Live review: La Roux

Corn Exchange, Cambridge Thursday, April 29

Elke Mietzel
Pic: Elke Mietzel
It might just be her lucky colour, but the title of La Roux’s victory-lap Gold Tour is apt. Mainly because it’s impossible to think of that word, in the wake of a few years of ’80s nostalgia, without hearing the chorus to Spandau Ballet’s massive 1983 hit of the same name.

Like much else in ’80s culture, that song was flamboyant, escapist and courageous, but mangled by the catalytic converter of the engine of culture, it’s become silly, safe and kitsch. Yet though the merest notes of its chorus, or the very mention of that decade, now makes us claw our faces
in rage, La Roux, the most fervent revivalist of them all, we still love. Gold, you see, can be purified of dross if your flame burns hot enough.

In the short year-and-a-half since we first saw her stepping nervily, wired with energy, onto the stage at Notting Hill Arts Club, to say Elly Jackson’s grown into herself as a performer would be understating it. Striding on to a platform in front of an Art Deco-styled video screen, she’s mercurial, fleet of foot, and becloaked Phantom-style with swooping white sleeves, as calamitous kettle drums herald ‘Tigerlily’’s obscure menace. She throws her skinny frame into it with scary physical intensity on ‘Quicksand’ and an electro-muscled ‘I’m Not Your Toy’, soft-shoe-shuffling like a cyborg Smokey Robinson.

Sadly, rumours of new songs prove unfounded. We do get ‘Growing Pains’, the decent-enough UK bonus track from the album, and, more interestingly, the original pre-La Roux version of French bonus track ‘Finally My Saviour’. The bare folky bones of the sort of song that Elly’s fateful meeting with Ben Langmaid made into killer heartbreak machines, its smoky acoustic charms are pleasing in a Mazzy Star/Fiona Apple sort of way, but the interest is mainly in a ‘making-of’ context.

Much more thrilling is her take on The Rolling Stones‘Under My Thumb’. Stalking the stage, rather than do anything as easy as reimagine the song with feminist irony, she embodies its wounded cruelty, wailing about her triumph as big, harsh, juddering Miami Vice synths slash across the red-and-black lit stage. It’s amazing.

And she hasn’t even cracked out the big ones yet! ‘In For The Kill’ is, of course, colossal, and the dangerously hormonal crowd boil over as Elly’s gold-painted face appears on the screen, eyes lit up with blue deathrays. For ‘Bulletproof’, she cracks out the inevitable gold jacket, giving it the Freddie Mercury with outstretched arms. As she closes with ‘Fascination’’s effusive Erasure-isms, we’re so fired up, we neither know nor care what decade it is. Always, you see, believe in your soul.

Emily Mackay

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