Attending Alison Moyet’s ‘The Other Tour’ performance at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Friday night turned out to be a strange sort of experience – especially for those who came along expecting the usual nostalgic singalong approach that many ‘heritage acts’ favour.
There was to be no perfunctory run through of Moyet’s greatest hits on offer here, and those in the crowd desperate to feel eighteen again, even just for a brief moment, were repeatedly reminded that those days were long gone and that life sometimes has its way of bringing the good times into a more sombre balance with times of doubt and stress.
Moyet’s set began with a pre-recorded spoken word piece, with darting spotlights illuminating a stark stage set, and this reflective oratory, delivered with Moyet’s deliberate slow enunciation and mellifluous low tones, in which she spoke of captive canines and bell jars, set the opening mood to be anything but celebratory.
The opening number, I Germinate, from her latest album Other, confirmed the evening’s main introspective agenda. Here she sang, ‘the rub of life has moulded every limb / and shifter now has settled shape…’, declaring, as she confirmed to us all in greater detail later in the show, that she has long discarded all previous incarnations of Alison Moyet, the pop star.
In fact, she does tell us later, that she has given away all the trappings of her earlier fame – the costumes, the gold discs, the country manor – in order to return back to the basics of living life amongst real people – in Brighton, where there is no off street parking, where gay lovers can walk hand in hand and be openly affectionate, and young people can be who they want to be – in order to reconnect with what is real and important in her life.
Hence the song selection for the evening, which encompasses songs from all of her solo albums as well as a selection of Yazoo hits, all gel lyrically around the ‘getting of wisdom’ theme.
So we are subsequently presented, in an opening sequence, with the melancholic, older-but-wiser narrative of When I Was Your Girl; the open longing of Wishing You Were Here; the 16 year old’s romantic angst (that she captured so brilliantly as a teenager) in Nobody’s Diary; and then, Ski, the 2002 song she introduced to us as having been written for her children in order to tell them that ‘life can be shit’.
Given the context of the night, the lyrics of the Yazoo classic, Only You, rapturously received, also added to the overarching theme of loss and recovery. It provided a poignant introduction to the set’s highlight which followed it – the powerful lament, The English U, a song which lovingly recounts her mother’s lost battle with Alzheimer’s disease and how it had taken away all of her memory only to leave her with a bizarre compulsion for exercising grammarian pedantry.
Moyet’s delivery of the opening line: ‘I’ll preserve the U / Preserve the English U, for you / For you because you always knew where it would be…’ was beautifully rendered, a master-class in how to sing evocatively and with great emotional control.
And by the time she sang the song’s final coda: ‘You kept beautiful words in soft carbon pages / As beautiful worlds went missing in stages / Scattered in sandstorms and stolen in rages / A cache of books inside your pillow cases…’, it was impossible not to feel the acute pain and loss intertwined with this memory.
She may now be a grandmother, but Moyet’s voice is still a thing of wonder – her vocal power has not diminished at all over the years and her control is incredible, subtly shifting tone and volume to emphasise key words and phrases. She can channel, at will, moments akin to Dusty Springfield’s emotion, or Mary Coughlan’s world-weary fragility, or Ellen Foley’s raw energy, or David Bowie’s high range operatics, or Martha Davis sassiness…or even Rita Jean Bodine’s growl, when she dives deepest into her lower register. She never misses a note and every word is delivered with crystal clear enunciation and diction. Awesome.
Throughout the second half of the show, she did appease her Top 40 hit-seeking audience by playing some of her earlier solo hits: All Cried Out, Is This Love ?, and a well-received run through of Yazoo’s club hit, Situation, as well as an encore of two of her most well known songs – Love Resurrection and Don’t Go, which gave those who came along purely wanting to dance in the aisles a reason to shake off their frustrations.
Moyet did take exception to one shouted request for her to sing her 1984 hit, Invisible, and she gently chastised the audience for audibly voicing their disappointment to her refusing to perform this song about emotional and psychological abuse in a relationship. ‘Don’t ‘aww’ me’, she said, ‘I say it in every interview that I do. I do not sing that song.’ Fair enough, no further explanations were proffered or needed.
For me, the show was a triumphant reminder of Moyet’s talent, and that of her two musicians – John Garden and Sean McGhee, who accompanied her through this ‘return to electronica’ performance – but for some others around me it had turned out to be a slightly disappointing performance which fell short of their limited and unrealistic expectations.
But isn’t it a truism that true art always stirs debate?
Earlier, Australian rock and roll journeyman, Steve Balbi (Kevin Borich Express / Rose Tattoo / Noiseworks / Electric Hippies / Mi-Sex) played a bizarre solo acoustic set where he started off singing a sparse rendition of Learning To Fly as a Tom Petty tribute, and then regaled us with tales of redemption from his heroin addicted past while lounging back in a chair and telling us he doesn’t give a fuck whether we buy his records or not. Not sure whether that was a case of defiant ex-junkie chic or just plain ex-junkie cheek…
Overall, a night that I was glad to have experienced and that will certainly make me more fully investigate Moyet’s latest album, Other.
Alison Moyet’s new album, Other, is out now on Cooking Vinyl / Modest!