Must be love: Nutty Boys still deliver
Madness First Direct Arena, Leeds ★★★★☆
Madness’s singer Suggs walks on stage and says: “Hey you!” He doesn’t need to say anything else – the arena audience yell back, “Don’t watch that, watch this! This is the heavy, heavy monster sound …” When the crowd reach the words “one step beyond”, Lee Thompson’s sax tears into the intro of the Prince Buster cover, as it must have done thousands of times before.
That an arena full of people of all ages (many wearing a Madness fez) know every word of the intro to a 1979 single says everything about the esteem in which the Camden Nutty Boys are held. They’re a British pop institution with a reputation and the core of the setlist is still based on their 1979-86 run of 21 Top 20 hits. And why not? Few bands have had such a Midas touch that giant hits such as Embarrassment, The Prince and a lovely reworked My Girl could appear within the first six songs. They can afford to constantly shuffle the setlist and leave several whoppers out entirely.
Madness are far more than a nostalgia act, though. Suggs may joke that 2016’s Mr Apples, a darkly entertaining tale of an uptight citizen who secretly visits seedy clubs, was “No 1 in Lithuania”, but that and the 2008 Kentish Town homage NW5 have become muchloved live favourites.
Old or new, the songs blend ska, pop and British humour to document a changing Britain. In My Street seems to revisit the family home of Our House, to find it full of teenagers “getting off their heads”. The 1982 smash itself appears in an epic six-song finale including It Must Be Love and an uproarious Baggy Trousers. “Are we still here?” jokes Suggs. Long may they remain.
At Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, tonight; then touring