OAKLAND — King Princess has found her audience on the “Cheap Queen Tour.”
Brooklyn singer-songwriter Mikaela Mullaney Straus lapped up the adoration at her show at the Fox Theater on Tuesday. It was a packed house of doting fans, many of them gay or trans, and ready to celebrate—the sort of crowd that might show up at a pop diva concert, and in a way, King Princess was a diva. The way she moved and her rock star stage presence demanded attention. But so did her guitar playing. And she was crass from beginning to end, which her audience lapped up as well.
“It’s one of the biggest shows on my tour,” she said toward the end of the show, shortly before accepting a bra from a fan and hanging it on the neck of her guitarist’s instrument. “Oakland must be really gay.”
The performance never grew stale because King Princess and her four-member band rarely repeated themselves. Still just 22, she triumphantly strolled onto the stage, waved to both sides of the room and then sat down at a stand-up piano at the right of the stage to play “Isabel’s Moment,” the kind of slow tune you might hear in a smokey lounge. That led into another slower cut, the moody “Tough on Myself,” on which Straus began to stretch out, vocally speaking. Her snarls punctuated each verse.
She climbed a short set of steps to a platform in front of a person-sized oval picture frame or perhaps a mirror, which itself was centered in front of a gold-framed “painting” of a beach as seen through a grove of trees—the image was on the curtain that hung at the back of the stage. As the song built to the point where she may strike a pose like a pop star, she was instead handed a Telecaster and began to wail away at it.
A couple songs later, short interlude “Useless Phrases” blended into “Cheap Queen,” the title track to her 2019 debut album. The sweet synth melody had many swaying back and forth. The following “Pussy Is God” was one of numerous songs that had many singing along. King Princess flipped the microphone in her right hand and pumped her arm across her body as if strumming a power chord. She then bummed a joint from a fan in the front row and as the room was about to erupt, she shushed everyone up and told them they were not allowed to cheer her addiction.
It was a joke, probably.
“Ain’t Together,” was one of several that sounded like throwbacks lost in time. It blended elements of ’50s Brill Building pop, ’60s folk and ’90s R&B, among other influences I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Again, she soloed in the outro, evoking the guitar tones of Prince. But she never rested in one place for long. “Do You Wanna See Me Crying?” recalled the breezy and percussive pop of Haim. “Watching My Phone” began as an organic electro-pop song before exploding into a wall of sound and strobe lights.
The euphoric “Talia” had more than a dozen flower bouquets thrown onto the stage. Afterward, Straus listed off the various body parts she was OK with being struck by thrown objects, but demanded people stay away from her face, which she joked (probably) was her main source of income. After her crew set some flowers aside, King Princess throttled their petals off during the next song, “Trust Nobody.” The minor-key, grungy “Upper West Side” ended with her banging out a one-note dirge on the piano.
At this point, Straus confided (possibly) that she was actually tired of playing her biggest hit, “1950”
“But I have to play what gets me airplay,” she deadpanned. “Stream my music.”
Still, the sweet ballad elicited a collective enlargement of googly eyes, with couples slow-dancing in whatever room they could find to move around. That led to King Princess’ latest hit, the overtly sexual club-ready jam “Hit the Back.”
Singer-songwriter and rapper Kilo Kish opened the concert with a set of moody electronic indie pop. Lakisha Robinson stalked the stage sensually on foreboding and slick opener “Like Honey,” let her sandy voice shine on the more upbeat “Both Sides,” pranced around on the bassy “Spark” and quick tempo of “Void,” and turned up the sensuality by slinking around during “Bite Me” before wrapping up with club banger “Nice Out” and cacophonous “Elegance.”
Between the two acts, San Francisco drag queen Honey Mahogany, of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” performed a loungey take on 1964 stage standard “Feeling Good,” popularized by Nina Simone, as well as an original ballad of heartbreak.
Mahogany, who attended grad school at UC Berkeley and is current owner of The Stud bar in San Francisco, used the platform to announce she’s running for public office in March and trying to become the first trans person elected in San Francisco.