'Biggest Sick Day Ever?", asks the headline on the Evening Standard. It's the day after New Year's Day, and central London is spookily deserted. A few miles north, one woman is putting malingering Londoners to shame. We may all be aware that breast cancer is no longer necessarily an automatic death sentence. Nevertheless, Kylie Minogue's 18-month "sickie" from her job as our finest female pop star has been gratifyingly and impressively short. And she's back to work with a vengeance.
As she rises up through the stage, dressed as a centurion if their uniforms were designed by gay Greeks not repressed Romans, the atmosphere inside Wembley Arena is more emotionally-charged than at any concert I can recall. Before romping into "Better the Devil You Know", she pauses on her hydraulic podium - for slightly longer than usual - smiles that foal smile, and crinkles her nose. She knows.
There's a little friendly banter about our New Year resolutions, and how we're feeling, before she's interrupted by somebody yelling "We love you, Kylie!" It's quickly followed by a spontaneous terrace chant of "Kylie! Kylie! Kylie!" She giggles, and wobbles slightly. "Stop! You'll make me lose my composure." From then on, every song, and every utterance, is greeted with exuberant roars of encouragement.
If Kylie had merely dusted down the costumes and rehashed 2005's abandoned Showgirl tour verbatim, nobody, in the circumstances, could have complained. She hasn't. At least 25 per cent of the Showgirl: The Homecoming tour is fresh. There are added songs, such as "White Diamond", written by the Scissor Sisters. There are new costumes, such as the new gold dream she sports for "Shocked", "Spinning Around" and "What Do I Have to Do?". Most impressively, there are new dance routines, such as the amazing puppet-on-an-invisible-string choreography for the Arabian-themed section which accompanies "Confide in Me". Elsewhere, there are peacock Pygar from Barbarellas, camp Cybermen, and an amazing array of wigs and hats (her still-regrowing hair being taken as an opportunity, not a hindrance). She's still setting the standard for pop spectaculars.
It would also have been all too easy for Minogue to milk the tragic gay-icon potential of her illness and comeback. She doesn't mention it at all, allowing certain songs ("I Believe in You") and lyrics ("did you believe I'd let you down?") to do the talking for her.
In case you suspect that this review is a sympathy vote, or that Minogue deals in insubstantial pop fluff unworthy of serious analysis, let me categorically state that you are a life-hating fool who nobody would ever want to spend Christmas with. When Paul Morley used "Can't Get You Out of My Head" as the starting point for a secret history of pop in Words and Music, in much the same way that Greil Marcus used the Sex Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun" as the starting point for a secret history of rebellion in Lipstick Traces, it was no ironic intellectual conceit. Leaving aside her Stock, Aitken and Waterman origins (and even they aren't completely without merit), Kylie Minogue makes music which could inspire empires, never mind launch ships.
Having been through the growing pains of Impossible Princess, the "serious" mid-Nineties album of which only the title track survives into this set, she realised that nothing is so soul-enriching and joy-providing as Great Pop, and nobody does it better. Since then, she hasn't put a tiny foot wrong. No unhappy Lucy Jordan ending for this late-thirtysomething.
When she encores with an impromptu - well, maybe semi-promptu - "Got to Be Certain", followed by an orchestrated singalong of "Especially For You", there isn't a dry eye in the house. As it says on the reverse of her Boy George-designed jacket, just above the "Where the Sun Shines" inscription on her famous rear, "Kylie's Back".
I shall interrupt the following review of Riders on the Storm with four pricelessly pretentious extracts from a Ray Manzarek spoken word show, in which he described his meeting with Jim Morrison on Venice Beach in 1965. You need to imagine them reading in sonorous, portentous, Carl Sagan tones to get the full flavour of Manzarek's hero-worship as he endorses (and enforces) the mystique of Morrison the poet-god. They're too damn funny not to share:
"I see this figure walking through the shore-break. The sun is setting, the light's coming behind him. So this guy is walking along, kicking up the water. And out of his feet are coming these diamonds, because the sun is hitting from behind, low and hard, and his feet are sprinkling these diamonds..."
I lived in Paris during the Bicentenaire of 1989 and, like every tourist of a romantic or bohemian inclination, visited Père Lachaise cemetery. The revulsion I felt, upon seeing Jim Morrison's grave, is something I will never forget. I eyed the student hippies in their Arafat scarves, camped out around Morrison's headstone, lethargically smoking their joints, and I knew that I never, ever wanted to be like them. (They didn't make me anywhere near as angry as the "I love you Morrissey!" graffiti all over Oscar Wilde's sublime art-deco sarcophagus further up the hill, but that's another story.) At the time, Jacques Chirac was mayor of Paris, and had ordered gendarmes to harass punks and other undesirables, lest they upset the sightseers. Consequently, I found myself subject to humiliating public bag-searches on an almost daily basis, and on one occasion was apprehended at gunpoint for painting my nails in the street. I found a grim irony in the fact that while France was celebrating its revolutionary past, it was busy cracking down on present-day dissidents. But perhaps this was predictable: chip away at a rebel and you'll frequently find a reactionary underneath.
Morrison, of course, being a case in point. A decade earlier, after perusing my dad's record collection, I'd precociously decided that The Doors were my favourite Sixties band, attracted by their vague air of transgression and menace. 10 years is a long time in pop, and by the time I surveyed the cemetery scene, I'd wised up and realised that Morrison was a walking cock, a wife beater, a himbo, and nowhere near the mystic poet he (or his followers) thought he was, celebrated chiefly for one emptily iconic crucifixion pose.
"...and he gets this really intense look on his face. And he grabs a handful of sand, and it starts streaming out through his fingers. Little rivulets of sand coming down, and he takes a deep breath, and begins to sing."
Let's get this straight: Jim Morrison was not the Baudelaire of his day. He was the Johnny Borrell. OK, I'll give him "Moonlight Drive" as a sensually Dionysian lyric. And there is some pleasure to be gained from The Doors' music, even a renamed revival version featuring two original members (bank balance dipped below $10m, boys?). As they amble into "Roadhouse Blues" at the site of The Doors' only mainland UK show 38 years earlier ("What a blast to be back," Manzarek coos), the trick, as with so much rock music, is to temporarily pretend you're slightly more stupid than you are. In this regard, it helps that the stand-in singer is The Cult's Ian Astbury, a king of dumbass gonzo rock'n'roll.
Oh, and don't believe for a moment that this tour signals the death knell to The Doors' remaining credibility: Oliver Stone did that for them back in 1991. There's even a plausible conspiracy theory that Stone is a secret Doors-hater (seriously, what was all that Red Indian nonsense about?), and that his biopic was a subtle hatchet job: with his gormless performance, Val Kilmer dealt as fatal a blow to Morrison's image as he later did to the Batman franchise.
"...and indeed there we were, standing on that beach in Venice, with the sun setting into the ocean, with our father merging into our mother, setting over Asia, and the globe of the planet."
Astbury's task, like Kilmer's, is essentially an acting job. In his shades, leather coat, huge belt buckle, kick flares and Cuban heels, he looks the part. The same cannot be said for the two originals. Ray Manzarek, with his red wool scarf (it's chilly out there), looks like a schoolteacher nearing retirement. Robbie Krieger, in sweatshirt and jeans, looks like the janitor.
The relative young 'un makes up for the creakiness of his seniors (although Manzarek's foot-up-on-the-keys stunt is impressive for someone with hips as old as his), falling to his knees, barking like a dog, freestyling bits of "Be Bop a Lula" when the mood takes him, grabbing Manzarek's arse during "Backdoor Man", and shaking like a cat on a hot tin shack. If you squint he could be the real thing, even if his pub singer howl is unmistakeably Cult.
The Doors' heavy blues rock, given a Latin groove via the organ of Manzarek, has its moments, and "Break on Through" is still one of them. More often, though, the show is made bearable by the bizarre spoken outbursts: Manzarek apologising for President Bush and calling for some group-therapy screaming, and Astbury rambling, "You might think this is the most masculine concert possible. Not so. It's a child's toy."
"...That moment, I realised what music was: it was transcendental. It was a place that elevated you above the ordinary reality, and allowed you to enter a state of vibration in which four guys all merged their energy and began to vibrate at the same wavelength and the same time and the same space. And it was divine, and it was sweet, and it was good."
By the time Krieger indulges himself with a flamenco solo, my plus-one has walked out. He's joined by many others. When the music's over, turn off the light.Reuse content