bass lines challenging you not to move your feet. And a dreamy voice drifted across the sonic blast. Let it go…

Let it Go was Kelly Lee Owens’ latest single at the time, backed by another piece of infectious electro called Omen. I discovered that and her back catalogue when I got home after EOTR. The centrepiece was an album, Kelly Lee Owens, from 2017, which combined the dreamy soundscapes with all sorts of punchy bass-laden beats. I loved it, though I didn’t play it enough to get to know the names of the individual tunes. It was a journey in sound, like the landscape rushing by when you are on an inter-city train. You didn’t need names, you just took it all in.

I was looking forward to another album, but first, in December 2019, we had the treat of a collaboration with the brilliant Jon Hopkins called Luminous Spaces. An appropriate title, given the shared spaces they occupy on the musical spectrum. Then covid struck and we went into lockdown, but Kelly’s new album, Inner Song, emerged in August. And what a great album it was, from the moment that Arpeggi revealed itself to be a cover of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. Deconstructed, but still reverential. It was an album I listened to a lot – and still do. I made it No2 in my top twenty of 2020, pipped only by Taylor Swift’s Folklore. Both albums reflected the times: they were introspective, but uplifting with it. Very different sounds, but not so different origins. Kelly’s publicity suggested that the album was written at a time when she was recovering from a break-up; it was also deeply concerned with climate change. Not a mass of words decrying environmental catastrophe, but sounds that evoked her despair, and maybe her hope too. Abstract expressionism, you could say. Again those dreamy soundscapes mingled with bursts of heavy bass rhythms – the drop on the dancefloor. And there was interesting guest spot for fellow Welsh artist, John Cale – he of Velvet Underground fame amongst many other accomplishments. He sang, or more accurately intoned, to a piece called Corner of my Sky.

The rain, the rain, thank God, the rain…

Now all we needed was some live shows, to experience this amazing music in three dimensions, to feel those bass lines rumble against our ribcages!  A tour was announced, around the same time as the album was released. I bought a couple of tickets for the show at EartH, in Hackney. Scheduled for April 2021.

You know what happened to that. At least the tour wasn’t abandoned, just postponed. The new EartH date was 2 December. A long way off and who knew what regime we’d be under by then.

Of course things here started to relax soon after April, and some of the summer festivals were able to go ahead. Kelly Lee Owens was on the bill for Green Man, in her home country, in August. Another late night show, in the Far Out tent. I was there, eagerly awaiting. It turned out to be even later than planned, as she hit a technical hitch after the first couple of numbers, which led to a half hour break. She resumed and gave us a spirited performance, with all the usual elements; but the edge had been taken off it – and the festival crowd does like a good natter during songs, especially after a few beers.

I was looking forward to the December show to provide the real thing. Slightly worried that it might be hit by another sudden lockdown, especially when the new variant emerged, but it went ahead. Back to EartH, with my friend Jon G again. I was hoping it would be in the upstairs hall, a spacious theatre space, with the wooden steps used as benches. I could see the sound and the lights working really well in there. The April show had been planned for there; but it was not to be – we were in the basement. Quite a big basement, a decent concert venue, though the ceilings are quite low, and it is all standing. The latter exposes you to two obsatcles to enjoying the show fully: the tall blokes standing in your sightline at the last minute and, of course, the chatting. Both were present for much of the evening…

But despite those impediments, what a show it was. About an hour and ten minutes. Paced very nicely, opening with some of the slower pieces, and slowly building to an absolutely thumping climax over the last half hour or so. The show opened with Arpeggi – what else? – and flowed into the lovely Re-Wild, the most explicitly environmental piece on Inner Song. Through the show, we had a nice mix of the two albums, with occasional bursts of those techno beats to keep people on their toes before we went into full overdrive at the end. I guess On marked the point where the beats became relentless. That song is in two parts: a gently anthemic melody at first and then a lurch into jagged electro. The pulsating Night followed that and we were off. Through Jeanette – a tribute to her mother, and a crowd favourite – Evolution* from the first album and then the mighty Melt!, which shook the place to the core, while the flashing lights compounded the assault on our senses. Kelly rocked as she manipulated her keyboards, hair flying around her. The final tune was Kingsize*, which followed Melt! in bludgeoning us into submission – in a good way!

And you know, in that last half hour, people stopped talking to each other and actually watched the show – and danced. Kelly Lee Owens had taken back control!

The lights stayed dimmed and it felt like there was going to be an encore. Kelly came out again, to acknowledge the applause and express her gratitude. No music – she explained essentially that it was pre-programmed. But her emotions were real. Again and again she had to stop and wipe away the tears. It clearly meant a huge amount to her – a common theme in the shows I’ve seen in the last month or so. All that creativity, all that emotion suppressed as the world of the arts was shut down. And now back to life, sharing their creations – and their feelings. Catharsis.

Kelly Lee Owens’ music – and especially the live experience – does catharsis very well.

*As so often, I have to thank Setlist FM for allowing me to piece together the sequence of songs, especially those from the first album. The train was rolling…

A few more photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both my little digital camera and iPhone were rather discombobulated by the lighting and ever-morphing images. Still, I did mention abstract expressionism earlier! And I didn’t even have a drink while I was there…

 

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
This entry was posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kelly Lee Owens at EartH, Hackney, 2 December 2021

  1. Dood says:

    Very fine review, John. You’re really excellent at describing her music, and its particular attraction.

    The grumpy old man in me seethes at the selfishness of the chatters! What is so urgent and important that they have to talk over a gig that someone is giving? Rant rant rant. It would drive me completely mad, which is why I now try to get as close to the stage (and thus less easily distracted) every time. Not easy, though.

    I was also struck by the tears she shed at the end. As you say, these must be cathartic moments for artists who have felt locked away, even suppressed, in the last couple of years. For them, the live experience must be a truly emotional moment when enjoyed again.

    Just try telling that to the chuffin’ chatters.

    • John S says:

      Thanks! I do love her music. That’s going to be my last mention of chatting. It’s a fact of life in standing spaces. Can detract from the enjoyment, but just have to try to focus on the stage.

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