Vince Frank has returned from his BlackBerry/MySpace/Island Records sponsored PR tour-cum-backpacking jaunt around Britain.
For the launch of his single Better Off As Two, back in his native London, Dingwalls is transformed with muslin and promotional video screens.
Even a vending machine-like customised light bearing the legend FRANKMUSIK sits stage left. Maybe it dispenses mini-Vinces.
There are several of them clustered about, most around the same height as our showcasing headliner and all attempting to achieve, with varying degrees of success, his exact hairstyle as seen in the single’s video.
When ber-Vince stalks on to the stage, the mini-Vinces and the rest of us see that his hair has grown back, and he looks rather less like the punk throwback of recent photoshoots. He takes up his position behind a customised, purple-neon mic stand. Behind him fancy lights, definitely not usually resident here, underline Island’s largesse where Vince Frank is concerned.
They’re right to believe in him. Whether playing piano in virtuoso manner, beatboxing, singing or remixing the Pet Shop Boys, Frank’s talents are obvious and already well documented on YouTube. He’s worked with Stuart Price and supported (labelmates) Keane at the O2 Arena, whence he returns to do the same for Pet Shop Boys later this year. Along with the corporate moolah already channeled in his direction, such mega-venue stuff might have inflated the ego of someone lesser. But before the gig Vince is ambling about outside, chatting with friends and new fans, for all the world the boy next door.
When he takes to the stage he mixes up some beatboxing with singing as he tackles the opening to Time Will Tell, possibly his catchiest track. “I lost my girl and I lost my world,” he sings, and soon those who know the words join him. Gradually two synth players plug in and fire up.
From this auspicious pulse of energy he rolls straight on to When You’re Around, his raved-up reworking of The Stranglers‘ Golden Brown. The more recent bombastagorica that is In Step lets Frank’s voice fly to (labelmate) Mika‘s tight-trousered places while Wonder Woman (Frank plinky-plonking along on piano and now joined by a drummer) demonstrates why the Keane support slot made sense.
His first single 3 Little Words, we’re informed, now comes with its own dance routine. Three enthusiastic people nearby interpret this as “mosh pit” while the rest of the audience chinstroke sagely to his octave-vaulting vocals. There’s a nod to Michael Jackson (or labelmate Rihanna?) in the middle, with a spasm of “mama say mama sa mama ku sah” from Wanna Be Starting Something. It succinctly underlines his pop influences and his world ambition in a flash.
Better Off As Two rounds off the short set, already seeming very familiar. Returning for an encore he sings 3 Little Words again, but this time solo, accompanying himself on electric piano. It gives the previously brash synthpop piece a jazz bar makeover that highlights its taut songwriting.
Anyone in the room not yet convinced by Frank’s talents, or mildly bemused by the corporate whoring, must by now however grudgingly admit that the boy has got that elusive something.