There are pop stars and then there are The Spice Girls – probably one of the most successful female pop groups of them all – a group comprised of five very different personalities, something that made them stand out from the rest from the off when they broke onto the scene in 1996. And, while probably not the biggest tabloid star of the five, one of the stand-out voices of the group was always, always Melanie Chisholm AKA Sporty Spice or Melanie C, to differentiate between the two Melanies in the group.
Proceeding the Spice Girls effective disbanding in 2000, Mel C had already begun to plot her path to solo success with hit 1998 single When You’re Gone, a duet with Bryan Adams, and recording her debut solo album Northern Star in 1999, which delivered in spades with a series of hit singles and went on to become certified 3x Platinum. Five further solo albums later, Melanie C returned last year with her seventh solo effort Version Of Me, a labour of love recorded over two years between London and L.A. and tonight’s return to West London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire was more than welcome.
Appearing on the west London stage cloaked in shadows and backed by a four-piece band, the night kicked off with Version Of Me lead single Anymore, the star’s name emblazoned in lights of changing hues behind her as she marched her way between sides of the stage, the audience raising a sea of mobile phones and cameras to film the already live-streaming show.
Another new album track was up next, Escalator kicking off with its sparse rhythm and vocal focus, before moving off into standard pop fare. She dove straight into title track of record seven Version Of Me next, sombre keys and drums built on with guitars, this live airing given the rock treatment as Mel grabbed a pair of sticks to hammer on a pair of drums at the front of the stage while silky guitar licks were gifted to us by John-Louis Riccardi.
“Well hello London, hello Shepherd’s Bush Empire!” Chisholm said, addressing her audience for the first time. “I’m being very self-indulgent, I’m going to play my whole new album Version Of Me” she continued, “and some oldies and maybe something a little bit spicy” she teased with a grin before launching into new album track Room For Love, the 43-year-old swaying gently for the slower number.
One of the new album’s highlights was up next – Something For The Fire – with its synth-driven sparse verses and simple crescendo chorus. “You’re in fine voice this evening” she said, complimenting her audience following.
“Is there anyone here who would like to hear an oldie” she said, teasing the crowd before breaking into her debut album’s title track, Northern Star – the distinctive sound of Indian Tabla drums emerging from a synth, sending the crowd into a frenzy before they were urged to sway along with chorus by the star.
More from Version Of Me followed with pop fare tracks Dear Life and Unravelling before Chisholm introduced her cover of hit Rag ‘N’ Bone Man single Human as one of her favourite songs of the last year stating “I think it’s a bit foolish to do a cover of an artist who’s a really big bastard”. And while I agree with her that the song is truly great, without Rory Graham’s distinctive gritty soul, it was somewhat lacking (check back in at the SBE next week for two shows from the man himself!).
“I’ve got my dancing shoes on, I don’t know about you lot” the Whiston, Lancashire native said, grinning at her audience before breaking into new album cut Numb, the sea of mobile phones capturing the star a permanent fixture in-between those dancing along. Funk-driven Loving You Better followed ahead of a well-received rendition of breakthrough hit Never Be The Same Again, the late Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes’ contribution sorely missed, Mel taking the musical break left vacant to move about her stage, hair flailing about.
“I bloody love it here” the star said of the west London venue. “Who was here for my birthday?” she asked of the crowd in reference to her “Sporty’s Forty” show held at the venue some three years prior, a request met with a huge response.
Following two more from Version Of Me, Melanie introduced her main set closer: “we’re going to have some fun now, I think everyone’s going to know this one, especially a little lady sitting somewhere up there” she said pointing at the balcony where ‘Ginger Spice’ Geri Horner had taken her seat shortly before Chisholm appeared on stage. “This is for my Spice Girls” she said as the girl group’s second number one single Say You’ll Be There kicked off.
Following a short departure from the stage, Melanie returned, re-introducing support act Alex Francis to the stage for duet Hold On, the Hitchin-based singer also accompanying on guitar.
The night was rounded out with 2011 Katy Perry-esque single Think About It and number one Northern Star single I Turn To You, the crowd’s energy spilling over for the older album cuts.
Tonight was a fun escape into cheesy pop with an entertainer who still has the energy to put on a truly fun show. And while Melanie C will always be a Spice Girl, her beautifully crafted and plentiful solo material gives her a musical richness her Spice sisters will simply never match and commands respect.
Following her run of five UK shows, Melanie C hits up Denmark, Germany and Switzerland over the next couple of months before heading back to the UK for The Isle Of Wight Festival, Kew The Music alongside All Saints, Carfest and Manchester Pride over the summer.
Live review and photography of Melanie C @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Kalpesh Patel on 8th April 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate