2010. A year or so earlier.
Fingers in ears. Eyes closed. Avoid Kylie. Avoid technology. Whispers of a tour have now become screaming shouts all over the place. She’s released her twelfth album and she now plans to take the show around the world as you do. In its build-up, details of its content start to leak which is only to be expected as water is apparently a critical ingredient. Ahhhhh, I shouldn’t even know about the water stuff. Why do I know this? Already? Ah! I don’t want to know. Fingers in ears and eyes closed. You see, ever since I was eight I’ve never known what I would end up seeing on stage. The entire thing is a mystery, like Christmas presents. It’s always been that way. So I close my eyes and ears. I just don’t want to know and ruin the surprise. Ever since that shindig in 1998 at Shepherds Bush Empire (otherwise known as the UK leg of Live & Intimate tour) I’ve been bowled over by what Kylie, Steve Anderson and William Baker have in store. And now, eight tours and over a decade later, the moment I know a tour is being arranged, I avoid whispers, comments, discussions and photos.
I think I do it for two reasons. The first being that I simply don’t want to spoil anything and I love the surprise factor of it all. It’s like finding out all your presents on Christmas day two weeks before.
1991: Some Rainy SundayThe second reason is something more personal. I do it for the eight year old dancing around with his mum in the front room to Turn It Into Love and Things Can Only Get Better. That’s just how we rocked out in 1991! I remember one particular rainy Sunday we shuffled around, my mum sat down, looked out at me using the sofa as my stage as I disco-diva’d out and told me how she loved the lyrics of those two songs. I had no idea what she was on about. I shrugged her comments off as I was having far too much fun in my sparkly gown made of tinsel from the old Christmas decorations and bed sheets stolen from our guestroom. She snapped out of it and danced away returning to the imagined stage (sofa) as backing singer (of course). For some reason, when I attend the concert and I don’t know what I am about to see, I feel my mum is there with me and those lyrics come to life.
So fingers in ears. Eyes closed. Avoid Kylie. Avoid technology. This means: bye bye twitter, and consequent dinner dates with friends who know the show are interrupted with me going to powder my nose whenever the concert comes up or they communicate about the setlist by sign language and oblique references. They know me by now and understand that the first I know about what is in the show is when I am at the show and not before. It is my little weird thing I do. I just avoid it all. Absolutely no spoilers.
I think not knowing the show may also have some kind of pervasive influence over the outcome of this review. In that every thing in the show was a mouth opener to me. After a year of shutting them, my ears and eyes at the show were as open as they could be so please forgive me if I forgot anything or occasionally slip into hyperbole. This isn’t a normal review. It comes from my heart. That is both bewildered and amazed. Still.
9th April 2011
So now it is April and tonight is the night. I find myself in the Splash zone. I’ve heard this term being used in relation to this Kylie tour but I’d no idea what it involves. Residents of the space are given an assortment of goodies: towels, books, signed stuff, passes and a fetching mackintosh. Everything you need for a nice picnic on the heath. It also turns out to be an area right at the front of the stage. Close doesn’t quite describe it. Fingers are removed from those ears and the eyes start to open…
The show begins with the beautiful Le Carnaval des Animaux by the French romantic composer Camille Saint-Saens’ with silk-draped bodies emerging onto the stage somewhat like Naiads, which in Greek mythology are a type of nymph who look after fountains, streams, brooks and springs or their sisters, known as Nereides who tend for the seas. They stand still and watch over the water preparing the way for the impending arrival of Kylie – Aphrodite. Other concerts of this magnitude feel it necessary to drown the eyes with bombastic and brutish choreography from the offset. Stars and their conceptual musical directors often want to start the show with fireworks. However, observing the start of Les Folies, it is clear that a bigger start is not always the best way to kick off proceedings. The show is more epic, electric and bold simply by having its dancers stand before us as if to say “you have no idea what you're about to see so we’re just going to stand here and let you get ready!”. Consequently, the audience are put in a frenzy. Not because of fireworks, explosions and early overcomplicated choreography that you might see at other tours. Rather, because they allow the audience time to take on board the electricity of the spectacle they’re building it up in a more climatic and fun way, instead of a rush to the top. You can taste the energy.
The stage reveals itself and appears to double-up as Zeus’ very own beach-house. The Naiads are joined by gladiators while Kylie is flanked by two dancers who’ve clearly taken their fashion tips from Hermes himself with golden-winged helmets in this deep-sea dive into Greek mythology. I am in rapture. The dancers are strong, bold and incredibly athletic. If Kylie had opened the first Olympics back in 776 BC in Olympia, this is EXACTLY how it would have looked!
When Kylie arrives singing the title track of her previous album, she appears like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as well as William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s transportation of Venus from the shell. Dressed somewhat similar to the legendary Princess of Power, She-Ra, Kylie declares her status as the fierce and mighty Aphrodite to the 02 and to reinforce the message her underwater angels burst from pools located on the stage and seem to dance in the air. The entire tableau is a total feast for the eyes. The aqua-acrobats soar into the air and descend back into the water only to pick up more bodies which cling onto their fellow athletes' bodies as they're pulled above our heads. It is quite hard to describe the process but basically the athlete bobs up and down and as he’s lowered back into the pool he pulls out another and once this process is repeated a third person is located and extricated from the pool and attaches themselves so two become three. Very amazing.
When Kylie says “this is where the fun begins” she is being coy. This is when I start to see a performer provide a show that says “follow this”. The Aphrodite tour is a show that will not be topped for many years to come. It is clearly Kylie’s unique way of upstaging her fellow performers, drawing the line in the sand, setting the bar and making sure that standard is so high chart rivals couldn’t even dream of devising a show like this even if they wanted to.
The arrival of The One see's the narrative become a song about decadent monotheism in a splendid and hyberbolic delivery befitting a show that George Quaintance himself would have painted. Indeed, by the time Wow arrives we step right back into time as the dancers show-off their gold shields transforming from Olympic athletes to Roman Guards. Oh, if George Quaintance were alive now he would have been in heaven. In fact he is! Looking down at the show with a massive grin on his face. Kylie performs rather tasty hybrid version of the album mix and the poptastic Death Metal Disco Scene Mix. Perfect.
Steve Anderson takes Illusion to the deserts of Arabia as Kylie arrives on her Pegasus. Both the lyrics of Illusion and its interwoven choreography see Kylie exploring that other Greek story of Sappho. To feverish levels. It becomes clear that this could be a massive film from Hollywood’s Golden Era. I’m talking about those classic films that, despite the arrival of bulky budgets and special effects, will never quite be outshone for their inner warmth. Films like Cleopatra, Ben Hur and The Wizard of Oz. Cupid Boy sees Kylie either tell the story of Aphrodite’s love affair with Nerites or Helen Of Troy's, where incredibly beautiful dancers shimmer, parade and preen like peacocks on acid, jostling for attention, lust and adoration. She, as Helen, refuses the suitors' stunning advances for the vision of the true love she holds in her heart (and neatly projected on the screens behind her). This becomes a tribute to love as well as drawing upon glorious inspirations from Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictoral, James Bidgood's Pink Narcissus, and of course the previously mentioned George Quaintance.
Talking of which, Everything Is Beautiful is the soundscape for a fashion show put on by the gods' own designers. Each majestic item of clothing whether it be her dancers or Kylie’s own wardrobe transcends into pure artwork. One is immediately taken to that classic scene in Funny Face when Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) celebrates the latest big fashion trend which in this case is pink! Utterly Hollywood. The point is reinforced with the arrival of suited gentlemen wearing distinctive bow-ties. From here we are transported to Paris and Folies Bergere with a rather burlesque re-imagining of Slow. Fans of Polly-Rae’s amazing Hurly Burly show will love this. Steve Anderson morphs the slick electronic original to a sexually charged jazz number which sees even the stage become rather erect with excitement. Miss Gypsy Rose Lee herself would be bursting with pride. William Baker's direction here also proves his brilliant ability of managing to include smaller and intimate moments in a gargantuan tour like Les Folies without them feeling lost. Indeed, Slow is rendered small and yet not swallowed up by the show itself; it remains large and sparkles its own star just as brightly as the larger numbers in the concert.
After Slow, Steve flings out a rather excellent re-working of the Big Brother remix of Confide In Me. As Kylie changes, her dancers work the stage into a boxing ring throwing fists into the air followed by flicks, kicks and relentless punches. By the time of Kylie’s arrival for the body of the song she emerges in a sparkly new dress. Next we’re catapulted into some far-away galaxy, past beautiful looking azure planets and purple nebulae. The strings of Looking for An Angel (my favourite song from the album) soar and what a beautiful flight it is. Kylie shimmers in a gold outfit somewhat like an adapted Doric chiton. Right on cue an actual feathered angel arrives. Here Les Follies spirals into an utter celebration of fragile opulence. Kylie rides the angel and actually flies out over her audience immediately raising a toast to Barbarella. With Closer completed Kylie opts for a bombastic cover of the Eurythmics There Must Be An Angel. The trinity of Looking for an Angel, Closer and this cover seals the deal for Les Folies as it soars way beyond cloud 9 and into bubbles of happiness. Everything here is indeed beautiful. Into this comes the poptastic family of songs Love at First Sight, Locomotion, Better Than Today, Better The Devil You Know and Put Your Hands Up.
And in-between this quintet came If You Don’t Love Me. The inclusion of this ultra rare b-side at this precise moment is pure genius. Originally a Prefab Sprout hit, If You Don’t Love Me was one of the first Kylie songs recovered after leaving PWL. As I watch Kylie perform the pretty rare Deconstruction song I suddenly feel that, in some way, Les Folies could be a swan song of sorts. A change is in the air. Like the gods (and goddesses) are writing a new chapter in the path of Kylie’s music(al) odyssey. I feel a tremendous awareness that Kylie and her creative team have reached a beautiful summit and this is the moment they can stand back and be incredibly proud of themselves. This show is a pinnacle that no other act out there will reach for some time to come and as the embers of If You Don’t Love Me finally go cold I get the feeling that the next show Kylie will put on will be completely different to the epic spectacular that is Les Folies.
Indeed, making sure the show can’t be topped, Kylie delivers the ultimate in the beloved performance of All The Lovers. Demi-gods soar into the air in an absolute tribute to Busby Berkley. Oh he’d be in seventh heaven with Les Folies. To say All The Lovers is the icing on the cake doesn’t quite describe what unfolds on stage. All the Lovers is like the best dessert to the best dinner party you’ve never wanted to end. I could write a review on it alone and it would be equally long. To me this seemed a perfect ending to the show but also emerged as a wonderful book-end to those bone-chilling heart-racing early moments of Kylie’s Live and Intimate tour during Too Far back in 1998. The start of the tour seems, to me, powerfully linked to the last song performed at Les Folies. I can’t quite describe what it is exactly that bonds the two especially as they are both incredibly different songs. I think it could be the pulsating electricity, the eyes that pervade the audience, the spiraling shadow play or perhaps it could be the fluidity of both performances. What I do know is this: the spectacle that began with Too far seems to me to have reached a wondrous conclusion with All the Lovers. And, it has left me with the biggest smile on my face.