Paloma Faith, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Thursday 01 April 2010
Paloma Faith descends, waving ochre ostrich-feather fans as celestial clouds light up behind her, to a chorus of "aahs" from her backing singers, like some heavenly burlesque deity. Until, that is, you notice her head-dress: an elaborate, ridiculous ensemble of sequined fruit. She's a 2010 version of Carmen Miranda, a cabaret performer for the Gaga generation (the fruit tops off towering scarlet heels and a canary-yellow catsuit).
Against the monochrome and mirror backdrop – and given Faith's background as burlesque performer and magician's assistant – you expect something thrillingly dramatic. But she takes a while to warm up. Her voice is both harsher and more powerful than on record; the over-produced smoothness is thankfully gone, but then so is a certain clarity.
Luckily, she's got the gift of the gab and soon has the audience eating out of her hand. "I'm looking for a gentleman to charm the pants off me," she declares, before getting Troy, a little lad who probably can't believe his luck, onstage to serenade him with the cloying "Romance Is Dead". She swings his hand: the crowd goes gooey.
A funky guitar solo covers a costume change, Faith re-emerging in a slinky, twinkling, black sequined floor-sweeper, to cover Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child". Her next cover is less homage than rescue mission. "This song is truly horrific," says Faith, before launching into a slowed-down, souled-up version of R&B nightmare, "Sexy Bitch" by David Guetta. Her version is actually pretty funny: she changes the lyrics to "damn, you's a sexy minx", reclaiming the song with a knowing wink.
Far from showing self-doubt, these covers see Faith's confidence grow (she also blasts through an unobvious Beatles track, "You Never Give Me Your Money"). Cabaret-inflected numbers, with tongue-in-cheek humour, are what Faith does best, although the heartfelt pop is what sent her up the charts and on tour. It's a highlight when the two come together on "Upside Down", probably her strongest album track.
At the end of "Play On", Faith falls to the floor, feigning a faint. But soon she's up again, ready for an encore in a red evening dress. Somewhere between manufactured pop starlet and cabaret act, she's all about style, performance, playful visual and aural homages. Faith might fall down, but you can be damn sure she'll get back up again as soon as the spotlight beckons.
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