Plenty of musicians dazzle audiences with a combination of chops, attitude and style, but few have the type of presence owned by larger-than-life icons like Beyoncé or Bjork. Opening her first U.S. headlining tour at a sold-out 9:30 Club on Thursday night, FKA Twigs seems on her way to joining that exclusive club.
After several years as a backup dancer for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran and Jessie J, Twigs launched her music career in 2012 and released her eagerly anticipated and critically acclaimed “LP1” in August. Her experimental style draws heavily from trip-hop, a down-tempo electronic genre popularized in the 1990s by groups such as Massive Attack and Portishead, and the strain of chilled-out contemporary R&B typified by the Weeknd and How to Dress Well.
On her records, Twigs flirts with hypnagogia, threatening to float away like a half-remembered dream. Her voice can be wispy at higher registers, and her approach to songcraft favors mood and ambience over pop structure. When seeing her live, however, the ethereal becomes corporeal: The sensuality and sexuality of her music demands to be reckoned with as her concert takes every element of her art to a higher plane.
Wearing cutoff gloves and her hair down, a leather crop top peeking out behind a loose outfit, Twigs shared the striking style of Janet Jackson circa “Rhythm Nation 1814” or Aaliyah in the late ’90s. And while dancing is no longer Twigs’s main creative outlet, it is central to her performance. With a style that is part breakdancing, part belly dancing, she moves like a stop-motion windup doll: whipping, jerking and gyrating her body in time with the metronomic percussion of her songs.
Musically, her three-piece band helped bring the songs to life, exaggerating and accentuating key elements of her bass-heavy, synth-swaddled songs, especially the industrial bursts of percussion that resemble scraping sandpaper and pneumatic power tools more than drums. Songs that are subdued and spooky on record became overwhelming and hypnotic in concert.
With her stunning visage, serpentine dance moves, and provocative lyrics, she wields love and sex like a weapon: a double-edged sword, to be exact. These forces can be edifying or destructive or somewhere in-between. On "Preface," she repeated "I love another, and thus I hate myself" like a hymnal, while the lyrics of “Lights On” balanced bedroom fantasy with vulnerability: “When I trust you we can do it with the lights on… Let me tell you all my secrets in a whisper ‘til the day’s done.”
Her hour-long set, played to a capacity crowd of mesmerized bright young things, whispered just enough secrets to keep them wanting more. Intimate but just out of reach, like waking from a dream.
Kelly is a freelance writer.