Kelly Lee Owens @ SWG3, Glasgow, 20 Nov
It’s clear Kelly Lee Owens has missed live music as much as the rest of us, and her joyous return reshapes her introspective offerings into moments of communal catharsis
When Kelly Lee Owens released Inner Song in August 2020, we were far away from the explosive gig experience its songs could offer. At the time, the Welsh electronic musician marked its release with a handful of intimate Zoom listening parties. Owens hosted these sessions with the same open enthusiasm she would give a live set or DJ mix.
She encouraged us along with slo-mo dancing, red wine in hand, occasionally clacking on her keyboard to explain her process, or just to write “CRYING IN THE CLUB!!!” as a song played. The Zoom sessions were oddly fitting for an album so much about inner experience and self-assurance. We experienced the album alone and together, in a comforting and spontaneous way.
Over a year on, and we’re back to shows. Tonight in Glasgow, you could see art-rock experiments from Voka Gentle and Young Knives at Poetry Club and Stereo, catch Headie One’s victory lap of a show, or even find the motherbeat with Eris Drew and Octo Octa at Berkley Suite. The city is brimming with music again. It’s clear Kelly Lee Owens has missed this as much as the rest of us, and her joyous return reshapes her introspective offerings into moments of communal catharsis.
After an ethereal and instantly likeable support set from Goddess911, Owens sets the tone with Arpeggi, a hypnotic cover of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes. Analog synth arps loop around us as Owens enters. Her hands are outstretched, moving from instrument to instrument, building tension by playfully adjusting the tone in slow increments. Halfway through, the tension bubbles over into a minimal garage beat.
There’s not a moment of stillness from here, songs blending into each other as Owens takes us through all sides of her musical vision. There’s barely time to clap between songs, so the crowd just dances. Owens is a performer who easily moves between moods, her set fluidly building from dream-pop to ambient soundscapes, and gradually to intense techno jams. The range of emotion is amplified within each style – silences more pronounced and the noisiest moments more ferocious. (The only element that doesn’t hit with a punch is a drum pad that feels far too quiet. The image of Owens thwacking a pad to produce a tiny snare sound was entertaining, regardless.)
Owens' vocal performance is particularly strong. On the reverb-heavy chorus of Re-Wild, her voices pierces through the mix as if begging to get through to us. Later, on the glorious descending drop of Melt!, she yelps and whispers to fill every corner of the room with sound, as a steady kick keeps us moving. Night lies at the emotional centre of the set. It’s already the track where Owens' pop songwriting is contrasted most starkly with a shift to hard-nosed electronics as everything takes shape. The bridge that takes us into that moment is a lyric, which captures the night perfectly: 'It feels so good to be alone… with you'.
Kelly Lee Owens' 2023 Women’s World Cup Theme Unity is out now as a single