Kelis was once described as a “parallel universe Beyoncé”. Fans of Mrs Carter would surely have to pass through a wormhole to get as close to her as Kelis’s did to their heroine here. In the intimate and elegantly crumbling confines of this Victorian music hall, they could press flesh and swap stories. Danny, at the very front, had been to 12 of the New Yorker’s shows. Even the star looked abashed. For anyone remotely objective, this gig felt like crashing a private party.
An artist capable of startlingly sassy singles, Kelis hasn’t enjoyed the sustained success those hits might suggest. (She would have a moan later about being labelled “inconsistent”, with plenty of sympathy in earshot.) At almost 35, she is diversifying – into cookery. She boasts a range of sauces and a spot on the Cooking Channel. Her current album, Food, is something of a tie-in and her most successful since 2003’s Tasty. In the UK, it peaked at No 20.
She began, dressed in Diana Ross’s hair and a sparkly white-top-and-black-trousers combo, with lines from Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”, delivered like a husky mission statement. The optimistic strut of “Breakfast” implied fresh starts and “Friday Fish Fry” had a classic R&B stomp. This new, vintage-influenced material, complete with trumpet and sax, was competent and catchy, but rather bland for a woman who announced herself in 1999 by yelling, “I hate you so much right now” (“Caught Out There” didn’t feature this evening). There were points, too, when her voice was so low that I scarcely heard what she was singing. At times, Kelis sat on a stool glancing at a music stand. Remembering lyrics is an issue, she admitted, since she’s been so busy with foodie endeavours.
The looser things got, the better they became. The best section elided old songs “Get Along with You”, “Good Stuff” and “Glow” into a warmly seductive yet stripped-back medley. For the starkly rhythmic anthem “Milkshake”, Kelis brought Danny 12-Shows to the stage. He wound away with commendable vigour. Latin brass subsequently took the track in a carnival-ish direction as Danny’s idol hopped off to readjust her monitors.
I hoped the yearning slow jam “Floyd” might be dedicated to the red wine-swilling, bow tie-wearing British gastronome Keith Floyd. Alas, no. Still, it sounded satisfyingly hazy and down-home. The cover of Labi Siffre’s “Bless the Telephone” was a tender acoustic duet with a guitarist. Jazzy vocals and piano dawdled reflectively on “Biscuits ’n’ Gravy” until the band joined in with a blowsy sway.
The hands-in-the-air disco of “Fourth of July” and “Acapella” threatened the ceiling before a final coda of “Feeling Good”. Then it was all hugs and selfies, Kelis included. The night had warmed up nicely. Ironically, though, given her theme, there wasn’t nearly enough spice.
Kelis plays Somerset House in London on July 14, somersethouse.org.uk