Lily Allen: Somerset House, London ***

The queen of MySpace and Twitter struggles to make herself heard in the real world.

BLIMEY, the pop stars of today, eh?

Lily Allen had barely got onstage before she was confessing to the crowd how great it was to be back home after so much back-breaking touring — three whole weeks of it!

Bands used to go on the road for years. But Allen is a creature of Twitter and MySpace, involved in a perpetual mesh of interaction with her fans and anybody else who cares to log on, so emerging from the virtual ether to play actual gigs at a given time and place probably seems like a cruel hardship. Even though she didn’t have to stand out in the rain with the rest of us.

It’s certainly strange to hear her perform her songs with a bunch of real-time musicians rather than the studio-processed samples and effects which adorn her recordings. Stranger still is the way the glottal-stopping brat who narrates the songs turns into Joanna Lumley when she talks to the crowd. Meanwhile, her band lend the music a beefy physicality which brings mixed results. Their thumping syncopations and blustering climaxes in ‘Oh My God’sounded like out-takes from a Kings of Leon show, but on the extended version of ‘Not Fair’ which climaxed the show they hurled themselves into its rollicking Morricone-meets-Johnny-Cash riff like Ian Dury’s Blockheads. As for ‘The Fear’, they cranked it up into a massive foot-stomper instead of the mere toe-tapper you’ve come to know and love, while Allen twirled around the stage in her see-through camisole.

Snag is, Lily’s voice is too slight and wispy to withstand all this wattage, and chunks of her lyrics kept disappearing beneath the bass and drums. This was unfortunate, because her songs rely on snappy rhymes and caustic observations rather than big tunes, so if you can’t hear the words it’s like karaoke night with no singers. Still, it was no great hardship not to be able to hear much of her ponderous drugs diatribe ‘Everyone’s At It’, which seems to wag a finger at everybody simultaneously, and I doubt she’d get many complaints if she axed ‘Him’ (the one about God) altogether.

She fared better on ‘I Could Say’, accompanied mainly by piano and pseudo-strings, and band and singer found a comfortable rapport in the funky, reggae-inflected ‘Smile’. Probably best of the lot was ‘He Wasn’t There’, about her actor-father Keith. With the band throttled back to piano and acoustic guitar, Allen at last had space to show that she can sing and not just warble.

© Adam SweetingDaily Telegraph, 13 July 2009

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