The envelope handed to me at will-call bore the inscription “CASSANDRA MANSUETTI, PHOTO,” much to my excitement. Walking through the blunt Michigan cold to the back of the line which wrapped around Royal Oak Music Theatre, I tore open the flap to be greeted by a bona fide physical concert ticket (an increasing rarity in the world of Ticketmaster) and a red and white photo pass channeling the same design of a “Hello my name is” tag.
Here to see Kali Uchis for her penultimate stop on the “In Your Dreams” tour, it was only my fourth concert ever. I flirted with thoughts of how I could wield the new power that my title of press photographer grants me as I tromped down the steps of the tiered venue. The closest I came to anything resembling photography last Sunday night was a few customary iPhone videos and Instagram story updates — meager means of capturing the magic of the main event.
Opener Gabriel Garzón-Montano came out with an eerie, stuttering gait, which I initially thought was part of his persona. I felt bad when the tall person in front of me ducked to the right and I realized he was using a cane. He overstayed his welcome just a tad as he sang and strummed through a grab-bag of his greatest hits to an unacquainted audience, the only of which I recognized was “6 8” due to its sampling in a Drake song. At the end of his set, he tore his tank top off, threw it into the puzzled faces on the floor and sauntered off stage left.
The live musicians soon filed in and the opening notes of “Dead To Me” were heard shortly after. With the lights off, crowd on their toes and breezy guitar riffs in the air, the sudden appearance of Kali’s silhouette was immediately arresting, the fans entirely captivated as she strutted out from behind the curtain into many a fierce pose.
“I don’t know what you’ve been told,” she sang in unison with hundreds of voices: some rough, some smooth, some flat and some sharp, but all dead set on joining her on a mystical medley through her stellar studio debut Isolation interspersed with the best of her Por Vida EP. Easily danceable tracks like “Just a Stranger,” “Feel Like A Fool” and “After the Storm” kept the energy vivacious, allowing for slower, more sober reflections in “Killer” and “Flight 22.”
We were with her all the way, some more enthralled than others but all gleefully swept into the pull of typhoon Kali Uchis. While revealing herself to be a secret introvert in her short monologues (she prefixed a heart-wrenching rendition of “Loner” with “I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to talk to people”), Uchis made herself known, staying in constant motion the entire show, swaying, twirling and sashaying in a lustrous red outfit reminiscent of the one she sports on the Isolation cover.
Nowhere was her mesmerizing presence felt more than when Kali transitioned to a cover of “I Feel Love,” convincing me that her sophomore effort should be an eclectic modern take on disco. For the few concerts I’ve been to, there’s been a stellar track record with covers — Lorde doing Frank Ocean’s “Solo,” Kesha doing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” — and Uchis channeling Donna Summer in the best way possible was no exception.
Even though the live band didn’t particularly do the sublime production of Isolation justice (the losses of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn were particularly felt on “Tomorrow” and “In Your Dreams,” respectively), they were still impressive in their own right and Kali did more than enough to spellbind us for a little over an hour. With lithe movements and high notes abound, Kali Uchis put it all out there on that stage, leaving us simply bewitched.