LIVE: Kelly Lee Owens – The Ritz, Manchester

This review comes with a disclaimer. Kelly could have taken to the stage, farted in to the microphone and fucked off and I would still have told you it was the best gig of the year. Ok that’s obviously a gross exaggeration, but it’s been ages since I’ve experienced anything close to a club and I was unfeasibly excited for this much postponed gig from one of my favourite artists of the last couple of years.

Before I get into the review proper and start making sense again, I should mention support act Goddess911. Like many an emerging artist, there was a sense of them not having entirely worked out who they want to be. Years and Years seemed like a recent influence, with other points harking back to the likes of Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys. The levels of bass were ridiculous and came into their own towards the dance-rather-than-pop orientated end of the set. One to come back to with interest in time.

Alright, now here’s the actual review.

The first few notes of a Radiohead song play. A black hooded figure walks on stage like the reaper of techno, scythe replaced by single drumstick. The song, of course, is ‘Arpeggi’ and the becloaked being could be no-one else but Kelly Lee Owens. I may never enjoy a moment to the music of Yorke, Greenwood et al. more than this ever again.

The cloak (or less romantically, puffa jacket) doesn’t stay on for long. It’s tossed to the back of the stage as bright lights hit Kelly and the opening notes of the hypnotically beautiful ‘Re-Wild’ ring out. It’s a dramatic start. 

The Ritz crowd took a little while to get going. A few obvious boyfriends tagging along with their KLO fan girlfriends shuffled awkwardly in front of me, oblivious to first album gems like ‘Anxi’ and ‘Keep Walking’. Looking at the crowd response at the time it seemed like a prolonged build up, but looking back at the night, the arc of energy demonstrated Kelly’s perfect sense for curating a set.

Thoughtful ambient tracks became bangers and bangers took on a life of their own with the power that Kelly released, hair spinning just like on the cover of Inner Song. When I think of Kelly Lee Owens, I think first of beats, not lyrics. But her words took on a new life tonight too, culminating in an unexpected torch song singalong moment with ‘love is not enough to stay / I would rather be on my own’ on ‘L.I.N.E.’.

You know that the Ritz crowd is getting there because you can feel it through the sprung floor. When it’s bouncing, it’s literally bouncing. Kelly, on her own on the vast stage, achieved this by bringing a whole lot more to each of her tunes than is captured in any recorded version. ‘On’, ‘Night’, ‘Jeanette’ and ‘Melt!’ in particular all had the savage dial turned up a notch. The atmosphere by the end was astonishing, and it clearly wowed Kelly too as she returned to the stage not for an encore but an affecting and nostalgic thank you speech.

The last time I saw a comparable show from anything approaching the same genre was The Chemical Brothers in July 2018. Three and a half years is a long time. Sometimes you don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until it happens right in front of you. And fuck me was it good to be back. This was not only the best gig of the year, but also near the top of the list of any I have ever seen. I certainly don’t remember feeling the need for immediate recovery time and a sit down after any live music event before. 

In one word, wow. Kelly please come back and see us again soon.

Words by James Spearing

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