There is no better place to spend the first night with a new major haircut than at a Leikeli47 concert. Friday was sunny and a layer of optimism dripped off Milwaukee Ave. as the sun set and Chicago inched closer towards spring. I headed into the sold out Leikeli47 show at Subterranean ready to dance.
After a fun opening DJ set, Yung Baby Tate took the stage. I was unfamiliar with her, but was convinced by her rainbow beaded braids, fuzzy pink newsboy cap and sleepwear-inspired outfit before she even introduced herself as “that m************ girl.” Her album “Girls” consists of a track list all about the aforementioned — ”New Girl,” “That Girl,” “Cozy Girl,” etc.
Her female DJ hyped her up yelling, “Come on Tate,” as she escalated her bars and dance moves. And in the spirit of the night, the celebration wasn’t only for the femmes in the room: “Women are the ****ing shit, but boys deserve love as well,” she said introducing a song from her previous album “Boys.” It’s worth noting that both Tate and Leikeli47 have released albums that play into and off of each other’s themes (Tate with “Boys” and “Girls” ; Leikeli47 with “Wash & Set” and “Acrylic”).
Tate’s stage presence was electric, her merch was top notch (Solange-esque photography prints and pink, Barbie-inspired “Girls” shirts and hats — the pink version of which sold out before I got to it), and she already had dedicated fans singing every word and joining her on stage to dance. My friends showed up in time for two of her songs and regretted not getting there earlier — the true test for an opener.
After around 45 minutes of mostly female-led music played between sets, Leikeli47 walked down the spiral staircase at the back of the Subterranean stage in her signature bandana look and her own merch — a hoodie with a salon illustration playing into her albums’ aesthetics.
She shouted out Chicago as her second home — this was the first sold out night of her tour — and immediately leaned into an empowering, Mr. Rogers-esque persona that she would carry throughout her whole set. She instructed the crowd to “protect their circle” of friends, have fun, and congratulate themselves for making it out to the show.
Leikeli47 started off with tracks from her 2017 album “Wash & Set,” which drew excitement from her “day ones” but the excitement in the room really took off as she went into “No Reload” off 2018’s “Acrylic.”
The song had it all: infectious beats, a chantable echoing chorus, and an inspiring intro from Leikeli: “I understand the wisdom in saying no sometimes. Sometimes the right no can get you the right yes. Let’s get unified,” she said applying Queer Eye-wisdom to a song that delved into some of the no’s in her past that got her where she is today.
But it wasn’t only Leikeli47 that we learned about on Friday. She shouted out anyone in nail school and when someone upfront cheered she asked their name and said “Cameron, you’ll kill it in nail school” and the whole crowd, including Cameron, believed her. “Society looks the same, and people need to color outside the lines — that’s why I wrote Full Set,” she stated, continuing to shout out creatives of all genders working on their “full sets” and blazing their own trails.
“You’re stepping out of the lines and expressing your individuality — and we love that for you!” she said shouting out audience member Trey’s bedazzled fan and crop top after inviting them on stage to back her up.
“Trey, you are a look honey!” she said before starting into “Look” and gaining 6 more audience dancers on stage. After the track wrapped up, she asked each person their name one by one and shouted out their look.
I’m not kidding when I say this was as empowering as a realtime Queer Eye episode, and the confidence the crowd gained was like we signed up for a bounce-inspired rave with self-help lectures micro-dosed for when we caught our breath from vogueing.
“I don’t care where you are in life imma need you to start. I’m no better than you, the same thing in me is in you. You can do it but you gotta start. Go to nail school, start a business, quit your job and follow your dream,” at this the girl next to me screamed “I just did that!” And she wasn’t the only one who felt seen. When she went into “Full Set” I shook my new bob to “new style / new hairdo / a new cut / a new color” with fervor.
The energy was reciprocated from the crowd back to Leikeli47, from the crowd members to other crowd members, and from her brother to Leikeli47 as he shouted out his request for her Beyonce-esque ballad “Top Down” from the upper-level. She chose to say no to that one, which let her say yes to crowd pleasers (and “Insecure” soundtrack hits) “Girl Blunt” and “Money.”