What Charli XCX lacks in memorable material, she more than makes up for in stage presence.
Charli XCX (born Charlotte Aitchison) may have been one of the break-out stars of 2014, but she’s been at the pop game for a while now. Working in one way or another since 2008, she’s one of mainstream pop’s newest sweethearts, but Charli’s considerable and enviable experience was explicitly clear during her 75 minute set at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on March 26.
The premise of the Sucker Tour is simple – Charli sets out with a very clear mission to merge pop and punk in a way that we’ve rarely seen in the last EDM-saturated decade. Even with a engaging, albeit static, production design that nods to the kind of ’80s prom-chic that XCX referenced in the visual for “Break The Rules” and an exceptionally strong all-female band, there’s no doubt who the star of the Sucker Tour is.
Engaging, witty and charismatic, it’s abundantly obvious that the largely female, teenage audience want nothing more than to be Charli’s best friend. When she asks to be reminded what night it is, the roars of laughter from the crowd are a little ludicrous but ultimately indicative of how much respect and adoration XCX commands, despite not having astronomical record sales or an enormous fan-base.
The set itself is brief, and it benefits from its own brevity. Running in at less than an hour and a half, the Sucker Tour is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, but Charli manages to race through a 19 song setlist in the kind of time it’d take her contemporaries to bang out half as many numbers. Not getting caught up in costume changes, lengthy monologues or any sort of interlude before the encore, XCX crashes and thrashes across the stage without so much as a water break for the best part of an hour. Essentially, Charli is a live force to be reckoned with.
The show isn’t perfect, however. Perhaps because she offers her 2014 LP ‘Sucker’ almost in its entirety, the performance ultimately suffers from the same short-falls as the album itself, namely a lack of sonic diversity. Towards the middle of the set, everything starts to bleed together and because the show relies entirely on its material and no flashy production tricks or engaging costumes, a lack of memorable material is a real issue.
It all goes drastically but hilariously wrong somewhere around XCX’s cover of a Swedish punk throwback which leaves the teen girls and gay men in the audience dramatically confused – and just for reference, that easily accounts for 90% of the Sucker Tour’s attendees.
On the other hand, whilst Charli’s minor hits like “Break The Rules”, “Famous” and her version of Icona Pop’s “I Love It” shine in their own right, the show highlight was the Rita Ora featuring “Doin’ It”. Whilst many (myself included) have been sceptical about the usefulness of Ora’s role on the track, she more than proves her worth in a live setting and her ‘surprise’ appearance provided the main set with a welcome burst of energy. Ora and XCX share the stage well, seeming to genuinely revel in each other’s talent and neither girl overshadowed the other vocally.
The encore, which featured ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ cut “Boom Clap”, felt like an almost perfect way to end the show, although it would have benefited from Charli retaining the solo-version of massive-hit “Fancy” which she offered on the North American leg of the tour.
All things considered, Charli XCX is probably one of the most capable and exciting live pop acts of the past ten years. With any luck, the next time she takes to the road she’ll have a couple more singles under her belt and can dazzle with a more hit-filled set.