The Ipswich Regent, much like Ipswich itself, is a little rough around edges, but it's a vast, rather splendid, reminder of grand theatres in which folk used to congregate to have a good time. Incongruously tucked away on the edge of town, and utterly undistinguished from the outside, it comes as quite a shock to be confronted with the sinuous curves of its listed interior, seats stretching as far as the eye can see. When you consider that its closest rival in the whole of East Anglia is the humble Lower Common Room of UEA, it's no surprise that super glamorous Caro Emerald has chosen the venue to start her UK tour.
First, though, we were gifted the modest treat of Loren Nine's brief support set of half a dozen songs. Nine was clearly nervous, and understandably so. Alone on stage with her keyboard, squeezed in front of a huge collection of instruments and paraphernalia set up for the main act, it must have been daunting playing her sweet, unassuming tunes to such a large group of people who had come to see someone else. Frankly, it would have been nice to see that crowd show more respect for an up and coming artist, but we had to wait until the third song - the quietly anthemic I Want To Be Me - before the steady stream of drink-in-hand punters settled down. It was their loss to miss the elegiac Cherry Stains, but thankfully all were in attendance to see her blossom for her final song, somewhat ironically entitled Who Needs You, the strongest of her set.
It's a deceptively low key start to the evening, but then perhaps that was the idea. It certainly makes Caro Emerald's introduction to the stage all the more spectacular. Surrounding by more musicians than can be easily counted, she teasingly sang from the very back of the stage while her superb band got the party started with a level of musicianship so accomplished that I found myself wondering whether I was still listening to pre-recorded sound. All such thoughts were swept away as Ms Emerald, resplendent in the first of many costumes, sashayed her way towards the centre of attention, where she poured out the first of several surprisingly poppy openers.
While any concert should mainly be about the music, and it's not always a good thing to come out whistling the scenery, the postcard perfect presentation that was on show can't go by without comment. Backed by an ever changing montage of brightly coloured Cuban influenced projections, and flanked by deliberately retro flood lighting, this was, from beginning to end, not just a gig, but a show reminiscent of a big, brash, West End musical. The myriad musicians playing drums, keyboards, guitar, brass, accordion - anything you can think of, really - were soberly dressed in black, and appeared to have been invited to know their place, doing their job expertly but discreetly. On the rare occasions that Caro was off stage, the brass section would step forward, as if unleashed from an invisible chain, but otherwise all but guitarist Wieger Hoogendorp seemed to have got the memo - by way of contrast he skipped and pranced about with pixie footed delight throughout, adding considerably to theatre of the performance.
This was a deftly constructed set, cleverly and subtly shifting the mood, and musical style, just when you thought you might have the measure of where things were going. After that infectious pop start, things took a decidedly Latin turn with the languid brass of Never Ever and the infectious beat of Tahitian Skies offering up what was, for me, the strongest segment of the evening. Ghost of You exhibited her distinctive blend of jazz and Latin, while Close to Me revealed shades of the late, great Amy Winehouse in an intimate duet with Hoogendorp that was the perfect counterpoint to the jaunty Liquid Lunch that followed.
We had already enjoyed a set that had got our feet tapping, but this was the song that signalled another shift, closer in tone to electro swing territory with the brass section working overtime that had a few brave souls dancing in the aisles. They were quickly joined by others as soon as the monster hit Stuck started up, but it was That Man that had the audience rising as one, in a frankly astonishing coordinated move that made me wonder if notes had been passed around beforehand. What followed on from there is something of a blur, with the set closing to something akin to organised mayhem in the auditorium, as fans of all ages, shapes and sizes danced as if no one was watching. Caro Emerald's pure, note perfect voice belted out the last few numbers like a singer at the world's biggest party, uncluttered by the faux Mariah Carey warbling that has blighted a singing generation and giving a master class in how put the substance of a song before style. This was an evening of glamour and showmanship and having a great time, but it was foremost, and resolutely, an evening about the music.