Monday, April 27, 2015

Marc Almond (Bridgewater Hall, Manchester)

It might be 34 years since Soft Cell's definitive cover of Tainted Love hit number one on the UK singles chart, but listening to Marc Almond in 2015 is like stepping into a time machine and travelling back to the heady days of the Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. His voice is timeless, ageless, deathless.

Almond entertained a packed Bridgewater Hall like a man half his age, despite his own protestations that he isn't getting any younger (amazingly, Marc is 57!). Well, nobody is, Marc, but at least when you take to the stage you try not to let the years slow you down. He shimmied and slid across the stage, arms flailing and posturing as the band slammed out a stream of dance tracks from across the whole of Marc's varied career.

The set list was eclectic, and anybody expecting a greatest hits rendition would be mildly disappointed, including one inebriated man in the row behind me who demanded The Days of Pearly Spencer every time a new song started up. It never was, and although it amused me to think the poor guy never got his personal request, I'm pretty sure the majority of the audience wouldn't have minded hearing the song either. The same goes for some of Marc's other big hitters, Jacky and Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart - both were missing from the set list. However, this only goes to demonstrate that Marc doesn't need the old familiars in order to put on a rollicking good live show.

Despite being an excellent torch song singer, Marc drenched his set list with upbeat dance tracks such as the rousing Minotaur off the new album The Velvet Trail, The Dancing Marquis, When the Comet Comes, Variete, Meet Me in My Dream and Bad To Me. But when Marc Almond slows things down, that's when his voice really shines - he has a vocal control and range that many of his contemporaries should be envious of, demonstrated so beautifully on two tracks from the latest album, the melancholy title track and the stunning Scar, a real highlight of Marc's latterday output with a simple yet affecting melody.

Complementing this impressive aural display are some beautiful and imaginative visualettes on the screen behind the stage, some specific to the song, others more generic, but always colourful and striking, just like the artwork Marc likes to accompany his material (although the work of The Velvet Trail artist Kate Walters seemed absent). All credit to Niall Hannell for this visual feast, as well as his fantastic lighting (I don't think anybody failed to be impressed by the way one small spinning glitter ball transformed the cavernous Bridgewater Hall so beautifully).

My only grumble (and this is hardly a major thing) would be the choice of track to kick off the encore. After bringing the main show to a barnstorming crescendo with Soft Cell favourites Bedsitter and Soul Inside, the band returns to the stage, Marc gingerly grabs a guitar, and they launch into Gutter Hearts from his 1984 solo debut Vermin in Ermine. I wasn't alone in feeling a little disappointed that, after almost 90 minutes of an eclectic plundering of his back catalogue, we weren't treated to a more recognisable track.

But all's well that ends well, and Marc brought the show to a definitive close with Tainted Love followed by his traditional curtain-closer of Say Hello Wave Goodbye, the perfect way to draw a line under proceedings and send the audience on its way into the Mancunian night, perhaps still swaying gently to the beautiful lyrics of that latter track.

Marc Almond may not be as commercially successful as he was 30 years ago, but this hasn't stopped him producing quality material, and The Velvet Trail proves that as his pension book begins to wink at him from a few years hence, there's no stopping this strange, enchanting, charismatic and above all hugely talented entertainer from putting on a damn good show.

And to the inebriated guy who sat behind me, I was gutted he didn't do Ruby Red, but then you can't have it all!

The stats
Marc Almond at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, April 25th, 2015 (support act: The Montecristos).

Marc Almond website (retrieved Apr 27th, 2015)
Marc Almond on Twitter (retrieved Apr 27th, 2015)

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