When you become too immersed in the world of media, it’s easy to forget that some of the things you take as a given are still a mystery to the world at large. Case in point: Charli XCX. The British singer has had so much praise heaped upon her by the music and fashion press that, if you travel in the right circles, you’d think she was a household name. Not that she won’t be — but as Saturday night’s show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom proved, Charli’s rise to fame is still very much in its nascent stage.
Of course, given that she’s still shy of her 20th birthday and has yet to release her debut album, that’s hardly cause for surprise. And while tickets to the show remained on sale as XCX took the stage, rather than serving as a letdown, it just reinforced the feeling that those of us lucky enough to be in the know (i.e., everyone in attendance) were in on the ground floor of something potentially great.
On record, Charli comes across as a dark-pop siren, skirting the lines between sing-along hooks and Grimes-like ethereality. With “You’re The One,” the title track from her recent EP, she recalls no one as strongly as a pre-Electra Heart Marina & the Diamonds, minus the goofy/absurdist edge. On stage, however, she reveals herself to be a creature of a very different nature. Backed by a sparse two-piece band (drums and electronics), Charli was in overdrive from the first note, emerging with a pair of black pom-poms to set the scene.
In addition to “You’re the One,” we were treated to other recent singles “Stay Away” and “Nuclear Seasons,” with XCX constantly on the move, snaking and writhing her way around the stage in between throwing air punches and going into full-on rave mode. Glow sticks were scattered from the balcony into the crowd, although it’s unclear if this was part of the plan or just the work of an enthusiastic fan; either way, it had the desired effect of enhancing the party atmosphere in the room. So when Charli elevated things by playing “End Of The World,” her dubstep-infused collaborative track with Alex Metric, the crowd exploded almost as wildly as the performer herself.
A cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” (watch that below) provided another moment of familiarity during a set that included a number of new songs (many of which are featured on her recent Heartbreaks And Earthquakes mixtape), while also providing a further framework for the XCX school of songwriting. As much as she’s rooted in modern club and pop culture, she’s also heavily indebted to the alternative (and pop) acts of the ’80s. Perhaps one of the most appealing things about Charli XCX is how effortlessly she’s able to blend the two, creating both a sound and a presence that she can easily continue to grow (larger than life) into.
She even throws some hip-hop conventions in the mix, rallying the fans to a call-and-response chant of, “When I say ’XC,’ you say ’X’!” (which worked a lot better than it probably reads). It’s an appropriate call to arms, really; if there’s such a thing as an X-Factor, Charli is more than deserving of including it in her name.
Photos by wagz2it.