As long as Kelis has been recording music – a respectful 11 years, in fact – her indifference to the workings of the industry has had no negative bearing on her reputation as a musical maven of cool. Arguably, that's been her saving grace, having launched her career off the back of her rebellious debut, Kaleidoscope, in 1999, before experiencing the difficulties of reinvention three albums later, while a host of other R&B girls would go on to prove that they could sing better, and perhaps, look sexier than her too.
But with her fifth album, Flesh Tone, she's found a sound and style that suits her nicely, allowing her to evolve into an electro-dance queen who holds court in the Shepherd's Bush Empire with the ferocity of the Queen of Hearts herself. "We're here to dance, OK, so that means do not stare!" she declares, the irony of that statement being that it's pretty hard not too. Sparkling in a catsuit she described on her Facebook page earlier as "the world from outer space", the 31-year-old mother-of-one is stunning, and commands her way through the fist-pumping "Scream", which kicks off the show.
She says it's the first time that she's performed at the Empire for a decade, so there's a sense that this show is her much-desired comeback, given the mixed reception to the new album and her niche celebrity status. The bulk of tonight's set is dedicated to Flesh Tone, which on stage, translates to quite an excitable rave. Songs like "22nd Century", "Get High" and "Brave" thrash violently around the venue with the added backing of two female DJs, a drummer and pianist, and even old numbers, like the rocky "Young, Fresh N' New", "Get Along With You" and "Millionaire", slot easily into the frenzy. Kelis jiggles, poses and tirelessly waves her hands in the air – highlighting a weakness for original choreography, but on the other hand, a refreshing disregard for the conventions of showmanship. She's mostly in her element when she lets the music take control; a remix of her hit "Milkshake", with Madonna's "Holiday" and a quick reference to Tinie Tempah's "Pass Out", effortlessly charges up the crowd, who by this point have been religiously pumping their fists and singing along to everything the singer has energetically dished out. She even gets down to Ding Dong's ragga hit "Bad Man Forward, Bad Man Pull-Up", which segues brilliantly into "Trick Me".
Her limited vocals only stretch so far, but Kelis has her moments, notably on "Spaceship", her collaboration with Benny Benassi, and "Emancipate", a pulsating anthem which you figure must have been inspired by her divorce from rapper Nas earlier this year. But if she's bitter about it, she doesn't show it, even going so far as to leave her famous break-up anthem "Caught Out There (I Hate You So Much Right Now)" off the setlist. Instead, Kelis makes it clear that positivity is the theme of this latest chapter in her life. Wrapping up with chart-topper "Acapella" and "Song for the Baby", a dedication to her son, Knight, she smiles broadly and dishes out her thank yous, looking content in the knowledge that she'll always be a leader, and hardly the follower.Reuse content