Monday, September 18, 2017

A Brighton Girl Makes Good in Manhattan

Alison Moyet recently brought her OTHER world tour to New York City—a glorious sold-out gig at Irving Plaza, the venerable rock music venue. The show boasted nearly two dozen songs from the acclaimed songstress’s long and varied music career, hitting almost all her albums (poor RAINDANCING!) but emphasizing, of course, her two most recent forays into sophisticated electronica—this year’s OTHER and 2013’s THE MINUTES.

Her tour started a few nights earlier in Washington DC and included an ambitious 24-song setlist that Moyet apologetically promised on social media to whittle down. The New York crowd missed out on “Is This Love?” from her aforementioned second solo record and “The English U”—my favorite from the brilliant new album. Taking her place onstage after her spoken-word “April 10th” played, Moyet—flanked by musical director and keyboardist John Garden (who, interestingly, co-wrote the score for TALES OF THE CITY: THE MUSICAL, based on the books of the same name by Armistead Maupin) and backing vocalist and synth player/programmer Sean McGhee —announced her arrival with OTHER’s opener, “I Germinate.” By the time she got to the chorus and belted “I’m here, I germinate…” the capacity crowd was hers—clay in her capable hands.

The concert was well-paced and her expansive (and expanding) catalog well-represented with newer material from OTHER and THE MINUTES seamlessly interspersed amongst electronic arrangements of older material, like “All Cried Out” and “Love Resurrection” (from ALF); “Wishing You Were Here” and “This House” (from HOODOO); “Getting Into Something” (from ESSEX); “Ski” (from HOMETIME); “The Man in the Wings” (from THE TURN); and no less than five Yazoo tracks—“Only You”, “Nobody’s Diary”, Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)“, “Don’t Go”, and “Situation.”
There were moments of delightful banter with the engaged, adoring crowd—most notably when a well-intentioned heckler (with an obvious death wish) shouted out the title to her first—and biggest—US hit, “Invisible.” Anyone who’s followed the singer’s career knows she doesn’t—and won’t—sing the tune, citing no more connection to the song’s lyrics or the “man-done-me-wrong” genre of songs that appealed to her younger self. And while the heckler was rebuked with the polite good humor that’s characteristic of the decidedly more refined British, no one else in the crowd mistook Moyet’s kindness in that moment as a weakness (even in the presence of beauty).
One of the most endearingly admirable qualities of Alison Moyet, the artist, is her sense of professional responsibility to the audience. She conveys genuine love and the utmost respect for her fans—and when something in her vocal or the accompanying sound is off, she’ll unceremoniously stop and start over. This perfectionism was in evidence during the Irving Plaza gig during three false starts, which she good-humoredly dismissed with an apologetic shrug and a do-over. Humor is her weapon and it’s disarmingly effective.
To pinpoint personal highlights would be akin to naming a favorite child; the entire concert was a highlight in and of itself. But, if pressed, I’d likely cite Moyet’s flawless performances of “Changeling” (from THE MINUTES) and “Beautiful Gun” and “Alive” (from OTHER) as such. But the evening’s best—and most unexpectedly poignant moment—came during the introductory remarks to her gorgeous musical nod to the LGBT community, “The Rarest Birds.” There is a moment during an anecdote she shares that left the audience gobsmacked—so much so that you can actually hear an audible gasp from the crowd. Rather than dilute the expressiveness of the moment, hear for yourself in video footage shot by another concertgoer:

Since she’s embarked upon a world tour to promote the new album, it seems only fitting to say a few words about that while you’re here and held captive by my words. Not to put too fine a point on it, OTHER is nothing short of an artistic masterpiece—musically, vocally, and lyrically. Like all good artists do, Moyet has grown in her musical craftsmanship with each successive album, and she proves herself to be brilliant poet and lyricist on this gorgeous ten-track collection. OTHER—her ninth studio album—is both an intimate and intricate musical experience, managing to capture myriad shades and tones germane to the human experience in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of words and musical textures.
This is her second collaboration with producer Guy Sigsworth, who has produced for Björk, Alanis Morrissette, Madonna, and Britney Spears, among others. They first joined forces on 2013’s THE MINUTES, which became Moyet’s highest-charting album in the UK since 1987’s RAINDANCING, and—arguably—changed the game for her. Her partnership with Sigsworth has given her creative license to ascend higher as both a vocalist and a songwriter and bridges the gap between the electronic music diva of thirty-plus years ago and the self-assured middle-age artiste of today. Both albums have been creative investments between the two—with both paying handsome dividends.
OTHER finds Moyet set against a similarly sweeping, cinematic electronic landscape that made THE MINUTES such a delightful surprise, an actual return to roots cleverly masquerading as a seeming musical departure. The lyrics are awash in rich word tapestries of luxuriant linguistic textures and syntactical patterns. Even the gutsy inclusion of the spoken-word track “April 10th” works and will leave you hankering for an album of spoken-word poetry. The album is lean at just over 41 minutes of music spread over ten tracks, but it’s quality over quantity here with zero filler and each song relevant and integral to Moyet’s larger thematic framework of otherness.
Anyone who knows me also knows that Moyet is the musical equivalent of my Jamie Lee Curtis fandom and that I worship at the feet of her temple with equal fervor. In other words, I’m obsessed. No, not in that Kathy Bates-meets-Jimmy Caan kind of way—more in the realm of a deep desire to sit down with her for a proper chat over tea, maybe watch a few episodes of DOWNTON ABBEY together. At least that’s how it goes in my head. I’ve chronicled my adoration of her music and previous concert experiences elsewhere, so I’ll leave you with the links embedded herein should you get the itch to see what all the fuss is about.
The last time I crossed paths with the great Moyet, we were both decidedly larger girls; I have a lovely photo to prove it. In the ensuing years, as I lost 105 pounds a few years back, then regained some, and then re-lost just over fifty recently, so too did Moyet shed some serious heft. I’ve long dreamt of a photo do-over, and placing our former glorious selves alongside our smaller, more self-assured selves. Once again, my beloved Alf did not disappoint. Following the conclusion of the Irving Plaza show, while Moyet was being surprised with a visit from Modest Management head Richard Griffiths (who must have been pleased as fucking punch at the thunderous reception his client received that night), a few of us more persistent folk waited outside the stage door. After about an hour, a congenial gentleman named Tim came out and said that Alison would be along shortly, advising us that she was in voice-conservation mode and that she’d only sign one item per person (for those who brought memorabilia along).
I waited, ready with my iPhone open to the photo of us, circa 2008. When the moment came and she arrived to enthusiastic adoration from the twenty or so fans gathered, I patiently waited my turn as she was warmly greeted, signed the items placed in front of her, and cheerily posed for photos. Some artists who’ve achieved a similar level of celebrity phone this part in—they’re there, but they’re on autopilot. Not Moyet. She was engaged with each and every person who thrust himself in front of her, clearly recognizing and acknowledging longtime fans whom she’d obviously met on numerous occasions outside countless theater doors.
Then came my turn. I quickly told her that I wasn’t going to ask her to sign anything and that she didn’t have to speak; I’d happily do all the talking. I’m sure that bit came out like a rambled bit of rushed inarticulateness but Alison smiled warmly, not one to disprove my theory about the infinite superiority of British manners. As I continued to prattle on about how our weight loss journeys converged and how hers informed and inspired mine—at least in part—and I blabbered on about a photo, Moyet uttered the words that nearly stopped my heart: “You’re Vince, right?”
I literally fought back the tears. Alison-oh-my-God-Moyet, she of the incomparable voice and venerable talent known the world over, recognized me. She either has an exceptional memory (which she seems to negate on her own lovely tour-travel blog) or she pays attention when blubbering former fatty fans like me tweet twaddle at her. Either way, I was thrilled, touched beyond measure. She happily granted me the coveted photo retake and gave me one of the kindest, most genuine hugs I’ve ever gotten. As we embraced, I told her that I loved her, thanked her for an unforgettable show, and gushed about how brilliant the new album was. Then it was over, and this lovely, funny, self-deprecating woman was on to the next gushing fan, exhibiting the same graciousness and genuine appreciation.
And then it struck me, full-barrel in the chest, and I’m reminded of the liner notes from THE MINUTES:

“They were not years. They did not make us laugh always. We were not perpetually safe in love or thankful. Ours were not wads of hours tied up in a playful huddle. Never a summer eternal neither a winter we could skate upon. They were minutes. We have the minutes.”

Alison was right. Life really is all about the brilliant little minutes—not necessarily very dramatic or specific—suspended in years. 

1 comment:

Martin Miller said...

Thanks for the review. You've very neatly and eloquently summed up my feelings after having seen Alison perform in DC last week. I'm sorry to hear that she's cut the English U, as I love both the song, and the Charming anticdote she told in tribute to her mother.
A bonus of attending the first show was having the opportunity to meet Alison afterwards, before concerns over straining her voice kicked in. She seemed genuinely delighted to see us, and spent several minutes talking with each of us, as if she were a late-arriving guest at the most fabulous party of the year. But all too soon the night was over, and in the back seat of the Uber on the way home, I posted on her Facebook page that I was at show, and it was perfect.
And in the morning, as I struggled to get ready to go to the airport to fly back to Texas, I checked my Facebook, and Alison had thanked me for the compliment.