OAKLAND — Encompassing down-beat electronic trance music, contemporary dance and a grandiose sense of visual presentation, British artist FKA twigs stirred an uproar of enthusiastic fandom at the Fox Theater during an immersive performance-art experience
FKA twigs emerged in an elaborate samurai-inspired outfit. She performed a slow, flowing dance solo over the brief instrumental intro before grabbing a microphone. Sparse, propulsive music inundated the theater from an unseen source. She sang delicately along with exotic, bird-like motions after donning a frilly white headdress. Over minimal suggestions of melody, her breathy vocals bolstered a half-hypnotized atmosphere.
FKA twigs fed off the crowd’s energy and built confidence. Through the ephemeral haze, she constructed a deliberate three-song lead-in to the attention-grabbing “Pendulum.” Heralded by tough, hard-hitting noise effects and percussion, a quartet of magenta-robed apparitions joined her onstage for a warrior dance. She sweetly conveyed the lyrical promise, “I’m a sweet little love-maker,” flanked by her athletic convoy. FKA twigs then engaged an impressive yogic back bend, allowing her soft soprano to pierce the breaks in the soundtrack.
Fans of her videos came ready for visual revelations. She audibly thrilled with her subtle grace of motility and sui generis dress sense. For “Mary Magdalene,” from FKA twigs’ forthcoming album, Magdalene, she wore a glittery, resplendent gown that recalled Babylonian royalty. She moved with minute, royal dignity, providing a center to the group of dancers, who vogued sharply and fanned out with dynamic swirls.
Recent single “Sad Day” provided the centerpiece to the set and a high point of the show. Another glacial electronica intro gave her a platform for underwater gesticulations before giving way to lively percussive, textural elements and an understated melodic vocal hook. FKA twigs explored the tension between her tender singing voice and frigid, melancholy musical themes. A sense of rainy-eyed distance presented between her vulnerable lyrical content and her arty, alien soundscapes. During a false ending, her voice lingered through a pregnant silence before a final refrain. Gymnastic forays by dance crew presaged FKA twigs’ choreographed sword fight with an invisible foe. Her victory resulted in a curtain drop, revealing a hidden set.
Atop a two-tiered scaffolding, three bohemians were obscured under hazard-alert red stage lights. Pink hair and swaths of bare skin were evident behind an installation of synths and a mixed arrangement of acoustic and electronic drums. Between these fixtures a cellist wailed away, like a breathing heart amid a glut of mechanized sounds.
The visually indulgent procession of ideas contrasted with bleak stage lighting, moody songs and subliminally dystopian insinuations. FKA twigs’ presentation grazed the surface of alienating avant-garde art but ultimately proved too palatable to cause upset. Informed by a darker European take on spectacle than the burlesque of, say, Lady Gaga, FKA twigs nevertheless only flirted with the truly weird. As a disconnected series of visual treats, the show made a statement while deflecting interpretation. Some people no doubt left scratching their heads.
Sonically, the emphasis on sedate, stark musical arrangements and her almost-whispered vocals required a certain amount of investment from listeners. Her vocals were hard to hear in the lower registers, as they were overpowered by the booming low-end.
As a pure visceral experience, however, the set boasted vigorous precision of motion. FKA twigs and her dancers executed spirited get-downs on song after song. The show’s climax was the hyped pole-dance act she unleashed during “Cellophane,” a yearning inspection of the thin, transparent barriers that can be imposed between two people or two worlds. Her commitment to her dance-craft resulted in an elegant feat of athleticism on the pole, highlighting her strength.
She followed with the ecstatic, prurient “Two Weeks,” a refreshingly energetic tune that showed the bolder side of her songwriting. Directly after her most provocative outfit, she changed into a bulky distortion of a stuffy Victorian dress, pieced together from various swatches of plaid.
Twigs’ humility came through in her unassuming body language and intimate lyrics, establishing a through-line during the performance. Through extravagant stage presence, outrageous attire and cold, robotic musical treatments she contorted this humility. She introduced “Mirrored Heart,” her ode to sorrow, with her only direct address to the audience.
“How many people came here alone?” she whispered, kneeling at the front of the stage. “And how many people have had their heart broken? I’ve had my heart broken, too.”
This delicate, personal touch persisted behind each of the inflated illusions populating her world of inspiration.