Concert Review: Rick Astley, October 9, The Phoenix

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One has to wonder what it feels like to be Rick Astley these days. After all, the man basically became a meme once Rickrolling came along, essentially making Astley and his biggest hit something of a cheap punchline across the internet. Yet after seeing his show at the Phoenix on Sunday night, I get the impression that he hasn’t let it get to him at all – in fact he seems to be having as much fun playing live as he ever did, possibly even more.

Playing Toronto as part of a brief North American tour in support of his latest album 50 (and to let us know that he’s “not dead yet”), Astley displayed a fun, easygoing persona onstage, joking around with the crowd, often at his own expense, and proving himself to be quite the showman.

I was actually a bit surprised at how good of a performer Astley is, considering he’s taken a few extended breaks from live performance over the years, but he and his band impressed, running through new songs and classics alongside a few covers, including a bit of a curveball in a version of AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” that featured Astley on drums. Of course, those covers would have been a bit more of a surprise if they hadn’t been all over the internet already. “We sometimes do other people’s songs. You may have gone on YouTube to see if I’ve got any hair or if I’ve got one leg,” joked Astley before they launched into a solid cover of “Uptown Funk.”

He strapped on a guitar for the next one, adding that it “probably means we’re going to do a new song.” Lo and behold, they played a new song, “Pieces,” inspired by a scene from a Michael Moore documentary that Astley had seen wherein a man who lost his home was offered an extra $1000 if he cleaned the place up so that it was spotless. Inspired by the heartlessness of the situation, Astley wrote the song as an exercise imagining what he would have done in that situation. And while lyrics like “Reaching for my crossbow/I patiently take aim/I’ve got you in the crosshair/Never gonna hurt me or anybody else again” and “Yes you rule the world for now” seem like they might be more at home in a Rage Against The Machine song, he took a positive turn at the end, switching from “I’ll take the room to pieces” to “we’ll find a place where peace is.” So just in case you were worried for a minute there, rest assured Rick Astley has not gone full anarcho-punk.

Of course, Astley’s not best known for his protest music, but for his hits that gets people dancing (although he claims not to dance onstage anymore because “there is nobody in the world that would insure a 50 year old man dancing to ’80s music.”). And Astley brought the hits, including “She Wants To Dance With Me,” “Cry For Help” and of course, ending things off with the big one, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” because to do otherwise would basically be like doing a reverse Rickroll. And that is something that Rick Astley is never gonna do.

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Posted on by Paul in Concerts

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