REVIEW: Madness at the Arena

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COMBINING classic sing-along songs with fresh catchy tracks from their latest album, entertaining on-screen visuals and impressive stage lights, one of Britain’s best-loved bands brought an unforgettable show to Manchester Arena last night.

Following their twelfth studio effort, Madness – the legends originally established back in the 80s – recently returned to the current music scene with a brand new album and accompanying tour, ‘Can’t Touch Us Now’.

Tickets were very close to selling out for the Manchester date and despite the fact that there were still a few empty seats, the crowd – primarily consisting of fez-wearing 50-year-olds – gave the band the warm welcome that they deserved.

With support from fellow 80s sensations, The Lightning Seeds, the evening got off to a lively start which contained some of those songs that everyone just knows, such as: ‘Life of Riley’, ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Pure’.

 

The interval between the two bands taking to the stage was a whole other party in itself. Blur’s ‘Parklife’ and Soft Cell’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ filled the walls of the venue as gig-goers danced and sang along.

It was exactly what I imagine being in Manchester’s renown indie nightclub 42nd Street is like – if you were ever to go with your parents and their mates.

No introduction was needed. Diving straight in with the title track from their latest album, ‘Can’t Touch Us Now’, Madness owned the stage right from the beginning.

The saxophone and keyboard infused melody had everyone moving along as frontman, Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson, made his way around the stage effortlessly working a pair of black shades.

Suggs took to the microphone to say a few words regarding “those that we’ve sadly lost this year” before bursting into an energetic rendition of the band’s first single: ‘The Prince’.

The track is a catchy tribute to the late Jamaican ska singer Prince, who also influenced the group’s name.

As the six-piece performed, visuals of Prince himself were projected on huge screens surrounding the stage. This nice touch continued later in the set as they played ‘Blackbird’ from their new album.

The lyrics refer to “fallen angels”, “black stilettos” and “mascara eyes” – even without the visuals, the stunning song is a touching tribute to the late Amy Winehouse.

A range of graphics and media were used throughout the set to accompany each song. From shots of locations around Manchester, old school photographs and video clips of Donald Trump and David Cameron, each track was successfully told visually.

Not only did this technique give those fans sitting right at the back of the arena something to engage with, it turned the whole evening into a treat for all the senses.

Completed with impressive stage lights which lit up the whole room, the show really was an acoustic and visual masterpiece.

The group brought a range of old and new material to the stage and ‘Wings of a Dove’ was a personal favourite of mine. The track got those in the seating area up on their feet and dancing along.

After a number of impressive saxophone solos, the last twenty minutes of the set list was in a whole different league.

Classic after classic, each performed with more energy than the track before, Madness played the incredible ‘One Step Beyond’, instantly followed by ‘House of Fun’, ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘Our House’, before ending with ‘It Must Be Love’.

Each track sounded just as impressive as the recorded versions and after singing our hearts out and dancing uncontrollably, myself and the crowd were left feeling completely satisfied.

The band weren’t finished yet though. Heading back on to stage with a funky track from the new album, ‘Mr Apples’ – which has topped the charts in America – Madness proved that they’ve simply improved with age.

 

The Lightning Seeds headed back onto stage to bid the crowd farewell and join in with a performance of ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ . Everyone in the venue was left with the memory of a top night that they won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Despite the demographic of the crowd being a lot older than myself, the gig, and their latest release, are both concrete proof that younger generations can also appreciate Madness’ impressive backlog and join them on the journey which isn’t set to stop any time soon.

 

4/5 @holliejrees

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