Live Music + Gig Reviews

Mark Ronson @ Hammersmith Apollo, London

23 February 2008

Mark Ronson

Mark Ronson

Mark Ronson went to the A-pollo. You should seen him go go go. In the shiniest suit since Martin Fry was shot with a poison arrow, the golden boy is Master of Ceremonies and sideman to his own gig.

There’s nary an empty seat in the house. But are they here to see 32-year-old Ronson, or his stream of accomplices who, ya never know, just might put in an appearance? Let’s face it, it’s not as if anyone can hang tough at The Hawley Arms anymore, is it?

Judging by the limited info on Ronson’s own site, that might be just be what the tour management were hoping everyone in ticket-buying land would think too. Sadly, there were no Amys, Lilys or Robbies, but we did see Rhymefest, two Pipettes and Tim Burgess, amongst others. And one very special London debut.

But when a shadowy Back To Black begins, Marky Mark’s funky bunch shines the spotlight on one Charlie Waller of exhausting support band The Rumble Strips. Young and energetic, the Rumble Strips have big choruses, relentless thumping skiffle-ish beats, and neatly cut-hair.

Having just about missed making a dent on any decent chart position, it can’t be too long before Waller and his rumbling gang get a noticeable presence on this year’s festival circuit, and success surely is theirs. Sounding roughly like a less pointy Boomtown Rats backed by the TKO Horns, The Rumblers’ nice-boy geek-rock got the thumbs-up from a tricky pop audience.

Later, the Amy-impatient crowd aren’t quite so keen to see young Charlie get another blast at the spotlight for one of the Amy specials. But this might have something to do with following the first London appearance of Kenna Zemedkun, or just Kenna, as he’s professionally known.

After playing Ethiopian-born Kenna on his Authentic Shit radio show, Ronson’s band allow him plenty of floor-space to air new single Out Of Control, the Killers-like opening shot from new album Make Sure They See My Face. His own material notwithstanding, the uber-confident Kenna tears the house down, mostly stood atop a worryingly wobbly riser, with a Stax-ed up, all-conquering blast of Radiohead‘s Just.

Back in the USA, Kenna inevitably hob-nobs with the slightly-fading stars of The Neptunes and the like, and his 10 or 15 minutes on stage confirmed a future superstar. With moves slinkier than a Timberlake down a staircase, Kenna’s presence prevented Ronson’s homecoming gig from becoming just a tad underwhelming.

But what’s a producer to do? Perhaps Ronson is the performer manqu, where just being the auteur will never be quite enough. There’s a certain element of the Back To Mine concept, yet instead of just inviting a few pin-eyed chums back to his flat, Ronson gets them to join his band and knock out the choice numbers in front of over 5,000 pop-pickers.

Hence the aforementioned Mr Burgess gets the opportunity to perform a noncommittal The Only One I Know instead of Robbie, probably just as Ronson prefers it. Ronson even goes as far as to call His Lipness “…a motherf**king legend’. And the enumerate fans who hadn’t a clue who Burgess was or is agreed out of politeness.

There were more guests. The MIA-meets-Bow Wow Wow refit of Pretty Green was just as surprisingly tribal and carnivalesque as Ronson’s studio concoction. Daniel Merriweather eventually climaxes the show with Version’s Smiths-sourced highlight Stop Me. But the rest of his performance confirmed little else than Merriweather is Ronan Keating to Ronson’s Louis Walsh.

Which leaves us with the man of the moment, the producer du jour. Mainly known for his mixing desk skills, there was something stagy about Ronson the performer. In his glitzy skinny suit, he resembled a young, pre-ham Al Pacino playing lead in a Ronson biopic.

So what is his secret? Svengali producers have been as vital to the business and sound of pop music as dodgy expenses seem to be to the financial welfare of Westminster MPs.

Ronson reportedly takes much of his cue from hip-hop sound pyrotechnics of the The Bomb Squad to the crisper RZA. But the canonised figures of Phil Spector and Quincy Jones also loom large.

Not that you’d know it necessarily. The band tonight is as tightly rehearsed as The Dap Kings, whose retro-funk has been sent back to the future by Ronson’s productions. Keys player Jason Silver is a boogie-woogie highlight. Yet it’s still hard to nail down the Ronson sound.

Superstar producers from Mike Chapman to Xenomania are rarely interested in placing their head above the parapet. Roadblock was Stock Aitken and Waterman‘s big laugh at the critics expense and Ronson’s nearest antecedent Richard X took his consumer pop to its post-modern zenith with Liberty X.

But ain’t one of them seemed as interested in getting their name in lights as much as Ronson. Even Timbaland is happy to be second on the bill, and he’s paid his dues for more than 10 years. Time will tell how long Ronson is happy to play second fiddle when lead guitar is so much sexier.

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