Mikaela Straus takes a break in their set to pay homage to Koko, or rather the people inside the iconic Camden venue at this very moment. “When I see the people in this audience I see safety” they say, speaking to the diverse audience that have assembled to enjoy tonight’s show from the US singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. A majority LGBTQ+ crowd but mixed as well in terms of age, gender and skin colour. Sure, it’s all kicking off next to me as one girl has finally had enough of the extremely loud female couple, who have spent the entire show in loud conversation next to her, and has called them out on it (thank you!). But even without this almost silencing, it’s oftentimes difficult to hear Straus speak among the background noise.
King Princess @ Koko
But most are here tonight for the music. A good two hours of more raucous music than one might expect having listened to their King Princess’s delicately-crafted pair of LPs, but that might indeed be expected of the support act on rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers’ currently in-flight EU tour, the star also just coming off a support slot for London’s own Florence + The Machine down under.
Rousing sophomore record Hold On Baby lead single Little Bother kicks off said music, the singer and their band introduced to the stage by a drag queen who lights a cigarette on stage and barely takes a drag before it is quickly confiscated, much to their annoyance.
No time for pleasantries before the 24-year-old strums their guitar into slow-drive sing-along favourite Cursed, “louder, c’mon London” they scream, strapping on an acoustic guitar for Too Bad, these new album tunes given a new dynamic and energy that lifts them out of the record and firmly into what is quickly becoming a high energy live show.
“Do you wanna hear something new?” they tease. “You don’t have to” they jest as funk bass-laden new tune Julie’s Watching is unleashed, Straus’ honey-slick vocals washing gorgeously atop.
“Would you like to hear something from Cheap Queen era!?” they ask the audience twice, eliciting louder and louder cheers before soulful debut LP tune Ain’t Together kicks off a four-song run from the record, the Koko crowd swaying gently along before Hit The Back sees Straus take position behind an electric piano.
Storming Cry When You Hear This offers more new material, well received by the beaming audience, crunchy guitars underpinning King Princess taking their voice to the rockier and grittier end of the spectrum.
Change The Locks is introduced by Straus as their favourite song from Hold On Baby, it’s muted beginning and slower tempo giving way to a crescendo that has the singer stepping down from the stage to get up close and personal with those pressed fervently against the barricade.
My personal favourite (listed simply as ‘PS5’ on tonight’s on-stage printed setlist), I Hate Myself, I Want To Party is up next, the delicate tune given a shout-along energy for tonight’s outing.
“These two people have been making really beautiful music for a long time” Straus says, introducing India Shore and Claire Altendahl of opening act Boyish back to the stage. “They wrote a song and asked me to sing on it” they continue, introducing Kill Your Pain, the additional guitars and vocals on stage taking the sound to another level.
Paired-back, off-beat, soul-infused Winter Is Hopeful evokes Prince with its timings, vocals and jarring guitars. R&B-leaning fan favourite debut single 1950 has the crowd screaming along as jazz guitars (and drummer Antoine Fadavi) keep rhythm before storming Hold On Baby single Let Us Die closes out the main set, “I need you to get louder than that” the singer encourages before kicking off the tune.
An encore by way of early tune Talia and Cheap Queen single Ohio round out the night’s music. And what a night it’s been. If, like me, you’ve never caught a King Princess show before, it may not be obvious just how much energy Mikaela Straus and their band exude when bringing their gorgeous records to life on stage. Without losing the essence of each song, they’re each lifted up a notch with slightly crunchier live instrumentation, but it’s their voice that carries them beyond.
Live review and photography of King Princess and Boyish @ Koko by Kalpesh Patel on 18th July 2023.