Björn Again, Soul II Soul, Lily Allen
Concert in the Gardens
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
Duetting, after a fashion, with a game volunteer plucked from the crowd, it was an anthemic highlight from a sparkling set that presented her on great form, braving the cold to sustain a real party atmosphere.
Opening the evening, tribute act Björn Again were reliably fun, seldom straying from ABBA Gold bankers, although there was a run-out for the early and justifiably maligned track Ring Ring.
Gabbling enthusiastically in Swenglish between songs, the Australian cover artists blended S.O.S with The Police’s Message In A Bottle, before “Benny Anderwear” significantly upped the cheese quotient by rapping through Take A Chance On Me and seguing into House of Pain’s Jump Around.
Legendary RnB outfit Soul II Soul expended more spiritual exhortations on everyone to have a good time, delivering a varied setlist. Still, on the final date of their 25th anniversary tour, their seminal debut album continues to loom largest in the collective consciousness and they opened and closed with their greatest hit – Back To Life.
Beginning with the original a capella version, shimmering with the gospel clarity of the group’s gifted backing singers, the shuffling reggae and proto-hip hop beats of the reprise remain an ageless classic, with Caron Wheeler’s sultry, soulful vocals as evocative as they were a quarter of a century ago.
Featuring producer-songwriter Jazzie B as master of ceremonies, to the fore on the sunny, philosophical Get A Life and incanting across the underrated Universal Love, they mixed up the tempo effectively with MC Chicaboo on the high-octane rap of Bounce.
Yet it was always a more mellow, heartfelt vibe that set Soul II Soul apart, Wheeler’s voice soaring over swelling strings and the backing singers on a lovely rendition of Love Enuff.
Finally, Allen introduced herself with the statement of Sheezus, her stage presence warm, witty, a little defiant and surrounded by giant, lit up baby bottles.
As snarky and sarcastic as the best of them, she’s nevertheless becoming an increasingly assured social commentator. The likes of Smile and LDN remain easy, carefree pop, while the smart, superior The Fear remains as relevant in its materialist criticism as when Allen first recorded it.
This being the festive season, it was little surprise she offered up her cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know, her nuanced vocal keeping the syrup ballad from becoming too sentimental.
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