Kevin Rowland is one of music’s last great enigmas. Having ruled the world in the 1980s with a string of genuine pop classics, he disappeared from view for decades amidst rumours of reclusion.
So what does a pop Svengali do on his return to the live stage? Revisit the hits to a nostalgia friendly crowd and bank the cash? Not in the slightest, this incarnation of Dexys (with Rowland as the only original surviving member) have waited to get their first album in 27 years – this year’s One Day I’m Going To Soar – just right, using this tour to showcase it in all its glory.
From the very beginning it’s obvious that this is no ordinary gig. Bathed in soft pink light and resplendent in an immaculately tailored zoot suit and spats, Rowland appears on a stage resembling Berlin 1935 rather than Sydney 2012.
Backed by a similarly attired big band, this new Dexys are here to deliver a unique and highly personally soulful vision. Performing a new album in full may seem like commercial suicide, by not allowing the crowd to respond to familiarity, but they are certainly on side tonight.
An experience more akin to a classical stage production sees a narrative of lost love and forgiveness unfold against a soundtrack of dark, narrative-driven confessionals mingling with fiddle-led euphoria.
The songs may be unfamiliar but only in the same way an unread book has not yet revealed its secrets. As the drama unfolds, Rowland is joined by a real life version of his muse as singer Madeleine Hyland struts out on stage – to the delight of the crowd.
As the plot unfolds, the impeccable band, led by the riotous brass section and mesmerizing violin player, lay down a selection of soft but melodic soul.
Highlights are many as we are gently pulled into the spiraling narratives woven on stage. A third vocalist joins the two doomed lovers with the trio delivering wonderfully comical in-song banter alongside the small but crucial pieces of theatricality.
No hits as yet, but its powerful and gripping stuff. Despite his senior years Rowland has the voice and stage presence that many could only dream of. This is blue eyed soul at its best laced with a charisma that is mesmerising.
Dexys has a reputation for a rotating cast of musicians but the band here is as tight as you are going to get. Reminiscent of a classic Stax revue, they complement the drama perfectly, adding an upbeat and almost celebratory ambience to the main players.
It wouldn’t be Dexys without the horns and tonight’s trombonist takes centre stage in leading the highly choreographed band through the twist and turns of the three vocalists on centre stage.
With an increasing sense of urgency, everything steps up a gear and we are faced with what seems the climax. The boy gets the girls and the band scream out their approval.
But its not quite finished yet, with the audience now roaring, Dexys finally acknowledge the past, with marathon, riotous new arrangements of all time classic ‘Come On Eileen’.
When it comes, the payoff is sweet and the previously seated crowd leap to their feet in approval. Even though it has been heard a million times before, the power of the song is immense and a worthy end to what has been an unusual but very special experience.
With nostalgia slowly overcoming the music world and retro mania at its peak, it’s refreshing that a talent like this has the power and guts not to just rest on past glories but to continue pushing boundaries.