My first ever Kylie gig was a night of thoughtful yet joyous pop. And a surprising amount of moshing.
It was the summer of 1998 and on the surface of things, not much had changed in my life since 1997. I still worked in the Outpatients Department of the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea and had my tiny room in their staff accommodation. But all was not entirely well in my world. The depression I’d started to sink into at the end of 1997 got a serious grasp on me in the first half on 1998. My diary from this period is a disjointed, fragmented, semi-coherent thing, with no real entries, just unpleasant emotions blurted onto the page.
In July, however, I started writing in sentences again, and the first thing I wrote about was music. I was not yet what could be described as well, but I was starting to rediscover what I loved most in life – bands, gigs and songs. There was a new Mansun album and tour to get excited about – which I’ll talk more about on my next post – and there was this gig, my first chance to see a full concert from the iconic Kylie.
In 1998, I’d been a fan of Kylie for four years. When she was releasing her storming pop classics in the late 80s and early 90s I was, to my shame, a massive music snob, and thus missed out on the delights of such tracks as “Hand On Your Heart” and “Better The Devil You Know”. Thank god, then, that I saw the light in 1994 and became a pop fanatic via the wonders of Take That. That was the year Kylie released her self-titled, post-SAW album, which I enjoyed, but it wasn’t until 1998’s “Impossible Princess” that she really became an artist I loved. Most unexpectedly, it turned out that Kylie’s songs were some of the most relatable to me during the dark depths of my depression that year, with lyrics that resonated with terrible insecurity and emotional disquiet. So it seemed only fitting to break my five-month-long gigging drought by seeing her live. I expected it would be a gentle reintoduction to the art of gigging, devoid of the moshpit and feedback mosters of my usual indie gigs. I was slightly wrong. From my diary:
“Okay, who’s the idiot who this was going to be a gentle popfest of a gig rather than a full on moshmonster of sweat and hysteria? It’s taken me two days to recover enough to even begin to detail the screaming mayhem.”
And it seems that, at first, I did not feel entirely comfortable to be back in my old home that was gigland.
“I wasn’t particularly thrilled to find myself back in that grotty, smoky, sweaty, inebriated crush of gigland. Felt very out of place. And I used to feel very in place at gigs. I didn’t like the crowd, in general. Too bloke-heavy by far of course. The best crowds are always the screaming young girls in eyeliner and tiaras waving sparkly magic wands and so on.”
But all this discomfort of course came to a crashing halt as soon as Kylie was on stage, with an opening that was “truly breathtaking”.
“The band come on and commence an evil drum-catapulting introduction as Kylie’s eyes appear on a rectangular screen up high, first closed, then looking slowly from left to right, and finally, naturally, trained on the frothing throng. Beneath her eyes, the silhouette of Kylie appears behind the multicoloured scifi-esque screen of the album cover, and throttles into the first verse of “Too Far”, the words seething with the suffocation of irrational emotions.”
When the album cover screen swivelled round to reveal Kylie, “there she is, about half the size of her silhouette but in sheer star presence twice the size of the Empire itself. She is clad in a tight black catsuit-type arrangement and as she descends the stairs towards the crowd even I am overwhelmed to be in the presence of such a Presence.”
The next song was “What Do I Have To Do” which was “transformed into something of a ballistic rawk stormer”. Then came “Some Kind Of Bliss”, the recent single she’d recorded with the Manic Street Preachers. I had hoped that this song might feature a guest spot from James Dean Bradfield, to mirror Kylie’s own guesting at the Manics’ gig at the very same venue 18 months before. Alas, it was “tragically JDB-free but despite the outrageous sacrilege of hearing another guitarist trying to emulate his peerless playing ’twas still great.” “Put Yourself In My Place” came next, “a sit-down acoustic version and very gorgeous too.”
After the first brace of tunes Kylie disappeared, and a huge pink glittering K took centre-stage at the top of the stairs.
“She reappears next to it, also pink and glittering and singing “I Should Be So Lucky”. It is a slow jazzy Marilyn Monroesque reworking and quite frankly I have never seen or heard anything like it. The crowd was totally in the palm of her hand, every whisper and seductive growl sending the throng into screaming ecstasies.”
I was incredibly impressed by Kylie’s dazzling vocal prowess that evening. “Only in seeing her live did I realise what a great singer she she really is. Her voice in itself is perhaps not spectacular but she does exactly the right things with it, a whisper to a holler, semi-spoken enticements to shiver-inducing vibrato.”
Following “I Should Be So Lucky” she disappeared again, and a familiar disco refrain was taken up by the band. “The stage is invaded by the two most hilarious camply grinning pink sequinned short-wearing feather boa peacock tail sporting dancers in existence (and let’s face it, there can’t be many!) Kylie strides back on with pink plumes atop her head and basically this was “Dancing Queen” as she was always meant to be pranced. “Having the time of your li -i-ife!!!”
Many of my favourite moments of the gig were when she played her newest songs. “Breathe” was “a thrill, I think by this time I’d managed to configure for myself a decent combination of view, proximity and breathing space and so commenced in the traditional gig behaviour of jumping about and singing lunatically along.” Later on “Cowboy Style” was performed “complete with video shots of Las Vegas and a ridiculous hat.”
There were even newer tracks to be heard in the form of “two utterly brilliant new songs, the first of which was the sound of that dreadful longing to run away from yourself, the second a tauntingly subdues tuneful bubble except for ten seconds of it during which Kylie seemingly turned into Marilyn Manson.” Google tells me the first is “Take Me With You” and the second “Free”, though sadly neither were ever to appear on any subsequent studio album of Kylie’s, despite their brilliance.
Best of all for me though was “Limbo”, which “featured the bizarre sight of Kylie’s dancers in sequinned straitjackets, which, thankfully, they broke free from.” The symbolism of this felt very significant to me.
“One of the most moving things of the whole gig for me was seeing Kylie, this woman whose creative expression was once so stifled, so controlled, who no doubt had to bury much of herself in order to be acceptable to her audience, now quite plainly freer than free to delve the depths, to soar the heights, to fling off her straitjacket and do whatever the bloody hell she likes. I felt a fairly powerful mixture of envy, empathy and admiration towards the star on stage.”
The main set ended with “Shocked”, and after a brief absence “the band take their places once again and start the marvellous rumblings and murmurings that prelude “Confide In Me”. A wonderful moment, watching Kylie, now pale blue and shimmering, slowly descend the steps as those dramatic, doom-drenched strings cry out all around.” By this time I’d danced my way to a position three rows from the front, and was rewarded with “the sheer lunacy of moshing to “Better The Devil You Know”, drowning in glitter and streamers at its end.”
And then there was another pretend ending before the final encore. “At this stage the chant of “Kylie! Kylie! Kylie!” becomes so hysterical she verily collapses on the stairs in awe, it seems, at such levels of adoration. “You make a girl all shy!” she says, before noting how some clever people down the front have been making train-like gestures with their hands.” It was time for “Locomotion”, first a “slow-mo bluesy” version, before “morphing into its pop frenzy twin half way through.” At the very very end was a cover of the Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”, “and despite the many shrieks of “STAY!!!” she goes, and so do we.”
I left my first ever Kylie gig feeling uplifted and very, very impressed.
“A brilliant show, and something of a revelation really, at just what a top class performer she is. One, indeed, of the greats. And she is certainly making some of the most stunning pop the world has to offer just now. She could become one of the most startling, influential stars of the 00s. Let us hope she does.”
At this point in time, I expected the frivolous pop years were behind Kylie, and she was going to develop into the unique, striking, unconventional singer-songwriter that “Impossible Princess” had shown her capable of being. So it’s fair to say that when I first heard “Spinning Around” two years later, I experienced a fleeting pang of disappointment that it wasn’t more like her previous album. This lasted all of 0.2 seconds however, for “Spinning Around” is of course a pop stormer adorned with serious proportions of grooviness, and my love for Kylie remains strong to this day. Though I will admit, I still harbour a tiny hope that she’ll give us another “Impossible Princess” one day.
But most of all, revisiting this night in summer 1998, I am struck by the restorative power of music. The fact that a gig like this could cause a depressed girl like me to write in my diary about “Having the time of your li-i-ife!!!”, when just a month before, all I could write about was fear and pain. As a great philosopher once said (well, the Doctor – who Kylie would have her own adventure with in years to come):
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”
So thank you Kylie, for building up my pile of good things at a time when all I could see was bad. For a few moments in that dark year, I had the time of my life.