Before I get to the review, let’s get a few things straight. First, when you see Kylie Minogue live, you’re not seeing a concert. You’re seeing a show; We’re talking a full-on, pull out all the stops, Las Vegas-style revue with all the trimmings – like Cher without the wigs.
Second, Madonna is Madonna and Kylie is Kylie. It’s that simple. Madonna does what Madonna does best live and Kylie, well, Kylie sells millions and millions (and millions) of tickets for her shows all over the world to people who obviously know the difference. As for those Lady Gaga comparisons that have been popping up, Kylie was sporting exotic costumes when Gaga was still wearing a Catholic school uniform.
Obviously, I’ve been a fan for a while. I remember hitting the dance floor with friends to the catchy chorus of the singer’s first U.S. success “I Should Be So Lucky,” as well as a string of other singles churned out by the production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman in the late ’80s. I was also along for the journey as Kylie reinvented herself as an underground dance diva in the ’90s and evolved into a full-on pop/club goddess in 2000. So naturally I was beyond thrilled to finally get a chance to see her live.
The diminutive Aussie singer – backed by a live band (complete with a killer brass section), a team of perfectly choreographed (and very easy on the eyes) male and female dancers and an impressive array of lights, lasers, video backdrops, smoke machines and filmed interludes – sang her way through a couple dozen selections from her sizeable catalog as happy fans chimed in and danced in the aisles. (That’s right, she sang – no lip-synching for this pop icon.)
Sitting in a packed Hollywood Bowl under a nearly full moon watching a show I’ve waited 22 years to see, I was reminded of the glitzy, over the top musical variety specials of the ’60s and ’70s, especially when you throw in Kylie’s charming and relaxed between song banter with the audience.
Every review written about Minogue’s North American shows so far has mentioned that she opened by descending atop a giant silver skull, decked out like the Queen of Mars and singing her spaced-out flight attendant anthem “Light Years,” while what appeared to be a battalion of “Minority Report” extras danced below her. What they all failed to mention is that while most performers would look just plain silly doing this, Kylie somehow managed to look classy, which is pretty much her default state.
As a matter of fact, throughout the nearly two hour show, no matter how close to outright campy or kitschy the production got (and there where moments when the whole evening could easily have careened into Kylie-parodying-Kylie territory), the singer effortlessly lent it an air of earnest friendliness, like a fresh-faced youngster putting on a show for the neighbors.
If I had any complaints about the experience, they would be the tendency for the sound mix to get muddy on songs that were heavy on synth or sequencer backing tracks, once or twice partially obscuring the lead vocal, and the limitations of using only one camera to shoot the show. Sure I was there to see Kylie, but her dancers, backup singers and band deserved some time on the Bowl’s video screens too. But those are extremely minor things that most people probably didn’t notice and they didn’t detract from the performance at all.
Many of the night’s selections were performed with fairly straightforward arrangements, including “Speakerphone,” “Come Into My World,” “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and an ’80s medley that featured “Shocked,” “What Do I Have to Do?,” “Step Back In Time” and “Spinning Around” (which is actually from 2000’s Light Years).
Other tracks benefited from fresh new interpretations, most notably Minogue’s 1987 cover of “The Locomotion” (transformed into a big band, burlesque vamp and a highlight of the evening IMO) and “I Should Be So Lucky,” (sung torch-song-style with simple piano accompaniment as a thank you to the assembled faithful).
The singer’s fans at the Hollywood Bowl were also treated to a peek at her upcoming album when she sang “Better Than Today,” a track that was first unveiled last week during the North American mini-tour’s opening show at the Fox Theater in Oakland, Calif.
Like much of Minogue’s body of work, “Today,” which was written by up-and-coming British singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot, is a bouncy, breezy gem that’ll no doubt find a home on the dancefloor and singles charts around the world while it’s being dismissed by some as the aural version of cotton candy.
But those people, along with the reviewers who’ve been pretty brutal to the singer in recent days, are completely missing the point. At its core, Kylie’s music is meant to be a treat, a celebration to make you forget your cares and indulge in the sweet things for a moment. She even named her second album Enjoy Yourself.
While there’s been no official word on whether the singer will return to North America anytime soon after she wraps this visit, it’s been speculated that this limited run was to test the waters for a full-scale tour. If the reaction I saw Sunday night is repeated for Kylie’s remaining shows, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing her again before long.
I’ll be waiting.
Here’s a YouTube clip of Kylie’s new song “Better Than Today” from her show in Oakland.