26 year-old Elle King is a force to be reckoned with. Not only can she S-A-A-A-N-G the hell out of anything in front of her, but she’s got personality and presence for DAYS. Playing to a sold out crowd Monday night at Manhattan’s historic Bowery Ballroom, Elle King strutted out onto that stage, beer in hand and took her place by the mic, raising her drink to the crowd. The show had only just began but she had the crowd in the palm of her hand from the get go. Dressed in a flowwy white gown, blond hair piled high and adorned with gold, Elle King looked every bit like a Greek Goddess. As she launched into the first song of her set—“Jackson,” taken from her debut album, The Love Stuff (Fat Possum/RCA), Elle crackled with an electric energy, practically shocking the already amorous audience into, slightly convulsive wide-eyed wonderment.
One part soul/blues singer, one part country-fried rock star, Elle King’s style is hard to pin down but why do we need to? It’s this magical blend of musical genres (combined with that firecracker of a personality) that makes her stand out. Another thing she’s got working for her? PURE TALENT. Not only can she sing, but she’s a helluva writer, with lyrics that touch you deep down. Not only that, but she’s got impressive guitar/banjo skills to boot, regularly switching out one for the other throughout her set. Backed by a four-piece band, Elle King plowed through a majority of her debut album, delighting the crowd in between songs with banter that both, showcased her own spitfire personality but also tackled the sometimes personal-in-nature back stories of songs in her catalog. We’ve all been to shows where artists call out in an almost scripted fashion, “How are ya’ll doin’ tonight!” but with Elle King, you got the sense that she genuinely cared about how the audience was feeling, and the audience responded enthusiastically every time.
“Old soul” is a term often used to describe a young talent with a bigger-than-life voice and loads of color and texture. For me, Elle King is the epitome of an old soul. At only 26 years old, she sings with the skill and experience of someone twice her age. There’s a certain weathered rasp heard in her voice that hugs every note, that fills each song with so much character and personality. Speaking of personality, King has plenty. While some artists aren’t much for small talk, she seems to vibe off the crowd’s energy, cursing up a storm and flirting playfully with the audience. At one point, adjusting to prevent a potential wardrobe malfunction, Elle looked out in the crowd, half-joking—“If my boobies pop out, take a picture and send em to me.” The crowd Monday night was especially excited, and Elle knew it and reacted to it accordingly. Her family, including her Mom, Grandma and Stepdad all in the crowd which seemed to amplify that electric energy she was exuding. Now, this was my first Elle King show, but I’ve heard her on live recordings and YouTube videos, so I’m going to venture a guess that she BRINGS the same amount of vim and vigor to every show, whether there’s family present or not. Several times throughout her set, Elle encouraged the crowd to sing along, screaming out “You guys know the words to my songs? PROVE IT,” and prove it they did. EVERY TIME. Reflecting on Instagram the next day, Elle seemed genuinely touched that the audience was loudly singing the words back to her—“There is no greater joy than sharing the experience with an audience. We’re on stage but YOU make the show. Thank you for singing with me,” she said in a post on Tuesday.
Love Stuff remains high on my unofficial “Best of 2015” list, despite coming out all the way back in February. What can I say, it’s a solid collection from beginning to end. Monday’s set list was predominantly made up of album tracks, singing 11 of the 12 tracks—skipping only one, “Make You Smile,” and mixing in a smattering of other songs, including 3 from her self-titled 2012 EP as well as a cover of “Oh! Darling” by The Beatles. Highlights for me include “Good To Be a Man” (from The Elle King EP), including plenty of powerhouse moments, thanks to plentiful ad libs and vocal riffs. “Good For Nothin’ Women,” allowed Elle ample opportunity to show off her MEAN banjo skills, while “Where The Devil Don’t Go” really got the crowd going. Despite messing up the lyrics on “Kocaine Karolina,” she recovered thanks to a little help from her friends (in the audience). In the SUPER EMOTIONAL “See You Again,” the young talent admitted that this was “the only song I wrote that I ever meant.” Other highlights included crowd favorites “Under The Influence,” “Last Damn Night,” and the album’s lead single “Ex’s and Oh’s.” For an encore, Elle hit us with “America’s Sweetheart” and a FILTHY acoustic-cover of KHIA’s 2002 hit “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” which she made completely her own, not even skimping on the language.
Elle co-wrote all 12 tracks on Love Stuff, enlisting the assistance of an impressive array of big-name rock and pop talents including Brandon Lowery (Adam Lambert, Avicii, Lana Del Rey, Madonna), David Bassett (Graham Colton, Halestorm, Idina Menzel/“Gorgeous”, Rachel Platten/“Fight Song”), Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Fun., Kid Cudi, Lana Del Rey), Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Nikka Costa/“Everybody’s Got Their Something”, Kaiser Chiefs), Patrick Carney (The Black Keys, Tobias Jesso Jr.), Martin Johnson (Betty Who, Gavin DeGraw, Christina Perri, Boys Like Girls), singer/songwriter/label executive Amanda Ghost (James Blunt, Dan Merriweather, Jordin Sparks, Shakira), Dave McCracken (Scissor Sisters, Nicola Roberts, Oh Land, Depeche Mode, Beyoncé), Eg White (Adele, Joss Stone, Maverick Sabre, Will Young, Rebecca Ferguson), the incredible rock music producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee (U2, Snow Patrol, Bloc Party, AFI, Weezer, R.E.M.) and more. Quite the impressive roster, wouldn’t you say? While the album only managed to crack the Top 50 on the Billboard 200 (not too shabby) , over on the Top Alternative and Rock Albums Charts, Love Stuff peaked at an impressive No. 5 and No. 8 respectively. Lead single, “Ex’s and Oh’s” meanwhile was a Top 5 hit on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart (No. 2) AND the Alternative Songs chart (No. 4), as well as peaking at No. 7 on the Hot Rock Songs chart and No. 91 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
I first heard about Elle King when her song, “Playing For Keeps” was featured as the theme song for VH1’s “Mob Wives Chicago” as well as in ads for AMC’s Mad Men. Since then, she’s been on tour with big names like Ed Sheeran, James Bay, Of Monsters & Men and more and has had her songs featured in countless TV shows, ads and more recently, the soundtrack for the Reese Witherspoon/Sophia Vergara comedy, Hot Pursuit (Listen to “Catch Me If You Can” and a cover of “American Girl” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers). Elle was also recently named VH1’s “You Oughta Know” artist for the month of July, as well as garnering lots of buzz leading up to performances at Bonnaroo and SXSW. Elle King played at Interstellar Rodeo in Edmonton this past weekend (July 25) as well as two more American festival appearances—August 1st for Lollapalooza in Chicago and September 5th in Seattle for Bubershoot. Now that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her do her thing live on stage, I can officially say I’m a fan for life.