Kylie Minogue, SECC, Glasgow <br></br> Subways, The Cluny, Newcastle

Is it my imagination, or is Kylie the sweetheart of the nation?
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The Independent Culture

'No emus were harmed during the making of this show." This is what it doesn't say in the official Kylie Minogue tour programme. Well, I didn't buy one, so I can't be 100 per cent certain, but if it did say this, it would surely be an outrageous lie.

As she struts out to "Better the Devil you Know", flanked by lavishly-winged dark angels, with her most famous asset obscured by a tail of blue and white plumage and a matching head-dress strapped under her chin, it becomes clear that Kylie's Showgirl tour spells avian armageddon.

The vegetarian in me shudders at the number of marabou storks, flamingos, peacocks and, quite possibly great auks who doubtless gave their lives to make this happen, and I begin daydreaming about the real reason why dodos died out Down Under.

But you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, as they say, and you can't replicate the Folies Bergère without ruffling a few feathers. The Showgirl tour has, as the name suggests, a distinctly Moulin Rouge feel, and the burlesque aesthetic continues through "It's in your Eyes" and the new single "Giving You Up".

Her admirable Victorian corsetry has already caused one of the red-tops to publish a story to the effect that she's trussing herself so tightly that she achieves a 16-inch waist, which in turn prompted Kylie to issue a solemn denial.

This kind of ostentatious fabulousness might, on the face of it, seem to be aimed at, shall we say, a certain section of society. And indeed, there is at least one spectacular (and equally feathery) drag queen in the SECC tonight - she draws massive applause when the cameraman picks her out - and plenty of well-groomed gym boys in tight vests, who lap up the hi-NRG intro tape of "Never Can Say Goodbye" by The Communards. There are also, however, plenty of twentysomething secretaries, mums and dads, and little ones.

Kylie Minogue is a great unifier, the nearest thing Britain has - oh, and let's stop pretending she's still Australian - to a Forces Sweetheart. It helps that (unlike Madonna) she has the decency to give the people what they want by playing the hits, and that (unlike Madonna) she sings live, so we get to hear every weakness and waver in her voice. She's a human, one of us, even if she looks too immaculate to be flesh and bone.

Give or take the omission of no fewer than eight of her chart hits, the Ultimate Kylie album would give any other singer's best-of a run for its money, and is a somewhat terrifying reminder of how long she's been around. Kylie Minogue has transcended so many eras now that the Showgirl tour inevitably has a retro feel. Sometimes it deals with this by shamelessly regressing, other times by recontextualising.

For example, the second phase wittily revisits the aciiiiid era, with dancers with day-glo tennis balls stuck to them, a pastiche of i-D magazine on the big screen (retitled k-M), and flashing smileys and CND signs, while Kylie sings a medley of her early Nineties material: "Shocked", "Step Back in Time", an anachronistic "Spinning Around", and "What Do I Have to Do".

The line "always inside my head, never inside my bed" stands out as the moment it all changed - when PopKylie became SexKylie - but, for all her dalliances with Hutchence and photoshoots with the Primals, there was something oddly unconvincing about it.

She may still be unspeakably beautiful in her late thirties (it's difficult, and somewhat galling, to contemplate the fact that Minogue is my age, and would have been in my class at school, sat in the back row with Paul Gascoigne, Richey Edwards and Brett Anderson) but, like a doll, she's oddly non-sexy. Watching her sing the ballad "Put Yourself in my Place", it occurs to me that rather than a Monroe figure, Minogue is more of a Piaf, a Little Sparrow articulating longing. Our feelings towards her are protective rather than lustful: we can't believe that all those horrid boyfriends are so mean to her.

The third phase is a heartache section, including her Pet Shop Boys duet "In Denial", "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi" and the deliciously dark "Confide in Me", during which a male dancer in eveningwear pursues Kylie through gas-lit streets, his attentions unrequited, until she submits, and the pair engage in some astonishing ballroom dancing.

The fourth section is wildly popular with the homos and hen-party types, beginning as it does with a silver-screen shower scene featuring four musclemen in nothing but Speedos, and moving to a locker room/gymnasium scenario with Kylie perched atop a pommel horse. Along with "Slow", she drops in a snatch of her magnificently morbid Nick Cave collaboration "Where the Wild Roses Grow".

For the fifth, she swings overhead, sat on a crescent moon, against a background of twinkling stars, doing her best Judy Garland on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". For a moment, separated from her dance troupe, she looks utterly alone, vulnerable. I wonder how it feels to be up there for two hours, and to know that every twitch is subject to scrutiny, every furtive glance will be noticed, and that if she catches her skirt in the mechanism, ten thousand mouths will laugh.

And lo, as she steps down from the moon, a piece of boa is snagged and left behind. Unfazed, she proceeds through "Please Stay", "Come into My Arms" and the impossibly slinky "Chocolate", and climbs onto a revolving wedding cake, which makes her look more doll-like than ever.

For the sixth and final act, it's back to the burlesque. This means an old-fashioned jazz version of "The Locomotion" (complete with high backed chair-dancing) and - gratifyingly - the proper versions of "Hand on Your Heart" and "I Should Be So Lucky". She's clearly overcome any hang-ups regarding her Stock/Aitken/Waterman anthems. "There's no bubble bath tonight I'm afraid," she quips during the latter (referring to its famously cheesy video).

There has, thus far, been a notable absence of "la la las". Nobody is fooled for a second. She encores, naturally, with "Can't Get You Out of my Head", which is quite simply one of the most perfect singles in the history of popular music: so perfect, in fact, that it inspired Paul Morley to write an entire book about it. Eat that, Madonna.

Ski-jump noses are the bomb. Cartoonists have always known this. And my god, does Billy Lunn know it too. The Subways' singer's girlfriend - and bassist - Mary-Charlotte Cooper has a ski-jump that could turn Eddie The Eagle into Matti Nykanen.

The teenage couple - whose sexual tension has had many critics comparing the Welwyn Garden City trio to a junior White Stripes - are the band's biggest selling point. The message "I can't believe how great my girlfriend is", which underlies almost every Subways song, certainly makes a refreshing change from the "Why haven't I got a girlfriend?" whine of the average indie band.

And in fairness, he's got a point. Cooper has already been pinpointed as an "indie sex symbol" by NME, who wittily put her on page three of a recent issue (a space which they habitually fill with rock totty).

The contrast between the pair is highly watchable. He (green retro T-shirt, jeans ripped at the knee, battered sneakers) is all bug-eyed, tongue-lolling action; she (sparkly black tank top, pleated mini-skirt, cowboy boots) is all nonchalant cool, apart from a few sudden sorties to charge at him with her bass.

There's something very Travolta/Newton John about it all. And this schtick has been enough to earn attention in high places. Quentin Tarantino is said to be a fan, Michael Eavis is calling them "the new Oasis" (thankfully he's wrong), and they've already been snapped up by Warners, who - after years of resting on their REM/Madonna/Chili Peppers laurels - have begun signing new bands again.

Aside from that angle, The Subways are fairly straightforward knockabout garage/indie/pop-punk, and there's occasionally something slightly Youth Club Talent Contest about Lunn's voice, which alternates between a Cobain rasp and a Gallagher whine (the latter evident on the line "I wanna know what you've got to sayyy").

I could blush and cringe for him when I hear verses like "You are the sun/ You are the only one/ My heart is blue/ My heart is blue for you", but then, that's exactly what I'd do if I re-read the unsent love letters I wrote at that age.

Kylie Minogue Showgirl tour: various UK venues (Bigmouth tkts 01159 934 169), to 7 May