tue 16/07/2024

Madness, Brighton Centre review - a celebration of songs old and new | reviews, news & interviews

Madness, Brighton Centre review - a celebration of songs old and new

Madness, Brighton Centre review - a celebration of songs old and new

Leaning heavily on their new album the London band give Brighton a pre-Christmas blow-out

From left, Mark Bedford, Mike Barson, Suggs, Chris Foreman, Lee Thompson and Dan "Woody" Woodgate

Madness are very and volubly pleased that their latest album, their 13th, recently hit the UK No. 1 spot. Unbelievably, it’s their first studio album to do this. It even knocked Taylor Swift off the top spot. “I’m not saying, ‘Taylor Swift, fuck off! Drake, do one!'” says Suggs, early in their set, in his usual dryly genial manner, “but you gotta scratch your own back every now and then.”

It will not be the last reference to their chart-topping status. And the album in question, the awkwardly titled but vital Theatre of the Absurd presents C’est la Vie, is the basis for much of tonight, with eight songs played from it. Rather than the usual Christmas merry-go-round jolly – which tonight also is, of course – Madness seem like a band with purpose, the album’s socio-political lyricism giving extra edge to proceedings.

Supported by an additional percussionist and brass section, the six members of Madness are all clad almost completely in black. There’s a large screen overhead on which Helen Mirren introduces them, or rather the album, at the start, and on which collaged clips play, illustrating the songs, from Mad Max II to The Magic Roundabout, from Scarface to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

The sound initially has a reverbed muddiness but this clears up within two songs. New cuts such as “Lockdown and Frack Off” and the scathing single “C’est la Vie” alternate with familiar gems such as “My Girl” and the band’s last chart hit, 2008’s “NW5”. Sax player Lee Thompson, initially wearing a stovepipe hat, is on bumptious form, sparring with Suggs, firing tee-shirts into the audience with guitarist Chris Foreman, and berating us for not giving it enough welly on the chorus to “Bed and Breakfast Man”.

“What the hell do you call that?” he shouts, resulting in a post song sing-along that has to be abruptly halted before the next number.

The first two thirds of the set are not manic. The new songs sometimes have a contemplative quality that not all the audience fully embrace. Most are in their fifties and sixties, looking exactly as you’d imagine, the guys in Fred Perrys, Harringtons, shaved heads, lots of pork pie hats and fezes. The situation is summed up by – admittedly affable – grumbles I hear in the toilet. There's a minority only really want to hear material from, I’d hazard, the band’s initial 1979-83 gold run.

Not me. I love the new album and it’s a treat to hear so many of these songs live. Some of them are angry companion pieces to better-known numbers also played. For instance, “Baby Burglar”’s rage at poverty and petty crime riffs on the magnificent “Shut Up” single. Suggs snipes at the “real criminals” and delivers "Shut Up"'s closing line, “What you give is what you get”, with appropriate bitterness. “In My Street”, on the other hand, has a melancholic sense of being trapped somewhere broken, the antithesis of “Our House”’s euphoric nostalgia. I observe tears in some eyes during the latter.

Other songs resonate in a different way, reminding how long ago the band formed. “Embarrassment”, about Thompson’s family’s negative reaction to his 17-year-old sister Tracy becoming pregnant by a black guy, is accompanied by what I think are images of that child, now grown up. In a much more frivolous way, leaping about to “House of Fun” is a joy but it’s odd to recall its inspiration was the excruciating awkwardness around purchasing condoms circa 1982.

They do a great version of “Grey Day”, one of Madness’s bleakest hits, a perfectly worded snapshot of depression and the monotony of the daily grind. Foreman’s guitar comes into its own. And there’s a fabulously noisy sing-along to the gospel vocalising on  “Wings of a Dove”.

Finally, everyone gets what they want with a closing diamond spree of well-loved songs, including “It Must Be Love” and “Baggy Trousers”. The latter is accompanied by Suggs’ admonition that a younger audience member should “get an education or you’ll end up like him,” pointing at Thompson. In amongst the encore they play The Specials’ “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” by way of tribute to the late Terry Hall, then conclude, as always with the deathless sax romp of “Night Boat to Cairo”. The feeling, walking out to the drizzly night, is that we may grow old but Madness’s music does not.

Below: watch a five-minute trailer for Madness's Theatre of the Absurd presents C'est Las Vie

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