At the risk of sounding like a miserable old codger – but hey, know thyself – sold out nights at Rock City often work best when the venue is full of Nice People, who don’t quite like to venture onto the main floor because it might be A Bit Scary. The happy consequence is that – for those of us who wouldn’t contemplate standing anywhere else – there is room to breathe without getting suffocated, space to dance without getting squashed, and the opportunity to see more than the tops of the performers’ heads.
Rock City was full of Nice People last night – and as such, they were the perfect match for the smartly dressed, clean-cut boys on stage, and their brand of breezy, catchy, radio-friendly pop-rock. Much has been made of the The Feeling’s influences, particularly with reference to that most un-rock-and-roll of genres: 1970s MOR pop, of the Supertramp/ELO school. However, once stripped of the glossy production of their recorded versions, the songs are revealed simply as classic feel-good music, with a timeless, instantly familiar quality. Frankly, the band sound all the better for it.
Lead singer Dan Gillespie-Sells, with his floppy fringe, winning grin, skin-tight clothing and effortlessly flirtatious manner, radiated a kind of wholesome sexiness. The screams might have been absent, but the rapt expressions dotted around the room told their own story.
Highlights included a massed singalong to Never Be Lonely (with formation bouncing), a massed singalong to Sewn (with formation swaying), and a massed singalong to Video Killed The Radio Star (are you getting the picture yet?).
“We hope you go home with smiles on your faces”, said Dan, introducing the last number. A nice guy, fronting a likeable band, playing cheerful music to happy people. No shame in that. Sometimes, Nice is all you need.
Three years ago, when the Scissor Sisters first played Nottingham, they were an achingly hip bunch of New York clubbers – loved by fashionistas with “directional” haircuts, but unknown to the rest of us. Nowadays, you can buy their albums in Sainsburys and hear them on Radio 2. Your mum probably likes them. Indeed, judging by the show of hands in the Arena last night (yes, they asked), their audience now contains equal numbers of mums and gays. As Ana Matronic wryly observed, this must be evidence of the band’s “all round appeal”.
When your pet band makes it big, it can sometimes hurt to share your secret. “They were so much better in the old days”, you’ll sigh, eager to let people know that You Saw Them First. It’s a classic trap.
And yet, painful as it is to criticise such a talented, popular and enjoyable act, something of the original spirit has been lost. The shared sense of fun which worked so well in a sweaty club has been diluted by the sheer size of the venues which the band now fills. Simply put, they’re not a natural arena act. Jake Shears is an able performer – and a sexy little mover to boot, especially in the tight gold shorts he wore for the encore – but he can’t quite extend his reach, and form a personal connection with his audience. The band give it everything they’ve got – but they still look a little swamped by the vast stage.
Of course, none of this mattered during favourites such as “Comfortably Numb”, and the future wedding disco standard “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” – and Jake and Ana’s banter is as outrageous as ever, dedicating “Laura” to their president’s wife. (“May she rest in pieces!”) Nevertheless, a little less mega-success would suit them well.
Refreshingly for a major female pop artist, and unlike the Britneys and Christinas of this world, Pink has always refused to market herself as a sex symbol. Although her music belongs to the mainstream, she has consistently questioned and challenged mainstream values. As Saturday night’s audience demonstrated, this has earned her a hugely loyal, overwhelmingly female fanbase.
Exploding onto the stage in a flurry of giant pink feathers, Pink is a commanding presence from the off, her platinum quiff calling to mind a younger Brigitte Nielsen. Before long, she is strutting down the lengthy runway which stretches into the crowd. This is used to maximum effect for Stupid Girls, in which Pink and her dancers impersonate a clutch of blinged-up airheads, and for the spirited flamenco routines which accompany There You Go.
There are many shifts in mood. One moment, Pink is doing the splits inside a suspended net, stripped to a bikini. Moments later, she is belting out a classy, impassioned Family Portrait, in a full-length silver skirt. A particular highlight is the intimate, back-to-basics “campfire” section, in which Pink, two singers and a lone guitarist mesmerise us with the bluesy The One That Got Away, before raising cheers for the scathing Dear Mr President.
The best tricks are saved for last. As Get The Party Started morphs into the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, Pink soars above us on a high-wire, and launches into a dazzling gymnastic display. Even while spinning at high speed, upside down, legs splayed, without a safety harness, she still delivers a note-perfect performance.
Few other pop performers could pull off the same mixture of toughness and charm, vocal talent and fearless athleticism, in-your-face attitude and old-fashioned showbiz values. If Pink’s recorded material has always underwhelmed you, then her live show could convert you on the spot.
Hmm, is it really time for another “greatest hits” collection from George Michael? After all, he has only released one album of original material (2004’s under-performing Patience) since the last collection, 1998’s Ladies and Gentlemen. Come to think of it, there have only been two original albums in the past sixteen years – but presumably true art can’t be rushed.
The reason is simple. As George is touring for the first time in fifteen years, he needs new product to shift. So why not bundle up a representative sample of the man’s work over the past quarter century – both with Wham! and as a soloist – and bung it out in good time for Christmas?
This would have been fine, if Twenty Five really was a “greatest hits” package – but without the likes of I’m Your Man, I Want Your Sex and I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), we can’t really call it that. Or is it a “best of” collection? Hardly, if the awful “protest song” Shoot The Dog can make the grade, at the expense of classics such as I Can’t Make You Love Me – and do we really need to be burdened with Last Christmas all the way through the rest of the year? OK, so maybe it’s a concert souvenir, containing all the songs from the tour? Wrong again: large chunks of George’s current set list are absent from these two CDs.
Instead, what we have is a hastily conceived cash-in, seemingly compiled by people with scant knowledge of George’s music, and even less respect for his long-suffering fans. Why else would fifteen songs from Ladies and Gentlemen crop up again on Twenty Five? Once again, all the ballads are on one disc (For The Loving), with the livelier stuff on the second disc. (For The Living – clever, huh?). Someone has tried to arrange the tracks chronologically – but even this simple task is carelessly botched.
Worst of all, an attempt has been made to lure the fans with a limited edition bonus disc (For The Loyal), which will set you back another few quid. However, instead of the expected hard-to-find rarities for the connoisseur, there’s just one new song (a pleasant ballad calledUnderstand), and no less than seven selections from Patience. Add these to the six tracks from Patience on the other discs, and you have virtually a full reissue. It’s a strange way of rewarding the “loyal”, to put it mildly.
Still, there are always the other three “exclusives”: An Easier Affair (one of George’s weakest singles, Outside having already covered the “gay pride” angle so much better), a re-recorded Heal The Pain (featuring fellow tabloid target Paul McCartney), and a rather lovely collaboration with ex-Sugababe Mutya, This Is Not Real Love. All three can be legally downloaded from the usual places, at a fraction of the cost.
If you’ve never owned a George Michael album, then this is a passable introduction. For everyone else, Twenty Five is a sad reminder of wasted talents and diminishing returns.