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Review - soul: Michael Bolton, The Olympia, Dublin


Michael Bolton in concert

Michael Bolton in concert

Michael Bolton in concert

Michael Bolton's tub-thumping soft rock divides opinion down the middle. Either you regard Bolton as one of the outstanding vocalists of his era – a crooner and showman of the type they don't make any more.

Or he is popular music's ultimate figure of fun: preening, overcooked, forever mistaking impassioned grunting for soulfulness. Add to the equation the ridiculous perm he sported during his initial flush of mega-success – a terrifying mullet/pony tail hybrid – and it is clear there is no space for compromise.

What can't be disputed is the sheer horsepower of his voice, a rafter-raiser that feels far too grandiose for even a mid-size venue such as the Olympia. As a singer, he really only has a single setting – hairdryer earnestness – but, with the pedal to the floor, the scale of the performance is something to behold.

Of course, it helps his cause no end that gigantomullet is a distant memory, cropped in 1996 by Brad Pitt's barber (generating global headlines). Plus, Bolton is around long enough to recognise the value of deprecation – between tunes the 61-year-old is jokey and winking. If you think his music absurd . . . well, at moments Bolton hints that maybe he does also.

Twenty years after the event, it is easy to forget how ubiquitous Bolton was in the 90s. Looking back, the tendency is to pigeonhole the decade as the epoch of credible gatecrashers: Nirvana, REM et al. Actually, it was the time human air-raid sirens ruled the world – Mariah Carey and Bolton unchallenged as the biggest names in pop. You flicked the radio on and there they were, ululating their million-dollar lungs out.

It's been a while since Bolton has troubled the charts, a fact which seems not to bother him in the least. On the first of two nights in Dublin, he looks again and again to his hits, unfurling 'To Love Somebody' and Otis Redding's '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay', with an engaging diversion into the Robert Johnson blues standard 'Sweet Home Chicago'.

Flashes of humour are discernible throughout. Recently Bolton has carved a parallel career as an online prankster, his Johnny Depp YouTube spoofs notching up hundreds of thousands of views.

Responding to a request, he delivers a chorus of 'Jack Sparrow', a collaboration with joke hip-hop crew The Lonely Island.

For a novelty smash it is almost inappropriately catchy – a reminder Bolton was never as straightforward as stereotype suggested. He may be a sultan of schmaltz but his rock star charisma can't be doubted.

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