REVIEW: Kimbra pilots sonic spaceship to Regency Ballroom

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Photos: Kate Vides

SAN FRANCISCO — Kimbra is releasing her third third album, Primal Heart, in April, but she’s giving U.S. fans a sneak peek on tour right now. The New Zealand singer-songwriter brought her revamped show to the Regency Ballroom Tuesday.

Like the new LP, Kimbra’s live show tones down the art-pop experimentation of 2014’s The Golden Echo, and instead spotlight’s her songwriting and vocal chops. Gone was the full-band set-up. Instead, she performed with two back-up musicians who traded off between guitar, synths and bass. Instead, Kimbra controlled the percussion and other elements, like looping, from an elaborate control panel that included no fewer than five modules that created an appearance of a cockpit from which she controlled the show. The backup musicians were inside two cube structures that flanked Kimbra, and were covered in translucent cloth on which video was projected.


Kimbra performs at The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Feb. 13, 2018

The show began with a slow-building new tune, “Version of Me,” which gave the star an opportunity to stretch her lungs before taking the show into hyperdrive. She next went into a new track that didn’t make the album, the up-tempo “Hi Def Distant Romance,” which has a different feel from the rest of the new material, but is no less interesting.

The setlist consisted primarily of new material, which was just fine. “Human” was an absolute banger live. Where on Primal Heart it is more contemplative, the live version is all action. “Everybody Knows” started and ended as a woodsy, airy R&B song but had an electro-pop middle section. Kimbra performed “Past Love” on the guitar, preceding it with an explanation that the song took her back to her roots. Another slow-building track live (and considerably different from the album version), it exploded into a chorus of noise toward the end.

Even most of the few older songs got revamped, with funky 2016 single “Sweet Relief” the lone exception. “Settle Down,” one of Kimbra’s first hits, was slowed down and rather than being driven by the rhythm of her vocal delivery, it was backed with enough bass to make the fillings pop out of your mouth. Only one song from the 2014 album made the cut: “As You Are.”


Kimbra performs at The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Feb. 13, 2018

In all, the show worked best when Kimbra was able to grip a microphone and detach herself from the control console, which enabled her to dance, interact with the first few rows of fans and squeeze the highest levels of energy into the performance. She did most of that in the second half of the show.

The show concluded with “Real Life,” which Kimbra said was the last song added to Primal Heart. Looping and distorting her voice on the solo performance, she turned herself into a chorus of violins and cellos on a song unlike the rest of the exemplary set.

Rhode Island trio Arc Iris opened the show with a 45-minute set of reverb-heavy noise-pop that placed equal emphasis on musicality and presentation, with frontwoman Jocie Adams starting atop a pedestal, waving her dress like a peacock spreading its tail, and later going through some choreographed neck twists with synth and keytar player Zach Tenorio Miller. Some of the songs were heavily influenced by the jazzy drumming of Ray Belli. Others relied equally on R&B and funk. “Wish You Didn’t Have to Slip” had a spoken word intro about water overtaking New Jersey and babies crying (Hurricane Sandy?) atop syncopated clicks and clacks by Belli. Arc Iris’ set concluded with a psychedelic tune called “Piggies #2,” complete with four swine-headed dancers in the crowd.

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