Omar Apollo live in London: a steamy, effortlessly charismatic performance

KOKO, June 16: At the only UK show of his 'Ivory' Tour, the Indiana-raised star leavens his laid-back stage presence with stunning musicianship

As Omar Apollo points out more than once tonight, good things come to those who wait. In the three years since the Mexican-American artist last graced the capital, his back catalogue has doubled in size, with the release of 2020 project ‘Apolonio’ and his equally excellent debut album, ‘Ivory’, which was unveiled in April. This is a long-awaited and UK-exclusive show by one of alt-R&B’s most unassuming stars, and his downplaying of the occasion is certainly endearing: “London, this is so cool,” Apollo says, before a burst of gentle laughter sneaks out. His neon-pink hoodie seems to be the loudest thing about him.

Tonight, Apollo may deliver little between-song chat, and at times display an enigmatic quality of his hero, Prince, but he moves through the songs with nimble ease, achieving several lift-offs along the way. On ‘Talk’, his guitar work turns gnarly as the pace quickens rapidly, while the 25-year-old later stands back to marvel at the mini-moshpit that the ascendant chorus of ‘Go Away’ inspires. The crowd’s loudly giddy reaction to that song is only eclipsed by ‘Tamagotchi’, a glitchy pop banger produced by Pharrell, that is so exuberant and infectiously fun that it’s played twice this evening.

Few gigs have as much joyful, spontaneous cheering as this one. “This next song is sexy as fuck,” Apollo shouts before the bluesy rhythms of ‘Killing Me’ begin to unfurl. The air instantly thickens with anticipation, as if this evening’s mini-heatwave hadn’t already left Camden’s KOKO feeling mildly like a sauna.

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But Apollo gradually hurls himself into the performance, whether he’s fleshing out ‘Billie Jean’-esque dance moves underneath this venue’s super-sized disco ball throughout the irresistibly funky ‘Kickback’, or shouting out a punter that confidently chooses, as though its standard gig etiquette, to film a rousing rendition of ‘Invincible’ on their Nintendo DS. The rest of the room, meanwhile, transforms into a glowing forest of raised phones.

The show’s unexpected emotional climax comes not with the pared-back performance of ‘El En Olvido’ – which sees Apollo sing in his mother tongue of Spanish – but when a crumpled flag is thrown on stage. During a vast, heartfelt singalong of Kali Uchis team-up ‘Bad Life’, Apollo’s bandmate unravels it to reveal a Mexican pride flag; it’s a gift from the fans lining the front row. Their devotion to him is clearly – and beautifully – of a different and deeper hue than most rising pop stars could ever ask for.

Omar Apollo played:

‘Talk’

‘Useless’

‘Erase’

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‘Ugotme’

‘Killing Me’

‘No Good Reason’

‘Kickback’

‘Hit Me Up’

‘Waiting On You’

‘El En Olvido’

‘219’

‘Frio’

‘Evergreen’

‘Petrified’

‘Invincible’

‘Tamagotchi’

‘Kamikaze’

‘Bad Life’

‘Hey Boy’

‘Mr Neighbor’

‘Want You Around’

‘Go Away’

‘Tamagotchi’

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