Wednesday, 19 April 2017
Remember when Bruno Mars used to be a cute doo-woppy popstar? "I'd catch a grenade for you." Aww thanks Bruno. "You're amazing just the way you are." Oh stop it, you're making me blush.
Now though, he stands onstage and orders his fans to "activate your sexy". He wants us to throw our Versace on the floor and "kiss 'till we're naked". He invites our asses to his condo to "pop it for a pimp...turn around and drop it for a pimp". And he sings an ode to the larger lady ("Girl, you better have your hair weave strapped on tight, 'cause once we get going, we rolling") with the word "CHUNKY" emblazoned on the screens behind him. Don't like it? Then you should "loosen them shoulders up...throw some perm on your attitude...you gotta lay it back...band, show her how to lay it back".
With third album '24k Magic', Bruno Mars has fully transformed from popstar next door to utter sleazebag. He may see himself as a ladies' man, but his lyrics come off as misogynistic as he sings vapid songs about sex and nothingness. The title track is the album's best, but does anyone have a clue what it's even about?
Sadly it's songs from '24k Magic' that make up the majority of the setlist for this world tour. Sparks fly, the stage is enveloped in bright colours, and the band bring plenty of energy as they frantically jump about the stage in an attempt to generate some interest. But nothing can elevate these songs, the seedy lyrics, or the constant crotch thrusting.
What's almost more offensive, though, is the complete lack of originality. For these songs, Mars has basically ripped off the 90s - Boyz II Men, Run DMC and everything in between. The smooth sex jams, the funk basslines, the chiming synths, the vocal harmonies. There's even a whole skit where he phones one of his countless (probably) female admirers for some sexy time. For the most part, it's laughable pastiche.
Mars is certainly a showman and he knows how to work an audience. His voice glides impressively to upper registers (accompanied by awesome backing singers) as he shows off some fancy footwork and oozes cool. Yet for all his showmanship, his act is 50% mediocre Michael Jackson impression and 50% Prince tribute, complete with purple lighting and average guitar playing. He's not a patch on either of the 24k idols he so desperately apes - he's bronze at best.
Towards the end, he eventually cracks out some of the older tracks: Grenade, Runaway Baby, Marry You and Locked Out Of Heaven. Noticeably it's these that get the audience on their feet, Uptown Funk most of all. They're fun and frivolous, suitable for the decidedly mixed audience of both teenage girls and middle-aged women.
Mars does try and claw back some credibility with an impassioned rendition of When I Was Your Man, seemingly close to tears. But with sexy well and truly activated, it's impossible to take this sincerity seriously - you can't be the player and the victim all at once.
Monday, 17 April 2017
Shit-faced Shakespeare is gimmick theatre, but the company throw themselves so whole-heartedly into it that you can't help but be swept along by its raucous entertainment.
As the bombastic voice-over introduction suggests, this is the X Factor of theatre: big, loud, Saturday night theatre that's watered down for the masses. Though there's nothing watery about the drinks. As the introduction continues, the rules are explained: the cast will attempt a wholly serious production (currently Much Ado About Nothing) but one of the actors is shit-faced, wasted, paralytically drunk.
That the production is shown in a comedy venue is fitting - this is an irreverent take on Shakespeare that's far more comedy show than it is serious theatre. Even less surprising is the success the company has had at fringe festivals across the country. At just over an hour long, it's a short burst of silliness that still leaves you time for a night of Woo Woos at the local Revs bar.
That said, the comedy is as polished as it is anarchic, presented by a cast of very capable actors. Whilst the text has been drastically cut, the verse is spoken well and the narrative (just about) stays intact. Yet plenty of modernisms slip through, largely owing to some improvisation around missed or - let's say - amended lines by the drunken actor, in this instance Rob Smythson as Claudio. Swearing and sexual innuendo ensue, but the cast mostly keep a straight face and cleverly interweave new lines with the actual script - Louise Lee's Leonata has a particular talent for this. Comic timing is excellent ensuring plenty of guffaws from the audience, whilst the use of traditional costumes and string versions of current pop songs only add to the anachronistic humour.
I do wonder how much of the comedy is staged, though. With eight years of similar productions, surely some jokes are repeated and some drunkenness is exaggerated. I usually end up asleep in a corner when drunk, never mind performing on-stage, but that probably says more about me than these performers. With such talent, it would be a joy to watch them in a serious production without gimmicks.
Yet they've found a successful niche, turning a sometimes impenetrable playwright into popular entertainment. Shit-faced Shakespeare is a rollicking time - and probably more so if you're shit-faced yourself.
Watch: Shit-faced Shakespeare runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until 16th September.
Friday, 14 April 2017
It was over a year ago that Dua Lipa was longlisted for the BBC Sound of award, and even longer since the release of debut single New Love back in 2015. A handful of songs later and here she is headlining the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire before her debut album is even out. Welcome to the music industry 2017 - thanks streaming.
It's a feat even the star herself is surprised by, noting "I can't believe I'm doing a show like this before my album is released". It's as impressive a career move as it is frustrating for fans, who have been eagerly awaiting a full album while her label and management continue to push individual tracks up the streaming charts.
It also made this something of a strange gig, full of cheering fans familiar with only 60% of the setlist. It was essentially album promo before its release in June, giving these fans a taster of what's to come.
And what's that? More of the same: big pop hooks, dance beats, and a rich vocal that shows even more hints of her Albanian heritage in the sinuous melodies. "Let's keep this party going," she ordered enthusiastically, the fans expertly singing along to new music. That's as much down to the familiarity of her sound as it is well-written and catchy hooks. The self-titled album is certainly set to be a key pop release this year.
Still, you can't shake the fact we've heard the best already. But bangers like Hotter Than Hell and Blow Your Mind (Mwah) sound as good live as they do recorded, bold and loud pop tracks that deserved higher chart performance. And stripped back guitar versions of Thinkin' Bout You and New Love allowed for some sentimentality amongst the synths.
Surprisingly, though, it was Scared To Be Lonely, her duet with Dutch DJ Martin Garrix, that had the biggest reaction from the crowd, whilst a snippet of No Lies (on which she features with Sean Paul) had a similar response. These might be two of her biggest hits chart-wise, but a rousing finale of Be The One proved she can certainly command the stage alone.
It'll be interesting to see how the debut album performs in the chart considering it's predominantly a collection of singles we've already heard. Yet this gig was a resoundingly positive moment in Dua's career that demonstrated beyond doubt that she's proper pop star material.
Listen: 'Dua Lipa' is released on June 2nd.
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Funny story: my dad once went to a party back in the 90s and was asked what music should be put on. His reply, in an attempt to look cool: "put some of that Jammyrocky on".
He was referring, of course, to space-pop acid-jazz sensation Jamiroquai, famous for hits like Cosmic Girl and Virtual Insanity as well as a penchant for headdresses (the name, incidentally, is a mix of "jam" and "Iroquai", a native American tribe). Dad was right - the band were pretty cool back in the day. But after changes in their sound, changes in record label and some unsuccessful releases, Jay Kay and co. seemed destined to remain a relic of the past.
As is typical of fashion, though, what was once cool tends to come back around. After the likes of Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell and DJ Todd Terje updated disco for 21st century tastes, Jamiroquai now return with a new album, 'Automaton'. It's something of a consolidation of their sound that sounds as fresh now as it ever did, all funk guitars, robotic synths and jazz-like lurches in harmony.
Opener Shake It On sets the tone with its space burbles and processed guitars, punctuated by smooth vocal harmonies and strings. Jay Kay's voice remains as instantly recognisable as ever and there's even a keytar solo. It really is the acid jazz of the early 90s as seen through the rose-tinted filter of today. The title track and lead single shifts into newer territory, its weird belching verses sounding like a robot vomiting before unfurling in a glittering chorus. This is Jamiroquai at their most daring, experimental and modern.
If the title track is representative of the rise of artificial intelligence that inspired the album, the remains of the album is slick, polished disco-funk that hits at the core of humanity: dancing. "I'm walking on air," claims Jay Kay on Cloud 9, whilst on Superfresh he asks "can I get another dance with you?" and on Something About You he feels "like dancin', takin' chances". From the shimmering Summer Girl to the cool midnight air of Dr Buzz, the stuttering jazz bass of We Can Do It to the metallic whirrs of Hot Property, Jamiroquai take us on a cosmic journey through their past highs into another galaxy.
You won't find the sort of pop hooks you remember from their heyday, but it barely matters. 'Automaton' is a complete world of irresistible dance rhythms and alien sounds that looks forward as much as it looks back - just like that new neon headdress. Free from previous label constraints and the high expectations of the pop charts, this is Jamiroquai revelling in exuberant joy. It's simple but it's fun.
But what does Jammyrocky's biggest fan have to say? Dad?
"It's the sort of disco they put on in a club at half time when everybody has tired of dancing and gone to the bar for a drink."
Oh. Please, somebody stop him before he starts a blog or something.
* Hot Property
* Dr Buzz
Listen: 'Automaton' is out now.
Wednesday, 5 April 2017
I’d love to know what Dominic Cavendish would think of this all-female version of Laura Wade’s Posh after his recent comments concerning the National Theatre's Twelfth Night starring Tamsin Greig.
Gender swapping roles is certainly in fashion at the moment, but with good reason. It’s something of a protest against the lack of female roles in theatre, but it’s also an experiment to see what extra this casting can bring to a text. In this instance, however, whether the female casting really adds something to the production or if it’s just following trends is up for debate.
Yes, the debate is about equality and opportunity. Yes, it’s about female actors being offered more substantial, typically ‘male’ roles. Yes, we may have a female Prime Minister (alongside other female political leaders), which is notable for such a political play. But I’m not sure if having women in the roles necessarily heightens the production in any meaningful way, beyond the initial shock factor of women acting in such a masculine (and disgraceful) manner.
Wade’s play centres on the male-only ‘Riot Club’ at Oxford University, a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club of which many of our recent political leaders have been members. They’re hosting one of their infamous dinners at a country pub, full of strange rituals, misogynist behaviour, and upper class pomposity at the expense of the working class (no pig heads were harmed here). Yet the play is an exploration of masculinity as much as it is white elitism and privilege. Here, the characters retain their male names and pronouns, but with women in the roles it feels too performative, a farcical parody of hyper-masculinity.
Perhaps this is the point – having women in these roles makes a mockery of masculinity. It certainly adds plentiful humour to the play. But it also lacks believability. If played straight, we would laugh at the absurdity of the situation yet be shocked at its potential realism. Here, the caricature performances are often played for laughs as we look down on these boys (they can hardly be considered men), but the play therefore lacks some bite and edge as a result. This is an alternate reality, not a bristling fictional recreation of our political climate.
One performance does stick out though: Serena Jennings as Alistair Ryle. She successfully finds a balance between mockery and believability, with a grounded performance that blurs the line between masculine and feminine. Spitting out soliloquies deriding “fucking poor people”, she is quite frankly terrifying. As the naïve Ed Montgomery, Verity Kirk offers a perfect comedic foil.
Elsewhere, the production has all the pros and cons of the original text: a cutting satire with a clever premise and often disturbing script, but a second half that moves too far into the fantastical with its ghostly apparition and cultish ending. Sara Perks’ revolving set spins us further and further into absurdity, whilst the music choices juxtapose classical grandeur with punk (Cherry Bomb by The Runaways is a particularly inspired choice). The use of slow motion and strobe lighting also ensure director Cressida Carré's production is a polished and stylish affair.
It’s debatable, then, whether Posh really transcends gender, but this production is certainly a thought-provoking and nonetheless enjoyable performance. It’s relevance is undeniable, if more for its views on women in theatre than for its politics.
Watch: Posh runs at the Pleasance Theatre London until 22nd April.
Images: Darren Bell