Kelis : Lokeren, Belgium Town Festival

Back with new material, and a more sober barnet, Kelis is still toting thrilling sci-fi r&b...

She’s only been away for a few months, but in these fast-movin’ R&B times, it seems like aeons ago since Kelis dropped her brilliant debut ‘Kaleidoscope’. With her status as the hottest new ghetto superstar lost to the female hiphop hordes, and her new album due out in October, Kelis has a lot to prove tonight. That she refuses to let a psychedelic new colour of hair distract from proceedings (she’s sporting her ‘classic’ bleach blonde cut) may be an initial disappointment, it proves to be indicative of what she wants to be judged on this time around.

Not that Kelis has suddenly forgotten how to deliver the dumb POP goods, far from it. The finale of forthcoming, soon-to-be huge single ‘Young, Fresh & New’ and ‘Caught Out There’ is visceral, life-affirming stuff that’s easily as good as anything Destiny’s Child have ever done. But the best thing is that that’s only a small part of the Kelis live experience. Most of tonight’s set is a million miles away from the slick, produced-to-perfection R&poppin’B that seems to be everywhere these days. Instead, Kelis‘ ten man band lock into an organic funk groove that, especially on the oriental-flavoured ‘Mafia’ and calypso-heavy newie ‘Lil Suzy’, proves hard to resist. The nearest reference point is perhaps Guru’s Jazzmatazz, but then without the muso leanings and with a young Dinah Washington on vocals.

It’s not all good though. The less-than-enthusiastic response of a rained-on audience visibly bothers the entire band, who never really seem to give it all they’ve got. There’s a very real sense that, at not one point tonight, Kelis realises her full potential. Imagine if she does. She’ll be flying.

Manu Lammens