A Perfect Confection: Kylie Live At The Old Blue Last, By Simon Price
, February 14th, 2014 07:41
Last night, Kylie Minogue swept into the intimate confines of the Old Blue Last in London for a short performance to launch her new single Into The Blue (see what they did there?). Simon Price was on hand to ram into your heads once again the fact of Kylie's pop genius
"It's like every Thursday down the pub," she understates with practised coyness, those famous teeth momentarily shining brightly enough to outdazzle the forest of phone screens, "isn't it?"
Prince isn't the only doll-sized pop legend who first broke through in the 80s to be playing secret gigs in London this month, and the upstairs bar of The Old Blue Last is surely packed tighter than it's ever been on a school night, even in the glory days of EC2/N1 fifteen years ago.
The invite-only crowd, milking the Parlophone-paid bar for all it's worth, comprise a smattering of walking-work-of-art drag queens, including one who badly wants to be Jodie Harsh (and might actually be her) and one who even more badly wants to be Leigh Bowery (the latter's outfit taking up enough space to accommodate four more punters), an inevitable contingent of local sockless Edwardians and a few freeloading journo scum like me, but mainly ordinary folks in their 20s and 30s who are completely in love with Kylie Minogue.
'Love' is the word, and it's an interesting one here. Is there anyone in the world who genuinely doesn't at least like Kylie Minogue? As a person, I mean (regardless of her music). People who don't necessarily enjoy listening to her records nevertheless warm to Kylie in a way they simply don't to, say, Madonna or Beyoncé. Britain's favourite Aussie import has got that Forces Sweetheart quality about her, and it's a testament to her charm that, for example, she effortlessly manages to remain likeable and engaging as a judge-mentor on The Voice, even when the show is neither of those things.
But if all she had going for her was cheery winsomeness, I'd have lost interest long ago. We all would. She does, of course, possess far more than that. Last time I wrote about Kylie Minogue for The Quietus, interviewing her for the Abbey Road Sessions album, I made the case that she deserves to be recognised as a pop genius. And I'm not gonna change my mind.
There are two foundations for this argument, the first of them concerning the nature of pop itself. Pop isn't quarried, it's confected, and pop's finest exponents are those who understand the manufacturing process and work with only the finest ingredients and the smartest people (the identities of whom will shift over time, making it deceptively difficult to stay at the top of the game).
The second, therefore, comes down to simple logic. In a pop career spanning 27 years, she's changed labels, producers, songwriters, musicians, management, choreographers, boyfriends, probably even her florist. But never has her output dipped below a high level of excellence. In all that time, there's only been one constant: Kylie herself, who signs off on everything bearing her name. There comes a point where even the most grudging pop-sceptic has to accept that there is no other sensible explanation. Occam's Razor is pointing in only one direction. She knows exactly what she's doing.
She'll never get credit for it, of course. Lady Gaga – rightly – is feted for pushing the boundaries of arena-pop performance in recent years, but if you take a look at Kylie's Live X 2008 DVD, the elements are all there already: the robo-futurism, the fierce freako fashion, the fetish perversion, the retina-boggling avant-garde visuals. She just doesn't shout about the new ground she's broken.
The headline high-points of Kylie's career, since she shook herself free from the eager-to-please cheese of her first Charlene-from-Neighbours rush of fame, have encompassed euphoric nu-disco (circa 'Step Back In Time'), gothic chamber-pop ('Confide In Me'), bespectacled indie rock (Impossible Princess), even nu-er disco ('Spinning Around'), cryogenically cool electroclash ('Can't Get You Out Of My Head'), Neptunes-designed R&B ('Slow'), state-of-the-art synthpop (X) and big band jazz (Abbey Road Sessions). She's given almost everything a shot except metal (and you wouldn't necessarily rule that out).
For the moment, however, she's staying within relatively familiar territory, judging by this showcase for forthcoming album Kiss Me Once, her twelfth, and her first since joining up with Jay-Z's Roc Nation organisation.
The tiny stage, covered on three sides by a cheap tinsel curtain, looks like it's more accustomed to hosting a bad magician, a karaoke hen night or a pass-the-pint-glass stripper. Only the shortness-adjusted mic stand and the massive lightbulb letters 'KM', almost as tall as the singer herself, give you a clue that anything special is about to happen. But if you're trying to turn the mundane to the magical, it helps if you can call upon one of the greatest songs ever recorded. Which is why, flanked by 'Addicted To Love' dancers in latex and chains, and backing singers in berets and veils, Kylie kicks off with 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head'. As a weapon for getting a crowd onside, it's thermonuclear.
Arriving 45 minutes late – rock & roll! - she's looking typically immaculate, pearlescent blusher emphasising her high cheekbones, scarlet lipstick framing that celebrated smile, her hair styled in a sleek Maude Lebowski bob. "Do I want some vodka?" she replies to the first over-excited heckler, while sipping from a plastic water bottle through a straw. "This IS vodka..." (The next heckler receives somewhat shorter shrift. "Look, it's not Q&A, OK?")
The impossible task of following the opener goes to a world premiere of a song called 'Les Sex', an addictive, insistent piece of dominatrix disco. The first word of the title is pronounced as per the French definite-article-plural, but the teasing double-entendre (when written down, at least) becomes crystal clear when Kylie and her female dancers do a little synchronised gyrating. We very much See What She Did There.
Someone squeals something complimentary about her black tassled dress. She says "It's like I've had a fight with an old cassette tape, isn't it... Here, do you want to feel?", and the squealing gets louder. Then she tells us we're getting one more song, and there's a sigh of disappointment. Not a gig, then, but a nightclub PA, the like of which she's done dozens of times at places like G.A.Y.
The song is current single 'Into The Blue' - or "Into The Old Blue Last", as she cornily quips – and it's very much What Kylie Does: optimistic electronic pop. And then, into a sea of flickering phones, she's gone.
Three songs. Plenty of flash.