Pop: Ant & Dec Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
The cult of Ant & Dec announced its presence in the only way it knew on Friday night, taking the form of a wailing scream that rose up from the auditorium and threatened to lift the roof off. Yes, the Geordie twosome were here, and actually playing live! When TV's Ant & Dec took to the stage they managed to convince this mostly teenage audience that the Royal Albert Hall was a familiar stamping ground of theirs. They even had a proper band, unlike the four support groups who had preceded them, and who had to make do with taped backing tracks. Ant & Dec's fans patiently endured a succession of 20-minute showcase sets, each consisting of the same prefabricated mix of singing, footwork and sexiness. They were kind enough to produce some secondary screams for possible future stars. Then at last the wait was over, the coloured lights began flashing, and suddenly the headliners were there on stage, dancing in drape coats and touching outstretched hands.

Ant & Dec began their act with the spy-thriller disco song "Better Watch Out", flanked on either side by dancers who struck James Bond-girl poses and sang the tinny descending chorus "na, na, na, na" (or possibly "la, la, la, la"). Next came their cover version of The Monkees' most famous B-side, "(I'm not your) Steppin' Stone". Good call. Neither Ant nor Dec may have possessed the soulful delivery of Mickey Dolenz, but they amply made up for the deficit by singing in believable American accents.

The joint was soon rockin' and jumpin'. Ant bowed out (more screams) while Dec took centre stage (yet more) to sing "Game of Love" (a hit for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders way back in 1965). Ant happened to remark that this was Dec's "favourite karaoke song", at which point discerning members of the audience were struck by the thought that the whole show was a piece of cunning satire on the state of pop music. But, no, the next moment Declan was strumming an acoustic guitar while Anthony sang "Shout", a proper contemporary song with a loping bass line and a strong tune. This one could have been sneaked into any number of "serious" albums by "real" bands and no one would have known the difference.

They followed up with "Crazy" and the powerhouse "Masterplan." The unzipped boys from Channel 4 encored with "Falling" and "When I Fall in Love" before their arm-waving fans finally allowed them to leave the stage. They'd dominated with a record-breaking 75-minute performance. In years to come, those who saw Ant & Dec at the Royal Albert Hall that night in 1997 will be able to look back and say, "I was there".

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