From the get-go, there’s an atmosphere in here that brings to mind a ‘20s speakeasy, stylish ladies and gents who know how to make their way around a beauty counter without turning into Quentin Crisp. Onstage, however, it’s a different matter.
Stage right, two girls, frowning as if their (Gladys K)night depended on such an expression, wearing dazzlingly shining outfits complete with nonsensical headwear, surely created by crazed children on a Blue Peter “dress Pan’s People using only kitchen accoutrements” mission.
Stage left, two buff-as-you-like buzz-cut boys, so doused in glitter they may as well have just been dropped into Hamleys’ patented Insta-Sparkle formula, dancing throughout proceedings as if they’ve been dosed with enough veterinary anaesthetic to fell a rhino. Their singlets read “LOVE”. A little subtlety wouldn’t go amiss, but hey, why not aim for the motherlode?
And between them, there he is: the most unlikely pop frontman since Daniel Bedingfield. On the evidence of tonight’s pretty-much-sold-out performance, Rod Thomas is a one-man Sparks, the continuation of Scissor Sisters’ introduction – but less star turn, more ringmaster.
Let’s not muck about here: make no mistake, In Rod We Trust. ‘Cry At Films’, unbelievably relegated to the B-side (if such a concept even exists anymore) of his new single, contains such simple, astute observation that we’re seriously impressed. The single itself, the devilishly irresistible ‘Love Part II’, is (perhaps faux-)nonchalantly tossed off mid-set, maybe to prove BLBL’s got plenty of tent poles to hold up his particularly colourful Cath Kidston-does-Vegas velvet, satin & silk creation.
Here is a man blissfully unashamed at owning (we’re guessing here) a comprehensive Stock Aitken & Waterman collection, and perfectly happy to out-Hurts Hurts in his plundering of overblown musical tics and signatures. But he knows that the less complicated a song is, the more it’ll burrow into your soul, so even amid the heat and the froth and the babble and the sweat, there’s some seriously gifted songwriting bubbling under.
Is Rod Thomas a pizzazz-shitting egomaniac frontman superstar? No: he’s more Gary than Robbie, truth be told, but his enthusiasm – for his material, for the audience, for the whole gosh-darned wonderful thing that is creating and delivering music to our ears – is constantly evident nevertheless, and all the more affecting for its credibility. And with songs like pre-encore finale ‘Disco Moment’ – and doesn’t everyone, everyone want one of those now and again? – he’s in no danger of fading into the background.
He’s adept at turning new phrases that’ll become as established parts of the lyrical canon as ‘Fool If You Think It’s Over’ or ‘I Got You Babe’ if there’s any justice – and there’s actually a dash of Justice in these here tunes, come to mention it. Rod seems to have been quietly building a body of work that’ll either give him an omnipresent face or (at least) a queue of pop acts snaking around the corner outside his flat, hoping for some Bright Light Bright Light magic-by-proxy. The post-gig fizz could power an oil tanker, and rightly so – it’s just one of those nights. What a big, blooming surprise.