A lesson in not trying to fix up what ain’t broke. Shepherds Bush Empire, London (February 17)
So, after three critic-creaming albums, each enhancing his reputation as the UK’s foremost hip-hop/rap/grime/urban (whatever the frig you want to call it) artist, how does Dizzee Rascal up the game? “You wanna hear some new shit?” he whoops to the salivating Shepherds Bush crowd, one song before the end of his Shockwaves NME Awards show. The response is deafening, mainly due to the other – fantastic – ‘I Luv U’-esque new song, ‘Ghetto’, which he played half an hour before. “This is some shit you haven’t heard before. It’s from being in the studio with Calvin Harris.” Oh dear. What follows is three minutes of disco-funk dirge so tepid you’d be loathed to offer it up for a Jay Kay solo album. It’s only made more cringey by the presence of singer Chrome, who bounds onstage and grabs his crotch while crooning “soulful” backing vocals. This isn’t the edgy, steak-raw Dizzee who threatened to beat this writer up at the Mercury-nominations launch. Fans, seconds ago bounding like Prozac-stuffed gummy bears, shrug in disappointment. Although it’s a worrying peek into the future, the newie, ‘Dance With Me’, is the only crap-spot of the entire night. The rest is high-octane bliss.
There’s a funny, energising, brief blast of noise from opener Plastic Little, and a set of future-hip-pop nuggets – including the ace ‘Don’t Fart On My Heart’ – from Ebony Bones. Dizzee’s Dirtee Stank label stars Newham Generals keep things moving. And then, bounding onstage flanked by rapper Scope and the ever-fantastic DJ Semtex (who, during ‘Stand Up Tall’ begins flicking the cross-fader with his mouth), Diz treats the likes of ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’, ‘Pussyole (Old Skool)’ and ‘Bubbles’ like urban classics. It’s a treatment justified by the adoring home crowd, who don’t stop moving until the Harris hour approaches. Gone are the patronising indie video interludes of previous tours – during the Alex Turner-featuring ‘Temptation’ the Monkey man’s taped vocals are quelled and his band’s picture only flashed up for seconds, letting everyone know exactly whose
song it is. Because while Diz might court the indie buck with canny business sense, tonight shows that he’s finally realised that he’s got enough thoroughbred pedigree to transcend it. And as such, he needs Calvin Harris like he needs a snapped neck.