WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE?: Camden Roundhouse
WHEN?: 10/7/18 and touring to 7/2/19
SETLIST: Sanctify; Take Shelter; Shine; Eyes Shut; If You’re Over Me; Karma; Desire; Palo Santo; Rendezvous; Worship; Hallelujah; Real; All For You; Valentino (with MNEK); King
- Read on for reasons including why this was an arena show in all but name
Boasting four backing dancers (who he regularly joins for routines) and three back-up singers, his is one of the most sensational and show-stealing support slots we’ve seen in a long, long time.
The quality of his songwriting has never been in doubt and his voice is a gift but our reservations were always about his charisma, how comfortable perhaps that he felt in himself, and there’s no denying the punch of this set tonight finishing with two gems in Tongue and Colour that he performs the socks off (see below).
He teases: ‘This is about to be a gay experience: black and white, ebony and ivory.’
As if to seal the deal, he returns during the encore to duet with Years’ frontman Olly Alexander for new song Valentino (not even on Palo Santo) and it’s MNEK who seems most at home.
Which is not to say that Years & Years don’t wow, because after faltering while struggling to follow-up debut album Communion, new collection Palo Santo is thrill-a-minute.
The feeling here is of an arena-envisaged show (clue: 1st glitter cannon goes off in song 3) being squidged down to fit the glorious confines of the Roundhouse.
Sure enough there are backdrop films featuring Judi Dench voiceovers, more screens than you can shake a feather boa at and at one point Alexander hurtles towards the Roundhouse roof on a podium hidden underneath a giant cape he is wearing.
Whereas Communion musically was new Pet Shop Boys at its very best and EDM with ska twinges for the most part, the clues to Palo Santo‘s inspirations come in the pre-show DJ set which features Britney’s Slave 4 U and, magnificently, Billie Piper’s Day And Night (see below).
Olly’s in good form and a sweet foreign fan (from Italy we think) joins him onstage as he plays piano and sings ballad Eyes Shut while said fan waves in both bemusement and utter joy to the enraptured crowd.
Palo Santo may have taken longer than expected to appear but Olly’s mood may in part be explained by the enthusiastic reception it has received.
It’s a repeating firework of epic proportions with our favourites tonight being Karma, morphing from Timberlake to Michael Jackson as it whips towards its conclusion, and big current hit If You’re Over Me bowling the crowd over with its combination of irrepressible jauntiness and unforgettable melody.
Where next? The clue was in the staging. A well-deserved arena tour this winter, a bunch of hit singles from the album and, perhaps, Palo Santo topping the chart come Friday.
The crowd is young, features many same sex couples with face glitter in rainbow colours, and goes home happy with a beam on its collective face as trump card King crowns a truly triumphant evening.
We scribble a note to ourselves to make sure we check out MNEK’s debut LP when it finally emerges soon.