“Let battle commence” is how Charli XCX put it earlier this year, announcing a trio of laughably tiny shows dedicated to ‘How I’m Feeling Now’. She wasn’t exaggerating. Tonight’s London show (October 25) – her first UK date since the ‘Charli’ world tour got cut short by the pandemic – sold out in just five minutes, and for the 600 fans here tonight at Lafayette, just making it into the room already feels like a victory.
Sharpening of elbows aside, the sheer closeness of the venue also feels suited to the ethos of her latest album, which was created at home in lockdown in collaboration with her own fans. Far from the mysterious sheen of some pop music, magicked up in a distant room by a enigmatic circle of collaborators, ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ lifted the lid, and saw one of pop’s brightest talents puzzling over how to share her screen, and bashing the shit out of some pots and pans while her slightly pixelated collaborator A.G. Cook advised from afar. Undoubtedly, it remains the best thing to arise from a Zoom call.
By the time the lights dim to make way for a plasticky, synthetic-sounding piano intro, chants fill the room. As slow-burner ‘Visions’ erupts into a juddering, bassy banger, she dances with the kind of chaotic abandon usually reserved for a lone kitchen rave, and by the second song, ‘Detonate’, the entire venue is singing vocals for her.
From here, cuts from ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ keep coming thick and fast – in a flash of green strobe the mass-singalong of the mutated ‘Anthems’ feels like a moment of release. “Late nights, my friends, New York,” the room sings together, “finally, when it’s over, we might be even closer.” During the loved-up ‘Claws’ – originally about her own relationship – Charli skews the meaning, singling out members of the audience and dedicating individual lines to them. ‘Party 4 U’ is also directed outwards: “Only threw this party for you, for you, for you,” she sings, “I was hopin’ you would come through”.
Tonight’s focus on close connection is a marked shift from Charli’s last London show at O2 Brixton Academy, which saw the artist partying with guests like Christine and The Queens and Brooke Candy beneath a pair of gigantic neon cubes and pivoting spotlights. Here, the production extends to a generous amount of strobe, zero extra guests, a smattering of light-up bollards, and aeroplane strip-lighting with a disco twist – as Charli flings herself across the floor during warped hyper-pop anthems ‘Pink Diamond’ and ‘C2.0’ the crowd cheer her on. She looks visibly stunned, and gestures for the music to pause so she can speak to the room: “I don’t really talk that much during shows apart from saying ‘what the fuck?’ but that’s because I’m nervous. I just wanna say thank you for helping me to make ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ during a pandemic, and giving me so many ideas and so much confidence,” she adds. “I’d be shit without you.”
After closing out the special airing of that album with ‘Forever’ Charli moves swiftly onto one final double-whammy. Placed next to so much from ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ the influence of her 2016 EP title-track ‘Vroom Vroom’, with its plasticine beats, playful lyrics and sluggish engine revs, is clear to see. And then as if to demonstrate that she can occupy the mainstream just as easily, the show closes with the far more conventionally-structured ‘Good Ones’ – which was recently reworked by producer Joel Corry.
After years of toying with different directions – from the pop-punk schtick of 2015’s ‘Sucker’ to the experimental hyper-pop breakthrough of ‘Pop 2’ and the guest-crammed ‘Charli’ – it feels like Charli XCX has finally found a way of inhabiting mainstream charts with tracks like the euro-dancey ‘Out Out’ and ‘Good Ones’, and making some of the most exciting, experimental strands of pop at the same time. Tonight, we’re mostly treated to the latter – and after trying our best to conjure up the atmosphere of Charli XCX led-party in our living rooms for the last year, it feels cathartic to finally get the real thing.
Charli XCX played:
‘Party 4 U’
‘I Finally Understand’