The last time I saw Kali Uchis live was on a tiny stage at Dalston’s Victoria pub in 2015. Though a much-loved venue and well known for its music bookings, anyone outside of the E8 postcode may not fall for its charm. However, with its twinkling lights, vintage decor and faded upholstery it fitted Uchis’s set perfectly. The room was packed with fans curious to hear more from the bombshell who dressed a lot like a 60s Playboy model and sounded like no one we’d heard for a long while. Appearing in a denim co-ord and flowers tied in her hair, Uchis, accompanied by a DJ, sang over a PA to rapturous applause, name-checking her boyfriend who was out in the audience for all the wrong reasons.
Almost two years to the date, Uchis is headlining another show, this time at the recently renovated Jazz Cafe in Camden with Cosmo Pyke supporting. After releasing her Por Vida EP back in 2015 which featured production from Diplo and Tyler the Creator, she followed up with a number of far-reaching releases including collaborations with Vince Staples and most recently Jorja Smith. In the years since her last visit, she’s gone from an off-kilter popstar to a superstar, a fleeky wardrobe to match, and a loyal following.
It’s immediately evident by the queue of mini Uchis queuing up outside the venue wearing the glasses Kurt Cobain made famous, tattooed hands beneath bejewelled fingers. On entering, one girl is wearing a choker that reads ‘QUEEN’ in sparkling diamantes. Lovers of all ages are embracing in the audience. It’s clear who’s crowd this is, and they’re crammed next to the stage well before she arrives.
Appearing on stage with her all-male band in a glittering pink top and skirt combo and hair pulled up high, she proceeds to walk to the mic as her band play out an intro, the audience loud and ready with their phones to capture the first bar. Uchis can’t help but smile even though she’s making every effort to appear majestic, before launching into her first track ‘Rush’.
If Uchis was a force before, now she’s dangerous. With a live band, her music has so much more energy, more groove and feels more timeless. She properly embodies the icons she imitated in her early days. “This is my first show in London,” she says during one moment, and it’s partly true. The Kali Uchis we saw last time is an entirely different version of who we see now. When she performs her older asks the audience to stop recording as she’s about to play her unrecorded song, ‘Killer’ they obey instinctively. “This song is soft,” she says to the hyped crowd, “I’m going to need you to relax a bit.” She takes on Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ with graceful subtlety, before a cover of Elvis Crespo’s ‘Suavemente’ reminding attendees of her Colombian roots. For her penultimate song, ‘Tyrant’ she very briefly brings on Jorja Smith as her guest singer but the length of time Smith is on stage means the focus is definitely on Uchis. Both Uchis and her band disappear before an encore brings them before the band return. It’s clear they adore playing with her and work the devoted crowd up further ahead of her final, and most famous song, ‘Ridin’ Round’.
In the space of two short years, Uchis proves she’s much more than just hype. Her fans may obsess over her style but they came to see more than just a wardrobe; they came looking for an icon and that’s Uchis gave them. Set in the home place of the late Amy Winehouse, this fact seemed all the more apparent.