Saturday, 11 February 2012

Charli XCX, Icona Pop, Mz Bratt at Lexington - 8 February 2012

Charli XCX (Photo Al de Perez)

There’s a strong bill tonight, but the message doesn’t seem to have got through.

Maybe everyone else is being cool in the bar downstairs, but when the first act comes on there is no one in the venue but a clutch of old guys and a few photographers.

Mz Bratt and her crew are nothing if not professional. They are full throttle right from the off and are not going to worry that their audience is largely missing.

Bratt’s rapping is machine gun quick and contains elements of dance hall and grime. I understand about one word in ten and it doesn’t matter a bit. We are encouraged to jump about. We’re so ancient that we can barely move.

There’s a relentlessly upbeat children’s entertainment vibe to the whole set. ‘Rocket Launcher’ is immense, the beats and vocal delivery explosive. ‘Selecta’ brings everything to a happy smiling conclusion.

Bratt smiles ruefully. The only thing harder than a tough crowd is no crowd at all.

Things get busier for the next act, who are Swedish electro-divas Icona Pop.

The eye is drawn to the incredibly tall and frankly awesome Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo. The third member of the band, a Howard Jones lookalike in a fetching polka dot smock hunched over a plethora of laptops and keyboards, barely gets a look-in.

The band plays a short set of anthemic euro pop and the girls give it their all, heads thrown back, eyes closed. Many of the songs are accompanied by elaborate routines incorporating synchronised arm movements.

We get ‘Top Rated’, we get ‘Sun Goes Down’, We get ‘Manners’. These are all perfectly serviceable songs that would go down well under the glitter ball. That said, and despite the obvious charms of the singers, I think that Icona Pop are probably not quite in the very top echelon of Stockholm bands.

Theirs is a popular set. As they try to leave the venue everyone wants to have their photos taken with them. It’s like watching a succession of little guys being snapped next to a giant fish.

Tonight’s headliner is Charli XCX, who I last saw here just before Christmas in her capacity as a DJ.

There is an elaborate light show that bathes the black clad singer in meshes of laser light. Even in a venue as small as this, Charli is out to make an impression.

The set starts with ‘Stay Away’, here much more forceful than the recorded version. This is followed by ‘Nuclear Seasons’, the first in a selection of more up tempo numbers which see Charli grimacing, punching and kicking the air as though she is Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Her band consists of a keyboard player and a guy conjuring sound from an electronic drum kit. They studiously avoid drawing attention from the star centre stage.

Charli’s microphone stand has been garlanded with armfuls of scrunched up videotape and she persistently plays with this, draping the stuff across her arms and shoulders.

There’s rather an air of ‘Gothic Britney’ about Charli XCX – she’s scary, but only in a Scooby Doo kind of way and she certainly whips up a storm amongst the gay contingent of her fans.

The latter part of the set is slightly marred for us by the attentions of a hopelessly drunk young man, who, possibly inspired by the punches thrown on stage, wants someone to hit him. We decline and he falls over anyway. He’s a waste of space.

It’s certainly been an unusual evening. I’ve enjoyed all three acts even though they don’t hang together particularly coherently as a bill and I suspect that none of them are playing to their target audience. I’d happily see them all again.

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