Marc Almond at The Phil

Blimey. To say that Marc Almond’s Pop Troubadour Hits gig at The Phil last night was a bit of a slow burner would be to flirt recklessly with understatement. To use a hackneyed old sporting cliche, it really was a game of two halves.

As he took to the stage Almond, as I’m clearly now calling him, was charming and engaging and very obviously happy to be playing Liverpool. He’d even brought his mum along.  He still has that theatrical, operatic voice and from where I was sitting, he didn’t appear to have aged much since the days of Soft Cell back in the early 80s.

But, oh dear, was the first hour of his set was hard work for a casual fan. While the rest of the audience sat enraptured, I found it very hard going.  I’ve been to gigs where I haven’t known much about the act and still enjoyed the whole thing, but in this case I think you’d have to really know Almond’s work to appreciate the entire set – it’s not really a dip-your-toe-in-and-try-it kind of thing.

There were some dramatic, Spanish style-numbers and a version of If You Go Away that was like watching a dreary, interminable French film.  I was only still in my seat at this point because I wouldn’t quit, and I’m really glad I stuck it out.

The final 40 minutes or so was an absolute tour de force.  Starting with Gene Pitney’s classic Something’s Got A Hold of My Heart, the set went from dreary to dynamite faster than you could say, “Where’s my black leather trenchcoat?”

We were on our feet for the Days of Pearly Spencer and stayed up bopping through all of the Soft Cell classics culminating in a brilliant Tainted Love.  Even this was topped by a sing-along-tastic encore of Say Hello Wave Goodbye and T-Rex’s Hot Love.

Marc Almond was by turns charming, enthusiastic and completely bitchy, and the set populated by mad songs that were roughly equal parts of jazz hands, West End musicals, camp 70s Westerns and the Roger Vadim version of the 1960s.  As my companion said, it was a bit like olives – an acquired taste.  But it was worth sitting through for the mad and glorious last 40 minutes.

It was certainly better than a Saturday night in watching the X Factor.

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