Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Live Report: Lily Allen @ St. Andrews - 4/13/09

The chandeliers of the Fox Theatre would've suited Allen better than the moldy wood of St. Andrews.

by Thomas Matich

Personally, I wouldn't have booked Lily Allen at St. Andrews. She seems too classy and British to be playing at the poorly ventilated and overtly hollow venue with rickety wood floors and a sometimes mediocre sound system. I would've chosen The Fox Theatre or The Royal Oak Music Theatre instead (how was that Lady Gaga show?). But when my friend and I arrived at St. Andrews last night, Allen had sold the venue out and packed it with a rather diverse crowd as at one point I looked over and Jack White's brother was standing next to me.

Natalie Portman's Shaved Head were finishing their opening set when we strolled in. Their stuff is heavy on Faint-styled electro, definitely more Star Wars Portman than Garden State Portman. They looked like they just fell out of Incognito and went well with the electronic vibe of Allen's superb second album, It's Not Me, It's You.

As the crew set up the stage before Allen's set, her lead-up music blaring over the speakers was a selection of hip-hop tracks from Jay-Z and T.I. (but no Common, despite the two collaborating on Common's hit "Drivin' Me Wild" - she also didn't perform this song, which disappointed me a bit). When Allen appeared on stage, clad in an oversize hoodie and wifebeater, it seemed to clash not only with the sound of her recent album (which is more Madonna than M.I.A.) but with her rather professional backing band.

It took Allen a few numbers to find her footing on stage. She opened the show with the first track from her new album, the Spice Girls seasoned "Everyone's At It" which got a big reaction on the first notes from the crowd and then tapered off as the song fleshed out live, as Allen sounded drowned out by her band. I was standing beside the sound guy, who was juggling with the nobs in hopes to find the right balance. It wasn't until "Not Gonna Happen," a ragtime flavored number that I saw the sound guy with a smile on his face, pumping his fist in the air as Allen had finally clicked.

Vocally, Allen is more dynamic on her album than in person. Which makes me assume there must be some studio fuckery going on with her A capellas. Her stage show was rather tepid, some neon lights, smoke, a couple extended electro wah-wah outros to the songs and those requisite "Hey Detroit" shout-outs. During "Fuck You," she got the crowd doing the two-fisted middle-finger wave which was rather amusing. I suspect a couple of those middle fingers pointed towards Allen might have come with a "Fuck you... I paid 20 bucks for this!"

When Allen returned to the stage for an encore, she opened with her first big hit from her 2006 debut album, Alright, Still, the reggae flavored rumba "Smile." The island grooves of the ska jam got a big reaction from the crowd, as everyone bobbed their bodies in glee. Allen strayed away from her earlier material throughout the night and when she performed "The Fear" next, the No. 1 UK single from her latest album, it highlighted the sharp contrast in Allen's recordings in the three years since her debut. "The Fear" is a swift cut, brimming with a bombastic melody and a diva's wit. But, Allen's charm was canceled out by the final song of the night...

Last year, Allen released a striped down cover version of Britney Spears' "Womanizer." When those signature "red alert" synthesizers of Spears' original version began to pump out of the speakers, the crowd began to lose it a little bit, as if they'd finally heard a real dance song. Allen proceeded to pump out a straight-up cover version rather than treating the crowd to her own delightful rendition. I could only scratch my head. Why would an artist of Allen's stature close out her show with someone else's song?

Between the oversize hoodie, the set list aimed towards her newer material, an underwhelming stage show, a poor venue choice and the Spears cover, it seemed to me that Allen is a wonderful talent that is wandering. She still doesn't know who she is, but her stage is big enough for her to be anyone she wants. //DC//

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