Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Whether fair or unfair, I get the impression that if an act in the pop or rock realms doesn’t succeed in the US, their careers always seem slightly tainted. Perhaps this is just my American bias at work, but I still have the feeling that even some acts themselves don’t quite think they’ve really hit the big time if they don’t conquer the US. I know the Beatles felt that way, and I think that concept remains active. If not, why do so many of these acts try so hard to translate foreign successes to American shores?
Of course, money offers a partial answer to that question; a top ten hit in the US makes a lot more cash than a top ten hit in Norway. But America remains something of a legitimizing force for these artists; if you make it here, then you’ve really reached the top. Some acts struggle their entire careers and never attain success in the US that they earned elsewhere. Britain’s Cliff Richard remains a significant example; knighted in his home, few know of him here. Abba charted sporadically in the Seventies and did decently in the US, but they never remotely approached the hit-maker status they enjoyed overseas.
In early 2002, another foreign star tried to duplicate her popularity elsewhere in the US. Actually, this was the second coming of Kylie Minogue. Hugely successful in her native Australia and pretty much everywhere else other than America, Kylie first had a hit with her bubblegum pop remake of Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” in 1988. And that was all she wrote. Buried in a sea of teen-pop chirpers like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, Kylie quickly faded from the view of American audiences.
However, she kept on going in other territories and became a huge star. Perhaps some overtures were made to reintroduce Kylie to US audiences prior to 2002, but I recall nothing along those lines. That all changed at the start of 2002, when her album Fever reached American stores. Actually, my occasionally-slightly-ahead-of-the-curve friend Kevin got turned on to Kylie when he visited Holland last fall; he came home with a copy of Fever and proceeded to pester me with his pro-Kylie gushings at every turn. (Kevin also learned about Sade in mid-1984 when he lived in South Africa as an exchange student; this meant he became a fan a few months before US audiences started to hear her. Thus ends Kevin’s periods of being ahead of the curve.)
While not exactly a mega-smash, Fever sold decently in the US, and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” made the top ten. Kylie appeared on Saturday Night Live in the winter of 2002, but she apparently won’t tour in the US behind Fever. That seems odd; she finally cracked our charts, so why not try harder to win over more fans here?
Perhaps this stems from the fact that she’s used to arenas and couldn’t fill them in the US. Actually, I don’t know what kind of venues she’d play here, but she obviously can’t pack large venues at this point. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for her overseas, especially in her native Australia; during her 2001 tour, she sold out a whopping nine shows in Sydney, which meant that fans bought more than 100,000 tickets just for that stand!
On Kylie Live In Sydney - also known as On a Night Like This - we find a representation of one of those concerts from May 2001. Kylie closed the tour in Sydney and this DVD shows that performance. The concert packs 23 songs, all but one of which appeared on a prior Kylie album; only her cover of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” doesn’t seem to have popped up on an official Minogue release.
For the most part, the Sydney show provided a good overview of Kylie’s career. Americans will be happy to find “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” from 2001’s Fever, but “The Loco-Motion” is nowhere to be seen. Kylie plays songs from all her albums but two: we get nothing from 1997’s Impossible Princess and 1991’s Let’s Get to It.
Since the 2001 tour touted 2000’s Light Years album, it dominates the setlist. We discover a whopping nine songs from that album: “Spinning Around”, “On a Night Like This”, “So Now Goodbye”, “Love Boat”, “Koocachoo”, “Your Disco Needs You”, “Butterfly”, “Kids”, and “Light Years”. 1990’s Rhythm of Love provides the second-highest total of tunes with four: “Better the Devil You Know”, “Step Back In Time”, “What Do I Have to Do”, and “Shocked”. With three tracks, 1989’s Enjoy Yourself comes next: “Hand On Your Heart”, “Never Too Late”, “Wouldn’t Change a Thing”. Perhaps due to their similar titles, both 1994’s Kylie Minogue and 1988’s Kylie offer two songs apiece. We find “Put Yourself In My Place” and “Confide In Me” from the 1994 record, while we get “I Should Be So Lucky” and “Turn It Into Love” from her debut. Lastly, from the 1992 single of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” - also found on that year’s Greatest Hits - rounds out the show.
Note that some of these songs receive fairly short performances. Kylie packs five into a mid-show medley; that segment meshes together “Step Back In Time”, “Never Too Late”, “Wouldn’t Change a Thing”, “Turn It Into Love”, and “Celebration”. Otherwise, the various tunes get the full treatment.
Although I’d not previously seen a Kylie show, I had a pretty good idea what I could expect, and Sydney offered almost exactly what I thought I’d find. Kylie began her musical career as a Madonna wannabe, and she remains that form of artist. Like so many other female dance pop purveyors, Kylie’s work strongly evokes Maddy’s, and frankly, I don’t see a lot to set Minogue apart from the pack. She’s better looking than Madonna, but not quite as sexy as Britney. Her voice falls right around the same territory. Kylie can carry a tune, and unlike Ms. Spears, she appears to sing all her material live; I detected no obvious signs of lip-synching. However, Minogue’s voice seems serviceable at best; she warbles her tracks efficiently but without much flair or spark.
As a stage presence, Kylie shows that she’s done this for years. I firmly believe that very few performers can hold a stage without a great deal of experience. Madonna came across as a veteran even on her first tour - though she definitely improved after that - but she seems like an unusual case. Most folks are more like Janet Jackson, who needed a couple of tours to become comfortable on-stage. Kylie doesn’t totally command things, but she looks at ease under the lights; we never question who stars in this show.
Not that Kylie always keeps the focus on herself, for her group features eight dancers (four male, four female). Prancers of both genders spend much of the show unclothed for the most part. The women often sport bikinis and little more, and the men usually appear shirtless. I could live without the latter but rather enjoyed the former.
Unfortunately, the combination of Kylie, all those dancers, and a full band makes the stage awfully crowded at times, and the concert suffers from an excessively busy feeling much of the time. I admit that I usually like showy concerts such as this, but not when they provide flash with no substance. That was the main problem I experienced during Britney Spears’ Live From Las Vegas; the show packed in so much flash and dazzle that it never established much of a rhythm.
Kylie manages a better pace than did Britney, and she also avoids the many long jaunts off-stage to change clothes. Yes, Minogue does don a lot of different outfits during the show, but she switches duds more quickly and doesn’t leave the same sort of gaping hole in the concert. Nonetheless, I think the show drags at times due to the nearly constant parade of big production numbers. The dancers become annoying - yes, even the bikini babes - and make me wish we could see more solo time with Kylie.
Actually, the concert does include a few simpler production numbers. Interestingly, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is one of these. During the Fever tour, “Head” occupied the expected spot as the final encore song, and I’d expect Kylie pulled no punches with its presentation. However, during the Light Years tour, “Head” was a brand-new tune the fans didn’t know. Because of that fact, it ends up smack dab in the middle of the show, and it receives very little reaction from the crowd. From today’s hindsight, it’s funny to hear Kylie do the track and not get the expected ovation and hysteria, but it also works well, since she plays the tune in a straightforward manner; the simple presentation remains one of the evening’s highlights.
Otherwise, I must admit the songs and performances all tend to blend into one. I recall some tracks for negative reasons. The almost-impossibly campy “Your Disco Needs You” heavily evokes the Village People, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. The ballads like “Put Yourself In My Place” seem dull and limp and actively drag down the evening. “Shocked” reminds me a little too much like Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”, while “Light Years” offers the lamest production number of the night along with a tune that sounds a little like Donna Summer's “I Feel Love”.
On the positive side, I think “Head” comes across well; it’s one of those insidiously tuneful tracks that sticks in your mind for days and doesn’t want to leave. Of the other songs, only “Koocachoo” stands out as particularly memorable. It sounds a little like Sonny and Cher’s “Beat Goes On” at times, but I think it’s the show’s most likable and engaging song. While the rendition of “Physical” does little for me, the visual aspects of the performance seem quite compelling. Kylie and her scantily clad dancers get pretty physical all right, and that makes for the concert’s hottest moments.
Other than these various highs and lows, the show seems pretty pedestrian to me. It never appears bad, but it never comes across as terribly good either. Director Hamish Hamilton - who also handled U2’s Elevation and Madonna’s Drowned World Tour DVDs in 2001 - depicts the concert in a fairly clear manner that moves things along well and maintains an appropriate focus. However, he never causes the material to become anything special. The direction seems competent but without much spark.
The same goes for Kylie Minogue herself. I can’t say I dislike her work, as she provides some moderately hummable and likable pop dance tunes. However, she doesn't seem to possess that verve that would make her more memorable. Kylie puts on a profession show packed with music that appears decent but unspectacular.