Sunday, 13 June 2010

Better in time

Here's something a little different for all you p0pvulture regulars - a concert review. Yesterday I received no small amount of stick for stating on facebook that I was going to miss England's first World Cup match because I was at the O2 watching Leona Lewis' first arena tour.

As it turns out, I had the far better deal, since the game sounded about as enjoyable as trawling around the B&Q paint department with a handful of swatches, asking the 'paint technician' to colour-match a batch of emulsion, taking it home and painstakingly redecorating the entire house, and then watching it dry.

Meanwhile, I got to see the full effect of three years of 'stagecraft' training on possibly the best singer to ever be discovered on a TV talent show (apologies to Michelle McManus who was pipped at the post, because she ate it).

There were snorts of derision when Leona's tour was first announced. Not because they thought she couldn't handle the live vocals - that's one element that she had in the bag - but because she had, to date, shown all the flair and dynamism of a soiled hospital gown.

Given her reputation as a balladeer, it was fair to assume that the most she'd need in the way of props and set-dressing would be a box of tissues, a half-bottle of chardonnay and a duvet. But no - we had sets, dancers, aerialists, lasers, hydraulics and some pretty cool projections, as well as Leona herself stomping all over the stage in some thigh-high pleather boots (she's a vegan) and throwing herself into the choreography.

According to the ridiculously expensive programme (priced as if Leona herself was painstakingly hand-printing them on an old piece of Letraset kit) the show was inspired by her favourite movie - Jim Henson's Labyrinth. Thank goodness she's not a big fan of The Killing Fields.

It's hard to identify exactly where the influences from Labyrinth took hold, aside from the Bowie-esque leggings on some of the male dancers, but the show hung together pretty well. It was divided into four themed sections - gothic, spacey, forest glade and disco - which technically made it more 'Crystal Maze' than Labyrinth, but now I'm just being picky. It also meant that there was a handy transition period between each segment, allowing Leona to change into an increasingly elaborate series of outfits.

Of the 18 songs which she performed, only four or five could really be considered ballads - the rest had been cleverly reworked into more uptempo numbers. As well as giving the dancers something to do, it also meant that the audience could get on their feet and shift awkwardly from side-to-side.

But above it all there was that voice. An amazing instrument, breathtakingly controlled and awesomely powerful.

Unfortunately, it was often drowned out by the over-zealous backing singers, a mixing desk controlled by Marlee Matlin, and Leona's annoying habit of turning her mike on the audience and commanding them to "sing along". I hate it when that happens, it's like going to a restaurant and the chef asking if you wouldn't mind julienning the carrots.

Nonetheless, she didn't miss a note all evening, and when she sang The First Time Ever I saw Your Face there was an audible 'ping' as 23,000 pairs of arms erupted in goose-pimples. With everything else that was going on, it was easy to forget just effortlessly she tackles those enormous notes and elaborate runs.

It would be churlish to expect her to compete with Lady Gaga or Madonna in terms of a stage show, but she pulled out all the stops to give her die-hard fans something they weren't expecting. Starting with a glimpse of some personality.

There are much worse ways of spending an hour and a half. And over the next few weeks I'm sure I'll be experiencing them first-hand. England vs Algeria anyone?

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