Live Review: Meshell Ndegeocello, Memphis LK

26 April 2019 | 2:02 pm | Guido Farnell

"The palette of sounds feels richly organic. The vibe is deep and any sense of groove in the mix is extremely subtle."

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Memphis LK, aka Memphis Kelly, leaves Saatsuma behind with her first official solo show tonight. Firing up her minimal electronic set-up, Kelly acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country and starts to pump out some solid tech-house beats. It’s a dance-pop jam that feels like a throwback to the early '90s with trance melodies and 303-styled acid burble in the mix. We feel as though we should be raving but the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall imposes a certain restraint on the crowd, who are happy to toe tap. Promising us unreleased tunes, Kelly sings on 'Roses' and 'Medicine' with a tone of youthful naivety in her dulcet tones. The early '90s vibe continues and it feels like she is singlehandedly trying to beat the Rising High Collective at their own game as she channels her inner Plavka. Her debut Speak Honestly is trancey yet dancey and brings down her four-song set on an easy feelgood vibe.

Meshell Ndegeocello playing bass as part of a pretty standard four-piece band offers something very different to Memphis LK. Ndegeocello reminds us that it was almost 30 years ago when she released her debut album on Madonna’s label, Maverick Records. Confronting that she’s now in her 50s, Ndegeocello has clearly come a long way since Plantation Lullabies. A stunning version of Grace from the album Bitter kickstarts the show. The palette of sounds feels richly organic. The vibe is deep and any sense of groove in the mix is extremely subtle. It’s a heavy but satisfying start to a set which showcases her latest album of covers, Ventriloquism.

Ndegeocello suggests that listening to the only radio station in her hometown while dealing with the death of her father brought back so many memories that it inspired her to record these covers. Perhaps it's reflective of where she is at in life, but Ndegeocello presents covers of songs that have been twisted out of shape and forced to fit with the dark, earthy vibes she’s currently working in. Interestingly, she doesn’t capitalise on the hooks in the source material, preferring to virtually rewrite these songs and evolve them into something else. Despite her mainstream successes, Ndegeocello has always presented her music uncompromisingly on her own terms and this is a good example of the kind of trajectory Ndegeocello would naturally take. 

Cohen’s Suzanne is virtually unrecognisable, changed into something that’s lusciously deep and velveteen in texture. There is glittering cosmic intent in the twang of her band. They sound as though they're creating a soft, warm glow to illuminate the darkness of the depths of space. It's at once inviting yet sad and strangely grim. Similarly, TLC’s Waterfalls feels a little forbidding as it reaches out to us with its core message of concern. However, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s I Wonder If I Take You Home does create a sweetly playful vibe in the room. Strangely, Atomic Dog 2017 plays out as a noisey explosion of freaky math rock abstraction that removes the party funk of the George Clinton original. Ndegeocello presents a hugely enjoyable set that’s backed by seasoned players who enjoy the opportunity to show off their skills. No forgiveness for the fact that her sublime cover of Prince’s Sometimes It Snows In April didn’t make the setlist.