Saturday, 31 March 2012

Stewart Lee & the Young Runaways

 Like the dedicated daughter I am I yesterday accompanied my mother to see the comedian Stewart Lee at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.

Stewart Lee

Whilst Lee wasn't really to my taste the mother was rolling in the aisles. In fairness some bits were quite funny (his Michael McIntyre mime really tickled me) but I found his constant 'meta-comdey' a little tedious, and, whilst trying to throw the crowd I guess works in smaller settings it seemed to ring a little too true with some attendees in such a large venue. That said there were parts when a nearly united room snorted as one.

Perhaps the issue was that the constant self-referral to being a 'nobody' (and therefore having no material due to a life of Scooby-Doo with a 4 year-old son and driving between gigs) jarred with the fact that a) if he has nothing better to do than watch TV with his child what excuse does he have for a lack of material and b) he is a sell-out comedian touring over 150 dates a year (and his own website shows just how popular he is) 'If you want to interpret this as “he couldn’t be arsed to write a new show this year”, despite the fact that I have obviously been touring this most nights of the year to meet the demand and to stop other people complaining that I never play in their town when in fact I have probably already been there dozens of times, that is up to you'  showing that his 'lack' of material must be getting him somewhere.

In actual fact he did have material, some dragged out, some very snappy- it was coherence that was lacking. His own reference to this lack of structure and his attempt to create it again relates back to the repetitive motif of meta-theater.  I wish he wasn't constantly telling me how he was trying to be funny. Enough deconstruction. I want a comedian to give me a Coleridge- suspension (and I know this would be contrary to observational comedy). I don't even mind working hard for the laugh, I just don't want to constantly be reminded that I'm uncomfortably wedged between a man with bad breath and a laughing mother, feeling slightly tipsy having downed a large wine in the brief interval. I just want a giggle.

Pointing out your flaws as a comedian (lack of material), and constantly referring to your techniques (joke deconstruction) is either brave or stupid, if indeed they are actually your flaws. I felt a bit cheated by Lee that his highlighted flaws were actually talents- what he would call a 'classic switcharoo' . I'd love to see him again in a small gig, but I don't think he was quite up to the symphony hall.

The Young Runaways 

The performance was followed by a slightly nervous looking duo in the bar afterwards. Matt and Lucy from the Young Runaways however turned out to be an absolute delight. It was a shame that more of the audience didn't stay to see them, but then again beginning with Stealers Wheel, 'Stuck in the middle with you', though apt post comedy, didn't really show off Matt's vocal talent.

Their start seemed a bit wobbly, with Lucy not engaging the crowd between her parts and Matt constantly looking over to the bar, either at mates or at the audience he hadn't quite caught the attention of, his focus away from those sitting right in front of him. Their cheering friends however upped the tempo and when the couple got on to their own songs their enjoyment and talent shone through! Their newest release 'Closer' is quietly upbeat-and the gently hedonistic 'what were we waiting for, we needed no excuse' made me happily reminiscent of my indie-loving 14 year-old self.

'What happened to us' however seemed to be a real hit -and the lyrics rang true 'we've all been here before' making it a real ear-worm. The later covers- an acoustic version of The Rolling Stone's Jumpin' Jack Flash and Paulo Nutini's Pencil full of led, were much improved. They both obviously then felt more comfortable with the crowd, even involving us with drumming and introduction to one song, and actually smiling! The smiles and seeing them actually enjoying it, and the humble thanks for the applause, made them a genuine pleasure to watch and I hope to see more of them soon!

(I hope they don't mind the photos, awfully, I didn't ask permission!)

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