23rd February at Gorilla
Sophie Ellis-Bextor (SEB) is back to rock the stage with her 6th studio album Familia, just three years after her last tour visit to Manchester for her album Wanderlust. Demonstrating that variety is the spice of life (second only to paprika, of course), SEB played a thumping set list containing material new and old, covers and intimate acoustic renditions.
Like a posh gazelle, she struts on stage in near-darkness to a powerful, grooving beat, and without saying a word plunges straight in to the first two tracks from her latest album. Although they sound great, her movements seem slightly awkward and tense. However, after a few minutes of saucy flirtation both she and the audience are visibly more at ease.
The first part of the set is formed predominantly of songs from the new album. While these are lively pop songs, they’re all met with slightly muted appreciation from the audience. However, an ultrafast rendition of ’13 Little Dolls’, the live version of which can only be described as nü-folk-pop, sends an upsurge of energy throughout the audience and the entire room is finally on the same wavelength.
Musically, the band are tight and put on a polished and well-rehearsed performance, including some fantastic backing singers/violinists. Most songs seem to be driven by the bass guitar, although the levels in the venue were slightly off as keys and guitar were quiet at times. The band provided an understated and modest backing, allowing the focus to be on our Sophie.
Throughout the rest of the set, SEB communicates superbly and even takes a slight break to give an insight into the development of her song writing process over the past half-decade. This even involves deconstructing some lyrics that she now feels “dissociated” from. This interlude is followed by two acoustic numbers requested by her Twitter followers. An “overwhelming majority” of fans had requested ‘Get Over You’ and ‘Mixed Up World’ (from her first and second albums, respectively) and the energy of the sing-a-long is something to behold.
Following these more intimate moments, the energy is regained with a few tunes from her recent discography, leading up to the much-anticipated climax of disco-pop that SEB does so well. During a musical interlude, she takes a minute to change into her “sparkly disco leotard” and gives the audience fair warning that things are about to get properly popping. Over the course of the next twenty minutes, covers of Cher, Moloko and Freemasons are thrown at the audience, along with her major hit ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ by Spiller, all of which go down an absolute treat with the boogieing crowd.
This unrelenting orgy of nuanced 00’s dance sends them wild, and is topped off with a fantastic rendition of ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ (nearly burning the “god damn house right down”). In a classic case of misdirection, SEB leaves most of her band playing the outro and sneaks off stage, only to reappear at the sound desk in the middle of the venue. Accompanied by an acoustic guitar and two violins but without a microphone, SEB delivers a delicately passionate rendition of ‘Here Comes the Rapture’. It’s delivered with tangible emotion, and is a fitting way to end the show.
Throughout the evening, Sophie created an atmosphere in which she was a friend first and an entertainer second (and, after her attempt to promote some tea-towel merchandise, probably a saleswoman third). After 18 years in the business, Sophie Ellis-Bextor can still put on a damn good show, and is surely the only artist that can cause a predominantly 40+ male crowd to passionately roar “and if you’re feeling life is just too tough, just remember you’re a real tough girl”.