Kehlani, an Oakland-raised, L.A.-based singer and songwriter, set camp in Portland on Tuesday night to perform a leg of her SweetSexySavage world tour at the Crystal Ballroom.
Headlining the event, she was accompanied by London-based R&B artist Ella Mai, and singer/rapper JAHkoy, as well as her longtime DJ, Noodles.
Definitely, a huge sense of community hung in the atmosphere at the Crystal Ballroom. Camaraderie was established for half of the audience who stood in line for upwards of three hours in the cold, drizzling rain. They wrapped around the Ballroom block nearly to where the line started. My friend and I stood in line with a group of middle school-age super fans who traded favorite songs, hopes, and excitement for the upcoming show with us. We too were excited for Kehlani, but we had huge heart-eyes for the opening artists, as well. When the doors opened, we ran up the three flights of stairs to the ballroom.
I loaded us up with two G&T’s immediately while my friend held our spot at the front of the over-21 section. We seemed to buzz with excitement, screamed with the rest of the crowd at every hint of someone coming on stage.
First on was a young artist of just 16 I did not know of, nor have been able to find about online since the show. With my arguably poor hearing, I gathered that his name was ’Tine, I think short for Martine, though don’t quote me on that. And he was good – enlivening, passionate, able to pull a response from the crowd. Certainly more accomplished than I was at 16 years. And when JAHkoy followed him, even Ella Mai after that, both made sure to take a moment and invoke applause for the younger artist.
I think that’s what stood out to me most: Each person on stage was hands-down positive, talented, and head-to-toe gracious. Kehlani herself being a 22-year-old, it was clear that this was a show of youth power and ingenuity.
Musically, the show was heaven, in sound and style. My only disappointment is that we didn’t get to hear more of JAHkoy and Mai – though, this may have been the tradeoff necessary for the blissful, nearly two hours of Kehlani that were served up.
As mentioned above, the concert was really about community. I think, generally, this is an ideal close to Kehlani’s heart:
“I’m talking about how you act towards each other,” the headliner said to the audience in a pause between songs. “In person, online, at the workplace. Maybe it’s at the grocery store, maybe you’re just looking at somebody – don’t look at nobody crazy for no reason, it ain’t worth it.
“So, can we take that out of this concert and promise to move forward only with love?” she asked, the response being rolling cheers from the crowd. “Good to know,” she concluded, then launched into a performance of her song “Undercover.”
These themes cropped up more and more throughout Kehlani’s heart-to-hearts with the audience. Not too far out of left field, as much of her music is centered around love, self-worth, and self growth. In the middle of her dialogue about self-confidence and mental health self-care, she stopped to fetch a bottle of water for an audience member who was front center. She told the audience to stay hydrated at concerts, before segueing back to one of her songs, “Piece of Mind.”
For me, this truly cemented my love of Kehlani. Here was a young woman who cared for, uplifted, and celebrated her fellow youth, fan or not.
This fun-loving, sweet atmosphere was reflected in the crowd. Fans who were otherwise strangers to each other serenaded across the security aisle, reaching from general access to the over-21 section and almost touched hands as they sang along with Kehlani.
When I ventured through the crowd to use the restroom and refill on drinks, the girls I encountered were sweet and immediately helpful when I tentatively said that I was trying to get back to my friend up at the front, clearing the way and ushering my two-drink self on.
The concert was an experience to be a part of. I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m more of a fan than when I walked in, and I urge you to pull up your chosen music app now and play SweetSexySavage.