Not since the walls of every venue in the land echoed with the rousing chorus of ‘Time Warp’ have we witnessed such a frenzied response to an on-stage production, one which many music snobs would deem more ‘70s kitsch than ‘George & Mildred’, the Cinzano ad series and Sweet put together!
Viewed from a distance Charlotte Church’s Pop Dungeon is like Multi-Coloured Swap Shop meets Rainbow for drag queens, but on closer inspection this is an altogether cleverer concept than one might at first realise. Set against a backdrop of the glam era that manifested itself throughout British popular culture in the ’70s, Church allows her concept to come into being. The catalyst for this ‘kitschella’ seems to have been the singer’s desire to steer her career in the direction of a “be true to thine own (unconventional) self” approach, one which sees the ‘fun-factor’ dial up turned up to the max.
Recently, that close-up pleasure was all mine, when the former ‘Voice of an Angel’ now trading as the Dominatrix of the Dungeon Dimensions (my term, not hers) brought her rainbow hued sparklefest to Dublin.
A sparse and pretty diverse early crowd soon blossomed into a heaving swarm of Church acolytes for what was to become an extravaganza of the weird and wonderful delivered “in the best possible taste” as Cupid Stunt, creation of the late Kenny Everett would say. In fact, if Everett were still alive I have no doubt he’d be up front centre, if not on-stage, lapping up every delicious second of this glam rock meets vaudeville spectacular.
Pop Dungeon is a vibrant, melting pot of cover songs morphed, reshaped, and segued in the most breathtakingly innovative ways; perfectly synced mash-ups, of disparate songs, which only the keenest of creative minds and sharpest of musical ears could re-imagine. Its set-list is a colourful riot, a neon-bright, eclectic pick ‘n mix of indie, 80s, disco, rap, rock anthems and off the wall oddities, which on paper, does not and should not work. But it does, and bloody wonderfully at that!
On the night, Talking Heads’ Burning Down The House comes hot on the heels of Nelly’s Hot in Herre, while Trousersnake parleys with Thom during a Cry Me/ParAndroid muddle. The Edwin Starr classic soul banger War is given full turbo treatment while Missy Elliot is treated with all the funked up respect she deserves. “We’re a democracy here in Pop Dungeon” coos the singer as she passes the baton to her choir of ‘Charlie’s Angel’s who in turn perform lush covers of everything from M.I.A to Rage Against The Machine.
Set highlights include two Beyoncé numbers, an En Vogue cover and two Prince homages, the latter of which is a stunning rendition of Diamonds & Pearls, which Church morphs into a magnificent operatic scale-sweeper as she effortlessly traces the theme tune to E.T. . A performance so magical it renders speechless, an otherwise rambunctious crowd.
The handful of times when Church lets her former opera-star self come to the fore are without doubt some of the most spectacular elements of this multi-dimensional megamix. At her subtlest, on 10CC’s I’m Not In Love and encore opener Hide & Seek, she is possibly at her most quietly triumphant.
Going to see Pop Dungeon isn’t just like attending any other gig. This is an high quality, off the radar innovative and beyond-Bolt dynamic carnivale of entertainment, performed by a ten-strong troupe of extremely colourful, enthusiastic and talented artists who by all accounts, have a wonderful chemistry and marvellous rapport.
And, might I also point out, that Pop Dungeon are possibly the friendliest on-stage artists I have ever come across – their constantly smiling, happy interaction with the crowd was something I have never previously witnessed! Kudos!
Pop Dungeon is leading the ‘karaoke’ zeitgeist with Church turning the crime f.k.a ‘cover versions’ into a professional ‘coverfest’ that has the potential to become the next big thing. An unorthodox creation that Charlotte Church has taken and made her own, it is a project with which she has undeniably proven herself as innovator, arranger and producer. It is not beyond this audacious Welsh woman to up the ante, and upscale to a full bells and whistles ‘grand production’, a Cirque du Soleil of the music world, brimful of fascinating wonders and wildly creative goings on.
In many ways, with its kitsch glamour and innovative wackiness, Pop Dungeon is the Rocky Horror Show of the 21st century. Like its cult musical predecessor, it has all the outré sensibilities, off-the-wall ingenuity and addictive magnetism required to gain a global cult following.
An all-out camp creative triumph, a critical and one would hope commercial success, Pop Dungeon has put Charlotte Church back to the fore of modern pop-culture where she belongs. All hail Queen “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, fucking Church”.
Pop Dungeon tours until 12 May – check here for details.