Live Review: Dodie w/ Skinny Living and Fenne Lily | The Ritz, Manchester | 29/03/18

The heights YouTuber and musician Dodie Clark has reached in the past few years is phenomenal. With 1.4 million subscribers on her main channel, there’s no wonder nearly all of the dates on this tour sold out almost immediately with extra dates added. She joined YouTube in 2011, posting acoustic covers and originals under the guise of doddleoddle, with her artist name being updated simply to dodie. Joining her tonight were Fenne Lily and Skinny Living.

Bristolian singer/songwriter Fenne Lily (6.5/10) performed a stripped back set using just an electric guitar to accompany her soft voice. Unfortunately it took a while for the audience to give her the attention and silence her emotional songs required, with people audibly talking over her for the majority of the set. However her voice, which was reminiscent to that of Dido, held well against the room and over the top of the last few piling in.

The mood of her songs were potentially what failed to interest the crowd from the off. Due to the consistent slow, minor feel of her songs, they began to muddle together in a mixture of somber melodies. From ‘Top To Toe’ (a song she wrote at 15 about growing up and getting left behind) to ‘Brother’ (a more positive and funny track about childhood antics), all her music took on the same forlorn sound, despite their meanings.

Although, between songs she won the crowd over with ease as her personality shone through, bursting with humour. She came across very cool and calm, presenting a chilled stage presence as she joked with them. She even admitted her lack of a setlist: “I didn’t revise for my exams either and that’s why this is my job”, she laughed, her relaxed attitude saving the performance. In the right setting, it could have been quite emotive, however, it came across dull at times, with the lack of variety letting her down.

Skinny Living (8/10) incorporate big pop choruses and swung beats, grabbing the crowd with their upbeat opener ‘Shallow’. This particular track, full of swung rock guitar, allowed the crowd to get on board from the start. However, this was quickly lost as the theme of the setlist diminished into a sequence of slower tracks such as ‘My Blood’ and ‘I’m Here For You’. The lack of driving percussion previously heard in ‘Shallow’ made a significant difference to the crowd’s interest, noting the significant change in energy.

Despite this, frontman Ryan Johnston maintained a cheerful, easy-going stage presence which, like Fenne Lily before, drew them back in between songs. He showcased strong, unique vocals that, along with their effective blend of genres, give Skinny Living their signature sound. Taking on a soulful edge, Johnston’s powerful voice filled every corner of the 1,500-capacity room, holding everyone’s full attention as he explored his range and harmonised well with band mates, all of which contributed to backing vocals.

‘Simply Sorry’ picked up the pace considerably as the slow, heartfelt tune took a sudden turn to as guitarist Danny Hepworth performed an exhilarating solo that echoed around the room and regained the crowd’s interest. From then onwards the only way was up for the four-piece as they took a more pop-bop turn, with ‘Your Cool’ enticing a crowd singalong. Unfortunately for some though, the sassy, cringe-worthy lyrics were a bit too much and they opted out of this interactive tactic. Closing track ‘No Low Lower Than Low’, however managed to rectify this and got the crowd the most energetic they got tonight, with their upbeat funk sound prevailed in the end.

dodie (9/10) made her entrance, accompanied by a three-piece orchestra made up of cellos and a violin, as well as her band consisting of drums, bass and another guitarist. It was amazing to hear the rough demos from YouTube performed in this beautiful setting, with garlands of fake flowers draped from the rafters and weaving around mic stands.

Opening with indie-pop jingle ‘Would You Be So Kind?’ on guitar, the anticipation every member of the audience had been bottling up erupted, completely drowning her out. When she finally spoke, she stuttered and stumbled over her words, obviously overwhelmed by the reaction. Although, this didn’t cause an uncomfortable atmosphere as it was exactly what the crowd were expecting. She didn’t portray a fake onstage persona that they would see through; she was the same honest, awkward person everyone in the room saw in vlogs, and they appreciated that. However, there was one reoccurring issue with her performance, which came down to her voice. Her soft tones often failed to be heard over the volume of the crowd, with her vocal capacity not allowing her to adapt. This posed the question ‘stylistically, is she really ready for venues this size?’

Swapping from piano to guitar or ukulele, she kept her instrumentation varied, also including a piano-lead instrumental. The pace of her music didn’t run the risk of stagnating either, as she transitioned with ease between dark emotional pieces such as ‘Sick of Losing Soulmates’, to “absolute bops” like ‘Absolutely Smitten’. She even premiered new song ‘Monster’, which took on a more electronic theme featuring a drum machine and even trying her hand at rapping. Performing new material no one’s ever heard before can be risky, but she took it head-on and made it interactive with the audience having to learn a few lyrics first. Splitting the crowd in two, each half of the room sang different lines while she overlapped them, incorporating off-the-beat claps to keep the pace up.

She shook the mood up considerably though by following this up with simplistic tune ‘She’, about understanding your sexuality. Pride flags were waved while others held multi-coloured paper hearts (which were handed out by a fan in the queue) over their phone torches to create a sea of colourful lights, conveying this was a fan favourite and the most anticipated song of the set.

Like a true show-woman, after the final song finished she brought her band out to the front to bow like the end of a musical before line dancing to Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’. Throughout the whole set, dodie made sure she put on an actual show rather than just churn out a few songs. The crowd laughed, cried and felt every word in her setlist, knowing them off by heart, and that’s the type of performance every musician should be striving for.


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