Gig review: Alexander O’Neal, Edinburgh

Few things do for the mystique of a pop artist like an appearance on reality television, and those with even a casual awareness of Alexander O’Neal’s time on Celebrity Big Brother this year may now feel more connected to the 62-year-old Minneapolis hitmaker than they might like.

Alexander O'Neal gave another crowd-pleasing show. Picture: Sandy Young
Alexander O'Neal gave another crowd-pleasing show. Picture: Sandy Young

Alexander O’Neal| Rating *** |Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Is this a good or a bad thing? It’s not as if O’Neal’s now-traditional seasonal tour date in Scotland (the last couple have happened in Glasgow) was any less well-attended or enthusiastically received here.

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It’s been a couple of decades since he had a hit worthy of the name, but O’Neal remains a dependably enthusiastic live performer, his full complement of three backing singers and six musicians – three on keyboard, one of whom played a little bass on the only guitar sighted all evening – suggesting this was anything but a cheap ‘n’ cheerful revue turn.

The show revelled in a preponderance of schmaltzy ballads, with Sunshine delivered from a stool, Val Doonican-style, and Never Knew Love Like This oddly delegated to the backing trio while O’Neal took a break, but his voice at least contains enough depth and strength to deliver them convincingly.

To his credit, he kept the lyric and rhythm of If You Were Here Tonight going while being aggressively flirted with by the lady he’d chosen from the audience to serenade. Elsewhere, there were surprising returns to his more visceral, analogue roots in the same Minneapolis scene which Prince sprang from. The Lovers’ warm keyboard funk enticed many from their seats and What Is This Thing Called Love was similarly well-received, but the closing double of Criticize and Fake were a revelation, a pounding Soul Train funk medley delivered in style while fending off selfies from the dancing fans he’d welcomed onstage.