There is a moment in Alexsandar Dragicevic’s short documentary about Róisín Murphy’s visual connection with drag queens when the lady herself chats about her performance, about ‘being in a normal, tired everyday world, being something fantastical in that’. This creative flamboyance has been intrinsically sewn into Róisín Murphy. From her surrealist turns in Moloko to her full on Leigh Bowery regalia, she is part of a great lineage from Bowie and Grace Jones onwards of whip-smart pop stars who attempt through their art and music to lift their audience out of the commonplace routine of drudgery, into a space of fantasy and freedom.
Tonight, the Olympia is transformed into Róisín’s playground, a dressing-up box overflowing with ideas, drama, excitement, willing the audience to embark on this break from reality. Firstly appearing on screen being filmed backstage like a mixed up Warhol superstar, she then shimmies out backwards intoning lines from ‘Let Me Know’ and Moloko’s ‘Dirty Monkey’ sending the crowd into a feverish frenzy, before brandishing a Queen Liz style handbag and unleashing that voice in full for the sizzle of ‘Dear Miami’.
As this is a homecoming of sorts, the houselights are brought up for her to view her subjects as she bellows a Ronnie Drew ‘Monto’-style greeting whilst dragging herself into a foam body suit that’s half lobster, half vagina, full Róisín. She then manages to launch into a banjo-led version of ‘Overpowered’ that transforms from bizarre bluegrass into a sky scraper synth masterpiece. This is the essence of the Róisín Murphy show – everything is there, present and correct but in an unexpected place. She is surrealism incarnate. She has created a style unlike Lady Gaga’s more po-faced visual pronouncements or Bjork’s icy cool artistry, which is almost jumble-sale effortlessness, a warm magpie soul in dress and in music. It is part avant-garde cabaret, part cheeky seaside postcard, part devastating electro daydream but all done with a knowing grin and a down to earth, approachable attitude that resonates deeply with her audience. Standing hands on hips and legs akimbo with a phallic Clockwork Orangesque mask on her face as the lights flash on and off and the smooth grooves of ‘Evil Eyes’ billow around her, it is an imperial moment broken only in true Murphy style when she introduces her young niece sitting in one of the boxes to mention that she’s in Fair City.
The thrill ride stalls somewhat as the audience grows restless during the more downbeat, low-key blues of ‘House of Glass’ and the Italo bleep of the almost operatic ‘Ancora Tu’, which demands more patience than the giddy crowd can muster. They don’t have to wait much longer as the relentless Morodery magic of ‘Jealousy’ quickly pounds out into the ether. Bundling up the lobster outfit to create a beating broken heart, raising it above her head she anoints the crowd in their dark arts, the blackest, emptiest of emotions and lets everyone dance it out – turning the sticky Olympia floor into a New York loft party. The eight minute disco freak-out heralds the arrival of the final segment of the show where stand out track ‘Exploitation’ booms into life – all ferocious drums and ear bleeding rattles like the most sensual broken fax machine you’ve ever heard.
As the pealing white noise almost brings the crowd to their knees she throws them a gift, trilling the chorus of pop juggernaut ‘Sing it Back’ to ecstatic effect, a wonky choir of voices transport themselves back to Ibiza, back to the club, all back to someone’s, as their ringleader cheekily sings a snatch of Martine McCutcheon’s ‘Perfect Moment’. It could have stopped there. A heart-stopping end to a night of mischief but Róisín always has other ideas and tramps back onstage in what looks like a ball of tinsel that was found down the side of the couch and affixes a giant moon/loo cake appendage to her face, then proceeds to lift the roof off the sucker.
‘Pure Pleasure Seeker’ has always been the jewel in Moloko’s plastic crown. Its almost sinister funked-up Parliament horns and whirling keyboards make it a swampy, scorching musical stew and Róisín makes sure that every last drop is going to be consumed – red hot. Purring not just like the cat who got the cream but one who is positively drowning in the stuff she throws herself around the stage, itching that itch to a blazing crescendo where she screeches her manifesto of – PLEASURE. It is nothing short of a life affirming moment, a woman caught up in her own creation twirling herself into a blur of slivers and golds demanding pleasure, igniting pleasure, embodying pleasure. For one night only the word becomes flesh right in front of our eyes.
Róisín Murphy photographed for State by Leah Carroll.