Quite what Soho Dolls make of it all is unclear, but they seem dead-set on revealing as little as possible. Stark, emotionless faces stare back out at the crowd, atop static bodies. With only the guitarist, Toni, breaking out of the statuesque backdrop band (he writhes occasionally to reach the top end), it is left to lead vocalist Maya to provide the visuals. She has a fixed spotlight on her, making it clear that this is where we are supposed to be directing our attention, but she arrogantly, and annoyingly, lopes in and out of it. Dressed in a scanty suede and lace top, she lazily throws shapes like a diva on dope. There’s definitely some new material performed tonight, but since she has little else to offer the audience (her reference to Ian Brown as “you know, the headline guy” actually draws a few gasps) it’s no surprise to find the band wandering off to minimal applause.
Thankfully, with only one support, it’s a relief to see Ian Brown is up to the task of generating some energy. Like a boxer, preparing for a fight, he comes out rolling his shoulders, flexing his neck muscles and pausing to pose for fans that show him signs of life. Occasionally, he flicks up a thumb or raises his tambourine to gaze playfully through it at those watching. Then, picking his gum from his gob, he whips up the mic and begins to layer up the resonating vocal of opener ‘Love Like A Fountain’. Lurking in the dark, amongst a sea of amps, his backing band do nothing more than gently nod along, almost as if they’ve been instructed not to show up the main man. Still the central spot refuses to follow the ringmaster but it doesn’t stop the sunken-cheeked legend pacing the stage to get up close to his fans. By ‘All Ablaze’ the lighting rig behind has burst into life to mimic a wall of flames, after which Brown takes time out to wind up the stereotyped student populous – “I thought you lot were supposed to be clever”.
Things take a shift back towards the positive for ‘Keep What Ya Got’, which really gets its groove on thanks to some frantic fingerwork on the tablas from the turban warrior Inder Matharu, and the crowd zone in on the hits ‘Corpses In Their Mouths’ and ‘Marathon Man’ that follow. Arms go up, the dancing intensifies and the singalongs and handclaps find more and more participants to up the volume. With Brown famous for his tendency to slip out of tune, the echoing venue is doing a good job of hiding any inadequacies – only on ‘F.E.A.R.’ is it apparent that something is awry. It matters little as his apologies to the crowd in the “cheap seats” (the seated balcony above) are heartfelt – “Sorry you didn’t get the chance to bop”. Then, discretely tucked into his encore, comes what we’ve all been waiting for; the cover of the Stone Roses’ classic ‘Fool’s Gold’ performed across a blanket of pink gels. Instantly, a sea of brightly-lit videophones flies up to record the event for posterity and we’re sent away with mile-wide grins.
Photo by Rich EAlso online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2009/12/ian-brown-%E2%80%93-corn-exchange-cambridge-071209/