The most surprising thing about English pop phenom Lily Allen is not that
her rise to fame was almost entirely propelled by her MySpace Web site.
That digital do-it-yourself triumph is certainly part of the story of her
debut album, "Alright, Still," which was finally released in the United
States last week, debuting at No. 20 on the Billboard album chart. But it
wouldn't matter nearly as much if her unique mix of reggae, cabaret, '70s
New Wave and '60s space-age bachelor pad sounds wasn't so fresh and
exciting, and if she didn't deliver it with such a wonderfully sassy
"Alright, Still" is such a sophisticated effort, it's easy to forget that
the 21-year-old Allen is still a relative novice as a live performer. Her
first Chicago show at Double Door last year was reportedly underwhelming,
but she more than held her own during a sold-out show at Metro on Thursday
night, fronting seven musicians, including a three-piece horn section, all
adorned in polo shirts of varying shades of blue.
If you'd only heard Allen's sweeter songs, like the sunny single "Smile"
or the lovely ballad "The Littlest Things," you might have wondered why the
petite singer took the stage wearing a giant gold pendant in the shape of a
MAC-10 machine-gun. But then she'd dedicate a song such as "Knock 'Em" to
"any of you girls who've ever had a stranger in a bar or somewhere grab your
[posterior]," or note that "Not Big" is "a song about men with small
[private parts], and how unpleasant that is," and the furious but wickedly
funny lyrical barbs aimed at errant males would fly as fast as bullets,
potentially causing just as much damage.
The only lull in the 75-minute set came during two stripped-down
semi-acoustic covers, which Allen admitted she'd had to include "because I
only have one album with 11 songs, and you all paid good money to be here!"
Unfortunately, the unremarkable choices -- "Everybody's Changing" by Keane
and "She Moves in Her Own Way" by the Kooks -- were missed opportunities:
How great would it have been to hear her cover a great tune by a spiritual
predecessor like Nancy Sinatra or Debbie Harry instead?
We got some idea at the start of the well-deserved encore, when Allen
claimed "Blank Expression" by the Specials as her own, the lilting rhythms
and snide lyrics very much in keeping with her own songs. After one more
original about yet another very bad boy -- "Alfie," a tune that happens to
be about her younger brother -- the night was over with a final burst of
blissful, exuberant pop, sending fans home counting the days until the
latest victorious British invader returns.