I must admit I have become as the french say ‘enamoured’ by Paloma over the last year. And so have the hundreds of beautiful fans who were waiting on the wet West London streets outside the HMV Hammersmith Apollo to see Paloma Faith at the home-coming London end of what she describes as her ‘massively short’ tour. As I looked up and down the huge line of people waiting patiently to enter the venue, I realized that I had not seen a crowd like this since - I do not know – Kate Bush, probably. The fact is, there were girls there, let’s say 14 or 15 years old, they looked like dance school students, there were plenty of college aged young people gathered together in large packs, there were older ‘married looking’ couples standing hand-in-hand, even older gentlemen and ladies who needed assistance to walk – it seemed they had come by bus. There were big bald geezers, punks, goths, rockers, hip-hoppers, dudes, and all colours of the rainbow …. anyway, you get the picture. Paloma appeals to a mass audience. And why? Because she is that rare kind of phenomena – a musical star who is both outrageously entertaining yet down to earth. And she plays a music that spans generations and genres – jazz and soul from the glory days of Etta James and Billie Holiday, right up to American hip hop and funk like Cee Lo Green.
So looking like a vision of Tamara de Lempicka in a 1920’s Art Deco Paris-set garden, Paloma Faith arrived on stage in a stunning and glamorous peacock dress with fan-like white wings spread to the rear. Geometric shapes dominated the style of her costume head dress and ‘wings’ and her glittery 1920’s style jewellery was draped, dangling precariously low. She was every inch a silent movie siren. As you may already know, Paloma was once a performer in burlesque shows, and she likes to strike a pose! So almost immediately, as she spread her wings, her porcelain frame created a picture perfect art deco image against the background screen. Glamour is her thing. The terrific band was also done up-to-the-nines in matching suits – crisp and perfectly tailored.
The opening number “Play On” from the album “Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?” is powerful and anthemic. It reminds me a lot of a favourite Grace Slick number ( ‘Dreams’ from the 1980 solo album.) It is haunting, dark and melancholic yet rousing and jubilant enough to get the heart pumping and the spirit lifted from your bones. This song merged graciously into the much more urban and gritty ‘Stone Cold Sober’. Paloma might throw her heart at the wrong man (from time-to-time) but when her heart goes into a song, she delivers it on a preciously beautiful plate of splendid sounds for all to enjoy and devour.
“Broken Doll” is quirky, bizarre and childish – like it’s mistress – and is not one of my favourites on her album. But you have to buy into this innocence and schmaltz if you want to stand any chance of getting to know Paloma and her music. Her singing voice is expansive, bold, loud-mouthed, brassy and hungry… but standing before us (albeit dressed as an Art Deco icon) she is a tiny doll, babyish, and over-cute. A right little “pop princess”. She knows she is our kooky puppet. And she plays it for all it’s worth!
Paloma introduced the good-natured and adoring crowd to a few numbers off of her forthcoming new LP. In fact, she told the audience that they could choose a track – “This is gonna be like some kind of multiple choice album – you can choose A, B or C”. After two superb and rugged versions of “Do You Want The Truth or Something Beautiful?” (The club remix and radio version) we got to hear “Just Be” and, a little later, “Me and My Cellulite” – which is bound to be a major trans-Atlantic hit for 2011 – just mark my words!
In her next outfit, looking like a photoplay version of Lillian Gish, as cocky as Betty Boop, but as glam as Priscilla Dean, she deftly stepped down a huge staircase placed centre-stage in scandalously high heels and wearing a shiny, sleeky peacock blue dress with ridiculously overblown halo-like collar, to belt out hit “Sexy Minx.”. On this song she demonstrated that she is a belter – like a Shirley Bassey – but she can be sensitive and reflective too – like a kind of Hackney-based Édith Piaf.
Determined to mine pity, compassion and awe in equal measures, as an audience it was demanded of us that we were wowed and moved. Yet we laughed at her on-stage antics ( she tried to slide gracefully across the grand piano – but had to do the movement in awkward jolts.) “Me and Grace don’t really go together – in my mind, I’m doing this in one fluid motion, but this is what you actually see.” Or, for the new song “Me and My Cellulite” she said she had to take off her sparkling high heels “So you lot can actually see what’s going on.” she then slammed and shook her bountiful booty at the audience.
Her band played with style and panache and a good deal of vigour. Paloma explained that she would be losing her guitarist Seye Adelekan at the end of the tour. (He has got himself a record contract.) Hairy Dom Pipkin on keys was a creative wizard, Andrea Goldsworthy on bass was smooth and sensuous, and Sam Agard on drums was energetic and precise. Backing vocals were provided by a trio of gorgeous girls – Crystal Jones, Baby Sol, Jetta- who arrived on stage with their ‘briefcases’ containing their song-sheets. Beautifully emotional and slickly professional.
After a raucous cover of the hit Cee Lo Green song F- You! (and F you too) “I pity the fool that falls in love with you..” Paloma also introduced us to one of her own favourite songs, “Into My Arms” a cover of a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ number (from The Boatman’s Call in 1997). And then the time was up – wow it went fast- and we were at the end of a shiny and exhilarating show full of joy and blaze … finishing off with a vast sing along version of her hit song “New York” – we were happily bouncing and grooving like crazy – arms in the air.
And Paloma proved beyond dispute that she is no ‘Amy Winehouse’ cash-in one hit wonder. Oh no, she has more style and substance in her than Nina Simone mixed up and mashed with Outcast’s André 3000. She is a truly magnificent trooper, a true entertainer and, with Ed Harcourt, an extraordinary songwriting talent. And as her support act Eliza Doolittle says: “ There’s some spectacular shizz going on there!”
10 December 2010
Paloma Faith & the Guy Barker Orchestra
10th December: Barbican ‘Big Band’
Ticket Link http://www.barbican.org.uk
Box Office 02076388891