SXSW Live Shot: Kelis/Cody Chesnutt

Nina Simone meets Al Green?

Tough to imagine, sometimes, that an hour-and-a-half wait for a 40-minute showcase could be truly worth it, but then Kelis has long defied logic. The onetime “Milkshake” manufacturer demanded every soundcheck practice conceivable on Thursday night, finally going on at 1:20am after driving away a few spectators.

Photo by Shelley Hiam

“I’m not going to sing until I’m all ready,” she smiled. “So don’t rush me.”

Strapped with a ninepiece band that included four hornsmen and two singers, the 34-year-old New York City native teased Nina Simone with her “Feeling Good” before sorting through a variety of soul, big band voodoo jazz, Nineties R&B, and a two-step that harked on the Talking Heads. Kelis’ voice sounded pristine when flipping from a smoke-filled drawl into those high C notes Mariah Carey’s known to hit. Someone remind me: Why were we all booing Kelis during that soundcheck?

Photo by Shelley Hiam

Some two hours earlier, Atlanta soul embodiment Cody Chesnutt channeled Al Green and Anthony Kiedis out front of a crack soul quartet pushing jam after jam off 2012 redressing Landing on a Hundred. In his red cardigan and retro army helmet, the 45-year-old brandished ageless energy and an instrumental-like voice, offering a wide range on extended opener “That’s Still Mama” and drawing out the intro to “Everybody’s Brother” like a slinky.

When he wasn’t playing guitar, Chesnutt moved around like Sam & Dave. He bounced around like a prize fighter, ad libbed lines to close out “Till I Met Thee,” and took that big breakdown towards the end of “Under the Spell of a Handout” deep into the pocket.

His closer, a lively rendition of “Gunpowder on the Letter,” which he recorded with Gary Clark Jr., had people dancing from the benches.

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Kelis/Cody Chesnutt, SXSW Music 2014, Nina Simone, Mariah Cary, Al Green, Anthony Kiedis, Gary Clark Jr., Sam & Dave

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