Words by Tom Frodsham
After a few years hiatus from the music world making babies, the Grand Dame of Experimental Pop (my title for her) Roisin Murphy is making a much-anticipated return. This week Roisin released her third solo album ‘Hairless Toys’- her first album release since 2007’s much loved ‘Overpowered’. A lot has changed since then but Murphy’s relevance and place in the music world is stronger than ever.
That was evident on Tuesday night at a sold out Gorilla. It’s the perfect venue to test the waters with new material, and to get an honest reaction from Manchester’s music loving crowd. Murphy’s fans are as passionate as ever to see the enigmatic star. Fans and friends I know had been talking about the upcoming show for weeks. It was her first gig in years that she’s taken centre stage, AND the first performing new material- making the night that extra bit special.
The show kicked off with a frenzy of synth and flashing lights, reminding me of the time I saw Murphy back in 2008 at the Academy. Entering the stage in an androgynous outfit topped off with a hat – her signature look, Murphy got straight to business with track ‘Evil Eyes’ from the new album. Wearing an eye patch thanks to an eye infection (I just thought it was part of the look) Murphy couldn’t have looked happier on stage. ‘Its good to be in Manchester!’ she screamed to the crowd.
‘House Of Glass’ was a lingering 7-minute track that weaved in and out of synth and guitar riffs. Murphy’s band included Eddie Stevens, the producer behind her new LP and an amazing guitar player who shined in the Chic-esque ‘Simulation’. A couple of first night technical glitches in the set didn’t seem to throw Murphy off. Her voice was as seductive as ever and just as clear and crisp as on the recording. Sometimes with age a strong voice can wear down a bit (Mariah Carey anyone?) but Murphy’s vocals never floundered.
Murphy isn’t one to turn down a prop for the stage. A wrap around lobster costume on top of her outfit, sunglasses, 3 costume changes and countless hats, she takes a note out of the Grace Jones School of Costume (unfortunately not a real place, sorry) and brings her gigs a touch of fun with her quirky fashion.
After that disco warm up the peak of the night came from stomper ‘Jealousy’ mid way through the show where Murphy really had the crowd in the palm of her hands. ‘Jealousy’ is a non-album track released in the years of wilderness between albums. Murphy’s haunting repetitive vocals of ‘Jealousy…Jealousy…Jealousy’ to build up a dance explosion revved up the crowd and went on for what felt like 15 minutes, easily got the loudest response of the night.
Slower tracks like ‘Exile’ gave a bit of relief to the dance floor. That’s what’s great about Murphy and the music of Moloko; the music plays with tempo, length and instrumentals in a track to keep you on your toes making it a delightfully unpredictable gig to go to. This was best demonstrated when she burst into ‘Exploitation’ – the 9-minute lead single from the new record.
It was surprising that she only dipped into the Overpowered album with ‘Dear Miami’ considering its a fan favourite LP, but then again this was a night to mix some old gems with her new work.
Towards the end of the set, Murphy pulled out some classics from the Moloko days like ‘Pure Pleasure Seeker’ and ‘Familiar Feeling’ that proved they are still loved as much today as back in the early 2000’s. For the encore the last track of the night was the perfectly suitable ‘Unputdownable’- the final track on ‘Hairless Toys’.
‘I’ll be back here in November! And it’ll be bigger and better than tonight!’ Roisin told us at the end of the night. Bigger? Yeah- but only because it’s at The Albert Hall. Better? I doubt she’ll be able to top this night. Welcome back Roisin!