sun 21/07/2024

Scissor Sisters and Carlinhos Brown, Tower of London | reviews, news & interviews

Scissor Sisters and Carlinhos Brown, Tower of London

Scissor Sisters and Carlinhos Brown, Tower of London

Joyously camp Americans and musically omnivorous Brazilians top the bill at the BT River of Music

Scissor Sisters feel like dancingScissor Sisters images by Sophie Lambe

“It’s the oldest building in England,” Ana Matronic said breathlessly. “We’re probably going to behead someone.” The Tower of London is an unlikely venue for the fizzy pop monster that is Scissor Sisters, who dedicated one song to Anne Boleyn. In the end, no executions, or drawing or quartering, but they did have a couple of oversized beefeaters (pictured below) flanking the stage and dancing.

Seeing them top the bill at the BT River of Music at the Americas Stage, you realise just how many pop classics they now have at their disposal from their four albums.

It was a case of wishing you could be in five places at once, as there were five stages dotted around the centre of London for this BT River of Music Festival representing the five continents, and five Olympic rings, all with top-notch bands. You could just as easily might have ended up at the Oceania or African stage. 

While nothing they do is startlingly original, to the extent that much of it sounds like pastiche, Scissor Sisters' songs are amazingly well crafted and Jake Shears is a really versatile singer, but their real strength is their flair for killer melodies. The instantly recognisable “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” felt like one of the weaker songs here. The way their choruses take wing in “Only the Horses" and “Might Tell You Tonight” gives an emotional lift-off which gets under the skin of English reserve. Their audience got to see fragile hope and despair lurking under the glamour, a fatally seductive combination.

The British have taken Scissor Sisters to their hearts in a way that the Americans haven’t. Part of that is the campness and irony, which, even post-Gaga, still tend to go down better here than there. Other American bands like the B-52s, who had a similar pop sensibility and line-up of gay front man and vampish girl, made it here before the States. The other pop traditions they are plugging into are Anglo pop divas like Elton John, who could easily cover a song like “Take Your Mama Out” without missing a beat, the Pet Shop Boys and Nineties dance music, as in “Let’s Have a Kiki”. Not sure what a kiki is, but I think we can safely assume it’s something rude.

Meanwhile, Carlinhos Brown (pictured right) put together his own collage of music, as the headliner at the same venue last night. Quite a few of the musical elements were Brazilian, as you might expect from this artist based in Salvador de Bahia, from the flashes of samba drums and north-eastern folk melodies. The show's warm-up was a troupe of drummers called Drum Works, who inclusively had a Muslim woman in a scarf and a couple of Chinese guys in the band playing as if they were at the Rio Carnival.

But Brown also has a nice line in funk and rock, and very unusually for a Brazilian, a strong Cuban influence (normally the two don’t meet at all). With his band dressed in black-and-white swirly costumes and wearing Indian headdresses, he also has a good line in imagery. If one or two numbers such as the singalong “Tantinho” were a little sugary, he is a charismatic performer in the tradition of the artistically cannibalistic Tropicalia movement.

I do sometimes wonder, though, when these festivals are programmed, at how often the programmers put on older (generally over 50) performers from one state - Bahia - when deciding which Brazilian artists to invite (Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil etc), which was why seeing the twentysomething Paulista Criolo at the Back2Black Festival a couple of weeks ago was so refreshing. And if they do the BT River of Music Festival again, selfishly I’d prefer if they were on successive weekends, to catch some of those funky groups from the Solomon Islands and elsewhere.

Follow Peter Culshaw on Twitter

We get to see fragile hope and despair lurking under the glamour, a fatally seductive combination


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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A kiki is not rude. It is a party for calming all your nerves. Gonna give you some shady love anyhoo xoxox

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