It all started with that Bugsy Malone cover. Two of Britain's most colourful musical characters – Dizzee Rascal and Lily Allen – first collaborated on Rascal's third album with a grime rendition of the cult film's "So You Wanna Be a Boxer". Three years, two Brit awards and numerous hit singles later, the artists, both now 24, met again for a live spectacular to celebrate just how wonderful they are – Rascal, a Brit winner and national treasure; Lily, a Brit winner and tabloid obsession.
Playing a few miles from Bow, where he came up through Britain's hip-hop ranks, the "Bonkers" rapper couldn't have faced a more mainstream pop audience – largely white, middle class and far from the grime crew of his early days. But kicking off with the sharp beats and pounding bass of "Bad Behaviour" and the tense urban poetry of "Sirens" ("1 to the 2 to the 3 to the 4/ Limehouse police knocking at my door/ 12 black boots on my bedroom floor"), it was clear Rascal planned to give no quarter.
With the edgy "Fix Up, Look Sharp", swiftly followed by his signature "Jus' a Rascal", an electric Rascal sent his fans bouncing off the walls. Then a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" injected a dose of stadium rock, before the rapper climaxed with a fever pitch "Holiday" and a pyrotechnically enhanced "Bonkers".
Joined on stage by an energetic brass section (you rarely see a saxophone player holding their instrument aloft as they mosh out to Nirvana), Rascal may have given some cause to wince at the sexual frankness of his rapid raps (there were many families with children in the packed-out venue), but his music, now happier than his earlier rhymes, remained infectious, his future as a international rap superstar secure.
A tired Lily Allen, a swathe of glittery make-up her only concession to her showgirl roots, seemed more likely to infect the audience with a bad case of nasal wailing as she played what she said was her last London gig. Not the feisty star of last year – even allowing for a recent bout of bronchitis (surely not helped by the cigarette she was seen illicitly puffing at her Manchester gig two days before) – she failed to impress. "Everyone's at It" and "LDN" were delivered without gusto and with a failing and lonely voice, as all but her biggest fans started to talk among themselves.
Only a fight in the audience injected drama, as a ludicrously high-heeled Allen tottered off the stage in tears. Screams of "Lily, Lily, Lily" brought her back: "There's nothing I hate more than that kind of violence, it's sick and you should be ashamed of yourself," she lectured before continuing.
"I Could Say" and "The Fear" were fine enough but made little impact, even as she descended amid a cloud of smoke into the raised stage before her encore. A glittery costume change later, and the singer was finally energised, belting out a cover of "Womanizer" before dedicating – to the arena's delight – "Fuck You" to "Mr David Cameron". Her finale, an extended drum'n'bass version of "Not Fair", the tale of a lover who disappoints in the bedroom, was for the girls as she showed signs of her normal cheeky self by suggesting the boys head out "to bring the car around".
But, bar these brief moments, Allen didn't look like she was enjoying herself. And with her recent announcement that she's taking a break from music to launch a fashion label, her fans can only hope her eventual return (she's already announced she's playing this summer's Wireless festival) sees a renewal of the energetic wordsmith back to her witty and ska-tastic form.Reuse content