Even on an expansive stage Saturday night at Capital One Arena, there was still something immediately accessible about Khalid: With a shy grin and playful shimmies, he felt like a younger sibling’s best friend, the one who lived down the block, or the undergrad who wowed at the open mic.
Before he dominated streaming with relatable tracks about youthful angst and joy, he spent much of his formative years moving around because of his mother’s military career. Khalid eventually spent his senior year of high school in El Paso and went on to write songs that would become part of his debut album, “American Teen,” a collage of gentle, R&B-inflected melodies lapping against Khalid’s signature jagged croon that feels every bit as arid as the desert landscapes featured on the covers of his releases.
Despite all the runs and belting that Khalid can do, his voice rings hollow, an untethered reverberation against slick, genre-melding production.
His latest album, “Free Spirit,” offers bigger production on 17 meandering tracks. Producers Disclosure, Charlie Handsome and Hit-Boy are able to coax flashes of promise out of Khalid’s vocals, something that’s not just hitting notes but actually conveying uncertainty and interiority.
Those flashes came and went at his concert, and though the rousing live band and charming dancers felt unified surrounded by the brightly hued lighting, Khalid’s matte vocals only adhered loosely instead of leading the charge, flatlining as he reached for high moments in understated anthem “Intro” but then rekindling to falsetto-crispness in glossy jam “Talk.”