Born Kristine Flaherty and raised near Chicago, she moved on to the Bay Area by way of Stanford, and has established a unique place in an already diverse scene. It was at Stanford that she first started using music to escape the demands of her double-major class load, began performing and drew the attention of some of independent hip-hop's biggest names, including members of the celebrated Living Legends crew and Zion I.
Already a half-decade out of school, K.Flay has put out a small selection of mixtapes and EPs. She stopped in St. Louis as part of an extensive tour to promote her newest EP, "Eyes Shut," and celebrate her 27th birthday with an ample crowd, all happy to escape the summer heat in the basement venue.
The night was opened up by one of St. Louis' most ambitious hip-hop acts, the 12 to 6 Movement, a trio of emcees including Ser Lesson, JusTime and Spark1duh? (who also DJs under the name Dusty Wallets). They've been playing regularly around town to promote their new album and draw some attention to the local scene by featuring notable emcees from groups like the Wu Tang Clan, Souls of Mischief and Slaughterhouse.
As the crowd began to fill in, the local trio commanded the stage with the energy of a packed house. With the 12 to 6 Movement, every show is like a party with their closest friends, both on and off the stage, as they chase their high energy verses with beer and support for the rest on stage. They played a selection of crowd favorites, and tried to set the mood for the rest of the night's acts.
They were followed by singer-songwriter and producer Colin Munroe, who's been joining K.Flay for much of this tour. Perhaps most respected behind the scenes for his production work, it would be a mistake to overlook his skills as a performer. Munroe blends electronic production with live instruments, and sings passionately on stage to produce a sound that transverses genres with the distinct influences of indie-rock and pop with an urban flavor.
His set included an enigmatic axeman -- cloaked behind a black hoodie, which was pulled down over the top half of his face -- and an animated drummer. The heavy electric guitar was handled with the energy of the alternative rock scene as he drifted across the stage. Although confined to his kit, the drummer displayed the same liveliness, often standing up and reaching his sticks high above his head before pounding out the rhythms. Munroe himself had a bevy of toys, adding a lot of the production himself through various controllers and a second guitar, but it was his simultaneous use of two microphones that defined his sound. One was set-up with a very clean sound, while the other had a large amount of reverb, which he used to customize his own dynamic verbal effects.
The openers sufficiently entertained and invigorated the crowd, but it was K.Flay's set that defined the evening. She was joined by drummer Nick Suhr to compliment her own production, and add an extra defining touch to the tour, adapting not only her newest songs, but her full arsenal to be played with live drums instead of her regular drum loops. The two performers have developed a clear chemistry at this point in the tour, and the audience appreciated their unified sound.
K.Flay opened the set by playing a slow rhythm on a floor tom set up by her table of toys -- joined by Nick on the other side of the stage -- and slowly building together into a remix of "10th Avenue," the opening track off the newest EP. As the verse started, she immediately captivated everyone's attention with her bouncing dances and, of course, her signature flow. The energy built across her first few songs, including fan favorites, "CRAZYtown," and a remix of "Party," until it absolutely erupted with a quick drop of the Venga Boys "We Like to Party."
After everyone caught their breath, she continued the set with her live performance favorite, "Speed It Up," a track that exhibits her remarkable ability to keep a vocal pace that few performers can ever hope to match. The stage banter picked up for the remainder of the show, drawing the audience into her comfort zone. The later part of the set featured more of her newest songs, including three off the newest EP.
The set was highlighted by synchronized drumming between the two performers -- including a lively rim shot rhythm on "Easy Fix" -- and also included a live mix on the MPC that K.Flay launched by exclaiming, "Let's reconstruct this like Legos." She concluded with "Sunburn," a track that she feels exemplifies the sound of the newest release. Unfortunately, the night ran long and there was no time for an encore, but those who have been waiting for her to come to town were not at all disappointed by the show.
All photos by Wil Wander.