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Just how hot is 19-year-old, R&B-flavored pop singer Khalid?
You could look at his Spotify status — 13th most-streamed artist in the world — or his five recent Grammy nominations, including one for best new artist.
You also can find clear evidence of his popularity in Milwaukee. Over the past eight months, Khalid has played three sold-out shows at the Rave’s 3,500-capacity Eagles Ballroom, including an opening gig for Travis Scott and his second headlining appearance Wednesday.
RELATED: Khalid earns five Grammy nominations
The 19-year-old El Paso, Texas, native had something special in store for repeat patrons: a surprise appearance during the encore by A-list DJ Marshmello.
Together, they performed their sweeping, chart-climbing collaboration “Silence.” The masked DJ largely hung in back behind a station, his marshmallow-shaped helmet a blank canvas for its own technicolor LED light show, then came upstage to dance by Khalid’s side for the song’s finale.
The two appearing together for this rare joint performance gave fans a good Instagram moment. But Khalid had already offered plenty of those during the preceding 40 minutes.
The set list was dominated with songs from this year’s breakthrough debut album “American Teen,” a terrific summation of the coming-of-age experience in 2017, tapping into naive defiance, vulnerable uncertainty, and the raw emotions of first love and first love’s loss.
Out of the gate, Khalid’s crowd of fellow teens was belting out every word, practically carrying half the verses of the set-opening title track without any assistance from Khalid himself. His words literally became their words.
Khalid on Wednesday possessed a mature croon beyond his years, a tool that should prove handy once he’s too old to sing about being “8Teen.” A pair of skilled dancers dressed like cheerleaders added rah-rah spirit, and Khalid’s guitarist delivered a gluttonous, arena-aspiring solo near the end of “Location.”
But it wasn’t an overly-polished showcase by a superman performer — and in this case, that’s a good thing. Khalid’s an undeniable talent, and after his whirlwind year, he’s most definitely a star. But Wednesday, he still came off as a relatable kid, his affectionately geeky spins and floor slides more fit for high school prom than a big concert stage.
There’s no doubt though that he owned the stage Wednesday. Following the energy-boosting Marshmello appearance, Khalid turned the heat up even higher for anthemic finale “Young, Dumb & Broke,” with thousands singing the final refrain of “But we’ve still got love to give” with the intensity of a dying scream on the battlefield.
They had a lot of love to give Khalid, all right — and he deserved every ounce of the affection.
Two promising pop artists with their sights on Khalid-level stardom opened Wednesday’s show.
Lauv boasts a shimmering falsetto reminiscent of Sam Smith, set to sparse pop production occasionally sprinkled with “La La Land”-like symphonic nostalgia. Naturally, the latter couldn’t come out live, but Lauv offered other romantic gestures, at times breaking out the guitar for a little John Mayer-style noodling, and attracting a largely female crowd like a magnet, swarms of bodies moving left and right as one.
Jessie Reyez may have had the night’s most radiant voice, one that soared for an acoustic cover of Chance the Rapper’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and her own “Great One.” She howled and squealed, too, violently stomping the stage, even slapping her own face, for “Gatekeeper,” an all-too-timely song about sexual assault from the perspective of monstrous men in power. Their days, hopefully, are numbered, but Reyez’s own future looks exceptionally bright.
- Khalid’s big surprise was nearly ruined — by Marshmello himself. The DJ snuck onto the stage prematurely, hiding behind the keyboardist in the middle of Khalid’s performance of “Keep Me,” before scurrying off a moment later. It’s hard to fathom a crowd of people not noticing a guy with a white, marshmallow-shaped bucket over his head, but Khalid’s fans were so engrossed in his song, that’s exactly what happened.
- When the show was over, the singing didn’t stop, with a large group of women singing “Jingle Bell Rock” together on the way out the door.
- Jessie Reyez brought out a curious little prop for her set — a lone red balloon on a string. Pennywise would approve.
- Wednesday’s show was night one of the annual KISSMas Bash December series sponsored by WXSS-FM (103.7). Night two should be good — the one-two punch of breakout rapper Logic and rising pop artist Dua Lipa — going down next Wednesday. Check back for coverage of that one in the Journal Sentinel and at jsonline.com/music.
1. “American Teen”
Find out about the week’s must-see shows, concert tickets and more in the newsletter “Piet Levy’s Music Picks.” Subscribe at jsonline.com/newsletters.
Piet talks about concerts, local music and more on “TAP’d In” with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9).
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