IT WAS clear from the almost obscene level of excitement which greeted Britney Spears’ first Scottish concert since taking up her Las Vegas residency that folks are still buying this mystifyingly popular product.
Britney Spears, Hydro, Glasgow **
Kings of Leon, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow ***
Brian Wilson, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****
Spears has been criticised in the past for miming her concerts. On this occasion, there was no attempt to disguise the lack of live vocals (though, bizarrely, there was a live band), allowing Spears to concentrate on the restless, jerky choreography, with lots of flicking footwork and flappy arms.
Spears put in a frantic, robotic display, often a beat ahead or behind her committed dancers, as if she was in a rush not to be found wanting. But there was no hiding her lack of engagement with the standard pop theatre spectacle around her, or with decent pumping dance tracks such as Womanizer and the “autobiographical” Piece of Me, both of which stood out among the consistently blaring electro R&B soundtrack.
The enjoyably cheesy early hits Baby One More Time and Oops I Did It Again were dispatched in a medley accompanied by a bonkers gothic bat routine with no attempt made to marry content and visuals. At least there was a logic to the mild BDSM routine which accompanied I’m A Slave 4 U and Freakshow. During this latter track, she strapped up a consenting adult from the audience for one of the most awkward interactions of a stilted evening, which seemed to be as much about hitting her mark as entertaining her fans.
It was only during the freeform party encore of Till The World Ends that Spears appeared to loosen up a little and have fun, or perhaps she was just relieved to have made it through another edition of what was, in essence, an expensive, glorified PA.
IF YOU happen to have spotted a bunch of guys out on the town since Wednesday night who looked uncannily like Kings of Leon then you ought to regret not requesting a selfie. “We’re going to make the most of it and stick around a couple of days,” frontman Caleb Followill announced, after apologising for having not visited Glasgow in what felt like a long time. “If you see anyone out drinking who looks like us,” he added, “it’s probably us.”
One got the sense he says stuff like that to all of his audiences, especially as it was actually only last year that the familial Nashville rock band previously played Glasgow’s Hydro. But it nevertheless felt like an encouraging statement of camaraderie and togetherness from the Followills – brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan plus cousin Matthew – after several out-of-sorts years in which they seemed to struggle terribly with fame.
Kings of Leon’s latest album WALLS has had a galvanising effect, much as its title unintentionally sums up its bland vanilla flavour. Besides a smattering of new songs, this Summer Sessions open-air show on a dry but nippy August night – Caleb’s scarf felt apt – was mainly a greatest hits package, plotting their path from rough and ready southern indie-rockers to writers of airy arena anthems, all delivered with stiff professionalism, if never much joy.
Molly’s Chamber and The Bucket were welcome throwbacks to the days when the band still had an air of energy and risk about them. Use Somebody turned the horizon to one of glowing phone cameras and girls silhouetted on guys’ shoulders. Sex on Fire smoldered more than truly caught alight, but at least proved the spark is still alive.
FOR all that the powers of the Beach Boys’ sonic architect Brian Wilson have diminished over the years, his celebratory live shows still demand attention for more reason simply than allowing an audience to touch the hem of an acknowledged musical visionary.
His stagecraft is somewhat one-note – seated at the piano throughout, he occasionally chimes in with vocals in a strained, boyish tenor – but he’s surrounded by an excellent 11-piece band which brings a procession of Beach Boys classics vividly to life.
Added value arrived here with the presence of the group’s original and long-standing guitarist Al Jardine, a seasoned player who provided a touching, nostalgic vocal duet part on I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.
The latter song was part of the show’s central suite, a complete, in-order recreation of the Beach Boys’ esteemed 1966 record Pet Sounds, their most cohesively creative high-watermark and the point at which Wilson’s mental health went into a tailspin. It’s highs (every song, in other words, from the familiar Wouldn’t It Be Nice and Sloop John B to fan favourites like Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) and Caroline, No) were played to perfection here.
There was a real warmth in the air, from chuckles at Wilson’s not-at-all-self-deprecating “this is one of the best songs written in the last half of last century… well, it’s my favourite, anyway” before God Only Knows to Jardine’s song-restarting slip before Here Today, which earned a joking fifty dollar fine from the band.
The album itself was framed by another set’s worth of Beach Boys classics on either side, from the towering pop of California Girls, I Get Around and Good Vibrations to the more eclectic Feel Flows and Sail On, Sailor; the whole evening a well-delivered feast in tribute to a sublime catalogue.