Sean Paul, Wembley Arena, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

On the arena circuit, getting the artist to turn up is half the battle won. Last Thursday, Missy Elliott's European tour was cancelled days before it reached Britain, the promoters citing a shortage of tour buses. Given the vast logistics and interminable drives between identikit venues, who can blame her?

On the arena circuit, getting the artist to turn up is half the battle won. Last Thursday, Missy Elliott's European tour was cancelled days before it reached Britain, the promoters citing a shortage of tour buses. Given the vast logistics and interminable drives between identikit venues, who can blame her?

Sean Paul, though, has more to prove. Reggae's biggest star since Bob Marley was embarking on the first UK arena tour by a practitioner of its electronic offshoot, dancehall. With his business credentials evinced by a course in hotel management, Paul must have analysed the failure of predecessors Mr Vegas and Shabba Ranks to consolidate their initial success.

Although touring without a record to promote, Paul had attracted a sizeable crowd by appealing to a wide cross section of music fans. Their mix of colours and cultures reflected the make-up of London, but with an odd cultural apartheid. Pop kids in rabbit's ears stood at ground level, screaming at the support, Big Brovaz. The latter were engaged in a half-hearted attempt to appeal to a more adult audience while keeping their younger fans. Meanwhile, the older teens and couples looked down from the tiered seats.

Despite an entrance with minimum fanfare, Paul was instantly recognisable by his vast energy. A former athlete (he represented Jamaica in water polo), he constantly raced from one side of the stage to the other, violently pumping his arms. Whenever he called on the crowd to "Jump! Jump!", he jumped higher than anyone.

His captivating performance took in his 2002 global-smash album Dutty Rock, as well as rawer material from his previous collection of singles, Stage One. The crowd was ready to hear numbers from Paul's forthcoming record, and he obliged with songs that leant towards the fierce, chatting side of Dutty rather than its more melodic tracks. Intricate rhythms on the backing tracks showed where his innovation lay, aided by a powerful percussionist who was the only member of Paul's band to be in any way effective.

The rest of the four-piece could have backed Aswad in a pub, but they were ill prepared for Wembley's spacious vaults. The singer/toaster's two MCs were mere distractions, causing us to regret the absence of female vocalists for "I'm Still in Love with You" and "Can You Do the Work".

Paul highlighted the limitations of his own voice with an ill-judged cover of Marley and the Wailers' "Coming In from the Cold". He could have done better with Peter Tosh's threatening "Steppin' Razor", but the band turned it into an interminable dub workout, each member taking his turn to play a solo. The guitarist came forward first to play an intense squall, none of which reached our ears.

By then, Paul was flagging, his inability to climb the speaker stacks or run on the spot showing his reliance on energy to carry the show. An encore of his hits "Get Busy" and "Like Glue" showed he was starting to pace himself. But to succeed at an arena, it is not enough just to turn up.

Comments