As pop music reaches its Age of Empire, it is perhaps no surprise that we now have some very curious phenomena to reckon with. Who would have thought we would live so long as to see rock bands picking their singers through a glorified version of Opportunity Knocks, or the irony of seeing two rival versions of the staunchly-integrationist Beat trying to make a living? These are times of great wonder where anything goes and everything, it seems, is forgiven, except, of course, the crime of being “inauthentic”.
I confess, I am a fan of The Beat, but as the stage fills with band members, it still seems empty without you, Rankin’ Roger, Andy Cox and Dave Steele. For reasons best left to the lawyers, Dave Wakeling’s fantastic outfit from Coventry do not even call themselves The Beat but The English Beat. Wh’appen??
The story, it appears, is too complicated and acrimonious to go into now. None of that in evidence at the Hammersmith Odeon tonight, though. The band bounce through their greatest hits, only missing the fantastic Too Nice To Talk To and Best Friend to make it a complete set, but still squeezing in the chart-missing but brilliant Save It For Later to make an old man (me) very happy.
Band leader, singer and only remaining original in this line-up, Dave Wakeling, hasn’t lost the fire from that now sizeable belly as he berates Blair in the wake of the anti-Thatcherite Stand Down Margaret with the words “he’d have to be able to stand up first”. The only thing that spoils proceedings is Wakeling’s tendency to clown around during songs – the incisive, ingenious Mirror In The Bathroom, so brilliant it barely qualifies as a pop song, does not require him to make a lunatic face when he sings the words “slips gently into mental illness”. I’m sorry, I don’t care how much fun you’re having, Dave: it doesn’t.
I know various members of various bands are not talking to one another, but surely it’s about time we had another Two Tone tour? Imagine the bill: The Specials, Madness, The Beat, Elvis Costello… And, let’s be honest, imagine the money, guys.
It must be really tough for JD Fortune, who won the Pop Idol-esque Rock Star: INXS to become a member of this fast-fading ’80s rock outfit, notoriously described by Noel Gallagher in 1995 as “has-beens”. He even appears to be hiding at the back of their tour poster in a slightly apologetic way. Who would blame him for feeling defensive if everyone was just thinking: “Listen, you’re not Michael Hutchence, you’re just a slightly camp, fame-seeking wannabe”? Right, like Hutchence wasn’t.
Pop and rock fans battle with “authenticity”. Is Queen really Queen without Freddie? Haven’t they just sold out to showbiz? I, however, am on the side of those who just want to have a good time. Who cares if it’s cheesy? Our sole measure should be whether it is actually any good.And, like it or not, Hutchence ain’t coming back, INXS are having a good time and JD Fortune may be a rock-star in the same way that Donnie Tourette is a “punk”- he doesn’t really mean it, Mummy – but if all you’re after is a rocking gig by a tribute band that ACTUALLY FEATURES ORIGINAL MEMBERS OF INXS then you’ve come to precisely the right place.
Everyone in the three-quarters full Apollo went wild, not for Fortune’s admittedly quite exciting stage performance, with his faux “rawk” tattoos, his t-shirt with the word “Think Fucked” on it, and his Bono-at-Live-Aid coming-off-stage-into-the-crowd bit during Taste It, but for the pleasure of hearing, brilliantly executed, the stadium-filling songs that make up INXS’s golden years (approximately 1986 to 1992). INXS would have been a less sanctimonious version of U2 by now if not for that incident – they’ve been going as long – and part of me feels the band’s disappointment, swathed as it may be in the joy of having someone who does a more than passable Hutchence impression filling the stage.
Australians in London don’t care if it’s Abba or Bjorn Again – if they’re playing the songs they know and love and putting on a show, who cares if they’re not “4 Real”? I didn’t, and while Fortune might just be putting on an act, so’s Mick Jagger – get over it. It’s music for the masses, and it’s masses of fun. Best of all, on a night of miserable people telling us all to sit in the dark for an hour “for Jesus” – sorry “for the planet” – they had a pretty good light show going on too.
Guilty pleasure? Who cares. Go see them.