LIVE REVIEW: FKA twigs plays her biggest show ever in Toronto

The British singer called her sold out Wrongbar gig a career milestone. It's only a matter of time before that sounds quaint.

- Apr 15, 2014

There are buzz bands and overpromoted false starters, and then there’s FKA twigs. Within a year and a half of releasing two weird and thoughtful R&B EPs, the British singer has signed with Young Turks, shared a producer with Kanye West (the silent ghost, Arca), and stayed relatively covert despite a small feature in, uh, Vogue.

It’s a funny thing to say considering also that last night’s Toronto gig – the biggest she’d ever played, she said – was sold out. But twigs is that rare artist whose music and vision has outgrown a small club stage; she’s the secret you know will get out.

After apologizing for a delayed start due to some “trouble with the wires,” twigs began with “Weak Spot,” a minimal and aggressive whisper rap (reminiscent of Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma”) that coyly disguises the full concentration of her vocals. She was wearing a black, white, and grey camouflage suit with the jacket unbuttoned and a black lace crop top underneath. Her face was exactly as it is in those defiant, body-centric videos: a calm death stare and blood red pout, framed by strong, jutting brows and a forehead embossed with gelled down baby hairs.

FKA twigs is that rare artist whose music and vision has outgrown a small club stage; she’s the secret you know will get out.

Twigs pushes the sensuality of her intrinsic symmetry against the ugly and odd through video effects distorting her facial features, discomfiting lyrics, and guttural production. This half-translates live, though she’s more content to charm with polite chatter than hang back in serious repose. To loud encouragement, twigs restarted a new song correcting for a missed trigger so we could “hear how beautiful it is.”

Throughout the nine-song set, twigs channeled: the amphibious cool of the blue-skinned soprano, Diva Plavalaguna, from The Fifth Element, the girlish temerity and hip-rolling stance of Aaliyah, the moody sway of Martina Topley-Bird, and the choral grief of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons. Her band – two guys on drum pads, and a guitar/synth player who learned the set in three days – replicated the slow-as-molasses, negative-space production. Everything ricochets. Creaking and rattling effects, viscous bass, robo-vox, and sky-high walls of harmonies are just emphasis and accent; sonic omens crawling after twigs’ refractive, pretty vocals.

FKA twigs - Papi Pacify

Unfortunately, the venue’s sound degenerated as the band built to crescendo and even her best-known single “Papi Pacify,” couldn’t distract. There were also more than a few pitchy moments, breaking the pristine façade of her output.

Sometimes, like with “Ache,” she pants more than she sings. Other times the trained dancer closes her eyes and moves her body in fluid, shuddering motions. On “Papi Pacify,” she moans and it’s both deviant and sad. FKA twigs presents an abstract study of corporeal phenomena and feminized physiological desire. It’s intelligent music that will outlive its ’90s nostalgia and “future R&B” metatags.

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