There's concerts, and then there's events. Róisín Murphy at Mansion tonight was definitely in the latter category. I've seen lots of pop extravaganzas over the years, but this one made me feel as if my brain had imploded. In a good way, of course.
Róisín is the Tilda Swinton of pop: Beyond their blonde palor, the two women share a sense of eccentric style and quirky tastes, as well as a gift to incorporate the experimental into the mainstream and an earthy sense of humor that sets them well aside from the safe discourse of most performers. Even when they venture into the commercial realm—Tilda Swinton in The Chronicles of Narnia, say, or Róisín recording a disco anthem—there's something completely sui generis about the way they go about it. The video for "Movie Star," for instance, pays tribute to both Leigh Bowery and John Waters's Multiple Maniacs, with Róisín getting molested by a lobster.
But back to last night.
The sense that something special was brewing was clear as soon as the Sheila and I rounded the corner of W 28th St: the entire block was taken up by the biggest line I've seen for a show in years, if not ever; inside Mansion, a sprawling deluxe establishment with plenty of nooks and crannies, chandeliers and disco balls, the bilevel main floor was already packed to the gills (the crowd was 80% male, perhaps because the show was presented by the Saint at Large).
Things started off with a pounding 4/4 beat, which turned out into "Cry Baby," the most Moroderish track on the singer's last album, Overpowered. She showed up wearing a shiny gold jacket over black leggings, a long-sleeved, skintight white top, vertiginous heels, black leather gloves and shades (which, of course, she took off on the line "Tired of wiping the tears from your eyes"). On the next song Róisín traded the jacket for a fringed leather one.
The jacket and accessories switches went on until about halfway through, when she stepped it up: She attached a fake hump to her back, then covered it with an enormous fluffy Big Bird–like cape, topped off with a large dinner-plate hat. There was also a large white angel-wing-shaped fur overcoat matched with a black fetish cap. And a deep pink/red hat with a face on it. And ballooning gold overalls with corset lacing at the back. And a dress that looked like it had been built by Frank Gehry. And more hats and gloves and shoes. There was a change for every song, and the best part is the music never stopped—it was like the concert version of a mix-CD.
The craziest outfit may well have been for "Overpowered": a tartan deer cape (with an actual deer-like animal precariously perched on top of the shoulders like some kind of Surrealistic stole) topped with an antler hat, like an even more demented version of Björk's swan dress. At the end of the song, Róisín collapsed to the floor, taking out the garment as she did and cradling the animal. It was completely bizarre and completely riveting.
And yet she came back and topped it! On the finale, an explosive version of "Rama Lama (Bang Bang)," she wore a foofy coat made of real chicken feathers, then at the end started a brawl with her backup singers, the three women tumbling to the floor (again!) and exchanging fisticuffs.
Through 90 minutes, Róisín never let up: This woman knows how to work a stage. Yet far from the over-rehearsed aerobicized vulgarity all too common among American pop and R&B stars, she danced like a club girl: There were just enough poses and coordinated moves with her backup singers to indicate that careful thought had gone into it all, but her goofy energy was that of someone who's logged miles on a real dance-floor. Plus she indulged in energetic headbanging a few times, blonde hair flying all over.
Someone's already posted some videos from last night, which should give you a vague idea of the fever-pitch excitment of it all: "Cry Baby", "Dear Miami," "Overpowered" (with the deer!), "Forever More" and "Movie Star." I'm sure more will be posted once the revelers wake up.
Finally, I've talked a lot about the visuals, but Róisín has got to be one of the most underrated singers around, with a sexy, smokey tone that's all her own. Check out this live rendition of Moloko's "The Time Is Now" on a British TV show: just gorgeous. "Let Me Know" (which was disco heaven last night) ain't too shabby either.