(Photo by Jordan Munns)
Enmore Theatre, February 23
“OH MY GOD I WANT HER HAIR,” screamed a closely-cropped gent behind me as Keisha Buchanan stepped to the front. And true, those were some impressive locks she sported, running at Rapunzel length down her back.
Though even more impressive, and simultaneously worrying for me, was that while short shorts, clingy Ts and tanned flesh was the order of the day in the rest of the room – much better for throwing pushing-the-button moves to, yes, Push The Button, which opened the night on a quick-rushing high – Buchanan was wearing for most of the show a full-length vinyl/leather-ish coat. On a February night in one of Sydney’s more sweatboxy rooms.
Girl, it’s steamy in here, save yourself!
Speaking of impressive though, just behind the hair admirer was a stupendously tall chap sporting a home-made tiara made of upright paint brushes wired together. Like a cheery crown of thorns, standing to attention. Tiara-wearer’s commitment to the show was evident as he turned Lost In You (done in a slightly too-brisk manner on stage) and especially 2 Hearts (this time performed with appropriate measured tempo, the three ‘Babes straddling chairs) into tear-stained, full-throated, all-out emotional outpourings.
By-the-by, whomever timed the Sugababes show in the middle of Mardi Gras – accidental timing or genius programming, who knows, but this room was rammed and pumped – would be feeling pretty smug about now. It’s one thing to tap into half of the core Sugababes demographic (women in their 20s and 30s for whom the now reformed original three of Buchanan, Siobhan Donaghy and Mutya Buena, were constant companions around the turn-of-the-century) but in the absence of either Minogue – and for that matter, latter ‘Babe, Heidi Range – there was a lot of Sydney boy love looking for somewhere to be channelled.
But back to the show. There were some questions answered early on.
Would they do songs from any of the periods the original three were not all in? Yes! Hole In The Head entered the fray soon after Push The Button, its usual slinkiness here more bounce than flounce, but still enjoyable. Did Hole In The Head need a guitar solo? Er, no. But I guess beardy bloke on guitar earned his after-show shandy.
Would there be live singing? Well … yeah, but. You could say there definitely were live lead vocals much of the time: Buena getting the words wrong almost immediately in the encore’s About You Now, necessitating a restart, and the inconsistent volume/strength of Donaghy’s voice through the night, proof of that. But there seemingly were also subtle enhancements at times too, strengthening the timbre, and far less subtly deployed stacked backing vocals that put beef into the sound (and maybe made Buchanan occasionally redundant, vocally).
(Photo by Jordan Munns)
Not that the overall sound needed beef. If anything, the four-piece band, led by a powerhouse drummer, sometimes overwhelmed the voices. In a take on Adina Howard’s Freak Like Me, a song that pushes itself forward and just keeps coming, the vocals and the main hook couldn’t quite keep up with the force of what was a booming set closer.
Would we get some high-tech pop show? No, definitely not. The dance moves and the dancing itself were far from slick or complex, sometimes hilariously looking like what you might find a good number of us doing on a big night out after a half-dozen sherbets and an open karaoke bar. The staging was even more basic: the band raised behind, rows of horizontal lights across the band riser and a mirror ball to augment the standard above stage lights.
Did it matter? Not really. In fact, there was a lot to like about the sense of a human-scale alternative to a Beyoncé spectacle, or if you were less charitable, a Hot Dollar shop Kylie. Rather than a failure, it left the Sugababes believable, reachable … achievable. Much in the way the catalogue’s zigzagging across straight pop, R&B, dancefloor bangers and cartoon pop could feel a bit desperate to cover all demographics but instead (mostly) comes over as regular people pleasing.
So yes, the all-purpose acceptance anthem, Ugly, and the euphoria-starting Flatline – the perfect combination for a Mardi Gras week – could coexist with the all-boxes-ticked power balladry of Stronger, and balance weak links like Love Me Hard and Red Dress.
Not that weak links were on our minds as we left the show however, with the bang-bang climax of Overload, a song whose starting point is a double thumping bass and sinuous rhythm (which made the decision to start with all three seated on stools look very odd)), the kinetic Flowers, a busy underneath/frenetic on top Round Round, and Freak like Me providing the night’s peak.
Well, that is until About You Now – the most bouncing around the bedroom with a hairbrush microphone Disney poptastic omigod I’m 12 and the world is brilliant for four minutes and who needs those smelly boys on the bus anyway and shut up Liam I’m not turning it down and I don’t care if you tell mum song – lit up faces. And probably tiaras.
Sugababes play Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne tonight, February 24, and Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane on Monday, February 27.