Kelis / Son Little The Hoxton, Toronto ON, June 11

Kelis / Son Little The Hoxton, Toronto ON, June 11
Photo: Kevin Jones
Kelis is a woman in a constant state of evolution. Never afraid to try something new, the Harlem-born songbird had an eclectic set mixed with new and old goodies for her anxious Toronto fans at the Hoxton. The only catch was her milkshake came with a 35-minute wait and a pretty awkward dancehall mix in between her set and the opening act.

The night began with electronic/soul singer Son Little taking the stage. His love songs came from the heart, a place that also seems to inhabit a lot of the effortlessly smooth vocals that poured from Son into the undercurrent of light guitar and tame electronic production. The problem wasn't Son as a performer, but the lack of vigour required for these songs to translate onstage and make his one man show something the fans could actually get into. The set seemed to take a turn right at the end when he introduced his last song. "Does Toronto have any rhythm? I wanna play this track without the beat, but I'm going to need some help from you guys," he said before getting into his finale. The crowd claps and stomps were on point for a bit until the front of the room went off rhythm, leading Son Little to stop and start again. The second go-around was smoother with full crowd participation, giving Son all the rhythm he needed to swoon the audience with a stripped-down tune that seemed to grab the crowd's attention more than any other part of his set.

As Son Little exited the stage, the half full Hoxton eagerly awaited the arrival of Kelis. As the stage hands began bringing out instruments and sheet music, fans went wild and started chanting some of the singer's most popular tracks in anticipation of her set. Ten minute intervals of dancehall tracks would come on to keep the crowd pumped and then music would shut off for a few minutes. Crowd cheers were greeted with even more dancehall, making fans a bit aggravated once the wait for Kelis entered the 30-minute mark. Not a moment too soon, Kelis and her full band took the stage. The fans went crazy as everyone took their places, with Kelis standing centre stage, looking flawless with jewels and a sleek, form-fitting green dress.

"Here's how it's going to go tonight guys. We're going to start with some new stuff and then some old stuff", Kelis said to the crowd before beginning the set with "Breakfast." Her band included saxophone, piano, guitar and a vivacious back-up singer with a tambourine. This gave Kelis a fuller sound, a new playground for her latest tunes, all of which channelled a groovy essence of funk, rock and hints of Motown all blended into the mix. Kelis ended her newer half of her set and stopped to text her mom onstage. This led to Kelis asking the crowd to take a group selfie, which had everyone rushing to the front to get in on the action. After a few more updated old songs, Kelis gave the audience a two-minute sip of her tasty hit "Milkshake," which had the whole room shouting along, rocking their hips as Kelis danced along with the crowd.

"Playing Milkshake at shows is still so much fun because I've got a lot to shake," said Kelis as the fans begged for an encore of the song. Kelis ended her set with a few tracks from her Flesh Tone album, all of which retained that anthemic, stadium quality essence, even with the electronic/house beats completely stripped away. Her encore involved another selfie and a very sweet Motown ballad that left the crowd with just enough love for the funky songstress to exit the venue immediately after the set was done. Some fans waited years for the flavours Kelis served at the Hoxton, and while the wait was gruelling for some, Kelis gave Toronto a bit of everything on the menu, which definitely made the slow start worth it by the end of the night.