Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

The Big Review: Pink at the O2, Dublin

There are two reactions from people when you tell them you’re going to see Pink. The muted one from those who know her songs and, you know, whatever, and then the sagely nod from those who have seen her live. …

Fri, Apr 19, 2013, 13:00


There are two reactions from people when you tell them you’re going to see Pink. The muted one from those who know her songs and, you know, whatever, and then the sagely nod from those who have seen her live. Pink, a performer who if hardly spectacular in her artistry is nothing if consistent, forging out a far more resilient career as a touring machine whose songs come to life on the road. And that resilience has worked. You’d have to reckon that at the O2 last Friday a fair chunk of the sold out crowd had seen her before. Pink does return custom well. And like a tried and tested musical, punters will diligently keep coming back.

‘The Truth About Love’, her latest record, has once again been a smash, hitting number one in eight countries, and gone platinum here, in the US (with over a million sales), in the UK and elsewhere. And in Australia, where Pink’s fandom is unrivaled, it has gone SIX TIMES platinum. In Oz, Pink’s Funhouse tour remains the biggest tour in the history of the country. She decamped there for nearly 60 dates (compared to a paltry 12 in North America) grossing $80 million. She could be one of the pop industry’s last reliables. A decent record, a couple of radio hits, and boom, the sales soar over the million mark.

The highlight from that album, ‘Try’, is executed brilliantly in the O2, her choreography advancing significantly. As ever with Pink, it is all about the movements, her athleticism, a wow factor that makes Madonna’s taught and precise dance scenes on the MDNA tour seem desperately flat. So here’s the key: the reason Pink’s live show is one of the best in the world is her live USP, which is aerial athleticism. You can have all the pyro you want at a Rihanna show, and all the ridonkulous costume changes at a Gaga gig, but Pink can FLY. The sense of danger as she descends silks, clambers around a spinning steal globe cage, the Broadway bonanza of her zip-lining into the gods, that’s what makes Pink gigs next level. And man do the crowd appreciate it. Screaming women with identikit haircuts whoop her every flex and step. They know that nobody else can do a show like this. It’s Pink’s territory and hers alone. You can imagine your Keshas or Rita Oras or Charli XCX’s watching this show and just sighing in defeat. Pink’s first record came out thirteen years ago, and she has used over a decade on the road and in the studio to mould a show that will work for years. She didn’t arrive fully formed, her development has been hard fought, but the results squash any contemporaries. ‘Just Like A Pill’ – probably her best track – excels early on, ‘Who Knew’, ‘So What’ and ‘Sober’ go down a storm. Her introspective, and it has to be said, slightly homogenous sound, is bolstered by another live element that she rocks, her voice.

There’s little obvious miming or excessive backing tracks. Her band and backing singers bulk up the sound a great deal, but Pink’s power in her lungs – even when suspended upside down – is matched only by the fist-clenching fans, emptying their emotions into a collective chorus. There’s plenty left out though, no ‘Family Portrait’, or ‘Get The Party Started’ no ‘God Is A DJ’, no ‘Dear Mr President’. Instead, an acoustic face to face with her and her lead guitarist, something she’s prone to, yields a decent James Taylor cover, but also a bit of a loo-break moment. As much as Pink enjoys the indulgence of condensing the spotlight into something that tries to resemble a small studio rehearsal of  just her and her guitar buddy working out the chords, the gigantic space around her doesn’t magnetise the effectiveness of this trope, but instead depletes it.

It’s also at odds with the vision of the show, which riffs on vaudevillian bondage drag with a slightly unstable ringmaster. In the 21st century, S&M is of course the default theme for pop shows. Leather harnesses, suspenders (on blokes), crops, patent boots, gimp masks, enough black PVC to facilitate Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s next project, leashes, whips, chains, dominating and submitting is now the automatic vocabulary of arena-staged pop music. I’m not sure how we got here, but somewhere along the crooked line between ‘Express Yourself’ and ‘Dirty’ it became the norm to adopt a bondage aesthetic, with that narrative as ubiquitous now at pop shows as ego ramps are for rock star guitarists.

It’s an aesthetic, however, that is also pretty over. While the topic of sex is occasionally apparent in Pink’s writing (most awkwardly in ‘Slut Like You’), she is a completely different beast to the plastic sex cartoons that Katy Perry, Britney, Christina, Rihanna, and basically every other poptart animate. Pink instead is not exactly Tits McGee. She’s short-haired and strong legged, brilliantly butch in her dress sense and kick ass attitude,  and physique is beautiful in a completely different way to the conventional ideal. The persistence of S&M as a touring pop cliché sells her short, even if she probably has far more legitimacy in adopting a dominant role than many of the industry’s lesser pop weaklings. It would be brilliant, if along with her aerial prowess, she could create a more adventurous and cohesion look for the stage she stomps across.

A montage of earlier hits (‘There You Go’ being a bit of a blast from a past) is swagged out brilliantly towards the end of the set, all drop crotch pants and a slightly knowing glance towards her change of musical direction. Then following a brilliant Peter Pan meets G.I. Jane journey around the arena, she’s out. The classy touch of post-show video footage on the screens showing her daughter at her tour rehearsals is concluded with the rolling credits of the crew who put the whole thing together. Some people take all the glory for themselves, but Pink puts on a show, and then acknowledges the hard work from many that goes into it, even if as the remarkable centrepoint to it, she could probably claim all the kudos in the world.