Concert review: Kehlani at Spark Arena

Kehlani at Spark Arena 20 January.

Kehlani performs at Spark Arena 20 January.
Photo: RNZ / Liam Brown

Review – Kehlani made their triumphant return to Aotearoa last night at Spark Arena for the first time in five years – previously having been here on tour with Halsey in 2018 – on their Blue Water Road Trip Tour.

I’ve been in Kehlani’s corner since You Should Be Here, released in 2015. I was in my early teens when that came out, and I’ve come to realise I have grown alongside Kehlani through my formative years; they’re nothing short of an artist whose existence and presence is as timeless as their work. Their discography is a testament to their evolution, not just sonically, but personally. To have grown alongside that is nothing short of a privilege.

I made it to Spark Arena in time for both openers. Destin Conrad, who said early into his performance that it was his first time in the country, set the tone for the night on a mellow note with slow R&B and trap tracks that had the crowd switched on from the beginning.

Opening DJ Noodz, Kehlani’s best friend and touring DJ, had the responsibility of turning the crowd all the way up. When I first saw Kehlani on her SweetSexySavage tour in 2017, Noodz played a set of bangers that had me on the edge of my seat.

However, times have changed; with the music industry being run by apps like TikTok, the opening DJ format has changed – the bangers are still there, but they’ve morphed into 15-to 30-second TikTok sounds that have trended over the past six months to a year.

Needless to say, I wasn’t as hyped after this set as I would usually be – encountering sound issues during her set with the bass not working on a few of her tracks put a damper on the performance and left the crowd wanting a little bit more at the end.

I wrote four words to describe Kehlani’s performance as soon as she stepped foot on stage: enigmatic, sexy, commanding and boundless. Kehlani’s ability to command the attention of 6000 people by simply standing in front of a mic stand is something I will never get tired of.

Kehlani at Spark Arena 20 January.

Kehlani at Spark Arena 20 January.
Photo: RNZ / Liam Brown

The audio-technical difficulties seemed to stay consistent throughout the concert – albeit noticeable from where I was stood, they seemed to not faze the artist, her band, or her DJ at all. In turn, the vibes were simply so high it didn’t bother the crowd either.

The Blue Water Road Trip tour is one of an eclectic nature – Kehlani performed hit tracks from her previous albums, like ‘Love Language’ and a remixed version of ‘The Way from You Should Be Here’, furthermore remixing ‘Piece of Mind’ and ‘CRZY’, which went from an R&B track to an early-Paramore sounding rock masterpiece, from SweetSexySavage. I’d liken it to a form of skin shedding through revisiting and re-shedding past selves – each album, each song means something different, with different intentions in each section.

I’d like to think of this tour as a Kehlani: Greatest Hits (So Far) tour. Every song hit a nerve, a memory, or a feeling that triggered something different – in the best way possible.

Kehlani creates and fosters a relationship between herself and the crowd that almost breaks the celebrity barrier. She talks to individual people, cracks a few jokes here, and at one point, during ‘Hate the Club,’ got up close in personal with fans in the front row.

The highlight of the concert was when the singer brought out Aotearoa’s own JessB on stage to perform her recent single, ‘Can’t Fake It.’ Before Jess hit the stage, Kehlani acknowledged Aotearoa’s culture, citing it being one of such a welcoming and accepting nature, before telling the crowd how important it is to support homegrown talent.

“If everybody in this room tonight leaves supporting this person that I’m about to bring out, she will travel the world over, and over, and over again.” Thus, JessB, accompanied by DJ and certified best friend, Half Queen, ran laps around the stage, leaving every single bit of their energy with the crowd.

By the end of the concert, it was clearer than ever that Kehlani’s evolution as an artist is one that shall never end. The story is still being written, and with no end in sight, the singer’s timeless value continues to shine. The Blue Water Road Trip Tour is a limitless experience. An eclectic journey of self-discovery, healing, and unabashed high energy not for the faint of heart.

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