Paloma Faith - Wolverhampton Civic Hall

Poor Paloma. When she booked Wolves Civic, she was certainly not expecting a band called Dying Fetus (honestly) to be playing downstairs in Wulfrun Hall. How could a homegrown, Top 40-friendly pop diva possibly compete with such rebelliousness? On a Saturday night, no less.

As it turns out, odd choices threaten the show’s impact, none more so than the fact it’s a seated audience. Now, thanks to her clutch of popular ballads, her show is not exactly all-dance all-the-time – but her recent conscious effort to equal her slowies with upbeat tracks makes this decision a little baffling, especially as most folk are up and dancing on her command throughout. And did I mention it’s a Saturday night?

More problematic is the imbalance of new and old material; basically, there is no balance. ‘Picking Up the Pieces’ is the second song and is performed with gusto, but other than that there are no (none, nada) tracks from Faith’s first two albums. Sure, artists go out on the road to plug their new music, but the omissions – no ‘New York’, no ‘Upside Down’, no ’30 Minute Love Affair’ – lead to a feeling that the paying audience are being short-changed. At one point, Faith even addresses this choice head-on, claiming that when she tours in March 2015, she’ll be playing all the hits – but throwing in two or three familiar oldies this time would have, frankly, been courteous.

However, with the negatives addressed, I’m happy to report that Faith’s show(wo)manship wins out. Crucially, the gal’s good company; her gabby chatshow persona translates to the live arena, with between-song banter frequently tilting into comedienne territory. From politics to hospital drips, her choice of topics and accompanying one-liners emit chuckles and keep the audience on-side when it’s time for another unknown ‘bonus track’ to get an airing.

Dressed as what can only be described as a gothic Christmas tree ornament, Faith establishes the monochrome aesthetic of the staging, with her substantial backing players all dressed in black against a tiered white set stolen from Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’ video. A horn section is utilised well, and three female backing singers shine too – there’s even a cover from Oscar winner Twenty Feet from Stardom, a film that spotlights overlooked background singers. Unfortunately, a white baby grand feels like a missed opportunity, with no ‘Just Be’ or ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ in tonight’s repertoire. Speaking of covers, a Van Morrison duet with support act Brett Dennen and a rip-roaring ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ only further highlight the glaring absence of audience favourites from her own back catalogue.

Thankfully, the material from Perfect Contradiction is performed with Faith’s trademark firecracker flair. Her voice seems to be getting bigger and better, and it is perfectly matched to the new album’s blend of old-school funk and ’60s soul. Pre-encore closer ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’ isn’t ‘Back to Black’ but it has a good stab, and Faith’s voice soars in the final stretch. The finale, incorporating the number one Sigma collaboration ‘Changing’ and Pharrell party track ‘Can’t Rely On You’, is pretty awesome too, with a dancing audience to rival Dying Fetus’s army of moshing punks in the next room – but it’s a shame this sense of vitality and celebration comes late in the evening due to the awkward programming.

Props to Paloma though: a professional talent with a contagious cackle, who you’ll want to join you in the pub after the show – and every weekend thereafter.

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