Kali Uchis @ Olympia – 17th October 2018

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kali uchis montreal

Kali Uchis would be forgiven for thinking that her biggest headline show to date in Montreal is jinxed. Last week, tonight’s planned opener Cuco was involved in a nasty traffic accident en route to Nashville which took him out of commission for the rest of the tour. His replacement, Gabriel Garzón-Montano, never made it across the border today, leaving Kali without anyone to open the show. There’s a palpable sense of confusion in the hours leading up to the show as a result; Kali initially posts to her Instagram followers that with no opener, she will be taking straight to the stage at 8:30pm, though this is later updated to 9pm, with local DJ Radiant Baby drafted in last-minute to fill the 8pm opening slot after all. Who would be a concert promoter?!

kali_uchis olympia

All the confusion is quickly forgotten by the time 9.05 pm rolls around, and the lights abruptly drop with the flick of a switch. A 3-piece backing band takes to the stage first and starts to jam before the curtain at the back of the stage suddenly lights up with the silhouette of tonight’s main event. The band starts to play the intro of Dead To Me, and Kali’s silhouette throws a few poses before the lady herself emerges through a crack in the curtain just in time for the verse. The crowd cheers greeting her arrival are deafening, as is the singalong that accompanies that first song (and indeed most of the songs throughout the set). After apologizing for the chaos with the evening’s openers, the jazz-funk of Never Be Yours is followed by the Tame Impala-infused Tomorrow before things take an altogether techno turn in the form of a cover of Donna Summer’s classic I Feel Love. Her debut record, the acclaimed Isolation released earlier this year, truly showcases Kali’s willingness to explore all genres under the sun, from Funk to Doo-Wop to Reggaeton (with many detours in between), and 4 songs into the set, its clear that this diversity is on display in the live setting as well.

kali_uchis montreal review

After the stutter-step dub beats of Tyrant, Kali draws the inevitable Amy Winehouse comparisons on the soul numbers Flight 22 and Feel Like A Fool. The voice, the stage presence, the swagger, it’s all right there. Things get heavy again on Loner, a song “about why I don’t really wanna talk to people,” bass and beats thumping throughout and culminating with a massive guitar solo from one of the backing band who emerges for a rare foray from the shadows. After the explosive Just A Stranger, Kali introduces Your Teeth In My Neck by explaining her working-class background from a Colombian immigrant family, and how the corporations take all the money from the working class. Heavy subject matter for sure, and a little too much for the token intoxicated populace who elect to yell inane “I LOVE YOU KALI!” comments over the top of her, but that’s par for the course at big shows these days – and especially now given the legalization of a certain substance today in Canada! The song itself is a percussion-heavy spectacle in itself, with a very disjointed breakdown that somehow reforms spontaneously as if by magic. Nuestro Planeta is just as mesmerizing, for very different reasons; as the first lines ring out, the singalong from the crowd is deafening. Sounds unspectacular in itself, but considering the song is entirely in Spanish, it sounds pretty amazing to hear Spanish boom around the room like that.

kali_uchis montreal olympia

Kali introduces the next couple of songs as not being on the set originally but added following many fan requests. Stripped-down versions of the stellar In My Dreams and the brooding Miami follow, and everyone is grateful she listened to those fans! She pulls up a chair and seats herself for Killer to create a real smokey jazz bar vibe within the cavernous Olympia, continuing with Gotta Get Up, before the chair is ditched for the funk-tastic After The Storm, with the crowd enthusiastically filling in for Tyler The Creator’s part when Kali points her mic at them. Again, it sounds amazing. After thanking all for coming, she picks up a rose thrown onto the stage and departs, leaving the band to close out the song in thunderous fashion.

kali_uchis montreal olympia photos

After a brief pause, Kali and band reappear, and Kali asks “what do you wanna hear?!” Of course, that sparks a cacophony of indeterminate noise, but somehow Kali picks out two suggestions: “Speed? Ridin Round? OK, Ridin Round, let’s do it!!!” The bouncing reggae-infused track from the 2015 Por Vida EP closes out the encore and indeed the show after an hour, with Kali again leaving her band to round out proceedings. One of the standout lines from the Isolation record is on Miami; Kali declares “why would I be Kim, I could be Kanye / in the land of opportunity and palm trees.” Kali Uchis is unquestionably and unashamedly aiming high, and on the strength of tonight’s show, it’s hard to see what could possibly stop her.

kali_uchis montreal pictures

1. Dead To Me
2. Never Be Yours
3. Tomorrow
4. I Feel Love
5. Tyrant
6. Flight 22
7. Feel Like A Fool
8. Loner
9. Just a Stranger
10. Your Teeth in My Neck
11. Nuestro Planeta
12. In My Dreams
13. Miami
14. Killer
15. Gotta Get Up
16. After The Storm

17. Ridin Round

kali_uchis montreal olympia crowd

Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Jean-Michel Lacombe

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