Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
Teenage Cancer Trust gigs
Royal Albert Hall, London, March 29th - 31st
“Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” sang John Lennon on The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’. And as the great man’s spoken voice reverberates around the Royal Albert Hall in between songs dropped by the in-house DJ, it serves as a none-too-subtle reminder that the man about to take to the stage was once part of the most famous and influential beat combo the world has ever known.
Sir Paul McCartney omits that track from tonight’s set. But the problem with being one of the most successful songwriters of all time is that even when you squeeze as much as you can into two-and-a-half hours, you’re likely to leave five proverbial Lionel Messis on the bench. No matter. There’s plenty to keep us transfixed for the duration – a rambunctious ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ suffices for starters. The Beatles favourites come (‘Hey Jude’) and come (‘Carry That Weight’) and come (‘Eleanor Rigby’), sandwiched in between solo numbers ‘Dance Tonight’ (from 2007’s ‘Memory Almost Full’) with Macca on mandolin and ‘My Valentine’ (from this year’s ‘Kisses On The Bottom’) tinkled on a grand piano in tribute to his new wife.
On ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ from his 1970 solo debut album ‘McCartney’ he proves what a brilliant voice
he’s got, and why Motörhead mentalist Lemmy once said he was the closest a white Englishman will ever come to Little Richard. Speaking of legends, during his finale Sir Paul invites Ronnie Wood, Roger Daltrey and Paul Weller to join him on stage for a raucous jam of ‘Get Back’. There aren’t many gigs where you’re likely
to see a Beatle, a Stone, and the lead singers of The Who and The Jam all on stage at the same time. The old magic still knows how to sparkle.
Example/DJ Baller B/Femech-Soler
For Friday, gone are the chairs, the rock aristocrats and the blue rinse. Instead British electro-poppers Fenech-Soler are gleaming, polished and energetic, though most eye-catching is their name and logo on the big screen which looks like a sign for a mid-priced sportswear firm. Grimey brit-rapper Devlin was booked in to follow, but cancelled at the last minute, leaving DJ Baller B to drop a set with more risers than the FTSE 100 in boomtime full of brostep, bashment and Jay-Z and Kanye West.
It’s all in prep for Example who, in a tight black T-shirt, looks pumped for tonight. There’s a formula to getting a crowd going, and Elliot Gleave (for it is he) knows it. When he shouts “Let’s do this for Queen Victoria” the crowd leaps like a salmon. Then his hits come in a torrent, from the clinically manufactured for peak breakfast audiences ‘Watch The Sun Come Up’ to the dark and delightful ‘Playing In the Shadows’, the deep bass and glowering menace of which could be Trent Reznor trying his hand at Brechtian cabaret.
‘We Came, We Saw, We Killed The Crowd’ is so good it gets outed twice, while chart-destroyer ‘Kickstarts’ is
met with raptures. Even the Faithless-inspired ‘Changed The Way You Kiss Me’ sounds euphoric. Example has his detractors, but they’re just jealous of his unerring ability to mash-up hip-hop, rave, drum’n’bass, dubstep and rock and turn it into something palatable, likable and commercial. Man’s a pop alchemist.
On Saturday Faris Badwan of Cat’s Eyes does nothing to deter those posh accusations when he notes the Royal Albert Hall is “like my grandmother’s living room”. Cat’s Eyes’ swoonsome ’60s psychedelia brings some decadent glamour to proceedings, and the juxtaposition of Rachel Zeffira’s delectable soprano and a giant breast with a train coming towards it being projected onto the screen above the band during ‘I’m Not Stupid’ is arresting.
The build-up to Pulp is skilfully engineered, as questions appear on a big screen above the stage: “How many holes was it?” “4,000?” “2,000?” The crowd’s left guessing, until the inevitable: ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ Everyone does, of course, which is why Pulp’s resurgence shows no signs of abating. Having witnessed the band gradually lose their mojo throughout the ’90s and early ’00s, you could argue they’re better than ever. ‘This Is Hardcore’ certainly is, with ex-Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley and Cat’s Eyes’ mini-orchestra onstage as Jarvis thrusts and grunts his way through his “and that goes in there” refrain like a lascivious Uncle Disgusting. Following ‘Mis-Shapes’, Jarvis feigns exhaustion and tells us he’s 48 now. But he’s still got plenty in the tank, throwing new shapes to the green rave lasers flooding the venue during ‘Sorted For Es And Wizz’.
“I’ve waited my whole life to sing this song here,” he says of ‘I Spy’, and when he hisses “take your year in Provence and shove it up your arse” you can almost hear the squeaks as people shuffle in their seats in one of the most opulent symbols of the British Empire.
This article originally appeared in the April 14th issue of NME
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