Lily Allen @ Terminal 5 | 9/24/14
At Lily Allen’s concert at Terminal 5 Wednesday evening in New York City, the 29-year-old singer performed a densely packed, career-spanning 80-minute set for the second of two shows at the west side venue. First though, was Lolawolf, the recording project for Zoe Kravitz (yes, that Kravitz), who sings and performs alongside bandmates Jimmy Giannopolous and James Levy.
Lolawolf performed their thirty minute set of partially brooding, partially gleaming synth-pop for a near-capacity crowd that seemed quite eager to see Kravitz’s outfit. On opener “What Love Is,” the 25-year-old singer rode an easy ’80s pop hook as she sang the song’s despairing chorus: “I wanna know what love is / I really hope that it’s not you.” Lolawolf’s music, which has hints of r&b and electronic music (with a half-rapped verse or two thrown in for good measure), is reliant on simple samples and primitive percussion, with Kravitz repeatedly banging on a cymbal and a tenor drum throughout the set.
Though Kravitz hasn’t quite figured out how to be a compelling frontman (and certainly had a hard time winning over a room as big as Terminal 5), she loosened up throughout her set, moving around stage and showing more energy as the set progressed, listening to her own advice during “Calm Down.” Luckily, Lolawolf’s set was more well-received than it could have been, with the crowd swaying along to the trio’s occasionally moody melodies. Kravitz seemed excited to performing on such a big stage, eager to tell the crowd that her and her bandmates see shows at Terminal 5 “all the time” in between songs.
There was a good 35 minutes or so in between Lolawolf and Lily Allen’s set, which allowed for plenty of time to admire Allen’s stage set-up, which was adorned with blown-up baby bottles (a commentary on motherhood? immaturity? dependence? all three?). Allen took the stage at 9:25 p.m. to the sound of her four-piece backing band playing a soft lullaby, she abruptly took the stage and began “Sheezus,” the title track of most recent album released this past May.
Joined onstage by a group of four backup dancers, which Allen summoned and dismissed throughout the evening, the ensuing hour and a half of music spanned Allen’s still-small discography. Running through songs that touched on neo-soul, Euro-pop, and even flairs of country (“No Fair”), Allen performed songs like “LDN,” (which she dedicated to her hometown) “Littlest Things” and “Smile” from her 2006 debut Alright, Still. During the latter, which served as Allen’s breakthrough single and is still her most identifiable hit, the singer brought up a bag of smiley bouncy balls and spent the better part of the song lackadaisically bouncing them out into the crowd. If Allen has tired of the gentle British pop that gave the singer a mainstream U.S. audience, then the bouncey ball gesture seemed like a way of casually distancing the singer from the song, ensuring, however passively, that it didn’t take over the show. During the third chorus, Allen deconstructed the song by bringing a brief, harsh EDM beat to the chorus, which made the 2006 hit feel all the more quaint when the beat dropped back out for a final sing-along verse.
Allen otherwise focused intently on performing a variety of tracks from Sheezus, including “L8 CMMR,” “As Long As I Got You” and “URL Badman.” The latter, a clunky, too-literal takedown of masculine internet trolling, was–despite all odds–a particular fan favorite. During the pop-singer-name-dropping title track, Allen cemented her position early on as the anti-pop star, the singer who defines her own position in pop through negation. Performing at a large club as opposed to an endless arena, Allen has the advantage of using her scaled-down spectacle as its own evidence of oppositional authenticity: “I’m not like the others,” is the not-so-subtle implication behind a good deal of Allen’s recent material, and Allen–who also backs up this position by playing on her identity as foreign outsider to the messy world of U.S. pop fame–embraces every bit of this role.
Allen’s finger-pointing has its own appeal, pop music is always going to need someone fill that role, but Wednesday night’s show was further proof that the singer is at her most compelling when she’s not name-dropping and parading her own pop self-righteousness. Songs like “Life For Me” and “22,” which both went over quite well, showed off another side of Allen’s pop cleverness. The British singer has an acute sense for the boredoms, anxieties and early-onset nostalgia of early-middle-aged young professionals (this, not coincidentally, comprised the vast majority of the crowd).
During the former, which tells the tale of young parents’ dealing with their newfound dreary banalities (“it’s a bit early for a midlife crisis),” Allen asked the crowd if there were “any young mommies out there,” and then if there were any “young daddys” as well. “That’s a different story,” she chuckled to herself after asking about the daddy’s. During the small, intimate moments like these, Allen was able to effortlessly display her charm and witty sense of humor, whereas songs like “Hard out Here” and “Sheezus” are so thoroughly laced with sarcasm that they ended up losing their sense of humor and biting irony along the way.
Allen also drew energy on stage Wednesday evening from statements that weren’t her own, slowing down the show midway through for an emotive cover of r&b crooner Jhene Aiko, and performing a brief, energetic take on Ty Dolla $ign’s “Oh Nah” during the two-song encore, moments that provided possible, hopeful glimpses into a harder sound for Allen’s next LP. By the end of her main set, she launched into the 2009 hit “Fuck You” for a final piece of liberatory putdown. Allen handed over the four-lettered chorus to the crowd, who screamed along as Allen proudly watched on.
Setlist for Lily Allen @ Terminal 5 | 9/24/14
We can’t find one yet, but will update the post as soon as it becomes available.