Though it has its down sides--like working on Easter Sunday and enduring the frigid temperature inside the Riviera Theatre (which we now know has no heat as well as no air-conditioning)--touring the U.S. must be a welcome break for 23-year-old English singer and songwriter Lily Allen.
Back in the U.K., the sexy, sassy, cheerfully bratty star has reached a level of gossip-column notoriety akin to Paris Hilton on these shores. To be sure, she does her best to keep tongues wagging by frequently acting out and shooting off her mouth. But entertaining as her outrageous behavior may be, it's ultimately a distraction from smartest, most distinctive and gleefully genre-defying pop music of the new millennium.
On her third visit to Chicago since she rose from MySpace phenomenon to selling 2.5 million copies of her 2006 debut "Alright, Still," Allen flashed a bit of hat infamous attitude onstage at the Riv. But the smoking, swearing and flirting augmented rather than eclipsed the music, with the new songs from "It's Not Me, It's You" more than holding their own beside reworked versionns of early hits such as "LDN" and "Smile," and Allen showing much more self-assurance and control as a performer than she displayed at her first high-profile gig here at Metro in 2007.
Trading the tennis shoes and hoodie of her early days for heels and more of a slacker cocktail-lounge ensemble, Allen fronted a sleek five-piece band without the horn section of her last jaunt, and her opening salvo of the druggie anthem "Everyone's at It," the electro-ballad "I Could Say" and the futuristic cabaret number "Never Gonna Happen" underscored her shift away from '60s European café pop toward more modern dance sounds.
After that, though, the star put on a pair of designer sneakers and reached back to the first album for "Everything's Just Wonderful," and for the rest of her 65-minute, she proceeded to effortlessly shift back and forth between albums and styles--all Lily, and all highly entertaining.
Best of all, Allen dared to let the persona slip on occasion for a tender, heartfelt moment such as the tender "Chinese," indicating that there's still plenty of personality she's yet to share. In that light, rather than cause for concern, her final encore of "Womanizer" by Britney Spears was more like a statement that gossip columns be damned, she doesn't intend to end up as anyone's punch line or train wreck.