Saturday, January 01, 2011


We have night storage heaters in our place. They’re rubbish. As the name suggests, the heat’s stored up overnight so that in theory it can then be released in a controlled fashion throughout the day. What it actually means is that by late afternoon said heat is all gone and our place is a fridge.

Going to a Shakira concert on a snowy Monday in December in the UK is the opposite of that. All day, everywhere we went, no matter what we did, it was bloody cold. Then all the heat gets unleashed in the evening, just when you need it the most. Bliss.

As it happened we had a relatively full day before the concert, since my wife had discovered that Matt Cardle was attending a book-signing in Waterstones, Piccadilly, that same day. (I know, he’s 27 years old and he’s landed a major publishing contract within a week and a half of winning the X Factor – it should make me sick. But luckily there’s not any actual writing in it, mostly pictures.) Anyway, so we queued there for a while, which kept us off the frosty streets. Myself, I’d have been happier if they’d arranged the barriers around to the left, which would have taken the queue through Sci-Fi and Fantasy instead of Gay & Lesbian Erotica. But there were people either side of us in the line to chat to – mostly, it must be said, fourteen-fifteen year old girls. I think I was one of only three guys there, but on a day when you’re due to be seeing Shakira, it really wouldn’t have been right to deny my wife’s teen-fangirl fantasy crush. Anyway, she got to meet him and he signed her music book. And I shook the fellow by the hand and congratulated him because, frankly, he is talented and he deserves the success. By which I mean his impending musical career. The autobiog is, let’s face it, just a cash-sponge hastily released in time for Christmas to fill the gap between the Winner’s single and the guy’s first album. I will say, he seemed really down to earth and completely lost in all the surrounding trappings of fame. Living the dream, I guess, can be a bit like surviving while the dream lives on around you.

Still, a special event for my wife and I hope a great memory for her. Not least because I was in charge of photography and my mobile phone camera let me down. All I got was one fuzzy pic which was not a worthy visual souvenir. Thanks a bunch, LG. I knew I should have taken my actual camera and not relied on the one handy jack-of-all gadgets.

Never mind, fingers crossed my wife has forgiven me by now. I’d hate to think of my photographic failure being thrown in my face during an argument when we’re both in our seventies. Perhaps it will be of some consolation that I don’t have any crystal-sharp pics of Shakira to lust over – I mean commemorate the occasion of the concert either.

For top quality digital images that day – after a chilly tube ride and a trudge through the snow and ice to drop our bags at our hotel - we had Tron:Legacy at the O2’s IMAX theatre. Spectacular 3D action, less spectacular 1D dialogue. But an entertaining enough way to pass the time before the concert.

Ordinarily at concerts I find myself arriving well on time and ending up waiting ages for the start. The movie meant we arrived a good while after Doors Open, which I figured would mean less of a wait before the main event. But alas, it wasn’t to be and for those who hold to the belief that anticipation is half the fun, I’d venture they’d never had to sit through the feeble support act with which thousands of Shakira-hungry fans were presented.

Parade, they were called. Fly-Past would have been more appropriate, except that would have suggested some measure of excitement. They were on-stage at 8, off by 8:20. Four whole songs, pretty much the one dance routine (although they may have arranged some of the moves in a different order). Maybe it’s just me, but if I was a supporting act at a Shakira gig, I’d feel some pressure to really put on a show. But these five girls appeared to have come to the conclusion that they didn’t have a chance of competing, so let’s just turn up, do our (entirely) routine and disappear. Brevity was, in this case, the soul of something that rhymed with wit. Oh well, wave Parade bye-bye, because Shakira’s on next.

Where next is over an hour later. Ahem. Yes, the short support act was only a brief interlude in the long wait. Shambolic planning or some backstage hiccup that I wasn’t aware of, I can only guess. We could have watched another movie in the time spent sitting around – and missed Parade. True to say, I would have waited longer for Shakira if necessary, I’m just saying it wasn’t ideal, that’s all.

Fortunately, all that was blown away by her eventual entrance that was part-fairytale, part-diva, all magical. Borderline religious, in the way this tiny figure makes a serene procession through the crowd, singing the beautiful hymn-like Pienso En Ti, blessing many lucky fans with a handshake while others stretch out for the slightest touch.

All this in a voluminous gown pinker than anything ever worn by Barbie, then as she ascends to the stage, it’s whoosh – off with the gown – and the more familiar slinkier, streamlined version notches up the tempo and the temperature.

Exercising her constitutional right to bare midriff, she hits full rock-chick belly-dancer mode in chainmail crop-top and spray-on trousers. And there I’d been, afraid that the big freeze would prompt her to perform the whole show in parka and Ugg boots like some strange Eskimokira. I’m sure she’d have still been good, you know, but we’d have missed seeing those muscles in motion that are unique to this lady.

I swear I have never seen anyone move the way she does and if there is anyone who commands the stage and an audience better, then I’ve yet to see them. This is a woman who’s fully aware of her sex appeal and her charms, she’s mastered this particularly exotic body language and she knows how a few exquisitely pronounced phrases will drive a crowd wild. And yet she’s not cocky or aloof with it, there’s no sense of diva-ish distance. There’s great humour and warmth in her stage personality. She’s playful and she’s here to party.

“I’m here to give you pleasure,” she says. “Tonight, I’m all yours.”

It’s tough not to cheer at that, even when your wife is standing right next to you.

The beauty of Shakira is not merely skin deep though. And my wife wasn’t only present to keep an eye on me – not that she needed to – we were safely some distance back in the audience and anyway I would have been on my best behaviour even if I had been among the very lucky handful to be invited on stage for a dance and a hug (sigh) with the star. No, my wife is an admirer of Shakira herself and even she would agree that Shakira’s attractions extend beyond the physical.

Musically, she’s superbly talented, fearless, emotional and refreshingly quirky, offering a blend as unique as those muscles of hers. How many belly-dancing rock-chick pop princesses are there out there? Her voice ranges from sweet and soft to something powerful that seems to echo down from the Andes and she’s able to invest even the more straightforward poppish songs like She Wolf with so much of herself that there’s nothing else out there quite like her. I applaud the electronic experimentation behind the She Wolf album, but it’s not my favourite. Live, I’m glad to say, that She Wolf – the single – comes properly to life and Gypsy, the finest song on that album, provides for one of the (many) fine moments in the show.

The mix of numbers was inspired and as well as being a great recipe for a party, they really showed off the full range of what Shakira’s all about. There was a generous focus on older tracks – the storming, stomping Te Dejo Madrid, Ciega Sordomuda with its glorious Mexican fiesta-vibe, an innovative rockier arrangement of Whenever, Wherever - and songs from her latest album, Sale El Sol, including the beautiful title track and the pure party piece, Loca - which I think are far greater celebrations of her roots. Along the way she takes moments to tug at our heart strings with exquisite love songs like Underneath Your Clothes. Even better, the majority of songs are in Spanish which – coupled with that body language of hers – lend her music a richness that a number of her English-language tracks can’t quite equal.

And in case none of this appears to boast that ‘refreshing quirkiness’ of which I spoke, well, there is always the giant head that appears about halfway through the show to form a centrepiece to the stage set. More quintessentially Shakira though is the part where she dances horizontally. Lying flat out on stage, she has her drummer perform a kind of percussive CPR, her body responding to each and every beat until she rises in one graceful motion. It’s simultaneously comical, sexy and captivating.

Above all, she’s a dazzling entertainer and she puts on a real show.

At one point, at the climax of a number, she rips off one of those chainmail crop-tops. She’s wearing a bra underneath, I hasten to add, but it’s far less than anyone should be wearing in one of the coldest British winters on record.

Nobody minded (and for me the temptation to shout "More!" proved too much), not least because by this point the temperature in the O2 is positively tropical. Even when Waka Waka is performed under a shower of artificial snow, she has taken us on a journey through South America (including Hips Don’t Lie – far from it and they have a highly flexible vocabulary), by way of the Middle East (the thumpingly powerful Ojos Asi), and then on to South Africa. Never once have our spirits veered towards the Arctic and to be honest mine were buzzing nicely enough to keep me warm all the way back to our hotel and throughout the next day when meeting up with friends in the still-frosty streets of the capital.

Now if only I can figure out how to get Shakira fitted at home, that’ll be me warm and happy for the rest of the winter.