I bought tickets for Charli XCX many months ago, for me, my husband and my step-daughters (15). They’re old enough now to go to proper gigs, but by today’s rules they need us there to get in, so Warren and I take up residence tucked away at the back whilst they rush to get as close as they can.
CuckooLander, the support act, is in full Charli XCX merch uniform and although they feel a bit straight, I enjoyed the set; mainly because the female lead singer was rocking a strong Level 42 vibe as the band’s bass player. Moments before Charli XCX is due, Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ (on which she features) blasts out, and I can see my kids going bananas about half way in the crowd. Not before long, the band take to the stage, all women in sparkly garb (no issues with female quotas here), and Charli XCX strides on for the opening number, ‘Sucker’, with her middle finger proudly aloft. I always wondered what Charli XCX had to make her so popular with these big American producers; she has number ones in the US, and she’s all over our radio and TV screens (I’m sure I saw her on Sunday Brunch a few weeks back). But I instantly start to see it. It’s 90’s, it’s bratty, it’s a bit punk, and she is FULL of energy. She is, my husband screams in my ear, “infectious!”.
A giant blow-up 3 stringed guitar appears, and I have a horrifying flashback to Miley Cyrus late last year (see separate review). But there’s no treating it as a phallic symbol that I can see, and as soon as the gimmick arrives, ‘Breaking Up’ finishes and the toy is gone. The zebra print crop-top, matching mini skirt and sparkly studded collar suit the ‘I Love It’ electropop anthem by Icona Pop (on which Charli XCX features), and the whole crowd is leaping around whilst she drives them on with her aggressive fist repeatedly punching the air.
‘Famous’ (one my girls’ favourites) and ‘Superlove’ takes it up a notch for the audience, and I can no longer see my daughters anywhere; they’re lost in the crowd, jumping, fist punching and generally having an amazing time. ‘Do It’ (the recent Rita Ora feature) is another hit, and next the CuckooLander vocalist makes an appearance for ‘Need Your Love’. She looks like she’s living the dream; on reflection, she probably is. I’ll be honest, I somewhat missed the vibe during ‘Black Roses’ and ‘Stay Away’, as I’d just noticed one of my daughters on the shoulders of some white-shirted man. Still, at least she’s got a decent view, I reason with myself… (ED – white-shirted man, it transpires, was a friendly young fellow by the name of ‘Joe’).
Charli XCX senses a bit of low energy in the room (or was it my protective fury from all the way at the back?) and she has everyone clapping and following her lead. She seems seasoned and she has the crowd in the palm of her hands. ‘Over You’ and ‘Body of my Own’ have familiar chord progressions and are pleasant enough. Then, we finally get the hint of the 90s punk I’ve been sensing, when she rocks out to ‘Allergic To Love’ – this shit is bananas, and a world away from the polished pop image in her videos. Good work Charli, I am loving the Gwen Stefani vibe. She announces it’s her first time in Birmingham, which is a shame, I think, as from the looks of that number she would’ve loved XL’s nightclub. ‘London Queen’, ‘Break the Rules’ and ‘Gold Coins’ pass quickly. I notice that she has been constantly bouncing or jogging throughout the set; she must be exhausted, but she doesn’t look it. She is hyped as she thanks her backstage crew, “I love them,” she says, “so you should love them too”. The crowd roars in agreement as she launches into her final song ’Boom Clap’, the infectious electropop single from the movie ‘Fault in Our Stars’.
The gig is soon over and as the crowd disperses, my girls coming running up to us absolutely buzzing. I might’ve seemed out of place, but it was well worth every penny. That gig will stay in their memories for a lifetime, and for that Charli XCX, I am grateful.
Review: Zoe Albutt
Photographs: Steve Gerrard