Chats Palace, London
As the introductory bars of the set opener grind to a halt for the second consecutive time, Lorely Rodriguez shakes her head, exchanging confused looks with the accompanying multi-instrumentalist. “Fuck,” she reiterates, clearly bummed. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna play London and there are going to be no tech issues.’ But nope.”
It’s not a dream beginning to Empress Of’s first London gig since 2016, but it’s testament to the L.A. producer’s tenacity and enthusiasm that the false starts don’t spook her for long. Gremlins banished, she grits her teeth, utters, “This is some bullshit,” and effortlessly despatches the tricksy, melismatic melody of Everything is You, before diving straight into the stuttering, sub-heavy electro-pop of Standard.
There’s scarcely a pause for the remainder of the set, with songs either segueing seamlessly into one another or skilfully interwoven with samples of 90s house tracks. “You’re not a typical London crowd: I see dancing!” she teases with a grin that sets her custom gold crown – acquired to celebrate the imminent release of her second album, Us – glinting in the green light.
New material accounts for about a third of tonight’s set, their warm grooves a marked contrast to the icy synths that pervaded songs from debut album, Me. Mid-tempo bop When I’m With Him unites lovelorn lyricism, in both English and Spanish, with the sort of gloriously hazy pop production usually associated with Rodriguez’s friend and sometime collaborator Dev Hynes. Elsewhere, the high-energy Love for Me finds Rodriguez delivering luxurious, rubato phrasing over a syncopated, Latin-influenced rhythm, while jogging on the spot.
For large portions of the set, she’s a blur of white chiffon ruffles and cascading curls, and her energy and fervour is infectious. On Woman is a Word, when she’s not triggering samples, she’s hammering out the metallic rhythm on drum pads, and taunting the patriarchy with the song’s feminist “You don’t know me” rebuke. An outing of early single Realize You is taut and muscular, and How Do You Do it makes for a winningly hyperactive climax.
Before the set closes with a minimal take on Blood Orange-duet Best in You, Rodriguez entreats, “Please come see me again in London. It’s hard out here for a girl.” It’s a semi-serious admission of vulnerability, but it’s also characteristic of an artist who holds as little back live as her heart-on-sleeve productions do on record.