It hasn't taken Lily Allen forever to get here. It just seems that way.
"We've been waiting for you," shouted one of Allen's smitten fans, who came in all ages, sexes and races to the sold-out Theatre of Living Arts on Monday. And so they have, since last summer, when the catty, 21-year-old Londoner first topped the British charts with "Smile," the delightfully vindictive, reggae-splashed kiss-off that earned Allen an international buzz quicker than you can mouse-click MySpace.
Alright, Still, Allen's winning full-length debut, has been out officially in the States for only two weeks, though, so it has taken her a while to get around to eating her first Philadelphia cheesesteak. That gustatory experience helped her understand such American English nuances as the difference between "barf" and "burp" - she excused herself for doing the latter.
Allen was backed by an excellent seven-piece band, whose members, dressed snazzily in matching Lacoste shirts, included a trumpeter, trombonist and baritone sax player.
Her knack for attaching acid-tongued barbs to ebullient beats served her well throughout a show that was tight and loose in all the right places. In "Not Big," a wickedly funny song about sexual stature that put nervous "she's-not-singing-about-me" looks on guys' faces throughout the room, she warned a wayward paramour that reciprocity can be painful.
"Let's see how you feel in a couple of weeks," she sang in her pleasant, stinging voice, "when I work my way though your mates."
And though fetching, ska-flavored Allen songs such as "Friday Night" have plenty of surface charm and oodles of confidence, they also display a keen observational eye for (as her sole, straight-up love song puts it) the "Littlest Things." As well as a lurking unease: She finished off "Cheryl Tweedy," her B-side named after a British pop star and footballer's wife, by repeatedly singing a line that has universal appeal to self-doubters: "There are so many things about my life that I despise."
At the TLA, before singing the breezy, Burt Bacharach-esque "Everything's Just Wonderful," in which she announces a desire to "be able to eat spaghetti Bolognese, and not feel guilty about it for days and days," she dipped a toe into political commentary, then quickly retracted it. She said the song was about "people who make things difficult" such as "real estate agents, bank managers, prime ministers, and," she added with a giggle, "Presidents? No, I'm not going to go there. . . . I ain't no Dixie Chick."
Though a mere 70 minutes, Allen's set felt a bit padded by a well-intentioned but not so lively cover of the Specials' "Blank Expression," and by an acoustic segment of tunes by her Brit contemporaries Keane and the Kooks. Those Ks didn't sound so special, compared to Allen's own material, and she was only speaking the truth when she ended the interlude by saying: "Back to my own songs, which are much better, anyway!"