After seeing this Arkansas trio perform the same live set for over two years now, it’s disappointing to hear Beth Ditto informing us that they will not be playing new material when she strolls out to three levels full of expectant faces in a packed-to-bursting Shepherd’s Bush Empire. The iconic vocalist looks as striking as ever tonight in a combination of figure-hugging, shimmering green dress, huge bouffant hair with dangling crimped ringlets and dramatic black eye make-up – an outfit conjuring up the spirit of Hairspray’s Tracy Turnblad. She hitches the frock up completely during blistering opener ‘Eyes Open’ before the band treat us to fiery versions of ‘Yr Mangled Heart’, ‘Coal To Diamonds’, ‘Yesterday’s News’ and ‘Fire/Sign’.
Gossip have toured their essential breakthrough fourth album to death – so it’s no surprise that on occasion these songs have less energy than when they first unleashed them on a hungry UK audience in 2006 – but what makes this act so special is that even when they’re not firing on all four cylinders, they still knock the socks off their peers performance-wise. Ditto roars, shrieks and shakes along manically to drummer Hannah Blilie’s thundering rhythms and engages in witty banter between songs while fashionably speccy guitarist Brace Paine gives the frequently-photographed frontwoman a run for her money in the stage-owning stakes, creeping, crouching and hopping from one foot to the other while dishing out bluesy, attacking riffs and squalling solos. The outfit also pay tribute to some of music’s most influential females as Ditto sings snatches of X-Ray Specs songs and quotes Nina Simone before unleashing their famously sultry version of Aaliyah‘s ‘Are You That Somebody?’.
Photograph by Tamsin Green
These references seem to be lost on the audience, however, the majority of whom are only interested in hearing that Skins song, an advertising campaign responsible for transforming Gossip from a cult act into a mainstream proposition last year. In fact, they barely pay attention to the first airing of infectious electronic-tinged newie ‘Eighth Wonder’ – complete with pulsing beats and samplers – and dance half-heartedly to the first encore of ‘Listen Up’, before the familiar opening thrash of ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ kicks in, its pulsing bassline sending shivers down spines and sending the Empire into a frenzy. Suddenly Ditto is nowhere to be seen, enveloped by the crowd as she pulls hundreds of people over the barrier to dance with the band. They swarm the stage and flail around wildly, providing a spectacular visual finale to a show which, despite its intermittent failings, still packs a well-placed punch in the belly of modern music.
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