Lily Allen and La Roux - Birmingham 02 Academy
With arguably more column inches devoted to her than BRIT winner Florence & the Machine, all down to tonight's main attraction being such a big fan that she was handpicked to open this very tour, La Roux has a lot to prove. Her new single, In for the Kill, is receiving all the right kinds of airplay to make a dent in the charts so it's brave that she dispenses with it straight away. A sold-out venue is divided: there are the music lovers up front dying to hear the gal whose name is being dropped left, right and centre, and those who have heard but are more interested in getting the drinks in. Still, I'd find it hard to believe those with no interest haven't found themselves mumbling 'and not let go of myyy hand' under their breath at some point this week; no matter what you make of the high-pitched vocals - I think it's gonna be a take 'em or leave 'em situation - this is bold, creative pop done with flare. The flame-haired missy herself is an oddity on par with idol Prince but the warmth of her 80s-indebted electro is accessible and wins over those ready to be won and the indifferent. That's mostly down to the tunes themselves, one particularly memorable one sounding like Just Can't Get Enough-era Depeche Mode making babies with Hot Chip, although all the elements in play here could well gel into one of next decade's most vital UK female pop stars.
The new kid on the block having had her chance to back up the hype, it's time for the seasoned tabloid queen to hit the stage. National treasure? Gobby try-hard? Lyrical princess? Everyone has an opinion on Lily Allen, whether good or bad, and so it's apt that the opener to both her new album and the first major tour to support it is entitled Everyone's At It. The titular 'it' refers to drugs, of the pharmaceutical and Winehouse variety, but the frank lyrical stance Ms Allen takes on the topic takes a back seat in a live setting; turns out it's a slick little electro beast and serves no purpose tonight other than to get the party started. The dancier sound is new territory, done far less successfully on the later Back to the Start, and it's fun to hear this edge injected into her sunny pop. However, we're back on familiar territory with two more newbies, the slowie I Could Say undercutting any potential syrup with a good dash of venom in the same way that Alfie-alike Never Gonna Happen finds time for her trademark black wit among the primary coloured shapes of a jolly-sounding pop song.
Her delivery is as droll as ever (yay!) but it's about time the hungry crowd got something they can sing along to, prompting a snatch of Ronson team-up Oh My God and the eternally loveable LDN. Shame that the latter is cut short for an impromptu take on Dizzee and Calvin's Dance Wiv Me, Lily adopting a gig trick favoured by Brummy's very own Mike Skinner - that is, break up your own hits with a couple of choruses from recent chart big-hitters - and pulling it off quite well. Of course, she's made it clear previously that Skinner is one of the big inspirations for her songwriting and it's a pity that a handful of tracks from It's Not Me, It's You fail to shape their mundane concerns into anything resembling clever. The biggest offenders are Chinese and the aforementioned Back to the Start, although the former goes down a storm when I was expecting a lull (seriously, it's rubbish) and simply suggesting that its 'poetry' hits a nerve with teenybopper girls crushing on the boy across the road. Thankfully, He Wasn't There, which Lily dedicates to daddy Keith, shows off not only a surprisingly strong voice atop a minimal backing but also a previously unchecked - and unexpected - penchant for showgirl jazz.
Of course, it's during the more uptempo numbers and familiar hits when the night hits its numerous peaks. When it's clear Allen is having a ball, bouncing around in her floral patterned, low-backed tight mini-dress as seen on ASOS (you've gotta love attending gigs with female mates!) and chugging a pint of cider, you're most likely having a ball yourself. Take Not Fair's hoedown playground chant, which I never warmed to on record but is a complete blast here, doubly impressive seeing as it follows a sultry Littlest Things, easily matching Dry Your Eyes for pathos every single time. Alas, it's her love - nay, hate - letter to, as she informs us, the BNP and George Bush that plunges us into the post-show, pre-encore hinterland chants of 'LILY! LILY!'; Fuck You is effing glorious, a big daft - and, of course, X-rated - ball of sunshine on the sometimes-dreary album and, apparently now, the perfect set-closer.
Maybe, come album number three, it will be encore material. 2009 is the year where Smile, three years after the fact, raises its now perfectly stylised head and prompts young attendees to sing along, not a single beat missed, to the line '...but you were fucking that girl next door'. Class. Inevitably, The Fear follows and is pulled off with relative aplomb but the complete un-inevitable choice that follows is the night's crowning moment. After a blast of Kid Cudi's Day N Nite sends a shockwave through the Academy, the siren clarion call of a recent mega-hit rings out. No - it can't be. Can it? 'Superstar...' And so launches the moment that a host of young girls are probably still OMFG'ing about two days later: Lily Allen performs Britney's Womanizer. All I can say is, I know who I'd prefer to be singing - yes, Britters, that word was 'singing' not 'miming' - it. Who needs global pop puppets when we've got our own, very British variant eager to please?