The timing of Kelly Lee Owens’ first non-festival show in Wales couldn’t be much better, coming just two days after she was awarded the Welsh Music Prize for second LP Inner Song. She may have left her native Flintshire for Manchester and London to pursue her musical career, but now it’s time for the country of her birth to reclaim her as one of its own.
Backed by fantastic abstract visuals, she takes to the stage with Inner Song’s opener Arpeggi, before theatrically casting off her hooded cloak and launching into Re-Wild. The slick, sleek set is structured in a such a way that you feel as though you’re coming up on something considerably stronger than Carling. It starts slowly with more conventionally poppy songs like the dreamy L.I.N.E. but builds and builds, back-loaded with bangers, most notably Jeanette, On and Melt! – the latter two tracks betraying the unmistakeable influence of friend and co-conspirator Daniel Avery.
Owens’ techno is no sterile technical or cerebral exercise; on the contrary, it has a human heartbeat, and would be an exhortation to joyous movement even without her calls to action of “Cardiff!” The crowd, though consisting mainly of 6Music types rather than hardcore clubbers, respond with increasing fervour – men of a certain age all around punching the air with abandon. Absent are Corner Of My Sky, her collaboration with John Cale, and Unity, the freshly minted and suitably euphoric theme song for the 2023 Women’s World Cup – but when she bows out with the booming bass groove of Kingsize, no one’s complaining.
Returning not for an encore but to thank us for our support, she’s stopped in her tracks by the crowd chanting her name. Dabbing her eyes, she reiterates her gratitude for the Welsh Music Prize, recalling with a laugh how her nana was furious when her self-titled debut was denied the accolade four years ago. That recognition has sadly come too late for her to witness – but you can bet she would have been beaming with pride to have seen her granddaughter commanding a room and receiving a response like this.
Y Plas, Cardiff University Students Union, Thurs 25 Nov
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos NADINE BALLANTYNE