NME Radar Tour, Koko, London
David Gest: My Life! HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London
The NME's Radar Tour would not be the first place to dig for treasure, but it throws up the odd diamond, David Gest, meanwhile, mixes soul'n'cringe
Sunday 18 October 2009
Young Americans in checked shirts ain't what they used to be. Twenty years ago, plaid-clad slackers would have worn their hair long and played guitars, but pop's eternal spiral has turned 180 degrees since then, and Yes Giantess – 2009's exemplars of the tartan-attired breed – wear their hair short and do their headbanging over Korgs and Rolands.
The average YG song involves multiple synth arpeggios, ultra-optimistic melodies, pained emo-ish vocals from Disney-cute singer Jan Rosenfeld, irresistibly danceable beats, co-ordinated handclaps and 1980s success rock riffs.
Attending a package tour put together by a corporate music rag isn't the most reliable way of encountering excellence, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and the opening act on the NME Radar Tour is a revelation.
Local Natives have a singer who looks like Captain Webb, the moustachioed gent who swam the Channel, and a bassist who's scarcely any less Victorian. I've now told you the sole passably interesting fact about the Los Angeles band and their utterly unremarkable landfill indie with Fleet Foxes harmonies grafted on, and whoever booked them for the tour has croissants for ears. You want more? If you insist. One of them whips out a ukulele at one point, and half the backstage liggers join them to bash things for the final number. Whoopee. Next.
Girl's Name and the Somethings ... that sounds familiar. Marina and the Diamonds appear only a few months since Florence and the Machine opened another NME tour, but that's where the similarity ends. Welsh-born Marina Diamandis honours her heritage by taking the stage dressed as Shaun the Sheep, attempts a Siouxsie yodel over her band's jaunty ska-pop and Dresden Dolls-ish cabaret-rock and falls slightly short, essentially making her Hazel O'Connor (albeit easier on the eye).
Headliners Golden Silvers are already doing nicely with their SFA/MGMT psych-pop, and don't need the help. If there's any justice, the phenomenon of bottom-of-the-bill band hitting the greatest heights will strike once more.
David Gest's celebrity is so flimsy that one fancies it could be demolished with a gentle prod. He entered the public eye in 2002 with his 16-month marriage to Liza Minnelli, which ended with him trying to sue her for abusive behaviour. This precarious foothold on fame he managed to trade up, via a fourth-place stint on I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! to the stage where he's something approaching a household name.
That takes a genius of sorts, but not a pleasant one. The concert promoter's personality is revealed by the title of his latest package tour, David Gest: My Life!. Essentially a rolling revue of old soul stars, he could have called it Classic Soul Revue, with his name discreetly above the title. But no, it's all about him and his monstrous ego.
He comperes the show, making awful knob jokes. As he swishes about in his tailcoat, he's followed by a pair of dwarfs whose sole purpose seems to be to make him look tall.
There are some undeniably shiver-inducing moments. Billy Paul sings "Me and Mrs Jones". We also get Percy Sledge for "When a Man Loves a Woman", Ben E King for "Stand By Me", Candi Staton for "You Got the Love", and sets from the Temptations and the Stylistics. Best of all, I've lived to see Jimmy Ruffin sing his existential soul epic "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?", which even the tawdry context cannot diminish.
There's an equal number of cringe-inducing moments. Gest keeps introducing celebrities of questionable import in the front row. For example, he introduces "a great footballer from Newcastle – Mr Rob Lee!". See also Vanessa Feltz ("She works for the BBC!"), Matt Willis ("He was like my son!") and Tito Jackson (OK, no complaints there). In the lobby I see people queuing to photograph Chico.
When Gest plays up his Jacksons connection, the cringe-ometer hits the red. A clip of the host interviewing Michael is titled "Two Best Friends Talk". Sadly, the singer isn't around to confirm whether the bezzy-buddies feeling was mutual, but any misgivings are drowned out by all-star rendition of "Human Nature". David Gest has excellent taste in music. But you wouldn't wanna be his therapist.
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