Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Sept 21st 2012
photos by Ant Mulryan
This is a gig like no other I have ever been to.
Ostensibly set up like a piece of quasi-musical theatre built around the first Dexys album since 1985, One Day I’m Going to Soar, with a running narrative and the band dressed in fifties spiv outfits and it could work just as that.
You enter a world and get lost inside it. A world of heartache and emotion as our hero attempts to resolve his life crisis and inability to love with a key five song cycle taken from the new album where he tries to resolve this inability to love Madeleine Hyland who gives as good as she gets in the inter song banter. The set drips with a pathos and humour in equal measures with set pieces like in Your Incapable of Love with Kevin Rowland shouting and imploring at Madeleine.
But what really transcends everything here is the tidal wave of emotion. No theatre piece could ever have been as sweatily emotive as this. Kevin Rowland who is dressed as dapper as ever with a wide brimmed Fedora, loud shirt, switchblade brogues and a pencil moustache is at the peak of his career. His emotive vocals cut through and the sheer, tear your heart out passion is like nothing else. His singing voice is at its very best- swooping, hollering and imploring- it’s a fantastic thing and his performance is like nothing else.
It’s a brave move in a career of brave moves which include his criminally over looked solo album, ”ËMy Beauty’- a collection of exquisitely delivered covers that got panned by the critics but is still a big favourite here and will get the reappraisal it so richly deserves by the rest of the world, especially in the warm glow after this stunning series of gigs.
This should not really work- the formality of theatre and the gutsy let it all hang out performance of classic sweatshod music but it does and that is the genius of the whole affair, which manages to successfully allow two very different disciplines run side by side. There are songs like the single She Got A Wiggle where he talks to Madeleine on a screen and the song is infused with its raw emotion hung out to dry. As the set pieces unfold he sings, he croons and then he talks and mumbles to himself between the songs and then dives into that delicious emotive soul croon in the songs.
The band is, of course, amazing..
Big Jim Paterson makes a very welcome return still playing his trademark killer sliding trombone, Mick Talbot is the ever dab hand on the keys and Lucy Morgan’s violin is perfect, whilst co- vocalist Pete Williams is the perfect, amiable foil for the confessional frontman who really is baring his soul whilst Dave Ruffy (ex Ruts and as you would expect from the tightest drummer in the UK on drums on button).
This the crew, the gang of tight knit musicians who can be a called on to deliver such a varied and musically demanding set that incorporates the beloved soul shots for the Rowland’s youth to the genius take on Irish folk and onwards of the encore Come On Eileen which, rearranged, is a reminder of just how great that song is and how its real genius is the fact that it gets played endlessly at weddings and has become part of the fabric of people’s lives.
The theatricality may have its roots in Kevin Rowland’s glam rock youth and the glam rock theatrics of David Bowie- there is certainly a hint of the Brecht and Weill penny operas that Bowie was fascinated in and the stylised band certainly has that air of Roxy Music about them but the whole thing has taken so many twists and turns then and the aforementioned music between theatre and raw emotion is almost like a new form.
It’s like Kevin Rowland has come up with something totally original here- most rock theatre is clever and emotionally stylised but this is the full confessional thing and runs you dry.
Touring the album Rowland has decided to stage it as theatrical piece. The album – which should have been a Mercury nominated work but was probably too raw and emotional for such a stuffy, dullard award is raw and bleeding and the frontman takes these themes onto the stag. The theatrical side of the whole affair makes it even more visceral and inbetween the humour and props, the soul confessional of the singer is ever closer to the bone with set pieces including Pete Williams adopting the guise of Kevin’s father, wearing a flat cap and mac telling him bluntly “It’s time you stopped the dreaming and faced up to reality”Â.
Kevin Rowland examines his life, his background, his Irish roots, he rise to fame, his lost loves, his very essence and lays it all bare in the music and the series of vignettes that make up the remarkable performance. He looks at his abrasive youth, his intense stance in the early days of the band, his war at the world and how he came through and somehow he still manages to make it entertaining and soul searchingly brilliant.
Who else could get away with a ten minute section where his discusses his burning passions with Williams dressed as a cop and makes it from the gut, amusing and burningly soulful- surly that should be impossible and all the time there is that voice doing remarkable things. It’s like the first 30 years of the band were just warming up for this tour. The rousing encores bring the house down and there is an audible gasp when he falls of the stage before running round the crowd and climbing up to the second floor of the room like an Iggy Pop in sharp duds.
He seems much more relaxed in himself that in pervious years, on stage he has a genuine warm rapport with his devout audience who pack the huge Bridgewater Hall out tonight and when I bumped into him recently on Brick Lane he was jocular and open and happy- a final victory from one of our great artists.
Brave, impassioned and powerfully brilliant, this is one of the year’s highlight tours reflecting the majesty and grace of the accompanying album and the next perfect chapter in a long career that has managed to do one of the rarest of things, grow older gracefully and honestly.