Fantastically free speech

Reviews are tough little babies. Especially when you desperately want to talk about one particular issue but pretty much know you can’t. This not because you’ll get pilloried, but because you suspect that it would seem rather odd to many. Last night I went to see Mel C, mainly through curiosity, in order to review the gig. This is what I wrote:

Mel C – The Sea Live Tour at the Concorde 2 – *** 1/2

On this, the last night of her whistle-stop tour of the UK, Mel C struts out onto the crowded stage of the Concorde 2 amid the smoke and lights as if she were still at Wembley: the audience cheer and hold their digital cameras aloft in 21st century salute. She runs through her ballad-heavy roster of hits, and everything is slick, professional and bang on the money. And there’s the rub.
While Mel herself looks every inch the tweezered pop diva, rather than the rock goddess she aspires to be, with moves honed in her stadium pop days, it would be unfair to criticise her simply because she happens to have been a member of one of the most successful manufactured bands of all time. The fact of the matter is that underneath all the slickness and professionalism, the crowd-pleasing, the girl can sing.
But something’s missing. The songs – solid, professional, write-by-numbers affairs – are ok, and the band’s performance is pristine. Mel deserves better. The show lacks that sense of danger you get when the performers really want it, and the audience never lose themselves in the moment.
Mel C has the voice, and the chutzpah, but all her rock and roll intentions will fall by the wayside until she allows herself to cut loose, and hires a band not of hardened pros, but of young bloods full of rock and roll spirit. The audience get what they paid for, but it could have been so much more.

I’m not going to bang on about the ubiquity of free journalism, how of the (adds it all up) seven thousand or so words I have committed to the aether, or, indeed, the print medium, this year, just over half have been paid for. That means I’ve done three and a half thousand words of freeness. That’s five or six pages of copy. For nowt. One review I did last year (the play was truly awful) met with patronising approbrium from some commentator who chose instead to believe someone who not only can’t have seen the same play as me, but also got some basic details wrong. Why? Because a review now is a thumbs up. Hyperbole is the base level of criticism – just like for Ofsted, satisfactory actually means poor. I wonder where they went to school … but now that everything’s awesome, incredible, breathtaking … there’s no way to really praise anything. Certainly this rash of freebies has led to some truly awful writing which seems to get published simply due to its being available to fill up space. It’s a little like how the innovations of the CD and DVD, which allowed for more music/video to be packed in that peole panicked. They saw space, and decided it needed filling. Sadly, the extra stuff invariably has no right being released whatsoever.
So, what am I writing about? Lacunae in the stead of redundancy.
Mel C is a pretty good singer. Her band just won’t let her sing. They’ve been with here for years, by all accounts, and all seem like accomplished players. The problem is not the hoary old ‘technique vs feeling’ tosh, but more of the wrong horses for courses, and a fundamental problem with the audience experience. Audiences simply don’t seem to realise that CD quality gigs are missing the point. Last night it took me about four songs before I realised there were two guitarists. Frank Zappa once said that the guitar is the only instrument capable of obscenity. Last night the guitars were PG. Actually, that’s bollocks … they were 12A. Or whatever. When Mel asked if the audience were ready to rock, I groaned. Out came a neutered, thin facsimile of Nirvana.
Mel C plainly doesn’t need the money, so why all this plastic slickness. I’m willing to bet that given the right band, she really would kick arse … it’s a pity she’ll never put herself in that sort of danger.

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