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Here comes the sun: Kelly Lee Owens live in London

14 March 2016, 16:16 | Written by Ed Nash

When we first saw Kelly Lee Owens live, as it was only her third concert we weren’t quite prepared for the astonishing display that took place that evening. The question was if she was that good after less than a handful of performances, what would she be like with more under her belt? The answer tonight (10th March) is definitive - she’s gotten even better.

At a packed Servant Jazz Quarters in London the evening starts with an invigorating DJ set from EERA which mixes old-school house with techno and given that we’re in a cellar, the venue feels old-school too. However if that suggests mere nostalgia the set from Owens and her band - comprising of keyboard, cello and Ghost Culture’s James Greenwood on synth drums - is anything but. Watching and listening to them reminds me of Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner, a fascinating mixture of futuristic and retro.

The first tune opens with a beautiful piano refrain and when Owens starts singing it’s reminiscent of Heaven or Las Vegas era Liz Fraser, you can discern the words but the vocal is also an instrument adding onomatopoeic colour to the music. As it draws to a close the singing echoes another of her heroes, Björk, with her voice reverbed to trippy effect and cleverly it ends where it started with the piano.

Her first two singles are timely reminders of why she generated such a buzz last year. “Uncertain”, with its juxtaposition of lush textures, pulsating bassline and her voice spiralling over them is just lovely. The strings of “Lucid” are deceptively dulcet, yet contain a hint of darkness, like Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning” and combining samples of her voice with live singing makes it incredibly psychedelic.

Remarkably however new single “1 of 3” trumps them both. Like Primal Scream’s “Higher Than the Sun” it simultaneously conjures a feeling of soundscape and song, when the chorus hits with the repeated phrase “Break out…” it’s incredibly vast in scope. As acid house bleeps enter the mood is instantly changed, becoming stronger, roused from unconsciousness with the sudden realisation of the line “Just a muse for you to use, now I see I’m 1 of 3.”

Having collaborated on three tracks for Daniel Avery’s Drone Logic the tune that was earmarked for Owens gets an airing, she tells us “It was meant for his album, but you’ll get why it isn’t on it.” Indeed we do, it sounds perfect for her and is a highlight of a glittering set. Starting as a slow-paced mantra the chorus explodes, again using the power of refrain, with the words “Keep walking, keep walking, keep walking” repeated and like Savages “Adore Life”, which pulled off the same trick of repetition, it feels incredibly life-affirming. Irresistibly catchy, it stays in my head on the train on the way home.

As they leave the stage, fittingly Björk’s “Crystalline” from Biophilia booms over the PA, a huge influence on Owens who blazed the trail of mixing electronica with the ethereal. Having reworked Jenny Hval’s “Kingsize” to great acclaim, Owens is not your straightforward singer/songwriter either.The importance of the production means that to call the twelve pieces played tonight 'songs' slightly misses the point - they’re more compositions, deceptively intricate but utterly immediate.

The mixture of light and dark in the music makes me think the perfect time to see Owens live would either be at sundown or sunrise, the periods of the day where there are subtle and slow changes in the state of consciousness, either winding down or gearing up. With her album due this summer as well as major festival dates it’s shaping up to a breakthrough year for her. If you’re going to the Green Man or Latitude festivals, ensure you track down Owens and her band, because live they’re something else, like a perfect soundtrack to the sun.

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