Charli XCX, QMU, Glasgow, Fri 27 March 2015
Prime pop collaborator turns dominating, punky band leader on solo 'Sucker' Tour
When I was in America last year, ‘Boom Clap’ by Charli XCX would be played, at the very least, once a day on the radio, if not five or six times across state lines. Hands down it was the most played song all over the country, alongside ‘Fancy’, her collaborative juggernaut with Iggy Azalea. That and ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ by Pat Benatar for some reason …
However, it has seemed that up until pretty recently, Charli's (real name Charlotte Aitchison) UK homeland has been relatively behind in its open appreciation for the prolific performer/songwriter. But with the recent release of her second album Sucker and her first proper tour of this size and scale, everybody's looking to be just about catching up. And from her Glasgow stop on said tour it's easy to see why.
Quickly dispatching arguably her biggest hit before even hitting the stage (the pre-show playlist blasts out ‘Fancy’ immediately beforehand to warm everybody up) instead of actually playing it is a fairly obvious statement of intent. Charli is smart. She knows why most people even know who she is, and respects that, but that's merely the trojan horse for the real force she's about to unleash to the studenty Friday night crowd at the QMU.
The set-up onstage is striking from the off, largely for being a fairly modest full band set up – guitarist, bass player and drummer, all dressed in matching silver dresses and angel wings, nobody hidden from view and performing as an all-encompassing unit alongside Charli. They're backed by a hefty wall of amps, each one illuminated by individual lights which swell and flicker together with the passing mood when they're not just sitting there looking massive and pretty. From the moment the (incredibly competent and infinitely watchable) band kick into the bratty 'Fuck You' punk-pop of Sucker, Charli rumbles on stage and pretty much never gives up for the proceeding hour or so, commanding her way through a set of collaborative bangers which she makes her own, and self-reliant hits she's crafted herself over two albums-and-change.
Choosing a more economical rock band set up, songs like ‘Sucker’, ‘I Don't Care’ and ‘Famous’, soon take on an almost snotty, punky life of their own, drifting further out from the more polished pop production of their recorded versions while maintaining their high energy, strong sense of melody and pure, hook-driven power. The live incarnation of Charli XCX is a solid, well-oiled machine and in general strays a fair bit from the dancefloor-orientated sounds that have long dominated contemporary mainstream pop music, and as a result seems to have as much or perhaps even more in common, spiritually at least, with say, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar, or even the B52s as it does Katy Perry, Rihanna or Taylor Swift.
Even the fairly straight-forward care-free predictability of ‘Doing It’, written in collaboration with Rita Ora, takes on a new solid pace and groove outwith the trancey pomp of the record. By the same stretch, 'Superlove' becomes an all-out disco banger with Charli's rapid-fire chorus being spit out with a mixture of joy and competent force, her voice on point, as it is throughout the rest of tonight's show (although admittedly the lower end of her range sometimes struggles to match the power of the higher end). Could she have gone out with just a backing track and been just as entertaining? Perhaps. Charli's journey from behind the curtain to effortlessly controlling a room in her own right has seen her develop and show off a talent and confidence that's likely to survive on its own merits. But this show seems like an extension of her personality and puts her take on pop music into context. Like she's blowing you a kiss but saying fuck you and giving you the finger at the same time (something that seems thematically evident throughout Sucker and its artwork).
She knows what she's doing, and barely stopping except to give a few thank yous, almost every song is scattered with rousing calls to the crowd, never begging, but never ever letting them rest unnecessarily; making them work without being annoying or overbearing, much to the joy of everybody in here flailing their arms and two-pound pints in the air like they just don't care. By the time the encore closer of ‘Boom Clap’ comes in for the kill, the crowd is a congealed, purple-lit mess in front of her; one she stomps into the ground with a barrage of storming, bubblegum choruses.
It's a joy to see somebody quite proudly be big, brightly coloured and unashamedly pop, while taking the delivery and power into their own hands instead of relying too heavily on laptops and backing tracks (there were surely a few electronic helping hands for additional keyboard lines, etc) and actually put on a show like a live band and STILL sound as good or even better than record. In short, it was hugely enjoyable to see these four ladies kick ass together; long may Charli and co. reign.