Photos by Lauren McAuley
It was a genuine party.
There’s a picture on Empress Of’s Instagram page from last month of the singer being fitted for a stage outfit. The crouched figure adjusting the pink satin dress — whose own page bears the description ‘I make clothes for my daughter’ — is her mother. Half a world away, the artist born as Lorely Rodriguez explains to the crowd that even though her mother will never see her perform outside of Los Angeles, due to a fear of flying, the costumes help to make the distance feel less.
Seconds later, Rodriguez is dancing across the stage front, whipping her mop of curls back on the beat, while a sold-out Northcote Social Club cheer, sing and bop along. Both of those moments are indicative of the qualities that makes the music of Empress Of so unique and enjoyable: her lyrics and soulful, emotive style of singing feel completely uncontrived and down to earth, while she is also, quite rightly, completely confident in her ability to drop straight up bangers.
For this tour Rodriguez was backed by a single bandmate, Erin, who was also decked out in a mumma made dress and held down her side of the stage on drum pads, cymbals, synth and vocal harmonies. On the adjacent side, Rodriguez commanded the backing tracks that played throughout, augmented by synth, percussion and vocals.
From the very start of the set, Rodriguez was splitting her time between tending to her instrumental duties and dancing to the front with a handheld mic, as if she was just feeling the music too much to be stuck behind a keyboard. Tracks from her outstanding recent album Us, such as highlights ‘Trust Me Baby’ and ‘Everything to Me’, both of which arrived in the first few songs, were mixed with cuts from her debut, 2015’s Me. I say mixed because the majority of the set was delivered in the style of a DJ mix, with extended intro and outro sections being used to blend the tracks together in a way that constantly surprised and kept the energy levels high.
As a producer Rodriguez is clearly influenced by the clubs, deftly blending electronic beats with traditional pop song structures and splashes of alternative R&B in a way that would make Robyn proud. ‘Just the Same’ and ‘I’ve Got Love’ were both even catchier live than on record, her strong yet vulnerable voice sounding almost too good to be true.
Things got properly dancey during the house party that is ‘Water Water’, before the twisty synths of ‘How Do You Do It’ brought things home and an encore of album closer ‘Again’ paired with a heartfelt rendition of ‘Best to You’, her 2016 collaboration with Blood Orange, closed the show.
Clearly genuinely excited, Rodriguez kept thanking the crowd, who had sold out her first Melbourne headline show. Surely it won’t be long before we see the return of Empress Of playing bigger rooms, but for now it was a pleasure to see such an original talent in such an intimate setting.