Kali Uchis began her set from behind a curtain, her silhouette perfectly framed by a spotlight, the stage lit by red floor lights. Arching her back as she cooed the opening of “Dead To Me,” she soon cut through the curtain’s central split and appeared: her backless bra composed of artfully strung pearls, her white pants adorned with a waistline of dangling fringe that reached her midthigh.
As the first seconds of Monday’s show illuminated, it was a performance undeniably about image — one that was carefully cultivated. Kali Uchis, the stage name of Colombian American Karly-Marina Loaiza, is a powerhouse singer, but even more so, she’s a performer. Her delivery on stage — as she arched her back or crooned while lowering herself to the ground — was all-consuming in the attention it demanded. This came as no surprise, given that Uchis had served as creative director for a number of her recent music videos — most notably the hypersurrealist and “Pushing Daisies”-esque “After The Storm,” a work featuring longtime collaborator Tyler, the Creator that dropped in January.
But on the historic Warfield stage, it was Uchis’ first time touring with an entire album under her fringed belt. There was a sense of reverie about her. She wanted the full attention of her audience, a crowd packed into a pit with just enough elbow room for dancing or standing in front of the chairs on the balcony, or illegally filling the aisles and staircases. Eyes remained locked on Uchis as she shimmied across the stage, the fringe on her blazingly white pants following her light-footed gait. The audience’s gaze remained unflinching as Uchis stood firmly center stage, her neck elongated, her long, dark ponytail inching toward her lower back as she romantically crooned parts of the lovelorn ballads and femme-empowerment anthems of Isolation.
The crowd neither moshed nor gave weak, mindless sways — its rapt attention gave way to seemingly subconscious replications of the expertly crafted choreography onstage, with audience members in the pit shimmying in the few inches of wiggle room granted by the sold-out venue’s pit. Their trance-like reverence for the 24-year-old singer before them — enhanced only by the steady, psychedelic beats of hits such as the emotionally nuanced album closer “Killer” and the nostalgic, dream-like “Flight 22” — was only broken for the passing of a blunt or emergence of a cell phone to record a 10-second clip.
The audience members — many copying Uchis’ iconic colorful, glossy eye shadow or heavy, black eyeliner looks from her magazine or album covers — best proved their devotion during the delicious beats of “Nuestro Planeta” as they sang along with the all-Spanish lyrics. They once again proved their loyalty when they sang all of Tyler’s lyrics on “After the Storm” over the recording, with the words directed at Uchis: ”Kali, what you mean?”
When she wasn’t singing or dancing, she vulnerably faced the audience and tried to share the meanings behind a handful of songs — gone was the confident swagger with which Uchis delivered punchy lyrics on stage such as the instantly iconic, “But why would I be Kim? I could be Kanye.” Here was her more raw and vulnerable side. While these asides in a concert often feel artificial, managerially crafted to ensure likability, here, their poor reception (the audience used these breaks to shout affirmations and yell over Uchis’ near-whispers) and hasty delivery marked them as undeniably, charmingly genuine.
For a master of tonal shifts — Uchis’ set ranged from a reimagined version of “Miami” that transformed the track into an ode to 1920s jazzy doo-wops, to the criminally short “Gotta Get Up (Interlude),” which oozes the spirit of the burgeoning eve of Motown, to the Amy Winehouse-reminiscent showstopper “Feel Like a Fool” — transitioning from upbeat bops to earnest audience banter is one dynamic that Uchis perhaps has yet to master.
Not that it seemed to matter. As the crowd worked its way onto Market Street at the close of the first of a two-show San Francisco run, fans debated going to see her again. Not long after that, the venue sold out once more for night two, setting the stage for fans to see Uchis emerge from that curtain, either for the first time or yet again.
Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].