Kevin Rowland and Dexys are staging an audacious comeback.
Last year, Dexys released “One Day I’m Going to Soar,” the band’s first CD since 1985, when it was known as Dexys Midnight Runners. Now, for nine nights, Dexys is playing through the album in its entirety at the Duke of York’s, a cozy, all-seated theater in London’s West End.
Rowland, 59, always a great British pop eccentric, is giving it his thespian best, acting out the lyrics of each song.
He has always been uncompromising. Dexys Midnight Runners formed in the late 1970s, mixing a classic soul sound with punk attitude and working-class grit. A change in style (and multiple changes in the band’s line-up) saw Rowland explore his Irish heritage. “Come on Eileen” became one of the definitive songs of the 1980s.
Then there was a period of addiction and living in squats. A solo venture in 1999 saw him singing a Whitney Houston cover wearing stockings and a dress at the U.K.’s notoriously rockist Reading Festival.
These days, Rowland and his eight-piece band appear to be taking their sartorial inspiration from period theater-land staples such as “The 39 Steps” or “The Mousetrap.” Rowland is dressed in a beret and an old-fashioned suit, wide trousers worn high, a vest under the open necked shirt, two-tone brogues.
Rowland plays himself as a working class Jack the Lad, an emotionally bruised bruiser, spoiling for a fight, always loving and leaving the ladies. It is surprisingly successful. His lyrics have a conversational feel, as if Ken Loach was a songwriter.
His voice swoops from baritone to keening soul heights, his trademark “crying” sound. It is mostly enough to mitigate the occasionally hammy acting.
“I’m Thinking of You” politely expresses a most impolite lust (“I’m thinking of you with your legs crossed; I’m thinking of you when they’re not”). “Nowhere Is Home” adroitly roots around Rowland’s attitude to his Irish ancestry.
Two duets with Madeleine Hyland, “I’m Always Going to Love You” and “Incapable of Love,” provide highlights. Dressed in a pewter gown with only the most alluringly brief flash of stocking, she plays the femme fatale who is romanced then spurned by Rowland.
The loyalty to the album’s track listing is occasionally misplaced. Weaker songs become weighed down by Rowland’s wordiness. Touches of 1940’s music hall variety soon become cumbersome rather than quaint. The theater proves to be an unnecessarily constraining venue for a gig.
The new album done, Rowland and his band, which includes members of the original line-ups, indulge in some of the old hits. “Come on Eileen” is notably absent. While disappointing, it doesn’t spoil the show.
The rough edges of “Geno” are ameliorated with a touch of Caribbean swing. A barnstorming “This Is What She’s Like” makes it momentarily acceptable for a man in a coral jacket and pork-pie hat to play a sax solo on his knees.
Once again, Kevin Rowland and Dexys make for a most improbable success.
Dexys play at the Duke of York’s Theatre, 104 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG, though April 27. Information: +44-844-871-7627 for http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/duke-of-yorks/
“One Day I’m Going to Soar” is on BMG Records priced about 8 pounds in the U.K. or $14 in the U.S. Download fees vary across services. For Mark Beech’s interview with the band click here, and review of the album, click here. Information: http://www.dexysonline.com/tour/
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on London theater, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater and Elin McCoy on wine.