Madness, Former Child Stars @ Palace Theatre, Melbourne (31/03/2009)

30 years ago, a little English band named Madness emerged with their debut album One Step Beyond… The ska heavy record shot the lads to success and lead them to many more great albums throughout the 80s, which in turn lead to hit single after hit single. In following the theme of grabbing the ‘big comeback’ each year, V Festival snapped up eight Englishmen in its second announcement and, not surprisingly, many fans got a little excited. Finally, V Festival got the comeback act without the angst and at the Palace Theatre on a delightfully warm Tuesday night, Madness produced their Melbourne sideshow for the truly devoted.

The Palace Theatre lends itself to a full house, as acts sound a lot better when the massive space is filled out. So, it was great to see masses of early comers in time for Former Child Stars, who had the big task of warming the stage for one of the biggest 80s pop bands. The Sydney five-piece rose to the occasion, delivering an upbeat and energetic half hour. Plenty of on stage dancing from Luke O’Loughlin and a bunch of good-time songs like I’ll Be Just Fine and the jangly Parade made for some early head bobbing (although this seemed frozen solid compared to the movement that was to come).

It wasn’t obvious what to expect from Madness. The eight members have an average age of about 50 years, their peak of fame was in the 80s, they’ve had numerous ends and beginnings as a band and they haven’t been to our shores in some time. With the introduction booming, though, each member entered in sequence – running, jumping and dancing away as though they were in their prime. Before they even let out a note it was obvious that Madness had not lost anything with age.

‘Hey you, don’t watch that / Watch this! / This is the heavy heavy monster sound / The nuttiest sound around / So if you’ve come in off the street / And you’re beginning to feel the heat / Well listen buster / You better start to move you feet / To the rockinest, rock steady beat / Of Madness / One step beyond!’

Chas Smyth, with his trademark vocal, opened the Madness proceedings with a little dialogue all too familiar to those visiting the Palace. The entire floor section from the stage to the sound desk were ‘beginning to feel the heat’ and most certainly started to move their feet as One Step Beyond, in all its ska glory, burst to life on stage. The crowd began to bounce and it was a rare moment for them to stop doing so from there on in. Lee Thompson stalked Smyth around the stage with his saxophone as the crowd belted out the one lyric of the song and the rest of the band jammed away excitedly. Madness had arrived.

Continuing with the truest ska theme, a string of classics followed, including My Girl, Embarrassment and The Prince. Suggs needed to do little more than wobble his legs around his is distinct dance style to prove he was as energetic as ever. His dancing and acting about only excited the crowd more and many down the front proceeded to rough each other about as Madness played on. The new single, Dust Devil (‘due for release in 2078,’ says Suggs) was next and proved that the crowd really only wanted the favourites as it slowed the participation of many in the crowd. The Englishmen were obviously aware of the fact and opted not to indulge in too many new songs, although to be fair, 2008’s NW5 did spark a very decent sing along.

‘We’re Madness – if you’ve just walked in off the street willy nilly,’ announced Suggs some time into the set. The reaction of the crowd thus far had most certainly proven that there weren’t too many unfamiliar ears in the room, though. The reggae styling of Chase the Devil and brilliant piano work of Mike Barson in Shut Up were next in the set list to please the eager crowd. Then Forever Young, Bed and Breakfast Man and Grey Day all made welcome appearances. It was the last half hour of Madness’ set, however, that really took off.

The unmistakable House of Fun made the earlier crowd behaviour look very tame as members from the now very rowdy crowd began appearing atop the sea of arms for a spot of crowd surfing. Wings of a Dove received similar activity, only with Thompson opting for a turn at ditching his sax and floating about on top of his fans. It hardly needs to be said that Baggy Trousers and Our House went down a treat – as they obviously did, with Suggs pulling out the same crazy dance moves to the former track that he was using in 1980, as well as demonstrating his mean ability to snap his sunnies off and on to his face in an instant. Meanwhile, Thompson continued play all over the stage, competing with guitarist, Chris Foreman, for the attention of the crowd.

‘We’ll leave you with this,’ concluded Suggs, ‘even though it’s being used in a nappy commercial nowadays.’ It Must Be Love was the perfect wind down and end for the set, with the masses of rowdy punters settling down to wave their arms back and forth to the classic tune. It wasn’t the end, though, and Madness returned for the obligatory encore, which included their self-titled number (an appropriate choice to round things out with) and Night Boat to Cairo, which punched the calmness of It Must Be Love in the face to give the crowd one last bit of fun.

Dapper outfits, crazy antics and crowds complete with mohawks – Madness had everything they had in their prime and left the crowd completely satisfied (even if the novel Driving In My Car was nowhere to be seen). If the Palace show is anything to go by then these Englishmen are certainly worth popping over to see at this Saturday’s V Festival.