Review by Jack Foley
FROM Monkey Man to Elephant Man to, um, sex symbol in three easy steps, Ian Brown style, is a fitting way to describe the often brilliant, but occasionally obscure, antics of Ian Brown at Brixton on Friday night (November 23rd, 2001).
It's not often you would refer to 'Brownie' as a sex symbol, but female fans at the Academy seemed to think so, hurling their bras at him with gleeful abandon as he performed tracks from his new album, The Music of the Spheres, to a sell-out crowd. And that wasn't all that was offered to him. At one stage, the singer performed a number with a bra strewn across one shoulder and a hat on his head, before offering the underwear to his keyboard player and throwing the hat back to the masses.
It is a mark of how far the singer has come since the dark days of his (now renowned) poor vocal performances with the Roses that he can have so much fun while on stage. Singing isn't so much of a problem now and his voice was in strong form even during the more demanding numbers.
Brown's persona continues to be such, that even before he appeared before them, the crowd was chanting his name - football fan style - in eager anticipation. In truth, they may not always have been impressed with what was delivered; but that is the risk you take with such a performer.
This was a concert which frequently reached some dizzying highs, as with the new single F.E.A.R and former classics such as Dolphins Were Monkeys and My Star, but which also delivered some mystifying lows. Both the first section and the encore seemed muted - given that the first featured the shortest and mellowest track of the new album, Forever and a Day, and the encore concluded with Stardust; a track he had already played earlier.
You could argue that Brown likes to be different, or even surprising - and this certainly was the case - but from the fans' reaction, it may not always work. No one seemed entirely sure at the close of both sections whether that really was it - and a significant majority hung around after the finale in the hope of seeing their idol re-appear, possibly for one of his best tracks, Be There, which was curiously omitted.
Quibbles, aside, however, this was a very good gig. Brown was on form and playing up to the crowd, donning hats, the aforementioned bras, a suit and pretending to be an elephant man at various stages, while his backing musicians were clearly having fun - complete with illuminated guitars, etc. And musically, most tracks were spot on, with The Gravy Train (taken from the Spere's album) particularly effective with its moody chorus, slow building verses and sublime beats.
Corpses, during which Brown performed on a mouth organ, was another highlight, as was Stardust (the first time) and So Many Soldiers, taken from the Golden Greats CD. And on the whole, this was another night to remember at the Academy. Brown even offered to do requests, and hinted at I Am The Resurrection, but joking aside, I guess there was never any chance of him launching into an impromptu Roses revival, however wild the fans would have gone to hear it. Had he done so, God only knows what items of clothing would have been thrown at him!