On the cusp of her biggest era yet, Charli XCX’s show at the tiny Layfette is an intimate view of the pop star at her most vulnerable.
Taking ‘how i’m feeling now’ to the stage, a record made in five weeks at the height of quarantine misery, it’s proof that there’s a party at the heart of every song Charli makes.
These little album shows aren’t new for Charli. Previously hosting gigs for her mixtapes ‘Number 1 Angel’ and ‘Pop 2’, the angels have come to cherish these intimate moments shared between an artist and a fanbase who clearly mean the world to one another. Tonight is extra sentimental, though. ‘how i’m feeling now’ is an album these fans helped create. There’s old fan favourites on there (‘party 4 u’) and songs fans got to contribute to (‘claws’, ‘forever’). This is Charli’s first proper return to the stage in her home country since before the pandemic. It might even be the longest time UK angels have ever had to go without a Charli XCX performance, and it absolutely shows.
Stepping out to a ravenous crowd, ‘visions’ booms and neither Charli nor the crowd take their foot off the pedal for the next 45 minutes. Barely catching her breath between tracks, the pacing is clearly inspired by DJ sets, harking back to Charli’s idea that she prefers her shows to be more like parties than gigs. Racing through the album, the energy keeps peaking, wild at ‘anthems’ and ‘pink diamond’, emotional at ‘party 4 u’ and ‘7 years’. She’s too nervous to chat between songs (her words), but she makes an exception before ‘party 4 u’, dedicating it to the audience, “whether you’re a ‘True Romance’ angel, or a ‘Pop 2’ angel, or a ‘Vroom Vroom’ angel” – there’s varying levels of screaming for every era mentioned.
She thanks fans again for the confidence they give her and their contributions to ‘how i’m feeling now’ between XCX classic ‘Vroom Vroom’ and new banger ‘Good Ones’, but she can barely get the words out for all the cheering. “I’d be shit without you”, she ends on, and through an autotuned mic, she still sounds touched.
Everything feels right at this show. From the venue choice – a minuscule new auditorium that opened right before the pandemic took hold (perfect for a lockdown album, right?) – to the scarily dedicated audience who seem like they might actually blow the roof off, Charli is just as comfortable here as she was filling Brixton Academy on her last album cycle.
Every now and again, we’re reminded of Charli’s pop prowess, and tonight is one of those nights. As ‘c2.0’ (a remix of 2019’s ‘Click’) kicks in, and Charli asks who’s here with their friends, it’s hard not to imagine how many people here have bonded over a shared love of Charli over the years. She’s long been a cult favourite, and that’s shown in the fact that those bonds extend past the fans and into the guest list tonight, where the hyperpop generation (that’s Caroline Polachek, AG Cook, Danny L Harle, Arca, and Pink Pantheress to name a few) largely collated by Charli resides in the balcony.
By the time her third full-length ‘Charli’ was released, she’d become known for her star-studded feature lineups, which were reflected tenfold when performed live. Tonight she’s the only one on stage – save for an incredible opening slot from Cobrah, whose BDSM-core bops have the audience gagging – mainly because there’s no features on ‘how i’m feeling now’, but also because it wouldn’t feel right to have multiple guest appearances when the album discusses loneliness and longing for human connection. Tonight that connection remains solely between Charli and her angels.