Lily Allen With MR Little Jeans House of Blues, Dallas Monday September 15, 2014
On her first visit to Dallas at the House of Blues, Lily Allen took the stage purple-haired and dressed like a shiny bit of Christmas tinsel. She was surrounded by a backdrop of large baby bottles that lit up, perhaps as an allusion to her recent motherhood, or her own perpetual state of infancy. With the title of her latest album, Allen has proclaimed herself a God, or technically just the female Kanye West, known as "Sheezus". She opened with the album's title track, which resorts to Eminem-style tactics of name-dropping (often unkindly) every major contemporary pop star.
Since Myspacing herself into fame in 2006 with infectious songs like "Smile", built on lyrics full of ironic venom coated with unabashed layers of sweet artifice, Allen has become a demonic child delivering harmlessly snarky messages straight from a cherub's mouth. Along with the bubblegum-flavored fusion of electro pop, ska and carrousel music, Allen's unapologetic trailer-chic unsophistication prompted a league of London-girl worship.
Allen has been touring with Miley Cyrus on the latter's Bangerz tour, and has picked up some of her unfortunate mannerisms, like incessantly discovering the fact that she owns a tongue, or doing an occasional half-twerk. The comparisons are unavoidable despite the fact that Allen's well-intentioned mess of immaturity and causeless rebellion -- albeit less desperately contrived -- far precede Cyrus'.
Allen appeared at first a bit lethargic, like she'd been coaxed into revisiting songs from 30 years ago, but she picked up the pace as the audience tossed around a beach ball and she removed the tinsel to a tiny cut-off leather dress. With "It's not Fair", she sang about a bad lay as images of men's crotches, covered by items such as purses and cars, were on screen above her. Allen seemed at ease and unconcerned with faking any airs of a grand performer; between sets, she even told the audience while miked up from backstage that she needed help with her underwear riding up, among other bits of colorful backstage trivia.
In a superb cover of Jhene Aiko's "The Worst", the sharp rhythm in her rapping contrasted her cockney voice, fluttering in a whisper of the most nasal R&B. Except for the occasional slow song, all tracks were club-friendily produced, and her brand of childlike fun and teenage ranting was pervasive, permeated throughout with grave silliness.
Smoking onstage with a Drake vs Li'l Wayne tank top, Allen kindly asked, then ordered, the audience in the balcony above to stand, unless they were in a wheelchair or have a prosthetic leg, as she states she doesn't want to make the same recent faux-pas as Kanye West's. Sharing what she calls her "Mum pimp cup" with the audience, and then taking a sip herself, Allen didn't seem to have a case of well-disguised demagoguery but sincere humility -- brattiness and all.
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Making a video of the audience on her own phone and asking the bass player to help her with her shorts, she was a bit removed from any expectations the crowds may have elevated her to. Her genuineness was endearing. That's probably why, after prefacing it with the idea of "Sticking it to the man", she had the whole place singing along to "Fuck You" while giving the finger, and even the honest-to-goodness adults in the room played along approvingly.
For the end of the show, Allen returned to stage in a neon cheetah catsuit with ears and a tail to deliver her latest hit, "Hard Out Here", among a rainbow of well-executed lighting. The song is a confusing statement of pseudo-feminism, full of Twitter wisdom. The aim was presumably to denounce societal misogyny, particularly in the abundance of music videos showcasing objectified females. This last point was illustrated through the interpretative dance of a group of female dancers twerking exaggeratedly in dog masks.
But Allen looked uncomfortable in this bit of choreography. Perhaps it was because her meta-irony is, in the end, sheerly accidental. Certainly, there contradictions to be had: Throughout the show, and in general, Allen took quasi-political stances on sexism while simultaneously performing songs mocking male sizes, or sang "URL Badman" about spiteful internet trolls while publicly name-checking her own peers.
Despite being at once an icon and archetype of her generation, Allen has never quite replicated her English superstardom in the U.S. It could be that, by her own account, as she emerged in the U.K. an American version of her was found quickly in Katy Perry's anime-and-unicorns variety. And then there's Cyrus and her crude nonsense. Lily Allen seems to know she's neither the most original performer nor the greatest singer, but even in her commentary she's tremendously entertaining, and transmits that undeniably cool factor, the kind of street-cred she'd lose anyway by reveling in the mainstream.