Lily Allen at the Aladdin Theater, March 28th, 2007
OK so, first things first: Ya know my WW show preview for Lily Allen? As in, the lead review of the whole music listings section this week? Well, just to clarify: it wasn't supposed to begin "When I first heard 'Smile,'" as it does. No, it was supposed to read, "At first, when I heard her 'Smile'..." etc. That's right, following the phrasing of the chorus of her hit song, as in "At first, when I see you cry, it makes me smi-i-ile, yeah it makes me smile." Get it? At least a wee bit clever, right? But I guess it went right over the heads of my eds. down in the WW music cave. What gives? They're supposed to be the with-it young hipsters, right? Ah well. [EDITOR'S NOTE: My bad.]
Well, speaking of things going over people's heads, the Punk Group's opening set at the Aladdin Wednesday night left most of the audience in baffled silence or, Portland being Portland, at least polite applause (though at least a couple of sincere-seeming "fuck you'"s were delivered, by voice and finger respectively). But the duo's new-wave piss-take rubbed about 15% of the audience just the right way, and they were willing to squeal with delight in response. They played roughly a half-hour set, including "MySpace is Good for Getting Laid"—which they might as well have dedicated to the headliner.
Lily Allen had everyone from little kids to hipsters to suburbanite couples on their feet and pretty much in the palm of her hand from the start, opening with her London-underbelly travelogue, "LDN," and dropping in "walking 'round Portland town" by the second chorus. "Portland, Oregon," she Cockney-drawled following the next song. "I've heard about it in movies, but I never really knew anything much about it. It turns out it's one of the coolest American cities we've visited," she said to raucous applause.
Allen also apologized at the outset for missing her belt; her loose blue jeans were rolled at the waist in hopes to hold them up—wardrobe malfunction averted. And she announced that, foregoing her usual Jaegermeister, she was experimenting with champagne onstage tonight. None of the above slowed her down.
For one thing, Allen's voice is the real deal, not some studio effect—no missed notes, some nice improvisation, basically just a clear, sturdy sound, with great diction to bring off lyrics even through that accent as well as a slightly-too-loud mix (which is what often happens at the Aladdin when a touring act brings in its own soundman, who amplifies the band as if for the larger venues that artist is probably playing in towns other than Portland on tour, rather than the theater's intimate confines and great acoustics).
Allen bopped around the stage as if perfectly at home, alternately grooving semi-dorkily to the beat, trading in-joke smiles with her band members, or convincingly selling her lyrics to the crowd. The band (which included a three-piece horn section) was tight and played with lots of verve and an audible sense of humor: So important in bringing off ska right, and especially Allen's foul-mouthed broad (in more ways than one) comedy.
Speaking of which, she got progressively drunker through the night, and her stage remarks got more and more off-color, including being forced during one quieter passage to admonish a fan for clapping off-beat and throwing off her timing. She apologized for "being a cunt" after the song was over, but held her ground: "It was off beat, though." She also vouched for the overall healthy penis size of Portland men, judging, she said, from their not-too-pained facial reactions to the male-ego-baiting lyrics of "Not So Big."
She sang pretty much everything from Alright, Still, ending the main set with "Smile," and throwing in a Keane cover and "Heart of Glass," both performed without the horn section. The Blondie cover, in the encore, suited Allen's voice and attitude perfectly.
Anyway, next time she comes through town she'll be playing the Crystal, or perhaps even the Schnitz. This girl's gonna be around for a while, with any luck. I think almost everyone in the Aladdin Wednesday night, from age 10 to age 50-something, would agree. She kept almost everyone dancing, or at least standing, throughout the night, and smiling when they left. It was a treat.
[BRIT HIT] When I first heard "Smile," Lily Allen seemed the perfect female foil to the Streets' Mike Skinner, sharing his Norf-London cheek and street-beat chic, as well as a wicked love-hate relationship with the opposite sex. And her tender age and say-anything lyrical moxie were a cross-the-pond echo of Nellie McKay. But the above qualities, plus Allen's unaffected good looks, character-actor accent, and lilting, electro-ska ditties add up to irresistible star power that's already far surpassed Skinner's or McKay's. JEFF ROSENBERG. Aladdin Theater. 8 pm. Sold out. All ages.