Live Review, 1/19/12: Katy B Soars Over the Bass at Her First S.F. Show

Categories: Last Night

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Katy B at Rickshaw Stop last night.

Katy B
Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012
Rickshaw Stop

Better than: The club music bandwagon.

For all the pop singers building hits out of electronic dance music these days -- which is pretty much everyone under the age of 30 who isn't Adele -- the marriage often seems a little contrived. "We Found Love" sounds more like a Rihanna vocal slapped onto a Calvin Harris track -- or Rihanna trying on her Ibiza outfit -- than an easy pairing. Neither would be a natural choice for the other if the combination wasn't almost guaranteed to blow up the radio.

Twenty-two-year-old British singer Katy B doesn't have that problem. Her identity, at least as portrayed through her lyrics, is so based on the club and the experiences therein that building her songs out of anything but dubstep and other bass-heavy rhythms would seem strange. And last night at Rickshaw Stop, during her first S.F. show ever, Katy B demonstrated that unlike some of her peers, she's as natural singing over those beats in an intimate live setting as she is gyrating to them at Fabric.

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Katy flew in from London yesterday afternoon to play a seven-song set that started at 12:19 this morning and had ended by 12:42. In between, we got some of the best of last year's acclaimed debut album, presented while Katy B dashed from one side of the stage to the other in turquoise jeans and a modest silver top. Her entire presence exuded a surprising (and welcome) casualness for a broadly appealing pop star whose debut album was one of the most acclaimed of last year. Backed by her DJ and a wallflower hype man, Katy owned the low platform, leaving a trail of startling red curls as she pursued eye-to-eye contact with what was, especially considering the hour, a decent-sized flock of adorers.

On initial songs like "Louder" and "Broken Record," it was immediately clear that the warmth and smoothness of her voice on her recordings is not a studio creation. The sound comes out of her mouth like that. Which only accentuated the barbed honesty of lyrics of songs like "Easy Please Me," where Katy airs her irritation with men who won't leave her alone in the club. At the core of her appeal -- aside from the rhythms, of course -- is an immensely likeable personality, just self-involved enough to be mysterious, yet still real-person enough to deliver chatty lines like "Their lines are far too cheesy/ No boy is on the level, believe me." (And she gets extra points considering how easy it'd be to lay down platitudes about, um, finding love or whatever, let the beats do the shock and awe, and call it a day.)

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Speaking of beats: Rickshaw wouldn't be anyone's first choice for a low-end exhibition, but the club's modest soundsystem did a decent job of capturing the murky bass last night. There was no lack of movement: The small room was a waving sea of arms by the conclusion of "Lights On," and "Katy B on a Mission." The latter, a single and obvious favorite, is this artist's manifesto: a seductive dancefloor track about being seduced by the dancefloor. Letting out its upwardly winding chorus into her mic, Katy B twirled and swayed onstage, getting lost in the stumbling bass of her own song. It seemed like a completely natural place for her to be.

Critic's Notebook

By the way: Katy B didn't use her body as a performance medium the way other pop stars do. That wasn't a bad thing: Her presence was more like a rapper, improvising movements to the music and addressing her lyrics to the crowd. It was an honest alternative to the usual pop choreography -- which this show wasn't big enough for, anyway -- and I hope it stays the same as she gets to be better known.

Setlist

Louder
Broken Record
Easy Please Me
Movement
Perfect Stranger
Lights On
Katy B On a Mission

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Jason Bentley
Jason Bentley

I was a bit surprised by how short her set was, but I had so much fun that I suspect more would've been a bit like drinking too much.

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