Few pop stars lay bare their mental frailty with Kevin Rowland’s unsparing detail, or find a cure as reliably in their own music. Dexys’ fourth album, last year’s One Day I’m Going To Soar, somewhat tardily followed up 1985’s misunderstood masterpiece Don’t Stand Me Down, and describes a lifetime of broken self-esteem, giddy hubris and failed grasps for love.
The accompanying stage-show has already outgrown it. Running through the album as a theatrical piece, the current Dexys also draw on an epic band history on a level with The Smiths and The Clash. On the first night of nine at this West End theatre, they play for over two hours, and feel like they’re just getting started.
They begin with a piano overture in the dark. The theatre’s lights and shadows and the lush folds of its curtains are used throughout, Rowland at first a sharp-suited silhouette strutting across the stage.One Day I’m Going To Soar’s first songs set out his autobiography as an unsatisfied Black Country Irish dreamer. “Me” takes us deep into the warring demons in his head during the pop star years of “Come On Eileen”, where “people don’t seem to like me…they want to hurt me”. This ends in a play-acted explosion of violence towards long-serving trombonist Big Jim Paterson, in the thankless role of an effete 1980s scenester. Letting these paranoid voices inside him out links Rowland to so many similarly suffering listeners.
Actress Madeleine Hyland plays the ideal of beauty sought then abandoned over five songs, first glimpsed as a gowned goddess smoking on a chaise longue, but soon having earthier dialogues with Rowland. By “Incapable of Love”, this melodrama has ended in her tears. In truth, it doesn’t stand up as well as what follows: “It’s O.K. John Joe”, a monologue of suicidal solitude, sung in front of a blue curtain to bluer-sounding piano and violin.
“Well,” Pete Williams, Rowland’s stage foil and co-singer these days, considers, “we couldn’t leave it like that, could we?” And so Dexys’ music redeems Rowland and us, a blast of soulful brass and Celtic violin that surges through a last act of old songs including “Geno” and “This Is What She’s Like”, his ultimate shaggy dog story of inarticulate, unsatisfiable longing. “You know, it’s never enough,” he sings over and over. For tonight, though, it is.