Singer Kelis offers a platter of delights from new album, “Food,” at the 9:30 Club


Kelis performs at the 9:30 Club. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)
June 16

When an artist names an album “Food,” he or she should expect to attract some fans who are foodies. The sixth studio release from singer Kelis, who is also a trained chef and saucier with a special on the Cooking Channel, has song titles such as “Jerk Ribs” and “Biscuits n’ Gravy,” so it makes sense that people would come to her live show expecting a little nosh.

At least one concertgoer at her Sunday night appearance at the 9:30 Club — the last stop on the U.S. leg of her tour — was disappointed that Kelis’s forthcoming cookbook and line of sauces weren’t available for sale. The music would have to be nourishment enough.

On that front, Kelis didn’t disappoint. Accompanied by a live band, she immediately got things cooking by serving up the horn-laden album intro “Breakfast,” “Cobbler” (a ’60s soul romp that had her belting out operatic notes) and the funky love song “Friday Fish Fry.”

Food metaphors describing the singer’s latest have spiraled out of control, but “Food” is indeed meaty, hearty and all that good stuff. Kelis told the crowd that she hates when journalists ask why the new album, which leans toward traditional soul, is “soooo different” from her last, 2010’s electronic dance disc “Flesh Tone.” She maintains it’s not. “Take away the ‘dum dum dum dum’ and it’s just a song!” she said. True, but strip away the thumping bass and layers of effects, and fans are reminded that she’s more than a dance diva — or an eclectic pop singer, or an R&B/hip-hop goddess, or any of the other styles she has had success with. She’s simply a dynamite vocalist whose husky tone is suited to sounds both futuristic and vintage.

Kelis powered through “Runnin,’ ” unapologetically reading the lyrics from a notebook (“I used to feel bad about it,” she said of not always remembering the lyrics of words of her songs). She called the flip “Rumble” one of her favorites from the new album; she has written so many songs about heartbreak, but few about what comes after the healing and progressing into the “I’m over it, I just want all my stuff back” stage. “No one ever writes about that!” she said.

There was, of course, some old stuff, too, including a truncated version of “Get Along With You” and a ska take on “Milkshake,” her biggest hit to date. But the depth of her catalogue was apparent as much from what was left out of the set. There was no “Caught Out There,” no “Blindfold Me,” (a duet with her ex-husband, rapper Nas), and most shocking of all, no “Bossy,” even after the crowd began chanting for it. Sure, the braggy 2006 track may not fit in with her current repertoire, but there must be a way to make the fan favorite work. A remixed version called “Saucy,” perhaps?

Godfrey is a freelancer writer.

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