Music Reviews

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The Music Box@Fonda, Hollywood
Monday, Feb. 5


What a difference four months makes. When British sensation Lily Allen made her Los Angeles debut in October at the Troubadour, she failed to live up to the buzz with a short set that had plenty of promise but too little sizzle. Monday at the much larger Music Box, Allen stretched her set out to an hour with a few choice covers, loosened up and grooved to the beats of a live drummer and showed talent that went even beyond her superb debut album.

The daughter of British comedian Keith Allen scored a No. 1 single in the U.K. last year with the infectious ska-tinged pop of "Smile," while her debut album, "Alright, Still," just missed the top spot. Instead of immediately releasing her album in the U.S., Capitol Records opted to issue a digital-only EP as the buzz about the artist spread over the Internet. The strategy made some sense, since Allen honed her material by posting it on her MySpace page. With her album finally released in the U.S. last week, the singer seems primed to replicate her U.K. success in America, if it's not derailed by the recent merger of EMI's Capitol and Virgin Records.

This time out, there appeared to be even more anticipation for Allen, with the larger venue allowing room for the fans as well as the industryites that packed the Troubadour. Allen and her seven-man band -- including a three-piece horn section -- wasted no time getting down to business opening with "LDN," her irresistible, calypso-flavored ode to her hometown where "everything looks nice, but if you look twice, you can see it's all lies."

Sporting a loose-fitting sleeveless beige dress and gigantic white tennis shoes, Allen was the antithesis of the airbrushed pop diva. Rather, she was the sassy girl-next-door who'll charm you with her cuteness and then knock you out with snarky put-downs. That was the case in "Not Big," an attack on an inadequately equipped ex-beau. But Allen wasn't all sass, all the time. In "Little Things," which samples the "Theme From Emmanuelle," she showed heartbroken vulnerability and impressive vocal chops. That also was apparent in her medley of Keane's "Everybody's Changing" and the Kooks' "Naive." During the encore, she tipped her hat to one of her influences, ska revivalists the Specials, by performing their "Blank Expression."

By the time Allen performed "Smile" late in the set, it was clear that she had won over the skeptics; even a bouncer could be seen playfully dancing in the balcony. To paraphrase her own lyrics: At the Troubadour, Allen left us wanting more. But this time around, she had everyone in the house smiling.
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