Charli XCX Turned Her Sydney Show Into Her Own Private Rave

"Any time spent in the presence of Charli XCX is time well spent."

Charli XCX Review Sydney

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The Metro feels like it’s moving in slow motion. In almost total darkness, a packed room mills about while what sounds like one of those 800 percent-slower song-warps drones over the PA.

There are flourishes of excitement — a few “CHAR-LI” chants born out of pure frustration; an elated cheer for what turned out to be the humble soundie — but these bursts are quickly contained and swallowed by the scenery.

It’s definitely not how one expected an event like this starting out — but, then again, one has learned the hard way to expect the unexpected when it comes to Charli XCX.

Just when you think you have all the answers, she changes the questions. She is one of contemporary pop’s most versatile, ambitious and flexible workers, finding just as much of a home in stadiums as she is a sweaty nightclub.

This year has more or less seen Charli living a double life of sorts — half her time has been spent playing her easily-accessible hits for half an hour every night before Taylor Swift is welcomed to the stage; the other has been spent playing her more dance-based work at select headlining dates.

Tonight, on a break from the former, we’re awaiting the latter — and, in a staunch contrast from the hazy atmosphere we’ve grown accustomed to, things immediately switch from sepia to technicolour when DJ Ceci G bounds into view and launches into the eardrum-shattering intro.

Charli XCX on stage at the Metro Theatre. Photo: Gabrielle Clement.

The distinctive stutter of ‘Unlock It’ elicits a huge response. The arrival of our heroine, champagne in hand, expands that tenfold. By the time her guests make their way to centre-stage — Melbourne’s Banoffee (who has been on the road with Charli all year) and Adelaide’s Tkay Maidza — one safely assumes the noise being made within these confines can be faintly heard on the other side of the Harbour Bridge.

It’s a relatively no-frills show — just our heroine, her DJ and the occasional flutter of expensive lights. In this environment, the songs are designed to speak for themselves. Lifted primarily from her last two releases — last year’s Number One Angel and Pop 2 — the songs offer introspect and joy-fantastic in equal measure, immersed in slick production and versed in brassy dynamics.

Nowhere else will you find someone singing the phrase “I’m busy balling” with quite the degree of misery that Charli exudes.

Take ‘3AM (Pull Up),’ which is as triumphant as anything that’s held radio hostage in the last 18 months yet still carries an air of emotional hostility in its underbelly that adds to its greater intrigue.

Songs like ‘Lucky’ and ‘5 in the Morning,’ furthermore, present our protagonist at her most vulnerable — nowhere else will you find someone singing the phrase “I’m busy balling” with quite the degree of misery that Charli exudes.

It’s a well-curated show, building peaks and valleys that the capacity crowd moves with accordingly. The energy is palpable — a sing-along breaks out during the extended intro of recent single ‘1999’ before the song has even begun in earnest.

When Charli returns to the stage, confessing that she’s fucked up her timing and needs a moment to put her in-ear monitors back in, the crowd doesn’t mock her or chide her. They cheer — and then sing every line all over again; once more, with feeling.

Charli XCX

Photo: Gabrielle Clement

Such is the power XCX wields over her audience. She says jump, and we say how high — and that’s quite figuratively part of the show, as she pulls out Slipknot’s crazy test late in the set and teasingly promises that “it’ll be good for Instagram.”

Of course, you can’t put together a show as specifically-focused as this one without a few oversights — 2016’s Vroom Vroom EP, in particular, is notably absent from the set — but by the time an all-out millennial-pink dance party has broken out during closer ‘Girls Night out’, you’re past the point of caring about the finer details.

Any time spent in the presence of Charli XCX is time well spent, from thinking about boys to defiantly chanting “NO BOYS! NO BOYS!” en masse.

It’s anyone’s guess what she’ll be up to by the next time she’s in Australia, but it’s safe to say we’ll all flock to any venue she sets foot in and start the party up all over again.

David James Young is a writer and podcaster, but is no angel. Still, he could learn. He tweets at @DJYwrites.

Lead photo: Gabrielle Clement