Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits Tour
Programme Notes, March 2005. Co-authored with Neil Rees (with thanks to Natasha Duckworth and Alex Mullan).
It is June 2nd 1998, and the newly appointed ‘Impossible Princess’ of pop is about to transform herself, her career, and her destiny in the three minutes it will take her to belt out a faithful rendition of one of the most famous pop songs of all time…
With a giant glittering pink ‘K’ towering above the stage, and flanked by two male dancers emblazoned in pink feathers, she emerges resplendent in full-feathered head-dress and sequinned bodice, descending the stairs to the stage, lighting them up as she goes. Kylie Minogue, Showgirl has arrived, and Abba’s Dancing Queen couldn’t be a more fitting soundtrack as Melbourne’s Palais Theatre transforms into peak-hour Mardi Gras.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” she told the crowd that night. She wasn’t referring to the seven years since she had staged her last full-scale concert, however, but to how she instinctively felt, as did the gathered crowd, that she was finally being allowed the courtesy of ‘being Kylie’. Night after night, as the standing ovations took the show way beyond its planned schedule, she secretly knew that her instincts were right. To be proven beyond any doubt by the direction her career would now take, and influenced fundamentally by that one evening, she had finally found the confidence to consider that maybe – just, maybe – her position as one of the greatest popular entertainers of her generation was at last a possibility.
It may be a surprise to some but Kylie has a rich and varied history of live performance behind her. At times riding on the pure irony her past allows, at others reflective and earnest, her shows have become renowned for being eclectic and often unpredictable. From stadiums to the smallest venues, and from wind-swept festivals to surprise party night performances at gay clubs, it is her desire to entertain in whatever form that is required that is the backbone to all of her shows.
With the mania that had encased her life during her initial flourish of success, she had consciously waited for the right opportunity before taking her first tentative steps into live performance. Her very first would be a one-off live club appearance at Canton in Hong Kong during a promotional trip in 1988, witnessed only by a select few, but in true Kylie style her next ‘tentative step’ would prove itself a baptism of fire. Just twelve months later Kylie stepped into the spotlight for four live shows in Japan, the pinnacle being a sold-out night at Tokyo’s Dome stadium in front of a staggering 40,000 fans.
Disco In Dreams, as the shows were tagged, gave Kylie, nervous and inexperienced, the opportunity to test the waters away from her home territories of Australia and the UK. For a performer falsely dogged by rumours of miming and of enlisting studio wizardry to enhance her vocals, the gigs also provided Kylie the chance to prove once and for all that she could indeed sing, and that she was more than capable of recreating her vocals live on stage. The stage set and instrumental backing tapes over which Kylie would perform left a little to be desired, but the step was an important one, and gave her the extra dose of confidence needed for what she would experience on her return to the UK only days later.
Inspired by Sunday nights of his younger days spent watching acts like The Byrds and Van Morrison on ‘concert package tours’, Pete Waterman had formed The Hitman Roadshow, taking a number of his acts on the road, with Kylie topping the bill. Her Japanese show was adapted to be played out in ten theatres around the UK, and with ticket giveaways to the under-eighteens on radio phone-ins and in press competitions, chaos ensued.
Stories of kids enlisting family and friends to amass multiple copies of the precious ‘Kylie Coupons’ found inside regional newspapers were abound, and switchboards on local radio stations found themselves barely able to cope with the response to ticket competitions live on-air. With Kylie’s record sales into their millions in little over a year, Waterman had almost deliberately underestimated the interest in her first UK shows – proven further by the fraction of the attending fans at each gig who actually made it inside the venue.
The success of both the Far East and UK gigs sent out a clear message to Kylie and her team; that a forty-minute eight-song set – despite the seemingly record-breaking number of costume changes and acre of tabloid coverage – didn’t come close to giving her audience what they deserved. She set the wheels in motion for the development of her first full-scale tour, and dates were pencilled in for just a few months later.
Much of this tour’s set-list would be based on material from Kylie’s first two albums, alongside most of her singles and more than competent covers of some of her own favourite songs. Backed by a full band, the Enjoy Yourself tour finally gave Kylie the opportunity to quench her increasing thirst to show what she felt capable of as a live performer. The result, two hours of pure energy-driven entertainment, took many by surprise, and critics couldn’t help but give Kylie her due, admitting that there might be more to this ‘soap star’ than a handful of catchy pop songs might have previously suggested.
Kicking off in Brisbane, it was during the tour through Australia, Asia, Europe and the UK that Kylie would release her first real milestone single, Better The Devil You Know. The song illustrated, quite significantly, the increased artistic control taken on the tour, in both style and performance, and made a fitting encore to the show. If those attending earlier dates found themselves somewhat unfamiliar with this powerful new track, by the time the tour closed in Bangkok it had not only become Kylie’s tenth smash-hit single in a row, but was already well on it’s way to establishing itself as her signature anthem.
Following the tour, the remainder of 1990 would witness many changes for Kylie. Probably the most important was her discovery of song writing, and the desire to now expand the artistic and creative control she was gaining over her career. With a new album already in the works, containing for the first time a number of self-penned songs, and a new found love of live performance, she quite inevitably earmarked plans for another tour the following year. Since much of her time had by then been spent absent from home shores, she felt that the Rhythm of Love tour should be her way of saying a special ‘thank you’ to all the fans that had remained so loyal since the start of her career. Armed with a brand-new set-list, an updated line-up of musicians, and joyously eccentric stage-wear, by February 1991 she was back on the road playing a string of concerts in all of Australia’s main cities…