Gossip - Birmingham Academy
Not since I caught my first Scissor Sisters gig back in 2004 have I seen such a pick 'n' mix audience. Some bands just have that special ingredient that unites the young and old, the straights and the gays, the conservative types and full-on liberals. They're all out to play tonight, and it's no big surprise when the band they've all come to see is the definition of non-conformist. Gossip's Beth Ditto needs no introduction; she's a lady who, due in no small part to her body type and quirky upbringing, has crossed over into mainstream consciousness, pretty effortlessly gaining as many column inches as superstar Kate Moss. The red-top press tend to look over Ditto's most striking attribute, though: that voice.
Before all in assembly can be treated to Ditto's vocal powerhouse, the night kicks off with an act that actually makes Gossip look conventional. No Bra is an androgynous performance artist, raising eyebrows immediately, walking on stage sporting a very real moustache despite owning a pair of very real breasts - apparently, this one's been schooled in the way of Ditto and forgets to wear a top sometimes when hitting the stage. Forget the 'X factor', No Bra seems more focused on employing the shock factor. Distressingly so. Spouting melody-free monologues, which vary rarely deviate from topics such as cock, anal sex and, well, sex in general, over electronic backing tracks, No Bra is met with embarassed silence from most of the crowd. The ones who bop along obviously dig this proposed 'art' but I was just baffled. There's no doubting the verses she (he?) mumbles have a certain poetic structure to them so it's a shame all that's spouted is rubbish about golden showers. Controversy for the sake of controversy? Not since Selfish Cunt has there been such a self-indulgent twerp so desperately sticking two fingers up to the establishment.
Sandwiched between this bloody anvil to the head and the main act, second support act Panther seem relatively tame, 'seem' being the operative word. Claiming they are would be an injustice to the male duo's pogoing ants-in-pants pop. They could be ones to watch, their beat-driven party tracks sounding like a bubblegum Shy Child and allowing frontman Charles to bounce around the stage like an 11-year-old with ADD.
Luckily for paying gig-goers, the main attraction is worth the decidedly bizarre wait. Wearing a tight-fitting blue dress, Beth Ditto is greeted with rapturous applause - the kind generally reserved for musical icons, which just goes to show how much of an impression she's made these past few months - as she joins her bandmates, bassist and drummer, onstage. As they open with ramshackle performances of a new song (you've gotta have some balls to open with a newie) and Yr Mangled Heart, the only song on the album that very nearly outdoes that other song, it dawns on me how odd it is that this band who are often lumped in with all the nu-raver Klaxons types are devoid of synths. Indeed, Gossip are entirely free of any production thrills concoted on a laptop, a point driven home by their live show. It's still dance music but bare-bones dance music, the rhythmic bass and drums providing an unfussy backdrop for Ditto's astounding voice. She really is amazing, no matter what one may think of her media persona or, in fact, her onstage persona: I count at least two instances when everybody's favourite squirrel eater belches, unapologetically, into her mic. Better out than in, right?
Well, that old stand-by certainly holds water when it comes to Ditto's voice. She sounds like an angstier Tina Turner on the no-holds-barred power anthem Keeping You Alive, puts George Michael in his place as her band cover Careless Whisper, and demonstrates masterful control on the stirring slowie Coal to Diamonds, where smoky dragon lady blues don't get in the way of her letting rip when the song's momentum builds. Throughout, the crowd seems to react in either one of two ways: frenzied hands-in-the-air adoration or, surprisingly, the kind of shoe-gazing (complete with patented head-bob) usually reserved for Embrace gigs. It may seem sacrilegious that such a funky band are met with such a response; however, the vibe I get from these peeps is one of amazed stillness, as if Ditto's energy and vocal talent has rooted them to the spot in shock almost. By the time the set's closer comes, though, everyone is dancing - oh, and Beth is down to her panties and bra. It's not everyday a song like Standing in the Way of Control captures the heart en masse, and judging by the reception it receives tonight (smiles all round, phones in the air sharing the moment with friends, an all-out moshpit at the front), this song will live on for years. Would it be a stretch to say it's this generation's Blue Monday? Maybe but, as the swift encore jam of Listen Up! finishes things on a truly feel-good note, it's obvious that Gossip are, at the very least, doing something right in the here and now.