Jorja Smith, Kali Uchis and Mia Carucci at PNE Forum, 5/22/19
After they each brought their own show to Vancouver last year, two of the most exciting young voices in the world of R&B joined forces on the PNE grounds and combined their rising stars into a supernova.
The two are some of the most direct descendants of the legacy Amy Winehouse left behind, but their approach to those sassy and sensual R&B stylings couldn’t be more different. While Kali Uchis is all about the theatrics and spectacle, Jorja Smith communicates that confidence with subtleties.
The model-by-day and DJ-by-night Mia Carucci bounded onto the stage first with an excited “What’s up, babies?!” She certainly got people ready to dance, often mixing with one leg up on the table as she wove through 2000s rap and R&B hits.
The room glowed with a dark red as the silhouette of Kali Uchis appeared on top of a rotating circular podium, stroking her signature ponytail and dropping into the opening bars of her early track “Loner.”
It seemed like the crowd was mostly there for Uchis’ breakout project Isolation, released last year. She held the mic out to both sides of the audience as they sang the chorus of “Just A Stranger,” one of her biggest hits.
Uchis hails from Colombia, and she certainly dances like it. Many of her songs concluded with an extended dance sequence where she brought some Latin energy to go along with her reggaeton and bossa nova beats.
One of the most impressive routines ended up with her straddling a chair on top of the podium for the track “Killer,” rotating as she sang and concluding the song by licking a finger gun.
“I’m so hot!” she yelled, referring to the heat, but prompting the crowd to cheer at the double meaning anyway.
Uchis seemed even more comfortable – if that was possible – when singing in her native language, singing her own “Nuestro Planeta” and a cover of Don Omar’s “Pobre Diabla,” but the highlight of her set was a different cover altogether.
Sitting down on the podium, she leaned back and sang a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” that was absolutely stunning, her breathy soprano complementing the ethereal, dreamy arrangement.
After a short break, the 21-year-old Smith emerged with “Teenage Fantasy,” one of her most personal songs that was actually written when she was 16. Her slight rasp and the way she attacks each one of her consonants with a slap to the face brought to mind a young Rihanna.
The opposite of Uchis’ big production, Smith simply stood at the mic and let her powerhouse vocals do the talking, slowly swaying her hips as the design of a classy old-school velvet curtain appeared behind her.
As she ran through tracks like “February 3rd” and “The One,” she seemed to command more attention – the show went from a dance party to people absolutely transfixed by her vocals.
Possessing a bit more of a hip-hop edge, Smith brought the energy back up at the end and showed off some of her speedier, half-rapped vocals on Black Panther cut “I Am” and the politically-tinged “Blue Lights,” which was introduced with an eerie minor-key intro to draw attention to the seriousness of the lyrics, something that’s easy to miss in the fun of the song.
Uchis rejoined Smith for the encore, as the two danced around playfully and sang covers of their influences – Erykah Badu, Destiny’s Child and of course Amy Winehouse – before closing the show with their duet, “Tyrant,” and a big hug.
The moment of genuine friendship was a great way to cap off the night featuring a look into R&B’s future.