Venue: The Star Theatre @ The Star Performing Arts Centre, Singapore
Date: 2nd February 2015
Promoter: Live Nation Lushington
Review by: Fadhil R.
Special Thanks: The Lushington Entertainments and Live Nation Lushington teams
Chances are, if you care about pop music at all, you’ve heard of Lily Allen. The Star Theatre venue is widely recognized nowadays in Singapore as the starting point for several famed performers — American natives Backstreet Boys will be making their stop here in three months, and Jason Mraz for example recently performed two back-to-back shows in November. With its iconic rock status, I found it curious that the Singapore stop on British pop artist Lily Allen was taking place there. No doubt I’ve been waiting for her to make an appearance here since her first debut single “Smile” came out in 2006, so to Star Theatre I proceed to then.
There was no opening act as the stage was set with huge baby bottles in technicolour at every corner and believe it or not, those things kept me up all night despite the letdown of crowd attendance. The upper levels of Star Theatre were cordoned off, nevertheless it made way for the audience to get full frontal view of the main stage, especially when Singapore is Lily Allen’s last stop of her Sheezus tour.
She opened her set with “Sheezus”, “Not Fair”, and “LDN,” a song off each of her three major albums she has released. I was expecting to enjoy the show, but the opening tracks let me know the concert would be better than I had hoped — Lily’s songs take on an entirely different sound when she’s backed by a synthesized pop track rather than a full band. She took responsibility for everyone having a good time that night before continuing on with material from her Sheezus album, introducing “As Long As I Got You” with, “Have you ever been in a relationship with someone you think is that person is a bit of a prick, but who actually meant everything to you?” In case her previous comment didn’t clue the audience in to the career changes Lily has undergone, she put it plainly: “In the past I was known as a bit vulgar, I’ve probably moved on from that… a lot,” she explained. “Fortunately, I’m the new me, and I’m punching that phase straight in the face.” She expressed her gratitude that she now has more freedom in what she’s doing before performing her rare bonus track “Who Do You Love?”, lyrics that might possibly be dedicated to her mother, Alison Owen, followed by “Everyone’s At It”.
With the mood already somber, Lily Allen transitioned to a mellow, more seductive set. Looking for a more intimate setting, Lily instructed the audience to come closer to the stage and pleaded with the security not to deny anyone as she took seats at the front of the stage. “Close Your Eyes” was amazing, even if it might have been lost on a good portion of the audience. She then seamlessly shifted into another recent material, “URL Badman,” her major crowd pleaser song. A song that is meant to be directed at keyboard warriors and social media obsession users, despite her being involved in one or two online incidents before she settled down her attitude. It took her years till Lily Allen released her third album “Sheezus” in 2014, where time was mostly spent managing her parental life before the decision being made to step onto stardom once again. You’d think her set wouldn’t be polished to perfection by now; instead, it’s the opposite of a disjointed thing. Even though its lack of cohesion suggesting a singer admirably determined to resist conformity, but also uncertain as to the kind of singer she wants to be. Is she a dancefloor diva, an earnest balladeer, a hair-thrashing rocker? Lily Allen enacts them all in sequence across the set, as well as within the brief span of individual songs.
When it works, such as in the transition of “Smile” to “Life of Me”. her mutability feels vibrant and attractive. After a change of outfits, too often you detect a blandness in Lily’s guises that strips them of genuine character. There’s too much vague hopping around and not enough visceral pounding at the baby bottles that stand all around her; not too much generic body-grinding thankfully like most artists nowadays do. Amid the excitable, girlish bouncing; too much forced emotion in her power ballads like “Miserable Without Your Love” and “Littlest Things”, made them leaden instead of delicate, it looks as if she loses herself between doing what she wants and what she thinks a singer like her ought to do.
Odder still, for a woman with a filigree voice that floats up to comfortable heights, Lily Allen is chary of letting her vocals dominate. In “Hard Out Here”, her voice is buried in the mix, almost drowned by the thumping bass and it is so distorted by effects that she sounds like a broken modem and despite the recorded backing vocal enhanced the live voice altogether at times, why not an additional singer? It’s just one of many aspects of her that don’t add up.
On a brighter note, Lily Allen remains something of an enigma. There is the terribly singing vocals and endearingly angelic spoken voice behind a series of doleful, venomous love songs, and whose unassuming on-stage chit-chat — “No, I can’t be cool, I tried.” — drew affectionate laughs from the crowd, this apparent contradiction has led to suggestions that the 30 year-old does not yet know her true identity as a performer. That Monday night, however, these opposing personas and juxtaposing music styles complimented each other well, proving that two Lily Allens might just be better than one. She was on compelling form by then, bouncing from one side of the stage to the other and even engaging in a spot of air guitar. Despite only releasing three albums, Lily has produced a range of diverse material, which allows her to change the tempo of a performance at will in songs like “22” and “L8 CMMR”.
She was most impressive, however, when she stripped back her sound during an encore and allowed her dusky voice to take centre stage. This more introspective period of the evening, which included her final two songs of “Who’d Have Known” and the contagious “Fuck You”, illustrated not only her capability as a songwriter, but also the strength of her lyrics, which comfortably filled this cavernous space. It is a shame that this was too often drowned out by an incessant whirl of computer-generated bleeps in the modern day.
Die-hard fan Emmanuel (hope I spelt his name that right) may have been the quietest crowd member of all. He knew the words to every song, including both covers. He couldn’t explain why he loved Lily Allen so much — just giggling and smiling in a bashful kid way — perhaps it was a little too much when he tried to grab her hips after being invited to sing along to “Fuck You” on stage. But then again that’s how we all felt leaving her entrancing show. We all want to embrace her brilliance if possible. This wasn’t an easy crowd to entertain — at times the sea of cameras being held aloft threatened to dull the atmosphere — so it is testament to Lily Allen that the evening’s conclusion, the combination of her hit singles, prompted such a frenzied response. It may well be true that she has not yet decided what kind of musician she wants to be but this is not a decision she should rush into making — the combination of the two is proving successful enough.