“The girl with the tambourine” is an apt album or storybook title for singer/songwriter Kimbra, one of a slew of contemporary female artists who embrace kitschy femininity and a quirky sensibility. Her eccentric style, which reaches far beyond her dress, was on full display during her Toronto show in support of her debut album, Vows.
As the Godfather theme played in the background, anticipatory cheers and applause rumbled amongst the jam packed audience at the Danforth Music Hall. Within moments the stunning pint-sized New Zealand singer stampeded the stage like a bull, instantly tearing into her song “Limbo.”
Performing in front of a colorful ethnic tapestry, a far less demanding backdrop than the psychedelic techno tie-dye backdrop used by her opening act, The Step Kids, Kimbra’s stunning voice swooped over the room causing the crowd to roar. Admiring teenage girls regularly peppered the performance with, “I love you, Kimbra!” And while she is still best known for “Settle Down,” and Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know,” for which she won a Grammy, the diverse crowd were ardent fans, greeting each song with enthusiastic familiarity. Addressing the audience after her fourth song, Kimbra restrained from getting too personal or chatty, after sharing, “I’m feeling sentimental tonight. It’s the last show of a very special tour,” she dove right back into the show.
Dancing throughout the performance (the girl has rhythm), Kimbra’s moves involved a wild dash of James Brown, a sprinkle of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” flings, and a heavy dollop of Mick Jagger’s famous peacock strut. Her animated hands warped and transformed nonstop as if playing invisible instruments. When not charging the stage her soulful style, intensity, and stank face grimace was reminiscent of the late Teena Marie. Highlights included her masterful rock infused rendition of Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring.”
It is impossible not to become intrigued by Kimbra after seeing her live. She is untamed in a very precise manner, displays passionate musical know how (beat-boxing, playing instruments with ease), all while looping her own vocals. She has a voice and stage presence that is meant to be experienced live, and would be well served with a live album/DVD release sometime in the future.
With such raw talent, energy, and beauty one wonders if the costume, a hula hoop sized tulip skirt, striped bustier, and purple pom-pom sleeves, resulting in a piñata inspired Mardi gras costume that she then took apart during the show, serves her. There is something earnest about her that is belied by theatrical outfits of this variety, and in the age of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj, it’s all becoming formulaic.
With the Step Kids returning to the stage to accompany her on her last song, “Call me,” Kimbra left the crowd as she found them, hyped and eager for more.