Air/Sean Lennon: Ritz, Manchester

SOMEONE ONCE said of Dylan’s Renaldo & Clara that, while it didn’t convince you that he was a great film-maker, it did confirm that he had seen some cracking films

Similar thoughts sprang to mind as we endured Sean Lennon’s warm-up set. A lick of Left Banke American pastoral here, a smidge of World Party or Galaxie 500 there, but all amounting to less than the sum of its parts. As an increasingly indifferent audience mused on the relative shortcomings of the nature-versus-nurture debate, Lennon Jr bull-in-a-china-shopped his way from hook to insubstantial hook.

His opening patter did little to endear him to the sceptics – a terse and possibly nervous bit of New York swagger that ended with, “So how many of you haven’t bought my wonderful record yet?” The hecklers at the back were only too happy to tell him, and as he launched into another of his paisley pop pastiches, the sound of a crowd talking noisily among itself was nearly embarrassing. Sean’s next conversational gambit, “Do you guys have hip hop over here?” effectively permafrosted the atmosphere, and elicited a mass ‘don’t patronise me, sunshine’ stare from the portion of the crowd who hadn’t already switched off. “Judas!” some wag shouted at the end. (But not many people heard me above the general hubbub.)

If, at the end of the day, he wants to be remembered for his music rather than his dad, then maybe Lennon Jr should try writing some middle-eights. Then again, if he wants to learn the difference between evoking the spirit of pop and merely Xeroxing it he should listen to tonight’s headliners.

When the spacious vistas of Air’s Moon Safari breezed into our lives at the beginning of the year many couldn’t decide if it was a new direction in post-dance music or simply a great pop record. On the evidence of their stage show, it’s both.

Augmented by Beck’s versatile backing combo, the Moog Cookbook, who piped them in with the five-note motif from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, messers Dunckel and Godin emerged from behind banks of old Korgs and Moogs to a rapturous welcome. Dressed in white, the entire combo looked like a cross between a millennial cult and the sperm in Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex. With between-song announcements being delivered through a Vocoder it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to be a nooding frownathon of a show.

Live, Air give wide-screen dynamics to the immaculate pop sense and subtle textures of their records. At times they sounded like a distillation of every great pop moment from the last 30 years (reviewer’s definition — a band that can remind you of Burt Bacharach and David Bowie’s ‘Speed Of Life’ within the same song.) The majestic sweep of ‘Le Voyage De Penelope’ and ‘Le Soleil Est Pres De Moi’ sounded even grander onstage, while ‘Bilitis’ sounded like a great lost ’70s theme tune, which indeed it is. Other highlights were the Giorgio Moroder-driven version of ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ and an electro-charged ‘Sexy Boy’, complete with tantalising snatches of Lipps Inc’s ‘Funky Town’.

Disappointingly, though, compared with their Drury Lane set the previous evening this was a slightly truncated set. For whatever reasons, singer Beth Hirsch didn’t venture up the M6, so we were deprived of ‘You Make It Easy’ and ‘All I Need’, not to mention that the anticipated encore of Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’ was denied us. Although we did get a clever little medley as new raunchy rock track ‘Be A Bee’ segued into ‘Sexy Boy’ via ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. The young masters bowed out with tender renditions of ‘La Femme D’Argent’ and ‘New Star In The Sky’, and a promise of a return visit with “new songs, new stage show”.

As we stepped out into the Manchester night gift-shop monkeys rained down out of the sky. Nice touch that.

© Rob ChapmanMOJO, January 1999

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