Madness @Manchester Arena [Review]
Alejandro De Luna
There’s a place to hide from the damp, jam-packed and wintry streets of Manchester on a Friday night. A Camden Town remedy against the silly Christmas jumpers on the street and the high heel parade heading to Deansgate’s swanky clubs and restaurants. At the Manchester Arena, you can see the other parade. The nostalgic parade. The English renaissance of street fashion. Polo shirts, dark shades, trilby hats, Madness iconic red fez hats, Harrington jackets, tartan, braces, colourful long socks, straight-leg jeans, suited 50-year old Mancunians, shaved heads – self-inflicted or caused by the unforgivable passing of time – and a fashion ceremony featuring the archetypal Dr. Marten’s, Brutus, Levis’, Fred Perry, Lonsdale and Ben Sherman. The atmosphere is of pure celebration and joy. The lagers flow unceasingly and the arena is packed and ready for Madness’ mass of ska, pop sensibility and R&B soundscapes combined with the habitual extravaganza of humour and eccentricity.
This is one of the most entertaining acts in England in the last 40 years; an institution when it comes to British pop music brewed in the dodgy streets and pubs of Camden Town in the late 70s. After 40 years, the London group seems to have it all: superb musicianship, the invincible groove, the catalogue, a quintessential English eccentricity, humour and the always welcomed street feel, even in those fancy suits!
There’s vintage backdrop videos in black and white featuring London’s grimy streets, English classic films, and tributes on the gigantic screens to the likes of the recently deceased Prince Buster – Madness’ prime influence – and Amy Winehouse. In between songs, Suggs chats constantly with the audience and mocks the Manchester swagger. The audience keeps gulping those pints of lager and preparing for the inevitable blast.
The picks from Can’t Touch Us Now, Madness’ latest album, offer soundscapes that are hard to pigeonhole; there are dashes of R&B, pop, jazz, new wave and soul. Take the cabaretesque ‘Mr. Apples’; reminiscences to David Bowie and Bryan Ferry on ‘Blackbird’, an Amy Winehouse tribute; or the funky groove on ‘Good Times’.
The wages of sin,
There’s a big fat bloke trying to do me in,
Well I can’t hide and I can’t run,
He’s chasing me around with an old shotgun
It is with classic songs like ‘My Girl’ or ‘Embarrassment’ when Madness claims back their reign as a solid machinery of the ska groove and their unique skill to craft exquisite pop songs of an anthemic quality. Then, add Lee Thompson’s classy treatment on sax, Chris Foreman’s scratchy guitar strumming, Mike Barson’s up-front keyboards and Dan Woodgate’s drumming groove, and you have one of the most solid structures in British pop music.
Hey you, don’t watch that, watch this
This is the heavy heavy monster sound
The nuttiest sound around
So if you’ve come in off the street
And you’re beginning to feel the heat
Well, listen buster
You better start to move your feet
To the rockinest, rock-steady beat
One step beyond
By the time that the soul-driven groove of ‘You Are My Everything’ ends, the arena turns into a perspiring jungle and the biggest ska dancefloor in the country. Immortal pieces sunk deep into the English status quo, such as ‘One Step Beyond’, ‘House Of Fun’, ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘Our House’, put things into perspective. There are countless pairs of DM’s tapping the floor. Sing-alongs. Wacky dances. Even strangers kissing each others’ shaved foreheads. By the time that ‘Night Boat To Cairo’ blasts the speakers, the place is an authentic nuthouse of ska extravaganza full of red fez hats, but it is time to go back to the damp, jam-packed and wintry streets of Manchester.