Kelela enchants at Outside Lands

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Kelela is the textbook example of critically acclaimed but commercially unfulfilled. Case in point: the crowd that she drew to her on Sunday. While it was certainly one of the more intimate crowds of the festival — and perhaps it was her 2 p.m. time slot that was to blame — everyone in attendance appeared to be a fan through and through, never standing in boredom or tempted to turn away.

She entered the stage Sunday wearing a foily silver dress, its metallic gleam shining especially bright when framed by the lilac of her backup dancers and vocalists. Kelela opened the set with a softened keyboard rendition of “LMK,” her gentle choreography perfectly in sync with that of her backups. Everything, from her vocals to her moves, felt especially ethereal when set against the fog that rolled just behind the stage. As she moved through the song, the heavier percussion and basslines of the studio version clicked into place, but Kelela remained as gentle and elegant as ever.

When she was done showing off her more gentle side, Kelela decided it was time to turn up, commanding her audience to put finger guns in the air for “Gomenasai.” Her voice deepened, submerging itself beneath the wave of bass and the clip of percussion, before shooting triumphantly back upward without a moment’s notice.

“I wrote this song about someone who was being a dick to me at the time,” she said. “He was just so mean and I actually broke up with him at the time and he just couldn’t believe me.”

She then tore into “Enemy,” howling her heartbreak into the wind as she dragged the microphone across her face. From its initial flowing grace, her voice crystallized into something fierce and jagged, something that was now unmistakable even among the clanging percussion. She sang from the apex of her production, rather than from within it.

Kelela ended the set with “Rewind,” one of the most irresistibly danceable tracks of her entire discography. She danced along with the crowd, her face placid and her gaze locked on the horizon. She no longer seemed ethereal, but was impossible to grasp all the same. Her façade of nonchalance broke as she joked with the audience.

“If I wasn’t brown, I’d be blushing,” she said, sharing a quick laugh before disappearing back offstage.

Sannidhi Shukla covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @sannidhishukla.