Mark Ronson and the Business Intl, Hackney Empire, London

He keeps producing the goods

Reviewed,Tom Mendelsohn
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:20
Mark Ronson
Mark Ronson

Mark Ronson has taken a bit of a critical monstering over the last year. Once the golden boy of modern pop, his star has since fallen significantly, and just about everyone seems to have had a go at him.

I'll admit, I expected to get my own knives out for the man. I did, at least, until I saw him.

Crucial to the Ronson rehabilitation is the lack of even a glimmer of brass. The songs he plays from his parp-infested covers album are all redone on synths, and everyone benefits. His own arrangements remain, but it is all so much less irritating this way.

The stage show is highly stylised, musicians positioned just so at keyboard stations at right angles to each other. Great pains have clearly been taken with the visual element. Guys – it's mostly guys – in tailored grey suits and white shoes, and girls in black. Silhouetted against the bold red-and-white geometry of the backdrop, it's tremendously striking.

Ronson himself stands at the back on a raised platform, like the benevolent king of the Business Intl. He's animated, his misguided bleach-job shining like a beacon to poor grooming decisions, but he is not centre of attention. The lights hardly fall on him, and his minions make all the running.

There's a quick DJ set halfway through. It's pure showing off, both for his impressive crossfading skills, and for his record collection. It's easy to forgive though, even if it does feature an undue amount of samples of people saying his name. The DJing segues into a segment during which band members perform solo numbers, again with Ronson as puppetmaster fiddling with his laptop in the background. The man is clearly at pains to show his humility – he's making it as little about Ronson as he possibly can. Is this the act of a man notoriously sensitive to criticism, doing his best to hide after all the mean words he's copped in the recent past? You couldn't blame him if it is.

It all proceeds quite amicably for the next hour or so, a tight group of talented musicians having fun playing songs of middling quality, before something quite momentous happens out of nowhere.

Three fifths of Duran Duran manifest themselves at the climax of the show. It's totally without fanfare, which makes it all the more bizarre. They're there to play Ronson's current single "Record Collection", but then they treat us to "Planet Earth" and "Girls on Film", which, when you think about it, is amazing, especially in a room containing fewer than 2,000 people.

Then Boy George saunters on for the encore, and the crowd basically pops. He may sound like Satchmo these days, and look like one of the elder Sopranos, but he does the business. Ronson, blond and impassive like a Teutonic overlord, remains aloof as though the whole of the 1980s hasn't just pitched up on his stage. But there's more! What celebrity treasure could top Boy George? What titan of performance? What legend of the golden age of pop? Kyle Falconer from The View.

He does a remarkable Winehouse actually, hair and all. Ronson remains at the back pulling the strings. If he knows how many expectations have been dashed, he isn't showing it.

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