The Verse’s Luca Van Dresh reviews Ricky Gervais in his show as David Brent at the Brighton Centre on the 16th December.
You may remember (but probably not) David Brent from that fly-on-the-wall documentary about a paper merchant in Slough, called The Office. It was on BBC Two back in the early 00’s and David Brent was the awful manager of Wernham Hogg Paper Company, who once headbutted a woman (the prat). Think Nev from The Call Center but with a lot more cod philosophy, self-delusion and need for fame. You may also remember in that program, Brent showcased some of his songwriting and singing ‘abilities’.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and Brent is still clinging desperately onto his dream of becoming a rock star – and he’s somehow managed to get a gig at the 4,500 capacity Brighton Centre. He may have managed this because of this year’s film follow up to The Office, Life on the Road which – while hilarious – did leave a lot to be desired in terms of Brent’s music career. Maybe Brent is still in touch with the band Texas. To put this madness into context, Paul Weller was playing at the 2,000 capacity Brighton Dome on the same night. Trump is President-elect and Bowie is dead – that’s 2016 for you folks.
The place was sold out though and everyone seemed to love it, singing along to the words of a man who is now a sales rep for an industrial cleaning product distributer called Levichem. He has even managed to get Andy Burrows from Razorlight to be his drummer, although I suppose drumming for David Brent would probably be more bearable than drumming for Johnny Borrell. Brent try’s to be an amalgamation of Liam Gallagher, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie but comes across more as Howard from the Halifax ads.
The lyrics to these songs are ridiculously clunky, for example, “Ohh oh Native American / Soar like an eagle, sit like a pelican / Ohh oh, don’t call us Indians / We’re more like West Eurasians crossed with Siberians” from the song Native American. In that song, we see another recurring theme of the night where Brent tries to be politically correct and offer some sort of ‘message’ like Bono but ends up being grossly offensive like Jim Davidson. Halfway through the song he does an impression of a Native American which needs to be shown in every diversity training course in what not to do. Another moment of attempted empathy from the night is this beauty “Please be kind to the ones with feeble minds / Help the awkward through a door, hold their hand / If they’ve got one, understand / You might have to feed the worst ones, through a straw, it’s basically a head on a pillow”. Yes, in true Brent tradition, those are actual lyrics – from a song called Please Don’t Make Fun of The Disableds.
Brent is also obsessed in letting you know he is not a racist by inviting onto the stage a black rapper called Dom Johnson, saying “I’ve got my own one, Professor Green just does it all himself”. They perform a song together called Equality Street, which manages the incredible feat of being even worse than 1982’s Ebony and Ivory. Brent also performs a faux reggae song called Ain’t No Trouble where he sings in a Jamaican accent and Johnson stands there looking embarrassed. I do feel sorry for Johnson as he has some talent and he does get to perform one of his own songs, but it is over shadowed by the middle-aged man standing next to him firing tee’s out of a shirt cannon.
Brent’s heart is in the right place and as the night goes on, you do begin to see the charm but he just tries too hard. For example, when mountains of fake snow pour down during Don’t Cry Its Christmas, or describing how the guitar solo, as it was being played, in Paris Nights is representing the press chasing after Princess Diana on the night she died.
It’s a bizarre evening and is a warning on the dangers of seeking fame but I can’t lie – when Free Love Freeway closes the show, everyone is on their feet singing their hearts out, including me. It’s a classic show, pure and simple.
So, that’s David Brent for you, the genius of Ricky Gervais’ perfect and believable comedic performance. Certainly an enjoyable performance for any fans of Gervais’ work.