Madness, no support

Simon Jay Catling 15/12/2009

It's always going to be something special when the crowd are dancing to the warm up music. That said; the tunes being played over the top tonight are a what's-what of cult classics from the boom of Madness' success in the early 80s. Guess who's feeling the youngest here by some margin.

What a difference it makes though; tonight's atmosphere inside the grand old Manchester Apollo is heart warmingly electric; a crowd who're old enough to know something that us young bucks still need to learn (don't tell me you've never got into some music because it was deemed "cool" by the right people, I certainly have- heck HEALTH's whole fan base must consist of us types): skip the fads and trends, and enjoy the music for what it is. In tonight's case it's for its ruddy great entertainment. No one's looking at each other, everyone's looking at the band; and when that band are capable of churning out an opening three song salvo of 'One Step Beyond', 'Embarrassment' and 'The Prince', there's more than just looking going on. The place is jumping.

Madness have been reformed in their current line-up for almost three years now, a reunion which has thus far confounded all the usual pitfalls of reformations with genuine as opposed to nostalgic praise for their live performances, and even a highly acclaimed album- this year's The Liberty Of Norton Folgate- proving the influence that the returning Chris Foreman has had on the group. Choice cuts from that LP can't be given any higher praise than that they fit seamlessly in and around the so-called "hits"; and it's fair to say a great deal of the crowd go just as, err, mad for the likes of 'NW5' and 'Dust Devil' as they do to anything from the group's 80s back catalogue.

Of course, you get the sort of professionalism you'd expect from a band on their 30th anniversary tour; but underneath an undoubtedly slick one hour forty-five minute performance is a genuinely sustained joy of what they've been doing all these years. You can see it in the way Lee Thompson runs around the stage like a maniac still (whilst all the while dragging that sax around those off-beat rhythms), and you can see it in the way Suggs- who for a brief period back there in the 90s fancied himself as a bit of a solo star- is happy to blend back in with his band mates and let us enjoy Madness as a collective. Which we do. A quite frankly bold move towards the front is met with tousling of hair and grabbing of neck as I'm dragged into the throng. Hundreds of fez's lie about (one man stands in complete stillness, arms crossed wearing a fez and Egyptian robes until 'Nightboat To Cairo's unashamedly karaoke finale, when he suddenly bursts into frenzied life), there's a "skank" factor of about 47. Towards the end of the set, the group push their ageing fans to the limit; reeling out 'House Of Fun', 'Our House' and 'Baggy Trousers' in quick succession. Timeless classics done with aplomb.

We're getting tired now, but a thrilling finale of 'Madness' and 'Night Boat To Cairo' sends us off in style; the grins on our faces as wide as our legs tired. Some of these fellows around me have put me to shame and good on 'em. It's coming to gigs like this that make you see that all our youthful posturing and over analytical take on the music we like is essentially a load of balls. Once you've found a good band you can simply set about enjoying them. Madness have made a three decade-long career out of making music to simply enjoy, and it doesn't look they'll be stopping anytime soon.