Lily Allen: You Heard It Here First
The tastemakers were out in force for the U.S. debut of Lily Allen on Tuesday night at the Hiro Ballroom, the big Tokyorama space at the Maritime Hotel. Lily Allen is an adorable, smart, and musically provocative young singer from Britain who's the real deal, and the notables were out in force to validate the positive vibes that have been shaking the grapevine. Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, the Talking Heads who became Tom Tom Club, were there to check out the 22-year-old, as were Michael Zilkha, the founder of Ze Records, already an enthusiast, and his daughter Lucinda, who's the same age as Ms. Allen. Punk rock photography's éminence grise Bob Gruen was in attendance with his wife Elizabeth. So were Aaron Hicklin of Out magazine and David Hershkovits of Paper; artists Tom Sachs and the Neistat Brothers; former Island Records chief Hooman Majd, who's now covering the Tehran beat for The Huffington Post; legendary British rock scribe Vivian Goldman; and Sean McPherson, the guy who owns the place. All were skanking to the beat.
Hiro was packed, and it was a curiously happening scene for the debut of a relative unknown. There was a sort of momentous electricity about the gig. Zilkha said it reminded him of seeing Bruce Springsteen open for Larry Coryell, auditioning for John Hammond of Columbia Records. Wow. Zilkha doesn't look old enough to remember Bruce as an unknown. And aside from the credentialed cognoscenti there was a big, hip crowd representing everyone from the My Space Cadets to the Bad Rad Fashionistas.
Lily Allen was delightful. She reminded me and my pals of Althea and Donna (whose reggae lilt "Uptown Top Ranking" hit number one in the UK in 1978), and also the Waitresses and Neneh Cherry, but she was also totally original. She's reggae- and ska-inflected but with a sweet, silken pop vocal style and witty lyrics. It's not like a Gwen Stefani gig. This is more rootsy and more witty, and there's something jazzy and weirdly early Peggy Lee about it.
Lily's band was terrific and they all looked to be in her young-adult demographic, but they played the hell out of their instruments like session vets. They're an odd combo, with a keyboard whiz, a bass player, and a three-man horn section. They put out a big, body-swaying sound with no drums and no guitars. You don't miss them. Drum machines can do a lot these days, and the horn section was tight and nuanced and the music danced around the room, getting the kids skanking with delight. Maybe jazz singers are coming back with sass and a backbeat.
Her album will be out in January, she said, but in the meantime you can check out tracks from her UK EP, including the UK number-one hit "Smile," in the iTunes Store.
Tom Tom Club (Chris Frantz, left, and Tina Weymouth) and Mr. Ze Records, Michael Zilkha:
Reggae journalist legend Viv Goldman and Hooman Majd:
Lily wore home-girl gold jewelry and a fifties-style dress that was quite adorable, but the foot fetishists in the audience couldn't keep their eyes off the monitors: