Eurythmics Songbook review – sweet dreams of synthpop heaven

Royal Festival Hall, London
Dave Stewart’s army of guests, including Meltdown host Nile Rodgers, remind the audience how potent his partnership with Annie Lennox was – and leaves them wishing for a reunion

A Eurythmics reunion is high on the wishlist of anyone who loved pop in the 1980s, but despite reconvening for occasional promotional activity, most recently when their albums were reissued last year, the duo have not toured since 1999. That’s not for lack of guitarist Dave Stewart wanting to have one more go, but until singer Annie Lennox agrees, events like this – staged for Nile Rodgers’s Meltdown week – will have to suffice.

Fronted by Stewart, Eurythmics Songbook is a freewheeling evening of music, reminiscence and – given the participation of his offspring Django and Kaya – family ties. There’s a warm preamble from close friend Rodgers, who recounts his delight at discovering that the 66-year-old Stewart is his elder by 10 days (needless to say, Rodgers will pop up later, accompanied by Chic vocalists Kimberly Davis and Folami, to help out on a couple of songs). Musicians then amble on in twos and threes until no fewer than 34 people, including the London Community Gospel Choir, are jostling for space. (Notably, gender parity is achieved and then some, with women comprising well over half the musicians – and special mention must go to the remarkable harmonica player Indiara Sfair.) Stewart, in a three-piece suit and snappy hat, wanders the stage – not so much ringmaster as roving cast member – and guest vocalists come and go.

“Annie and I wrote a crazy amount of songs,” he says, and proceeds to play two dozen of them: not just the still-stupendous Sweet Dreams, Thorn in My Side and Who’s That Girl, but deeper cuts like (My My) Baby’s Gonna Cry and When the Day Goes Down. Kaya Stewart blasts the latter with gusto, but the battle of the siblings is won by Django’s aching take on I Need a Man. Meanwhile, West End actor Ryan Molloy gives Thorn in My Side and Love is a Stranger a gratuitously camp musical-theatre garnish that’s all wrong, but somehow feels right in this forgiving context.

Iris Gold, Nile Rodgers, Dave Stewart and Beverley Knight rock out another hit.
Jostling for space … Iris Gold, Nile Rodgers, Dave Stewart and Beverley Knight rock out another hit. Photograph: Victor Frankowski/Rex/Shutterstock

This doing-nothing-by-halves approach is antithetical, perhaps intentionally, to the pristine minimalism of 80s Eurythmics concerts. Over the set’s two hours, in fact, it’s hard to trace any congruent line from the original Eurythmics to tonight’s production. Indeed, the show also makes the point that there’s no real modern equivalent of Lennox and Stewart’s bold, future-facing act, in which ambiguity and painful sexual politics didn’t just flourish inside a brittle synthpop shell, they repeatedly topped the charts.

Taken on its own merits, however, the evening stands up. In Emeli Sandé and an invigorating Beverley Knight, Stewart has picked his star turns well, with Sandé especially potent on There Must be an Angel. Her white shirt/black tie outfit pays homage to Lennox’s androgynous look, and echoes the monochromatic video graphics showing Eurythmics as young pop strangelings. The show is studded with many such piquant touches, such as Stewart recollecting the time Bob Dylan, “in a sombrero”, came for dinner and taught him to play harmonica. All told, tonight’s carnival doesn’t scream “Eurythmics”, but it’s satisfying in its own right.

Contributor

Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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