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Madness played a classic set of well loved tunes without breaking a sweat at their Melbourne show

Festival Hall was packed with exactly the sort of crowd you would expect to turn out for a Madness gig in Melbourne – the overall age bracket was decidedly over-40, with the dress code consisting of flat tops and novelty hats.

Aided by a three-piece horn section – which was lucky because Lee ‘Kix’ Thompson's saxophone was criminally low in the mix – and a percussionist, the core six-piece band were locked in from the first note. The stage sound itself was full, despite the acoustic limitations of the room, and Suggs' vocals were improbably youthful and sweet sounding, matching the recorded versions closely.
 
While most of his bandmates, excepting the animated Thompson, dispensed with the ‘nutty boy’ theatrics in favour of concentrating on the performances, Suggs proved himself a charming and confident frontman, filling all of the banter and introductory spaces left vacant following the departure of second vocalist Chas Smash a few years ago.
 
In Australia, Madness’ audience predominantly consists of fans from their glory days, and the song selection barely wavered from the greatest hits, allowing for a few from the latest album, You Can’t Touch Us Now. The only real surprises were the amount of inclusions from the band’s late ‘80s downtempo pop era, such as Yesterday's Men and Wings of the Dove. These songs were welcome variations from the more obvious crowd pleasers, but predictably dipped the energy in the room a touch, and thus were mostly relegated to the front half of the set.
 
Early highlights included the brilliant NW5, a latter day classic from 2009’s The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, which deserves to be regarded amongst their best songs. The balance of English melancholy and simple but memorable lyrics with a catchy, heartfelt chorus was a great example of what has always given Madness its depth beyond the quirky façade.
 
On the other hand, Baggy Trousers and House of Fun stood out as obvious fan favourites and were delivered with energy and humour. Hitting the home stretch of hits, the inevitable piano plonk of It Must Be Love had the couples in the room locking eyes and having a moment, while the band faithfully delivered the song for the ten billionth time.
 
Overall, Madness provided a classic set of well loved tunes without breaking a sweat. If it looked a little too easy, it's because after so many years, and in front of such an adoring crowd, they had nothing to prove except that they could still play the hits in a reliable and tuneful manner. That they did it with aplomb, a small amount of cheeky, self-acknowledging swagger, and sounded, on the whole, surprisingly youthful and energetic, was added value.
 
Words by Alex Watts
Image by Ian Laidlaw
 
Highlight: Baggy Trousers, The Sun and the Rain.
Lowlight: Some of the loud lads triple parked with pints.
Crowd Favourite: It Must Be Love, Our House.