Wallop! When Skaville hits the smoke all hell breaks loose. Those precious rhythms stir young bodies, upful and enervating, penetrating to the deepest recesses of the seventh sense and unleashing a whirling mass of energetic celebration, dance carnage. Stomping boots and shuffling sneakers, Madness is all in the feet.
Skaville hit the smoke Monday night at the Lyceum; Tuesday night at the Dominion is more like a matinee, presented in Tottenham Court Road's best pantomime setting, complete with 6.30 start and a Saturday Club audience buying popcorn in the foyer. Whereas the Lyceum gig was a rough and rowdy skanking free-for-all, the Dominion show was a tidy extravaganza, a supremely professional package for all the bairns perched smiling on the back of their seats. Madness at the Dominion was a BIG performance, grand theatre polished till it shone.
Shame then that they took so long to get there...
For a big opener, "House Of Fun" is pretty small. A panel rises in the backdrop and Madness emerge, km streaming thru' the hatchway and scattering the clouds of dry ice (courtesy Close Encounters Of The Nutty Kind) as the boys tumble down the gangway to launch into the song of their first number one video.
"My Girl," their third single and biggest chart success before "House Of Fun," is also dogged by tiredness. An under-the-weather Magnificent 7 were joined by a string quartet, busily bowing their violins behind the backdrop, but tho' Madness struggle to inject some sparkle "My Girl" was restrained where it should jump, a shadow of a great single.
"Blue Skinned Beast" will be yet another great Madness single. Promise. I shall rush out tomorrow morning and book it in for two weeks at No 1 and its rightful place in history alongside "Ghost Town" and "Lunatics" as a smash-hit manifesto. At the Dominion it comes complete with its own video, mixing clips of war in the trenches with caricatures of Thatcher and flashing the figure of 8,000,000 dead on the big-screen backdrop. Tuesday night it bumps along pleasantly enough but sorely lacking the singular urgency it promised on Rise And Fall, their weakest album to date.
Suggs tries hard to shake off the drowsiness of bad flu but e'en the winners sound weak-spirited. "Embarrassment" passes by painlessly, without the quiet, sweet hooklines and that strange. rare sadness ever really biting. "Grey Day" unwinds solemnly.
Offbeat speed, coupled to Barso's splendid melodies, was always Madness' greatest asset and their more deliberate pop compositions suffer badly from the weariness. When "Rise and Fall" lets loose it never really lets rip; Carl and Suggs sit smoking, resting on the riser while Lee takes a turn, but the initial outburst of skanking has now lapsed to a gentle bobbing. Repeated calls for a stomper like "Swan Lake" are met by tamer standards, neatly delivered but all too polite.
The weenies' determination to dance-and-to-hell-with-restraint isn't helped by the nauseous, officious bouncers. Everytime some kid shoulders his young sister or a mini-skin strays from his seat to dance in the aisle some Hitler with a beergut sours their enjoyment. (Brownshirts are out, cacky blue tracksuit tops with ESS Services written on the back are in).
Sure, matinee performances always lacked the thrill of a night out, but whatever happened to Madness — The Greatest Show On Earth?
Suddenly the spark is there. Speed, dance and showmanship... Behind every great Madness single is a great video and in front of every great Madness gig is a great mess of flailing limbs. Flail away, o weeny ones!
Where minutes before they dragged, Madness tear thru' "Shut Up," one of their finest singles, maybe the most perfectly structured Nutty Cracker — a superlative contradiction indeed. It's as simple as Carl swivelling on his heels and counting to three. "One Two Three!" he counts (clever, huh?) and the audience responds. Madness!
Sublime — "Baggy Trousers" was, is and always will be. The Dominion has erupted in a dance explosion and the bairns are unstoppable, flailing madly and revelling in those little pangs of pleasure that only Madness can spark. Having set all the senses tingling, Madness finally stir the seventh sense, dance, and leave the house grinning...
They return with a brass band. Pulling every trick and winning every time. Suggsy and Carl double-act like crazies, spurred on by an audience now similarly inclined.
With band and audience finally on form, you know Madness will be back for a second encore. When Lee signals the 7's return with that long low blast of foghorn you know they'll be back for a third.
"Night Boat To Cairo," from its moment of release, joined the list of ska classics; within it is contained the secret of pop — that moment when the skank slows to Woody's cymbals and Lee's sax and you just know... Wallop! That punctuated second waiting for the glorious thing to start again is the most wonderful moment this side of waiting for Elvis Presley to finish one of his long drawn out Sun-session vowels.
Madness stretch the celebration by bringing on Elvis Costello to surpass his own treatment of "Tomorrow's Just Another Day" on the new 12". Suffice to say it was it was a masterful performance, vastly superior to the version Madness had played earlier in the evening.
Elvis, ergo fabulous — Costello's voice is invariably overrated (the lad isn't exactly Howard Tate) and his songs have often seemed designed more to be studied as exercises in lyricism than to be sung, but tonight he made perfect sense to me. Costello was impressive even it Carl wins on good looks...
"One Step Beyond" mercifully fell on hard and fast times in the latter part of the set. Shuffling fast and furious, taking time out from skit-miming to bellow the title at the rapt audience. Carl is contagious. The clamour for more when he jaunts off stage is as instantaneous as it is inevitable.
Carl comes back to address the young ones from a pulpit and Madness return for another encore. Whatever they play, they've won.
They choose to bustle thru "Mr Speaker" (far stronger live than on record) and finish by playing a return visit to their fourth single, that cool, classy showcase for Barson's piano and Thompson's sax. They win easy.
With the Selector split, The Beat apparently sunk and the Specials factions following other trails, Madness are all that remains of '79's dance explosion, the last train to Skaville. And though it was late arriving tonight, when it came, it came in skanking Trojan style.
For all their wealth of recent four-square beat singles, offbeat Madness is still the best — those upful rhythms all the more precious in synth-ridden '83. It was those rhythms and their immaculate pop sensibilities that brought Madness singles by the chart-load and turned this evening at the Dominion from show to glorious showcase.
Madness, the last of the skatellites, have followed a crucial tradition and built themselves an essential band, a corporal sound. a golden combination — Camden Motown. Not in terms of style or strength of emotion but, truly, in the seventh sense.
Madness are Britain's finest dance band and the young ones know it.