“IS THIS the musical equivalent of creating a giant silver statue of myself?” asked Sophie Ellis-Bextor. She was referring to the fact this tour for her new record The Song Diaries follows the album’s lead in presenting her hits with a brand new orchestral backing; there were around 20 players behind her at the Usher Hall, including string and horn sections, and her light, cheerful radio hits took on a sense of operatic gravitas.
At first this weighed too heavily upon them, although the combination of Ellis-Bextor’s distinctively cut-glass, technically proficient vocal with the selected instrumentation worked well, from a sweeping version of her 19-year-old first and biggest hit Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) on. Yet the arrangement of these ballads was too one-note; always plaintive and never brisk. Despite the clear emotional articulation in her lyrics, by the dual crescendo of Music Gets the Best of Me and Mixed Up World, even Ellis-Bextor was dancing to a beat which wasn’t there.
Her return after a costume-change interlude promised more of the same, but delivered an unexpected change of key. “This is your disco train arriving, you do not need to remain in your seats,” laughed Ellis-Bextor as the brass thundered into life, quickly joined by the audience as she ran through her own hits Take Me Home, Groovejet (a decidedly more uptempo reprise), Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer) and the signature Murder on the Dancefloor fused with Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free and Harold Melvin’s Don’t Leave Me This Way.
It was a performance of untamed energy, and when Ellis-Bextor serenaded the crowd from the balcony with her old band Theaudience’s A Pessimist is Never Disappointed, she demonstrated the depth of career required to pull off an event like this.