Up Close As Charli XCX Returns To Los Angeles
There were 18 days between the release of Charli XCX’s new album and her (five-years-overdue) return to The Wiltern. That may be the amount of time we need for our throats to recover afterwards.
“That was fucking insane,” concert-goers said as they trickled out into what was an uncharacteristically brisk Los Angeles night. Maybe it was the quick transition from being pressed up against each other, swapping sweat and body heat in the sold-out Wiltern that made outside feel strange. Maybe we were still feverish from jumping around for two hours, cheeks flushed, slip-sliding on the silver confetti that’d slicked itself into a slippery coating on the floor.
But whatever it was, it was common knowledge amongst us little pockets of brightly-dressed young people, loitering dumb-foundedly outside the venue, that we would never see a show as left-field as that in the near future. It was only fitting that Ms. Charli XCX would start her show with confetti rather than ending with it— after all, she is a free spirit with a penchant for the backwards.
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‘Charli’, her first real LP in five years— a confusing, eager, brilliant 50 minutes of futuristic pop songs— was backwards in every sense of the word: it took what we think of as “pop” and turned it right on it’s head, throwing together an even bigger dream-team than her last mixtape, 'Pop 2', and saw her making some of her boldest collaborations yet.
‘Charli’ was nothing if not a team-effort, and it was not a strange coincidence that Charli’s disembodied voice, booming over the loudspeaker to thank those who assisted, instructed fans to scream “real real real loud” for them all as the exhilarating opening notes of “Next Level Charli” came on.
And next level it was. Distortion and alien-pop sounds are as integral to the album as sugar is to fruit, and the sickly-sweet pop that made up most of ‘Charli’s’ tracklist translated surprisingly well live.
Even songs that sounded abrasive on the album were absolute bangers— case in point: 'Click' and 'Shake It' were the most riotous— and there’s something seriously impressive about this two-hour long set, in which she was nonstop action, showing no signs of slowing as she floated above a crowd of 300-odd people dressed in cheap plastic and bright alien-tones.
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Singing the cartoonish vocalizations on '2099' came just as easily as singing the steadfast lyrics of “White Mercedes”— it was all the same to Charli. Almost every song of hers tonight rolls off her tongue in a seemingly cosmic way, from slower ballad 'Official' to club banger 'Click', the energy of one song bleeding into the other as she invites us to ride ‘Charli’s’ ups and downs.
It had been approximately 18 days since the album had hit public ears— I know this because I was eagerly counting down the days— but it was clear that in those two weeks both Charli and fans had been practicing, now earnestly screaming every word together without missing a beat.
The entire set was a display of love both ways— Charli for her fans and fans for Charli. “LA, I’ve got a question for you. Do you fuck with Kim Petras or what?!” The ground seemed to shake as Petras— who really needed no introduction— appeared almost out of thin air to ravenous cheers as she sang her verse of 'Click'.
Much like XCX’s past three projects, the stage tonight became a revolving door of surprise appearances (HAIM for 'Warm', Petras for 'Click', Brooke Candy for 'Shake It'), and by the end of the night we had made a game out of anticipating who would pop up next— could it be Lizzo?! Cupcakke?! A.G. Cook?! (Spoiler: It was none).
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The 'All I Do Is Cry' songstress, who’s featured on 'Click', and 2017’s 'Unlock It', came out for a rendition of both songs, and each time, the crowd screamed as if they had never seen her before. Jam-packed with hits from all corners of her career, Charli XCX knew how to keep a room.
'Vroom Vroom', her 2016 single that debuted her new avant-grade style sounds unfathomably huge live, with heavy bass-booms and swelling beats to boot. 'Boys' was a similar highlight, as well as her 2014-throwback cover of Icona Pop’s 'I Love It'.
Clearly elated with how the night had turned out, her energy soared with each song as the crowd kept having more fun. Charli closes out her set with the iconic '1999' (ft. Troye Sivan), which paints a vivid picture of being out all night, and up until the last second she continues to have a whale of a time.
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It’s a shame Charli is so underrated— she’s 204th in the world on Spotify, but despite this has never had more than one hit song, and has spent more of her musical career spearheading other artists in the background, rather than furthering her own.
She’s remained largely out of the mainstream conversation (except around release times), and from this standpoint— having just seen her play a two-hour long set and not once run out of breath— it’s a bit difficult to understand why, in a world where we’re now keen on embracing it all— the avant garde, the bare bones, and the plastic excess— she hasn’t gotten popular beyond one musical sphere.
Maybe that will change. But for now, there’s a palpable sense in the air that everyone here had been waiting weeks for this boisterous event (encore #1 'Unlock It' is another such song worthy of that descriptor) and it had finally come to a head.
Charli (and her fans) love what she does— that much is clear— every night showing us what it truly looks like to love your job. The energy was unarguably Next Level Charli: explosive, transcendent, and unforgettable— from the opening notes of 'NLC' to the closing of '1999'. “Make some fucking noise for ME!” she yells.
The crowd screams, and Charli XCX goes out with a bang.
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Charli’s UK/EU tour kicks off October 27th in Glasgow.
Words + Photography: Valerie Magan
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