At the Molson Amphitheatre
in Toronto on Wednesday
The gods of pop distribute their blessings unevenly, but no one can say they lack a sense of humour. Consider Dido Armstrong, the British pop singer whose 1999 album No Angel became a bestseller after Eminem used a portion of one song as the chorus for his rap single, Stan. Eminem works hard to stay beyond the pale, while Dido's music is geniality itself. The idea that the one would help make the career of the other is a comic conceit worthy of Mel Brooks.
With eight million albums sold, Dido's management has clearly bought the idea that high contrast is good.
Witness the further comedy of the current tour, in which the former backup singer struggles to hold her own against a powerful backing ensemble that's several degrees hipper and funkier than she is.
The band came on strong immediately, with an introductory jam that seemed designed to jolt the crowd into the realization that this was not going to be a live simulation of the album.
It was full of hard-hammered percussion, soaring, reedy keyboards, and the kind of energy that demands a flamboyant vocalist.
Dido is not flamboyant. Her voice has a cool, almost vacant tone, and her style is blandly direct. These limitations sometimes work in her favour, making her sound more "natural" than someone from, say, an R&B background. Her voice is just right for a number like My Lover's Gone, a wistful maritime ballad out of the English tradition that opened her set.
But she showed no sense of how to move on stage, and no notion of how to build a performance, except to sing louder.
Her band was far more charismatic, and more in control of the pace. When a percussionist took centre stage during Honestly OK to bash out a big hand-drum solo, Dido vanished in plain sight. It felt like an uprising against a benign but negligent queen.
The peak of disjunction came during her rendition of No Angel, punctuated by aggressive turntable scratches. It was as if a rogue amplifier had picked up some stray radio signals from The Flow.
Her fans didn't seem to mind. They had their moment of mass communion during an obviously heartfelt sing-along version of Thank You, Dido's big hit and the song sampled by Eminem. It's a perfect musical greeting-card, warm and pleasant and not too heavy.
It's music for an audience not looking for passion or strife -- leave that to Eminem -- but for comfort and simple affirmation.
There's nothing wrong with those things, or with music that seems to deliver them. To look for more from Dido is to look for something else. Strange as her path may have been, she has found her true public.
The gods must be smiling.
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