In 2001, Madonna's Drowned World tour sacrificed populism and the back catalogue on the altar of "edginess" and art. Although undeniably impressive, it prioritised spectacle over pleasure, and was hard to love. In 2002, Kylie Minogue's Fever tour proves that you can combine both approaches. The Fever tour is a High Art/Pop Art collision, a Stanley Kubrick meets Baz Luhrmann extravaganza. Oh, and she gets her hits out.
Before the show, the local media are full of stories that she's ill, that her throat won't last the night. It may turn out that the name of the Fever tour refers to more than just her latest album. In the event, you'd never guess there was a thing wrong with her. The frailties of the flesh – disease, ageing – are beneath Kylie Minogue.
A cryogenic pod rises from the stage, and splits to reveal the most famous arse in Britain. The show – apparently the kind of spectacular she's wanted to stage for years, but can only now afford – is divided into a series of theatrical acts, each with a different visual theme, and the first is cyber chic.
Dressed as a futuristic space vixen and surrounded by latex-clad dancers, she moves with mechanical, robotic jerks. For three songs – "Come Into My World", "Shocked", "Love At First Sight" – her imperious face is a mask of aloofness. It isn't long, though, before Cyber Kylie accedes to Smiley Kylie, the unnaturally mean mouth breaks into a beaming grin, and it's "Hello Cardiff, how are you doing?", and the Greatest Living Welshwoman is sending her love to her Welsh relatives, "the Joneses" (talk about hedging your bets...).
Act two is Droogie Nights, mixing Clockwork Orange with disco imagery, as Kylie and her ensemble, in black bowler, white overalls and riding boots, perform "Spinning Around" in front of an inflatable letter "K" straight out of the Korova Milk Bar. Then follows a more traditional section, all ballgowns and rose petals, and containing some of her more mature songs ("Finer Feelings", the wonderful "Put Yourself In My Place") and a cover of "The Crying Game".
It's a brief interlude of minimalism, before the show explodes into Technicolor with a sequence inspired by scratch/hip-hop culture of the 1980s. (Kylie wears a vest bearing the legend "Slim Lady"). There's a queasy incongruity between the garishness of the visuals and the gothic menace of "Confide In Me". It feels as though we've walked into a the video for "Buffalo Gals" or "The Message". Re-emerging in a cop uniform for a Robbie-less "Kids", she stalks around the stage after a male acrobat who has a marvellous contempt for the concepts of "up" and "down". "Lost? Jealous? Anxious? Desperate?" flash the words on the big screen, neon red, fast and semi-subliminal. "Call now for acceptance and satisfaction".
By the closing section, in which Kylie, by now kitted out in UV fetish wear from Cyberdog, reinvents her cheesy SAW hits ("I Should Be So Lucky", "Better The Devil You Know") as trance/darkwave/hard house anthems and references New Order in the remixed version of "Can't Get You Out Of My Head". During "Better The Devil You Know", I remember Nick Cave lecturing on the love song, in which he saw a certain human horror underlying this track: "Like Prometheus chained to his rock, so that the eagle can eat his liver each night, Kylie becomes love's sacrifical lamb bleating an earnest invitation to the drooling, ravenous wolf that he may devour her time and time again, all to a groovy techno beat." Glancing around at the waving lightsticks and bobbing Stetsons, I suspectI am alone.
Long before Sophie Ellis-Bextor became the Rhombus Face or Two-Bras Bextor of Popbitch lore, she was a regular, although probably under drinking age at the time, at Uncle Bob's Wedding Reception, a club where I was a resident DJ and where she was spotted for her first band. I always got along with her OK, until we fell out after I learnt that she'd been telling people I had "herpes", which mutated by Chinese whispers into "a hairpiece". (Or was it the other way around? I'm not sure which is worse). It was probably this which caused the unduly personal tone of my review of her Read My Lips album. In retrospect, this was ungallant.
Nevertheless, prior knowledge meant that I've never been able to take her entirely seriously as a sophisticated pop diva. We like our stars to arrive fully-formed from the heavens, and if we can see the strings, the spell is instantly broken. Consequently, when I look at Sophie in her Eighties ra-ra skirt, dancing as if she's hinged at the middle, there's something of the dressing-up box about it. You can picture her as a pre-teen, pretending to be Kylie in the mirror.
Sophie's selling point – remember her Real Posh vs Fake Posh tabloid battle with Victoria? – is the illusion of "class". The sub-Vuitton handbags at the merchandise stall speak volumes. It doesn't help, then, that a number of factors undermine the illusion.
For a start, we all know that Sophie herself if only first-generation posh, or at least first generation double-barrelled, the nouveau riche spawn of the foxiest ever Blue Peter presenter and a mystery Mr Bextor, who must have cheekbones like coathangers. Then there's the fact that her debut tour takes in slightly shabby halls like Leicester Uni, rather than the Royal Albert Hall. The irony is that Sophie became a proper pop star more by accident than design: she reportedly hated Spiller's "Groovejet", the song which made her a household name.
Her audible disdain, paradoxically, is what made it such a great pop moment. Pop, of course, is made of great moments, and her other treasurable song, "Murder On The Dancefloor", has one. It's the split-second after the Cher-like bridge, where the tension is released and it all rolls downhill back into the melody. Sung by anyone else – preferably someone who didn't make the line "gonna burn this goddamn house right down" sound so awkward – "Murder On The Dancefloor" would be a classic single. But, biting my serpent tongue, even I must admit that it is a classic single, by anyone's standards. Even from a pretend pop star like Sophie.
Kylie: NEC, Birmingham (0870 909 4133), Mon, Tue & Thur; MEN Arena, Manchester (0161 930 8000), Sat & 12 May; and touringReuse content