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Charli XCX – Astra Kulturhaus, 09/11/2019

With the release of her most recent album, Charli, it feels as though Charli XCX has pushed the boundaries of what you can do with pop music. The album itself mixes songs which take a more straight forward approach to the genre with songs which are genuinely quite out there. I was curious to see how that translated to her live show, whether the show would be more weighted towards the poppier tracks, or whether the more out-there elements would be on display.

With an entrance track which gave thanks to all her collaborators (and there are plenty!) the set opened in the same way as the most recent record, with Next Level Charli, the lights at this point dimmed as solemn synth line starts the song before the vocals kick in. It was instantly apparent that Astra Kulturhaus had filled up with a crowd ready to get involved, instantly whirring up to sing along. With no band to share the stage with, Charli moved around the floor at high speed, jumping and kicking her way through the opening numbers, singing along to the backing track. The light show was incredible too, at times the brightest stage I’ve come across in a long time as bright bursts of backlighting overwhelmed and colour covered the cube suspended in the middle of the stage.

As for the more avant-garde elements, well, they were there in abundance; the confusing contrasting elements of Vroom Vroom fulfilling that element early on, as well as the appearance of certain remixes or alternative mixes throughout the set – the inclusion of ‘Track 10’ building into I Blame It On Your Love earlier in the set, as well as the cut from 1999 to the Easyfun remix of the same song – the remix is actually what led me to discovering Charli XCX (I know, I was very late to the party) so it was a welcome addition to the night.

Another welcome addition was the introduction to the stage of multiple local drag performers during Shake It, with the track dedicated to the LGBTQ community – the crowd seemed to go mad for this and it was great to see some local performers take over the stage for three minutes. The crowd also seemed to go crazy for I Got It, although the easy to learn chorus line probably helped a little bit there.

Saving three of the biggest tracks she’s been involved with for the encore, the entire venue absolutely erupted for I Love It, every chorus sung back at such volume that I could barely hear Charli herself, answering the question she prefaced the song with (“Germany, do you know this fucking song?”). Equally lively was Boys, which saw people sprinting back from the bar to join in the singalong, before 1999 wrapped up the show, a textbook slice of pop perfection to finish the show perfectly.

It was incredible to see that the more unusual elements of Charli’s music were on display prominently throughout the set. That there was such variety shows a strong respect for the audience, the expectation that they will enjoy the weird as well as the wonderful pop and, from the crowd response and the constant singing along, it’s seemed to work. An energetic performance of music that’s both catchy and curious, there’s absolutely no doubt that Charli XCX puts on a magnificent show, an hour or so to just get lost into a pop music wonderland.

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