Kelis, Liquid Room, Edinburgh<br></br>2 Many DJs, Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

The meanings of milkshake
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

So, it's about blow jobs. The video may have misled us into assuming it was about breasts (those wobbling, cherry-topped trifles, those twin fried-eggs), as might Kelis's own conduct during the song tonight (stripping down to a bikini bra and shaking her stuff), but the emerging consensus is that "Milkshake" - the most brilliantly bizarre pop single of the past 12 months - is about fellatio (the first international smash on the subject since Madonna's "Like a Prayer"), and Kelis is offering to share the secrets of her technique with another woman.

"Milkshake" has confirmed the position of Kelis - already the Neptunes' muse, not to mention Nas's ol' lady - as the queen of hip-hop soul (Mary J or Alicia may contest it), and the fact that she's playing to a venue with, at a guess, a mere 600 capacity is less a reflection of the status of Kelis, more a reflection of the status of the Edinburgh Fringe.

She wears her crown lightly. Perhaps too lightly. Not that regal arrogance would be an attractive quality, but Kelis is oddly mouse-like tonight, unrecognisable from the vengeful banshee who hated us so much right now (aaargh!), or the unhinged berserker I saw tearing through Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" three years ago. Indeed, she's so subdued I wonder if the Chinese dragon tattooed up her spine ought to be a koala bear.

It may just be a microphone and the mix - her between-song banter is practically inaudible (one exception being "Do you like to have sex in public?" betraying her unfamiliarity with the climatic conditions of the Lothian region) - but her voice is oddly weak tonight, and "the backing singer was better than her" is murmured by many at the exit. There are moments, however, when she shows the DNA of a classic soul singer - albeit more of a Gladys Knight crooner than an Aretha Franklin belter - and emphasises the point by making a half-decent fist of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come", and bringing subtle shades of torch-singer heartbreak to her own "Get Along With You", perched on a stool, her eyes welling up.

Other highlights include the bomb-like funk-metal of "Keep It Down" and a strange, sped-up version of "Caught Out There", but her DJ ruins it after every song by issuing aggressive instructions like "Yo, Scotland! Make some noise!" or "Let's hear it for Kelis!", and bullying us into begging for an encore (when we know damn well she won't leave before doing "Milkshake"). If the lady herself showed a little more of her undeniable charisma, he wouldn't need to.

One of the finest things about the Fringe, and Edinburgh's enlightened licensing laws, is that with a little planning, you can leave one show and jump in a taxi across town at just the right moment to avoid the execrable Black Cool Mean Rebellious Leather Motorbike Boys, but still catch the best party DJs in the world.

The genius of 2 Many DJs - aka the Dewaele brothers, of Belgian electro rockers Soulwax - is thrown into relief by the chap who precedes them (a certain DJ Twitch). Loitering behind an Apple laptop (call me a Luddite, but does clicking "Play", standing back and lighting a fag really constitute DJing?), playing half an hour of anonymous four-to-the-floor techno - and expecting a communal orgasm when you drop a snatch of Blondie's "Atomic" - simply isn't good enough. When we hear Divine's "Shake It Up" punctuated by the beeps which herald Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", we know the professionals are here and the party's started.

Tonight's is not the greatest set the Dewaeles have spun but what they do to Motörhead's "Ace of Spades", with the strobe lights flashing and your head in the bass bins, is mind, eye and ear-blowing. There is something incongruous about joining a four-figure, air-punching crowd, facing the stage and staring at a couple of unassuming, studenty-looking fellers whispering in each other's ears, conferring and nodding. But observing the Dewaeles at close quarters is fascinating for a semi-pro DJ such as I. What they do isn't rocket science and they appear to rely heavily on their own pre-recorded white label 12-inchers, but if it was as easy as 2 Many DJs make it look, we'd all be doing it.

Towards the end, they juxtapose their turntable trickery with an ironic soundbite of some pompous house muso complaining that "too many DJs don't have the patience to play a 20-minute version of a song" and that they're too concerned with "giving the crowd what they want". So sue them...

Meanwhile, back at the Liquid Room, the diva is giving the remnants of her crowd what "they" want - at a price. Kelis stays to sign autographs, but only if you shell out for a poster or a T-shirt (anyone who nears the front of the queue with a setlist or scrap of paper is all but manhandled out).

She'll meet you, but she'll have to charge.

Kelis: Carling Academy, Liverpool (0870 771 2000), tonight; Majestyk, Leeds (0113 242 4333), tomorrow

s.price@independent.co.uk

Comments