Kelis, The Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

Even before Edinburgh reached its current artistic overload, tickets for Kelis were like jewel-encrusted gold ingots.

Even before Edinburgh reached its current artistic overload, tickets for Kelis were like jewel-encrusted gold ingots. At its mid-festival zenith, the city is saturated with shows, but the prospect of catching one of the brightest hopes of American R&B in such intimate surroundings made this concert the hottest ticket around. Something of a major coup for T On The Fringe, Kelis Rogers arrived at the Liquid Rooms basement from supporting Britney Spears's US stadium tour - as ludicrous a concept as, say, Aretha Franklin opening for Victoria Beckham.

But tonight was all Kelis, the venue packed with an expectant crowd for her Scottish debut. The lights blazed out and there she was, almost demurely dressed in jeans and a flowing blouse, so close you could almost touch her. So close, in fact, that you could see she can actually sing (a moot point these days) and is maybe the most thrillingly talented of all the US rude girls regularly hijacking the UK charts.

Bouncing back after the commercial failure of her outré second album, Wanderland, Kelis seemed completely at ease, and had little problem finding her dancing feet again with songs from her new album, Tasty, as vibrant, explicit and exhilaratingly sensual as anything by Christina Aguilera or Li'l Kim. But whereas her contemporaries seem increasingly geared to MTV porno-soul - now part of the R&B language - Kelis allows music to take precedence and has re-shaped her Harlem jazz-soul roots into a new mix of musical styles.

All sweetness and spite, her 2000 debut single, "Caught Out There", contains the unforgettable woman-scorned shriek of "I hate you so much right now", and marked Kelis out as something other than a classic soul kitten. And as this enthralling set showed, she can be as sexy as hell and still carry musical muscle and class.

With a six-piece band pumping out rhythmic exchanges, Kelis's surprisingly gentle, husky voice spelt out sexual power in the opening "In Public". Yet she assiduously avoided cliché. An overtly alluring stage presence, she was more femme fatale than submissive sex kitten. The bubbling mix of power guitars and rock-blasting base and drum rose and fell with her undulating hips, but her songs uplifted the down-and-dirty sexual grit with challenging arrangements, rhythmic tensions and echoes of everything from Hendrix to Run DMC.

A blisteringly sultry version of "Stick Up", from the new album, and a wrenching, deep-soul cover of "Change is Gonna Come", proved that Kelis is happy to range across all genres of African-American pop, splicing hip-hop with electro-funk while recalling the great voices of R&B's history.

As the cheeky "Milk Shake" contrasted with the beautifully mellow "Rolling Through The Hood", I realised that this was an artist filled with a newly revived daring. Kelis balances physical allure and party-time grooves with, lest we forget, a wondrous voice and a sense of musical exploration. At this concert, she crooned and snaked her way into our dancing hearts but she still sounded like she was spoiling for a fight. For once, the hot-ticket tag was entirely justified.

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