Mark Ronson - Birmingham Academy
So, he's a super-producer who DJ'ed at Tom Cruise's wedding and invited a bunch of celeb pals to guest on his album of superstar covers BUT does Mark Ronson's act work in a live setting? Before this question can be answered, a packed-out Brum Academy has to first wonder whether support act Ali Love can pull the whole live thing off. Fronting a five-piece band, Love struts on stage looking very much like the kind of unremarkable faux Topman model you might encounter at your town's local wine bar on a Saturday night. He dances like it too. However, this guy ain't bad. The likes of Late Night Session and Secret Sunday Lover, whilst being undeniably disco-lite (think Just Jack, only without the laid-back raps and perhaps a bit more pop pazazz), are also slinkily funky in a way that makes this support slot with Ronson an ideal fit. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he and Ronson team up in the future, much as Love has already done to winning effect with Chemical Brothers, his guest-spot on Do It Again causing many a crowd member to realize 'ooh, it's that guy' when a snatch of the track is performed midway through the set. However, a brief set cannot disguise the fact that he is a bit of a one-trick pony; perhaps if he works with the right people and attends a few more charisma classes, this gentleman will become one to watch.
Of course, Mark Ronson himself was 'one to watch' at the start of this year after producing two of last year's biggest hitters, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse respectively. Version, his second album after a previous low-key release, has been embraced and dismissed quite equally, many a purist being almost personally offended by this hotshot's choice of acts and songs to cover almost as much as by his choice in who was to cover them. Perhaps, then, catching Ronson on tour is less likely to offend those who aren't partial to his A-list vocal reworkings. There's no Winehouse, no Allen, no Robbie Williams or his awful take on the Charlatans, thank God! There is, however, Stop Me's Daniel Merriweather. I'm still not decided whether this is what contributes to the half of the gig that genuinely works or the half that feels like a succession of missed goals.
This ambivalence is something I really regret, especially as Ronson throws himself into the fray with much zeal and professionalism. Launching with a jam that transforms into a vocal-free Apply Some Pressure, it is a move that draws focus away from the guest stars and toward the music itself. However, while it is a commendable move, no Paul Smith means it is a pretty pointless exercise, despite the ten-piece band working their stuff - special mention must go to the three guys with horns and former Jamiroquai bassist, Stuart Zender. The show, as it must, goes on, bringing with it successes and failures. Phantom Planet's Alex Greenwald proves to be the biggest hit of the night, providing vocals on his track Just (yep, that Radiohead cover that I still think is utter genius despite its critical slating) and, bizarrely, an impromptu mass singalong rendition of his band's O.C. theme tune, one California. However, the rest of the vocalists fare less well. The woman who tackles Oh My God and Valerie is likeable enough but lacks the personality that the studio versions' mega-stars have in abundance, despite the Winehouse cover of the Zutons being a joyful crowd-pleaser here and escaping the weirdly soulless shackles of its recorded version. Needless to say, a potentially great You're All I Need to Get By is marred - nay, ruined - by a mob of white-boy rappers that spit lame verses, and Merriweather's performances, despite him being equipped with a soulful voice and singing us his passable debut single proper, feel perfunctory.
The fact of the matter is that, while he undoubtedly gets the crowd going and postures effectively enough behind his guitar, Ronson is simply not a pop star. By opting for relative unknowns to do the vocal work on tour, he has only drawn more attention to the fact that Version is an album that relies on its big guests and that, without them, the cuts are not much more than star-free Radio 1 Live Lounge covers. All that said, Ronson still manages to evoke a party atmosphere that is a winner, although whether this is to do with the quality of the songs or just a familiarity with them, aided by copious amounts of the venue's sponsor Carling, is still a riddle. Maybe if he chooses to do a Timbaland, producing original songs with the aid of his super-duper guests for his next 'solo' album, he might go from being merely 'good' to proving just what all the hype was about.