Patience has its rewards, even in this world of tweeting, texting and other forms of instant gratification.
Just think what it might have been like for Minnesota Anglophiles if British pop star Lily Allen had not canceled her 2007 Twin Cities debut when she was dominating U.K. headlines for her wicked reggae-pop hits, onstage inebriation and offstage outrageous comments. She might have bombed (as she did in some of the U.S. cities where she played) and disappeared from U.S. radar. However, since then, Allen has not only released a second album that's better than her first, but she's apparently cleaned up her act.
Her overdue Twin Cities debut on Saturday night at sold-out First Avenue was quite a treat. She wasn't tipsy and didn't spend the evening trash-talking. Rather, backed by a terrific quartet, she delivered every song from her new album ("It's Not Me, It's You") plus a few from her 2006 debut ("Alright, Still") with flair, finesse and cheeky confidence. Unlike Twin Cities debuts by much-hyped Brit stars Amy Winehouse and Duffy, this is one where the crowd went gaga, and justifiably so.
The moment the curtain went up, it was clear this was going to be a different Lily Allen. Not only was her hair short, but the formerly frumpy girl next door looked like she was ready for a night at the beach club with her rhinestone-covered stiletto heels and a skin-showing outfit. By the third number, the sassy boy-toy putdown "Never Gonna Happen," the 23-year-old was turning on her pop-star personality, with a sexy little shimmy and a bit of flirty fluffing of her short black bob. Think of her as Katy Perry's older, more cynical sister.
During a couple of selections, Allen puffed a cigarette and sipped from a red plastic cup, but she never really indulged in the kind of the potty-mouthed acting up that made her infamous in England. But she came close when she removed the underpinnings of her sleeveless, strapless top saying, "It's like gaffer tape for my bleep."
This tart pop star makes smart music with smart-aleck lyrics. Allen's sound blends reggae, jazz, pop, hip-hop, rock, cabaret, show tunes and soul to Euro-styled dance beats, with her strong voice often melding two styles simultaneously. Her lyrics cleverly address relationships, fame and a recent U.S. president whom she didn't appreciate.
At First Avenue, Allen often explained what a song was about, even though she was a bit coy and playful. She dedicated "Not Fair," a delightful multi-ethnic stomp, to the ladies but encouraged fellows to "think outside the box. Literally." She didn't beat around the Bush when it came to the Dubya-bashing "F- You," which was punctuated with middle-finger salutes from the stage and the sing-along crowd.
Midway through the 70-minute performance, Allen switched from stilettos to sneakers, which allowed her to dance with more verve and abandon. For the encore, she changed into a white tank top and blue jeans to deliver "Smile," her sing-along breakthrough ska-heavy hit, and her recent single, the dreamy pop "The Fear," about the absurdities of celebrity culture. She followed that by covering Britney Spears' "Womanizer," an ironic comment that needed no verbal explanation.
For a set list, go to www.startribune.com/poplife. Jon Bream • 612-673-1719