Artist: P!NK, Gwen Stefani
Venue: London: Hyde Park
Date: 24 June 2023
You can be told to have high expectations of a sensational show that will leave you breathless and wide-eyed, but rarely does it live up to the hype. This performance from P!NK did all that and more.
As Fireworks Reviews Editor, one of the things I am most proud of is the fact that we cover such a large range of artists and genres. Of course, we include all the expected Rock and Metal items, but we also include as many diverse selections as possible. Some may have a very strict view of what is, and what isn’t, Rock and Metal, but I try to stretch those classifications wherever possible. I can only speak for myself (and I suspect some of my fellow Fireworks colleagues), but I know that approach has introduced me to some fantastic acts that I may otherwise have missed were we to take a more rigid approach. It also opens up the opportunity to see some wonderful artists on the live stage, and tonight I considered myself extremely privileged to have had the chance to watch the rather fabulous P!NK.
For those who may be unfamiliar with them, the BST concerts are a series of huge shows that take place in Hyde Park during June and July each year. The concert area is ginormous and features the massive Great Oak Stage, the smaller Rainbow Stage at the far end, the odd smaller stage elsewhere, numerous food and drink outlets (including a few selling my personal favourite Mexican food and what looked a few “pop-up” pubs), several large merch stands, the more exclusive Hyde Away and assorted other stalls. In addition to the immense logistical aspect, the event also attracts some of the biggest names in music. Last year’s BST saw shows by The Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Adele and Sir Elton John. The line-up for 2023 is just as impressive with the likes of P!NK, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen, Take That and Billy Joel all scheduled to perform. It really is an impressive event, and I now look forward every year to seeing who the organisers have lined up.
As was the case for the two shows I attended last year, the opening day of BST 2023 was another hot, somewhat sunny day with a set of performances that I expected to be just as scorching. I always like to have a look around once I get in, then grab a drink and some food before settling down to enjoy the music.
The opening act on the Great Oak Stage was GAYLE. At just nineteen years old, she is probably the youngest singer I have ever reviewed. She hails from Texas and could possibly be described as Pop Punk, although there are aspects such has Hard Rock and Alt Rock thrown into the mix. GAYLE has had quite an extraordinary rise to stardom, thanks to “that song” (more on that shortly), and if you’re not familiar with her background, it is well worth delving into. She breezed onto the stage, kicking straight into ‘Everybody Hates Me’, and managed to pack an impressive eleven songs into her forty-minute set. She made good use of the runway and was down at the crowd end during ‘Ur Just Horny’. Her drummer and guitarist were just as animated as their leading lady, with plenty of facial expressions and head bobbing. While the vocals and guitar were nicely balanced in the mix, the bass drum started off a little too loud and punchy, but not enough to spoil the show. I made one particular note during her set, one that is meant playfully rather than a critique, and that her performance was a bit of a foul-mouthed onslaught. Let’s just say GAYLE wasn’t afraid to throw the F-word around; my Nan would have called her Little Miss Pottymouth. It fit with her fiery personality and also the “up yours” nature of her songs. She was also refreshingly honest, stating it wasn’t her finest hour and good no-one saw when she slipped and fell on her arse during the fourth song, ‘Alex’. The crowd laughed with her and not at her, and that is always a good sign. ‘Kiddie Pool’ was chilled but still retained some venom before she dropped her drummer in it but admitting he’d just told her the wrong next song in the set-list. ‘Snow Angels’ and ‘Luv Starved (Love Sick)’ were followed by a rather decent cover of Alanis Morrissette’s ‘You Ought To Know’, which got the decent-sized crowd fired up. The refreshing honesty appeared again when GAYLE confirmed she wasn’t as fit as she should be, not something you often hear a singer admit to. After ‘I Don’t Sleep As Good As I Used To’ and ‘Don’t Call Me Pretty’, it was time for “that” song. ‘ABCDEFU’ reached Number One in countless countries, and the crowd eagerly anticipated it. This number was well played and the crowd really got into the spirit of it, especially during the call and response “Fuck You” near the end of the chorus. It brought the end of a lively set from a young lady who will likely have a long career ahead of her. Now, I have no issue with the profanity at all – in fact, I’m known myself for having somewhat ripe language – but I did see far more youngsters at this event than I have for a long time, and while no one complained around me, I wonder if some parents may have found it a bit much, especially at 3pm in the afternoon. A fun, boisterous set from a singer who seemed more popular than maybe her early slot suggested.
My next stop was the Rainbow Stage for Maddie Zahm. Sadly, with her set starting as soon as GAYLE left the stage, and the fact it was already really busy, it took me nearly fifteen minutes to walk across the venue, and she was well into her set by the time I got to the stage. Although perfectly audible while she was singing, it is difficult to give you a decent breakdown of her set because the volume of her microphone was so low when she was talking that I couldn’t hear much of what she said in-between the songs, including their titles. I have made the best guess I can from the lyrics. I really enjoyed GAYLE, but Maddie Zahm really got my attention. The first song I heard, ‘8-Ball Girl’ was a lovely slice of Pop Rock, but it was her voice that really caught my ear. The next track featured some fine wails and also showcased her chirpy personality. She then slowed things down and the next track was just her and the keys, and it allowed her voice to come even more to the fore. Her set had a little of everything because after the Pop Rock and ballad, she kicked into another number, which had a lovely funky feel to it that saw a few of the less relaxed audience members have a little boogie. She took it a stage further for the next cut and that seventies funky sound just poured out the speakers, acting as a wave that her voice surfed atop. The last song I heard before making the decision to leave a few minutes early to make sure I got back to the Great Oak Stage for the next act was ‘Bedroom’. It contained a bit of a nineties riff and a rather tasty guitar solo. I’m somewhat sad not to have seen the full set because Maddie Zahm was a revelation for me. She has a beautiful voice and a fine collection of songs that feature different spices and flavours. I will certainly be looking out for her in the future.
Next on the Great Oak Stage was Sam Ryder. Thanks to his appearance as the Eurovision Song Contest last year, most people know who Sam Ryder is, even if they are less familiar with his music outside of the Eurovision song. He got quite a reception when he bounced onto the stage, although his dress sense might have raised a few eyebrows. Wearing a large knitted dressing gown that was bright blue with big yellow smileys, a white vest and matching shorts, it did look a little like he had just rolled out of bed in time for the show. Even at our own Firefest, when I have truly struggled to rise after a long night at the bar, I still managed to get dressed, albeit barely. All jesting aside, it was a quirky, fun look for a performer who obviously relishes the live stage. I understand it is an outfit he picked up at Glastonbury. Much like GAYLE, he also piled in a plenty of tracks in his eleven-song, forty-five minute set. Many in the audience had their hands up and swaying during ‘Somebody’, and what stood out was Ryder’s crystal-clear vocals. He was bouncing all over the stage like the Duracell Bunny during ‘Living Without You’ and the three-piece then delivered more of a Dance-y track for ‘Put A Light On For Me’, the latter seeing Ryder pick up his guitar to deliver a solo. Some may overlook Ryder due to his Eurovision connection, but I would urge people to look past that because he has a quality voice and a decent range. He proved this with a crowd participation sing-along before the rockier ‘Tiny Riot’. Ryder engaged in a Freddie Mercury style “Eyyy-O… Eyyy-O” call and response, and at the end held a note for what musty have been in excess of thirty seconds. ‘Deep Blue Doubt’ started mellow before kicking into an upbeat punchy number, with more crowd participation, and that aspect continued in ‘Mountain’ with Ryder getting the audience to sing the opening line of the chorus. The latter half of the set contained three covers – ‘You Got The Love’ (Candi Staton), ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ (Taylor Swift) and ‘Misery Business’ (Paramore) – and all of them were well received. ‘We Are Never…’ was probably the best of the trio in terms of crowd reaction, and the audience responded when Ryder called for hands in the air or shouts of “Hey… Hey” during the middle. The penultimate song was ‘Fought & Lost’ which is a new song that Ryder confirmed was written for ‘Ted Lasso’. He made a point of teasing that Brian May, who played the solo on the track, might appear, then owned up and confirmed he would not be appearing during this touching ballad that prompted swaying hands in the air. The set closer was obvious, his Eurovision hit ‘Space Man’, and it got a rapturous reception with plenty of fans singing and clapping. As he left the stage, he thanked everyone for the best birthday present ever. I thoroughly enjoy Ryder’s set. He has boundless enthusiasm and enough energy to power the whole event by himself, and I think a few people might have been surprised by just how much talent he displayed, even if his wardrobe choice was a little unusual.
After Ryder, I took the decision to stay where I was in front of the main stage rather than catch Sam Tompkins on the Rainbow Stage, partly because of how packed the area around me was becoming, and partly because I knew it might take time to get there and back due to how busy the venue had become. Next up was the main support for the day – Gwen Stefani. I accept she is probably outside even our flexible range of artists at Fireworks, but I don’t mind confessing that I was really looking forward to seeing her set. Her band members fired up a rather funky, trumpet-infused opening and the red-dressed dancers filled the stage before Stefani strolled out and kicked into ‘Sweet Escape’. She got a good reaction with plenty around me singing the “Whoo-hoo” backing. Any issue with the bass earlier had been solved and Stefani sounded as good live as on record. The funky stuff continued for ‘Sunday Morning’ (a No Doubt track) and much like a few other vocalists across the day, Stefani was quite a live wire, sauntering around the whole stage. The N.D. theme continued with ‘Hey Baby’, which in truth was a little rappy for my taste, but the crowd got into the “hey baby, hey baby” choral chant. After stating how much “I love you guys,” she gave me a bit of a surprise with an early cover of Talk Talk’s ‘It’s My Life’ (it was a big hit for N.D., but I didn’t expect it so early), a song I have always liked. She performed it well as she strutted along the runway and cajoled the crowd to join in. At this point, she decided to seek fashion advice from the audience at the front, and asked whether she should keep the footwear feathers or go for just the boots; the verdict was just boots, so she simply slung the feathering off. She stuck with the N.D. tracks, and launched into ‘Underneath It All’ and ‘Hella Good’. The former had a touch of Reggae about it and some nice trumpet, which elicited an old ‘The Fast Show’ catchphrase from me with a loud declaration of “Nice!” (Jazz Club). The latter got the crowd bouncing thanks to its funky riff and beat. There was then a moment for the dancers to have a “solo” segment, and while I accept it was for a costume change, I am long past spots like this in sub-ninety minutes shows. Yes, the dancers were great and they deserved it, but as I have said numerous times, another song would be nice. Now dressed in a black and white checked outfit that matched the stage, Stefani opened up with ‘Rich Girl’, another slightly rappy number, but one that came with a big surprise. She was joined at the breakdown by American rapper Eve, who guested on the studio version, which brought a substantial cheer. The two stayed on stage to sing Eve’s ‘Let Me Blow Your Mind’, which Stefani sang on. She followed her new single ‘True Babe’, where she requested for everyone to be pogoing (a term I’ve not heard in a long time), she dished out a clear live favourite with N.D.’s ‘Don’t Speak’. The audience had been well into it for most of the show, but it went up a notch at this stage. I was waiting for one particular song, and following ‘Wind It Up’, she duly delivered. ‘What You Waiting For?’ saw most of those around me on their toes as they jumped up and down yelling the lyrics. The “tick, tock” intro elicited a huge roar and it just went skywards from there. It was one of the top highlights of the show. The penultimate track was ‘Just A Girl’ from N.D. and that rather filthy riff was played with plenty of sauce. In what seemed no time, there were dancers on the stage with bananas and a hefty beat that signalled the arrival of the lone remaining well-known number – ‘Holloback Girl’. She performed it well, but I can’t help but be left with the feeling that the vibrant ‘What You Waiting For?’ would have been a better closer. Overall, this was a fabulous set from the California native. A few times, the phrase “Madonnary” came to mind during the set. A few tracks were a bit rappy for me, but I can’t fault the show or the performance. I certainly wouldn’t complain if I got the chance to see her again.
The sun had finally, thankfully, all but disappeared after baking the audience for the early part of the day and all that was left was the very epitome of a Pop Star. The Max Headroom styled video opening was a masterstroke and I’d forgotten how striking it could be. It looked like P!NK had a lot of fun writing and recording it. She threw out the thrills early and opened her set with the perfect ‘Get The Party Started’. The crowd went utterly bonkers, the lights fired up and P!NK appeared through a set of lips at the top of the stage, then proceeded to bungee up and down and somersault. The full-on P!NK visual machine had hit overdrive right from the off. She sounded really good from where I was stood in centre-wise, the crowd were yelling and the stage was full of colour and visuals. The snippet of ‘Sweet Dreams’ (Eurythmics) fitted in seamlessly. As if made for the perfect opening one-two punch, ‘Raise Your Glass’ (or hands if you’d finished your pint) was a request fully met by the crowd, and she tore off another crowd favourite after ‘Who Knew’ with ‘Just Like A Pill’. The phones were up, the hands were up and the voices were up as the sun began to set, and the brightly lit stage became ever more prominent. The shouts of “she’s being a little bitch” were said with relish by those around me. Her vocal wails sent shivers down my arms across the performance. ‘Try’ took things down a notch and it was beautiful to see P!NK sitting, chilled out, on the P.A. as she serenaded the crowd. A swift change from a sparkly jacket to a checked shirt proceeded a very Dance-like version of ‘What About Us’. As someone who can happily listen to Trance, that was just fine with me. This offering had flashing strobes, fireworks from the top of the stage, a line of smoke plumes and even sparkler-like eruptions from the curved light tunnel on the stage. She took it down a notch for ‘Turnbulance’, and the lovely quiet notes seemed to echo across Hyde Park. Having managed to keep her feet on the stage for several songs, a swing was lowered and she performed an almost Ballet-like routine with a male dancer before swirling in mid-air around the stage. I love Rock and Metal as much as anyone, but you just don’t see this at shows of that nature. Watching her spinning upside down made me dizzy just watching it. One of her band, Jason, then played an intro on the piano, one that P!NK guessed as ‘Family Portrait’. She explained the significance that everyone night he played a different song and she had to guess it. If she was right… she got candy. A bag of Maltesers were duly handed to her, which she gave to a fan in the crowd. It’s fun moments like that which make P!NK the special performer she is. Replacing Jason on the beautiful white piano, she performed a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’. It was quite a spine-tingling moment as that powerful voice soared and dipped out the speakers. A few band members returned, but the mellowed feel was retained for ‘Give Me A Reason’, where Nate Ruess’ parts were performed via the video screens as P!NK walked about in a (fittingly) long pink dress. The breakdown was pretty impressive with just the crowd raising their voices. The guitars fired up louder for ‘Fuckin’ Perfect’, and the additional vocals from the backing singers gave the song another level of power. The rainbow effects were “perfect” given it was Pride Month, something that many of the artists mentioned during the day. To prove she can truly Rock when she chooses, her band stepped on the riff accelerator and ‘Just Like Fire’ would have been easily at home in a set from any number of female Rock stars, a point proved by the inclusion of some of Pat Benatar’s ‘Heartbreaker’. The solo in this one from her guitarist, Justin, was a blinder. He continued to play a major part by providing the sensual acoustic guitar backing to ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ as P!NK and her four backing vocalists sang in gorgeous harmony. Many people around me were rather taken with her fluffy pink jacket.
Maintaining the acoustic style, P!NK opted for another ballad-like offering with ‘Cover Me In Sunshine’. This was probably one of the most special moment of the day because midway through P!NK was joined on stage by her daughter – Willow Sage Hart. This youngster must have nerves of steel as she wasn’t just there to add backing vocals, she actually sang on her own with the guitar as well. She seems to have inherited her mother’s voice, and the personal family moments on stage brought one of the biggest roars of the day. It was a truly touching to see the smiles and hugs at the end. Throughout the show, things were thrown on the stage, including frogs, which she explained she now had a room full of them. The rather chilled ‘Kids In Love’ saw P!NK sitting at the end of the runway, and she was joined by other band members for the calming ‘I Am Here’, where she requested a big clap along from the crowd. The luxuriousness of the song fit perfectly as the lights lit up the performance area. Ever aware, P!NK spotted someone in trouble, I should think due to the heat of the day, and paused at the end of the song to make sure that person got help. Proving she takes her role-model position seriously and wants to use her position to change things, she whacked into her feisty song ‘Irrelevant’. It may have just been me, but she spat “The kids are not alright”, “You fucking hypocrites” and “Girls have rights!” with real gusto and passion. The crowd yelled along, and the power of the song was backed up by thought-provoking images on the massive big screens either side of the stage. It was another real rocker with pounding rhythm, delicious guitar and a kicking solo. The leading lady disappeared during the extended guitar ending, leaving the backing dancers at the end of the runway whipping up the crowd. With the stage awash with pink smoke, P!NK reappeared and worked in another cover, this time Sade’s ‘No Ordinary Love’ before kicking, in some ways literally, into ‘Runaway’. The dancers had changed to outfits that looked somewhat like gym clothes, with shorts, vest tops, leotards (including P!NK), headbands, and they were high-stepping (in an aerobics fashion) and grooving for this catchy little number. It reminded me a little of something from Olivia Newton John, albeit a nineties song in an eighties wrapper. A multi-layered platform became more visible for ‘Trustfall’, and as you would expect, P!NK reverse assailed up there, but what really got my attention were the trampolines, where dancers were bouncing up and down from lower stage level to the upper section. Watching them almost throw themselves from the top level all the way down and springing back up was mesmerising. When you add in the massive light show, it was a true spectacle, but there was better to come. The massive pair of lips at the top of the stage were given some friends during ‘One Last Kiss’ because all the dancers pranced around the stage wearing a set over their heads. She took time to introduce all the band and later the dancers during ‘Never Gonna Not Dance Again’. By this stage, there was a massive party all around me. The neon stage lights and pulsing l