Seven years ago this month, a barely known Scissor Sisters played what they came to regard as a pivotal gig at The Social, leaving all who witnessed it in little doubt that they were about to become very big indeed. A show at Rock City soon followed, and the band’s debut album went on to become the biggest seller of 2004. But by the time that the Sisters returned to town in November 2006, this time for a full scale arena show, there were signs that the band were suffering something of an identity crisis. Despite containing their biggest hit to date (I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’), their second album saw the band drifting perilously towards the middle of the road – and as a live act, they didn’t seem quite ready to scale up to the demands of a larger stage.
After a long period away from public view, made all the longer by the band’s decision to scrap their third album and start again from scratch, the Sisters re-emerged this year with Night Work: a collection of songs themed around clubbing, sex and partying hard. In many ways, it felt like the natural successor to their debut. More importantly, it also sounded like the work of a band that had rediscovered its sense of purpose.
As last night’s triumphant return to Nottingham’s largest venue demonstrated, the Sisters have also grown hugely in confidence and capability as an arena-sized act. This time around, Jake Shears and Ana Matronic truly owned the stage, making full use of the space and infecting us all with their sheer love of performing. Shears in particular has matured into a charismatic showman, fearlessly strutting in his skimpy fetish gear and milking us for all he was worth. And as always, Ana was his feisty foil, her banter as quick as ever. Dedicating She’s My Man to Kate Middleton, she observed that when it comes to the Royal Family, “it’s always the women who wear the trousers”. Introducing Paul McCartney (the song, not the Beatle), she commanded us to put down our phones and to “be in the moment, instead of living your life through your view finder”. (Those who failed to comply were duly treated to foul-mouthed reprimands.) And having spent so much time in this country over the years, she declared herself to be charmed by our use of language, singling out five words for special praise: loo, knackered, gurning, minging and Bristols. As well she might.
Tellingly, just four songs from Ta-Dah now remain in the band’s set list, compared to six from the debut album – and if you had ever grown tired of hearing well-worn numbers such as Laura and Take Your Mama, then you would have fallen in love with them all over again. Perhaps the players had also fallen in love with them again; it certainly seemed that way. As for the new songs, they seemed to accrue extra power in a live setting, suggesting that they had been conceived with arena-sized performances in mind. A prime example was Any Which Way, which sounded vastly better live than in its somewhat shrill recorded version.
Finishing their main set with Filthy/Gorgeous, the Sisters saved their show-stoppers for the encore. A magnificent Fire With Fire showed that it is still just about possible to rhyme “fire” with “desire”, without sounding hopelessly corny. During I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’, Jake leapt from the stage and bounded into the raised seating blocks, serenading us from the upper rows. Finally, the epic, mesmerising Invisible Light closed the show, Sir Ian McKellen reciting his dramatic, Thriller-style monologue on the video screens. It set the seal on a superb show – their best yet in this city, if truth be told – from a band that is once again operating at the peak of its powers.
Set list: Night Work , Laura, Any Which Way, She’s My Man, Something Like This, Tits On The Radio, Harder You Get, Running Out, Take Your Mama, Kiss You Off, Mary, Skin This Cat, Skin Tight, Paul McCartney, Comfortably Numb, Night Life, Filthy/Gorgeous, Fire With Fire, I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’, Invisible Light.
Undeterred by the adverse weather conditions, Derbyshire folk singer Bella Hardy and her cheerful guitarist Anna Massie spent most of yesterday travelling down from Edinburgh, arriving just in time to grab a quick mug of tea before the show. They were joined by Chris Sherburn, an amusingly self-deprecating concertina player from Goole. During the second half, while Chris’s services were not required for a couple of songs, he duly shuffled off the stage to brew another mug. It was that kind of show: informal, light-hearted, the songs interspersed with chat and banter, the performers humbly down-playing their considerable talents.
Billed as “an evening of seasonal treats”, the show was almost entirely Christmas themed, and performed on a stage that had been tastefully sprinkled with baubles and fairy lights. (Bella gamely offered to autograph some of the baubles during the interval, but there were no takers.) Some unlikely standards were given the folk treatment, from Brenda Lee’s Rocking Around The Christmas Tree to a surprisingly effective version of Shakin’Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone. As Bella hails from Edale, some carols from the nearby village of Castleton were given an airing. Audience participation was sought, and happily supplied, for Oh Come All Ye Faithful and We Wish You A Merry Christmas. An adaptation of Silver And Gold, taken from a US TV special in 1964, transformed into a rousing jig.
But for all the “seasonal treats” on offer, the artistic highlight of the evening came when Bella momentarily stepped away from the theme, in order to perform an as yet unrecorded new composition from her forthcoming album. Full Moon Over Amsterdam was a reflective, atmospheric piece, written during a stopover at Schiphol airport, which perfectly captured the romance of long distance travel. Then it was back to the carols, the standards, the sing-alongs and the fun, delightfully sung and played with rare skill and precision.