There are many reasons to love Beth Ditto tonight. Firstly, with a vocal performance that is the perfect demonstration of one of the great rock voices of this or any other period. Secondly, for a setlist that leans as much on last year’s impressive solo debut, Fake Sugar, as much as it does her Gossip heritage. Lastly, and most importantly, it is a night of fun – neither artist nor audience taking anything too seriously, instead simply giving themselves over to the power and joy of music.
Both as a solo artist and as a member of acclaimed post-punk revivalists Gossip (or The Gossip, depending on when you got into them), Ditto has perfected a genre of music that is hard to define. Is it dance music you can rock out to? Or rock music you can dance to? Tonight is both. After a support set from Kiddy Smile that feels like a big club night set, Ditto and her band emerge to deafening screams from an adoring crowd (many of whom seem to have followed her from the previous night’s show at Electric Brixton). Ditto is obviously an icon, and hugely important, to so many different communities, that her show feels like a coming together of friends. Chatting to the front row as if continuing a conversation from earlier, she is immediately disarming. Opening with a trio from Fake Sugar, before dipping into the older Gossip material, she is obviously at ease with both sides of her musical life.
There is a fairly even split between the dance floor and rock show tracks, the addictive riff to ‘Yr Mangled Heart’ feeling even funkier live than on record, before it delivers the first demonstration of just how powerful Ditto’s voice is at full volume. Honestly, it feels like it could tear walls down – a fitting ability for someone who has been successfully breaking down barriers for a couple of decades now. ‘Love Long Distance’ and ‘Open Heart Surgery’ lean more into a club feel, turning the whole of Concorde 2 into one big sweaty pit. Amusingly, Ditto tries to cool down several hundred punters by turning round a couple of small on-stage fans – “I’m like a Grandma, I know” she laughs. It would take a few hundred fans to ease the heat that she is cooking up though. ‘We Could Run’ feels like it should play over the end credits of the best 80s film that you’ve never seen, its dirty bassline (dirtier than any of Ditto’s jokes) driving it onwards and downwards.
As the set rolls towards its end, the expected big beasts emerge. And how. The funky bass of ‘Listen Up!’ crash into the thumping drums – Ditto’s voice is simply incredible at this point, tearing the roof down at its chorus. Meanwhile, ‘Heavy Cross’ wraps up the main part of the set in an explosive fashion. “I’m loving it here Brighton, I could get used to this” she grins, her every lyric bellowed back to her in that fashion that you just know will have resulted in many lost voices the following day. The encore is like a pressure cooker finally being allowed to spill over, the downbeat ‘Clouds’ swelling into a glorious ‘Fire’ before, at last, ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ – a song as politically and socially important as it is simply stunning, a moment that lets the soul to soar. Tonight felt like a truly mutual love-in from beginning to end, a relationship sparked up between artist and audience that I am certain will be revisited again and again.