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Culture Reviews
Roisin Murphy
By Alex Meredith
If confirmation was needed that platinum-selling albums and worldwide critical acclaim do not guarantee a ticket to musical easy-street, 90 minutes of Roisin Murphy in XIII was it. Making her first performance in the city since the break up of Moloko and performing unfamiliar material, Moscow was always going to be a difficult leg of Murphy’s European tour. When you add the cramped conditions, an early start and stifling heat, Murphy had herself a tough day at the office. The weary remark only a couple of minutes into the set that “it has been a long tour” suggested an ominous apathy might well ruin the show. In fact, by meeting the challenging conditions head-on with a dynamic, exciting and energetic set, Murphy showed there is plenty more to this gutsy performer than fancy costumes and wacky sounds.

In the circumstances, you could have forgiven Murphy, who appeared on stage with her influential producer Matthew Herbert and a young and lively band, for simply trotting out the tracks and hitting the road. When you have played to 10,000 plus on stadium tours, the idea of rolling out your wares in a place the size and temperature of a storage container is unlikely to inspire. It is a mark of Murphy’s professionalism and class therefore that she still got through a full and varied selection of tracks from her album Ruby Blue. In addition, she combined with Herbert for a few journeys into improvised new territory (like providing the bass line for one track through stamping on a suitcase) confirming that Murphy still has a zest and enthusiasm for the live performances that has made her one of the stars of the UK pop scene.

Anyone who has followed the rise and fall of Moloko over the last decade would have learned to expect the unexpected from a concert featuring their lead singer. Since her debut in 1995, Murphy has invariably presented her wonky pop-house through flamboyant on-stage personas that match the unconventional sound. The 2005 vintage is no exception. Through 3 costume changes, our hostess transformed from mysterious cloaked seductress to gypsy queen and back, the only continuity being provided by a strong Alexander McQueen influence on the frocks. Appearing alongside, in flat cap and scruffy mullet, Herbert added a contrasting Chas and Dave simplicity to proceedings. The overall effect was a visual garnish that set off the tasty audio main course beautifully.

In the sauna like conditions, the quality of the sound being belted out by Murphy and her ensemble was impressive. The collaboration between Murphy and Herbert has introduced ever more unusual influences into the former’s sound, and taken her further into the realms of electronica than Moloko ever dared wander. Herbert’s pulpit of syths and keyboards as well as a much used effects mic ensured these were recreated in all their dischordant splendour for the live audience. When combined with some more conventional toe-tapping jazz numbers, and the occasional sultry ballad there was variety as well as ingenuity to this set. As we have come to expect, everything on offer was signed off with the indelible ink of Murphy’s still fresh, still irresistible vocals.

To see for myself a phoenix rise from the cherished flames of Moloko was a satisfying experience. Given the heavy influence Murphy had on the band before the departure of ex-partner Mark Brydon (causing the collapse) it should not be a surprise to see her talent living to fight another day. Whilst there were murmurs of disapproval from some of the Russians in the audience who had no doubt expected melodies along the lines of “Sing it Back” and “The Time is Now”, such criticism ignores the fact that those tunes were the conventional exception to Moloko’s innovative rule. This challenging material is not a deviation from Moloko’s tradition, but an extension of it. Murphy has rightly refused to compromise her imagination by putting her voice to bland material and long may her (and Herbert’s) exploration of new sounds and instruments continue.

In the tropical humidity, and with an unmoved audience this gig could never fit into that magical category of great bands in an intimate venue. Thankfully however, nor was this a standard run-through of the album. By grinding out a lively display through sweat and tears in difficult surroundings, Murphy put paid to any fears I had about a change in musical direction or a loss of form. Moloko has gone, but on the basis of this performance, the milk has yet to turn sour.

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