Eliza Doolittle / Paloma Faith - Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Ignorance is short-lived if anyone’s unaware, before stepping into a crowded Civic Hall, just exactly who is supporting Paloma Faith on her current winter tour. Eliza Doolittle’s name is lit up in bright yellow lights on the venue’s main stage. Although she’s playing second fiddle, the number of bodies filling the Civic is suggestive of a clued-in crowd, one aware that the girl who had a hit with that 'Pack Up' song is playing warm-up. I won't be surprised at all if Doolittle herself will have matched Paloma's platinum status within six months, with her Top 10 album already spawning enough hit tracks to make it a potential stocking filler for many cheered by her cheery sound.
Tonight, she already strikes us as a seasoned and confident performer, letting her five-piece male band begin the intro to 'Missing' as a tease before she enters. Rocking her high-waisted denim shorts and polka dot blouse, her dark hair flowing down her back and shoulders, she certainly looks the part of the pop princess - but it's her voice and charming tunes that allow Eliza to pack a mightier punch than Pixie. Whistle-happy 'Skinny Genes' and 'Rollerblades' are laidback yet with a spring in their step, bringing a little sunshine to a Wolverhampton still adjusting to the clocks going back. The songs are given a slightly jazzier tinge to their recorded versions, thanks to Doolittle's talented band, but are unashamedly pop. Doolittle's voice, ringing out beautifully over the hush of an attentive crowd, lends weight to the witty lyricism that on tracks like 'Moneybox' and 'Nobody' is admittedly a bit Lily. We can forgive her for admitting that she hit the local HMV pre-gig and bought a Craig David CD because, with an acoustic take on 'Police Car' and a vocally impressive rendition of Aretha's 'I Never Loved a Man', she proves that talent can break through without the aid of Cowell and Cole. Given this, 'Pack Up's buoyant finale is even more celebratory.
Although Doolittle's performance is a victory for credible pop, headliner Paloma Faith takes top honours for theatricality. As the curtains roll back, it's clear from the offing that Faith's place in this business called Show was carved out for her from birth. Wearing an electric blue gown and feathered yellow head-piece, Faith is stood atop a white grand piano and belts out opener 'Play On' as her band provide the music at their marks on the elaborate stage. There's a fairytale tree, under which resides a bench, and a staircase that acts as centrepiece; inevitably, Faith makes the most of them, strutting about and inhabiting her playground in a way you can imagine Gaga might. Even the most faithless of naysayers cannot argue with Faith's stage presence, as she draws us in even during the debut album's filler, suggesting that should her fortunes as a pop star dwindle she'll never be without a spotlight.
Given it's under eighteen months since the flame-haired popstrel first hit Planet Pop, Faith must be commended for her trajectory so far. New songs debuted tonight, including the witty yet haunting ballad 'Just Be' and the boisterous 'Cellulite', which takes her sound in a dancier direction and could easily be this decade's 'Perfect 10', are fine additions to her repertoire and succeed Paloma's own 'clapometer' test, where enough applause equals potential inclusion on the next album. 'Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful' is a mid-set highlight, powered by an unmistakeable voice that in a live setting is in no way Wino-lite even when Faith reveals she's got the lurgy and is therefore a 'bit hoarse'. Although she lacks many Big Pop Hits, the familiar 'Upside Down' and 'Smoke & Mirrors' are well-placed in a set peppered with wise cover choices, including a splendidly sober, slowed-down 'Sexy Chick' (YouTube it, I dare ya!) and a rocking, X-rated 'Fuck You'. Faith is clearly having a ball, finding time to change into a red waistcoat and saucy black glorified underwear and frequently nattering with the audience about everything from politics to the pitfalls of attempting to mount a piano - to be honest, I could just listen to her oddball chatter all night and still come away without feeling short-changed. It's during the encore when Faith shows her true potential though; no, not during the predicted closer 'New York', a great big singalong that wraps up the night like a big warm hug, but during a blissful piano-and-vox take on 'moody genius' Nick Cave's 'Into My Arms'. Stripped down or plumed up, Faith's voice is a thing of dynamism and sounds like it's only beginning to be heard.