Rick Astley – Electric Factory – Philadelphia, PA – February 11, 2017
Philadelphia got RickRolled on Saturday night.
That’s right, Rick Astley is back. The 80s ginger British dance floor hit maker with the Archie looks and the booming baritone voice was in the house, bound and determined to remind people that there is more to him than “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Looking back, Astley is unfairly now mostly thought of as a one-hit-wonder and the inspiration of viral internet pranks, but in his heyday Astley was responsible for several big hit singles between 1987 and 1991 on both sides of the Atlantic.
The conundrum of Astley – that big voice is coming out of that scrawny white dude??? – tended to overshadow the fact that the guy was a damned good pop stylist. He first got noticed as the male voice of the short-lived British hit factory of writers and producers Stock/Aitken/Waterman, who were known for their shiny and slightly sterile dance beats. (S/A/W also guided the careers of dance-pop acts Kylie Minogue, Dead or Alive, Bananarama and others.) However, even back then Astley chafed at the idea of being a pre-packaged pop star, and for his third album left the S/A/W camp and went off on his own.
Now, thirty years on from his smash hit debut album Whenever You Need Somebody, Astley looks pretty much the same. A little older, yes (aren’t we all?), and his trademark tuft of flaming red hair is mostly a mousy brown, but Astley has aged surprisingly well.
The tour is to promote Astley’s recently released comeback album 50 (which debuted at the top of the British charts), his first album since the 2005 all-covers album Portrait, and first album of new material to get an American release since he retired from music (for about a decade) in 1993.
Astley started things up by dipping into the new album, showing with the jaunty song “This Old House” that his voice has not aged at all, and he still has a way with a pop tune. However, Astley realized much of the crowd (even the ones who were not just attending ironically) were looking for the big 80s hits. He followed it up and got everyone on their feet with his chart-topping smash “Together Forever,” (which even then sounded just a bit too much like his first smash “Never Gonna Give You Up”).
Through the rest of the show, Astley good-naturedly gave a guided tour of his songbook, as well as some adventurous covers – his version of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” smoked, while his minor-hit 80s remake of Nat “King” Cole’s “When I Fall in Love” swooned convincingly, even after Astley acknowledged that no one could sing the song as well as Cole’s original and it was a little vain of him to even try.
Astley even RickRolled the crowd about half way through the nearly two-hour set, doing a mostly a capella intro to his best known song (and the inspiration to the RickRolling phenomenon) “Never Gonna Give You Up,” before deciding he was not ready to play that song yet and downshifted into his 1991 gospel-tinged smash ballad (and his last big hit) “Cry for Help.”
Other standouts were his propulsive dance single “It Would Take a Strong, Strong Man” and the surprising rock/soul beats of his current single “Angels On My Side.”
The encore returned to the adventurous covers. Astley even asked, mock-seriously, if the crowd minded if they got off track and did a bunch of other people’s songs. Only two people in the crowded place raised their hand, and Astley told them good-naturedly to go fuck themselves.
In honor of the Philly gig, he did a very legit disco cover of local homeboys McFadden & Whitehead’s 70s smash “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” complete with little snippets of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Kool and the Gang’s “Get Down On It” and fellow Philadelphia natives Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” and “Everytime You Go Away.” Then he and the band pulled out all the stops and did a surprisingly rocking take of Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.”
Then he went back to his eighties hits, warming up the crowd by doing the title track of Whenever You Need Somebody. And, of course, he closed it all out with his still-ubiquitous hit “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a mic drop moment that sent Philly dancing off into the night.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 13, 2017.
Photos by Deborah Wagner © 2017.
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