Photos by Janine Van Oostrom.
Never in a million years did I think I would be attending a Rick Astley gig but there I found myself queued up with hundreds of folk around my age for the second visit in two years for England’s Rick Astley.
Just over 30 years ago you couldn’t escape Rick Astley with his huge international hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” where the man with the deep and smooth voice turned out to be some ginger boy with some endearingly awkward dance moves. He would have a few other hits but by the early 90s he was relegated to a footnote.
Fast forward 30 years and Astley is back in the public consciousness due to some Internet thing called Rick-rolling that I don’t understand. Rick is making the most of his moment releasing his seventh album, 50, and hitting the road to support it.
I wasn’t really into Rick’s style of music back in the 80s hence my surprise at being amongst those who packed the Opera House on a soggy Friday night. Much like the Bananarama gig I attended earlier this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect but was left surprised at how much I enjoyed the evening.
With no support act, Rick and his band along with two backup singers hit the stage after 9 kicking off the steamy night with “This Old House” off of 50. The band was surprisingly funky and tight, almost propelling “This Old House” into an actual house tune. Huge hit “Together Forever” followed and the room erupted into rapture dancing and singing along to every word.
Not only was the band impressive, but Astley himself was the star of the night. He looked fantastic, had a smile on his face the entire night, played some guitar and drums and basically charmed the pants off the crowd with his sense of humor mostly to the expense of himself. But it was obvious he was taking his moment for what it is and not taking everything too seriously. He accepted that new songs were bathroom breaks to many and that he couldn’t in fact dance. He played all of hits including “She Wants To Dance With Me”, “Cry for Help” and “It Would Take a Strong Strong Man” and he “butchered” (his word, not mine) Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”.
Being the first show of the tour and the year as we were informed, cobwebs are expected but the band was tight all night. Things would come of the rails a bit with a well-intentioned collaboration with Choir! Choir! Choir! There was talk of the Foo Fighters when Astley and the massive swell of the choir that overwhelmed the stage but it was an acapella run through “Never Gonna Give You Up” and whether they weren’t mic’d, it fell flat, although the crowd sounded great when it was their turn. He did his biggest song again with his band to the delight of the crowd.
For the finale, Astley took to the drums to belt out a delightful romp through AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” silencing those who thought he was a studio puppet, happily banging away like a kid in a candy store much like we were for over an hour and a half. So while I never saw myself attending one of his gigs, I now can’t wait for the next one.