MEN Arena, Manchester Friday, March 5
Paraded off the stage on two huge gold thrones, the reigning couple of pop chink champagne flutes and lap up the adulation after a world-shaking [b]‘Bonkers’/‘Smile’[/b] mash-up brings their co-headlining gig to a spectacular and fitting close.
Or, at least, it should have done. Anyone taking even a cursory glance at the suited-and-booted duo on the posters for this two-date love-in could have at least expected the pair to share a celebratory chorus or arm-linking curtain call. Not just because they have previous, collaborating on ‘Maths + English’ track [b]‘Wanna Be’[/b], but because at the moment Dizzee’s so obsessed with calculated collaborations that you have to wonder whether he’d record a version of [b]‘Summer Holiday’[/b] with Cliff Richard if it pushed him even further from his grime roots into the bosom of pop enormity.
But no, Lil’ and Dyl’ instead choose to share their stage with a pair of total chumps – the former roping in Britrap goon Professor Green for a d’n’b ‘Smile’ breakdown, and the latter bizarrely employing the services of a member of Popstars: The Rivals losers One True Voice (more on that later).
Frustrating missed opportunities aside, though, tonight’s show already has a pretty weighty significance as a snapshot of British music’s top table. Our hosts for tonight are on a similar plane, but heading in totally different directions – Lily soon to abdicate her queen of pop position to spend more time winding [a]Courtney Love[/a] up on Twitter (or, as she’s claimed, setting up a label, a charity and a vintage clothes shop), Dylan Mills looking every inch the king of all he surveys, with his sights set still further.
Tonight he plays with a dozen or so (mostly unnecessary) session players, including a guitarist probably borrowed from a Whitesnake tribute band and backing singer Daniel Pearce, a man who has suffered the indignity of losing out on two TV reality pop shows (Popstars: The Rivals and The X Factor).
If we’re honest, hard as it is to begrudge Dizzee his exuberant hen-night pop success, the results are a bit over-egged at times – ‘Pussyole (Old Skool)’ gets the brass section treatment, Whitesnake bloke fretwanks during every breakdown and an ill-conceived version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ just sounds a bit shit. Dizzee’s label, bank manager and new fans wouldn’t agree, but we still preferred the scowling MC with a chip on his shoulder.
Lily’s set provides frustration of a different kind – not, as on their subsequent London date, crowd punch-ups, but that she’s intent on taking a break from this sort of thing. Sashaying down a large Las Vegas-style staircase for opener [b]‘Everyone’s At It’[/b], leading the crowd through huge singalongs for [b]‘Smile’[/b] and [b]‘LDN’[/b], it’s all as effortless as it is impressive. If Dizzee needs any pointers on how to navigate the arenas without running up a huge bill with the Musicians’ Union, he only needs to have stuck around for his co-headliner. Playing with an understated backing band and minimal razzmatazz, she fills the stage with pure personality and some of the most loveable pop songs of the last decade. Maybe the only problem is she finds all this a bit too easy. Ending the set with a sassy [b]‘Not Fair’[/b], Lily tells the crowd she’s “off to get fucking lashed on Canal Street” – let’s hope that doesn’t end up being an apt metaphor for her musical hiatus. If pop’s loss ultimately turns out to be the tabloid press’, Soho private members clubs’ and The Priory’s gain, though, we really can’t wait for that third album in 2015…