In his 1995 mix-tape musing masterpiece High Fidelity, Nick Hornby writes, “Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time.”
This is where Mikaela Straus, AKA King Princess, resided on Wednesday, Feb. 5, during a performance at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago as she turned heartbreak – now fading in the rearview mirror – into hope. Her “lesbian sad records,” easy to cry to in the comfort of your home, had fans on their feet, singing, dancing and embracing each other throughout the sold-out show.
The bulk of the evening’s setlist was comprised of songs from Cheap Queen, King Princess’ debut full-length studio album – released via Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records late last year – which Straus explained she was so proud of and gives it “10 points.” From the moment she descended the center stage staircase to sit at the piano for the show’s opener, “Isabel’s Moment,” to the venue-wide dance party during the pre-encore closer, “Hit the Back,” Miss King wore her heart on her sleeve inspiring others to do the same.
Some of the best moments of the concert came when Straus was armed with her electric guitar. Soft ballad solos on “Tough On Myself” and “Ain’t Together” accentuated heartache while the fuzzy chords of “Do You Wanna See Me Crying?” added a layer of manipulation which served as the anecdote to a toxic ex. The mid-song strums on “Watching My Phone” said more than words ever could as Straus stood still amidst a flurry of flashing strobes.
“Who has had an ex-girlfriend,” Straus asked before breaking into the Make My Bed single, “Thalia,” one of the most overtly rock and roll performances of the night complete with snarling vocals and a wild drum solo. She later shouted out the “rowdy girls” packed in the front of the venue.
“You live for the drama,” Straus said with a smile soon introducing the “saga song,” “Trust Nobody.”
Earlier in the show, Kilo Kish warmed-up fans with a silhouetted dance party highlighted by the stark beats and unworried lyrics on tracks like “Bite Me.” Chicago’s own Irregular Girl also treated the audience to a moving performance, breaking free from a series of constricting ropes while eking every ounce of emotion from FKA twigs’ song “Cellophane.”
Near the end of a night that included crowd-pleasing performances of “Pussy Is God,” “Prophet” and “Upper West Side,” Straus returned to the single that first catapulted her career, the patient love song “1950.” Her resonant vocals added color to the predicament of being lost in limbo, before love and before heartbreak. Each lyric reminded the lovelorn masses to stay hopeful as sometimes the waiting is the best part.
After King Princess’ North American tour concludes in Kansas City on Feb. 14, she will perform a short run of shows in South America before joining Harry Styles on tour in Europe. More information about all things King Princess can be found at Kingprincessmusic.com.