Gig Review: Mickey Callisto at The Chameleon

Words: Karl Blakesley
Photos: Nigel King
Tuesday 13 February 2024
reading time: min, words

For anyone who caught Mickey Callisto at The Bodega as part of Dot-to-Dot last year, it was obvious he was destined for superstardom. The Sunderland-born, Liverpool-based synth-pop sensation commanded the stage with the voice and presence of a young Freddie Mercury, instantly standing out as an exceptional talent just waiting to be discovered. So, when it was announced he was returning to Nottingham as part of his first headline tour, we just had to go along to see if word was getting out…

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Let me start by saying that few venues gave that warm fuzzy feeling quite like going up the stairs to The Chameleon. The small space really always radiated a friendly get-together feel and it is a real shame we as a community are losing such a cornerstone grassroots venue from our city.

Evenings like tonight highlight what a special spot it is, with Notts-based producer, rapper and DJ Baby Tap kicking things off. He is draped in blood, wearing a black leather dress and a studded leather choker, with eerie red contact lenses. It sounds quite scary but as soon as he starts speaking, you realise he couldn’t be friendlier. “Thank you, I am so honoured to be here,” he says, warmly greeting the crowd. It is the same day the deluxe version of his album Earth Shaker has dropped, so naturally the set pulls heavy from that project, opening on the ominous electronics and warped vocals of Knife In My Eye.

“Come closer, I want to feast on your souls,” he says, seducing the crowd to stand closer to the performance space before launching into the fiery energy of Demons. The chaotic genre-hopping is fascinating to see and hear, with Gore and Wham Blammo seeing Baby Tap mix pulsating electronics and Rammstein-like heaviness with some impressive rap bars. It’s definitely not a set for the faint-hearted though, with a performance of Suffocate Me preceded with the insight that it’s about “choking on c*ck”.

It’s then immediately followed by the not-so-subtly-titled Bounce Me On Your D*ck, which is hilariously dedicated to someone in the audience called Bernadette for her birthday. Happy Birthday indeed! It's great Friday night fun and the infectious rave energy of songs like Death Fight, Up The F*ck and Owie get the crowd – which includes Mickey Callisto himself – fired up for the evening’s headliner.

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“Hello Nottingham, are you feeling weird?” Mickey asks the excited crowd as he takes to the floor. He opens on In The Beginning, There Was Light, with the space themed odyssey of his debut EP Homospace being translated to tonight’s performance. As the shimmering synths of This Is The Real World and Bring Me Down to Earth take flight, Mickey fully channels the spirit of the late-great Freddie Mercury. It’s a stadium-sized show in the smallest space possible and it’s thrilling to witness.

“I’ve got a couple of ballads for you now," says Mickey, bringing the pace down slightly. “This one’s about not seeing a family member for a long time.” The song that follows is The Years Go By, which stuns the crowd into jaw-dropping silence as Mickey’s powerful, heartfelt vocals reverberate around the loft venue. “I promise I’ll get the boring sh*t out the way,” jests Mickey, remaining sat down at his keyboard for the equally spellbinding Happy Memories. It’s not boring at all but utterly captivating, seeing such a talented performer in this, the most intimate of settings.

After a quick sip of his drink, it’s then into his first ever single Destructive Love, a track that gets the crowd singing and clapping along for the first time tonight. “Everything you hear tonight was written by myself in my bedroom,” shares Mickey, a fact that is quite amazing given the songwriting prowess on display. After sharing some stories of growing up in a council estate, taking acid at University and disclosing his desire to hit every gay bar in the country with Baby Tap, he then steams through Take It Easy and the politically-charged Fight For Your Life, showing off his best dance moves in the process.

“I’m in the process of getting my band together, there’s only so many air guitars you can do,” jokes Mickey, with a member of the audience called Jade then shouting out “I can do them for you!” Taking them up on the offer, Mickey brings them onto the stage to excitedly air-guitar through the next song.

“Before doing this, I used to work at an O2 phone shop,” shares Mickey, transitioning into his next hilarious anecdote. “One day someone came in saying “something’s wrong with my phone, I can’t get it to work,” and it was a Goodmans TV remote.” The crowd burst into laughter as he launches into Slave To The Man, a track he dedicates to the manager of that O2 shop who he informs us was a four letter word beginning with a C.

“Okay, one more slow one then we are going to take the roof off,” Mickey says, following up with the short but sweet Stranger Things-inspired track, The Upside Down. After that he makes good on his promise, with the electric Homospace sending The Chameleon into a joyous frenzy, with Mickey himself bouncing about the floor as the crowd jump around and sing along to the catchy chorus. “You’s are all legends honestly, what a crowd,” says Mickey, his Sunderland accent coming through as he introduces a cover of The Beatles’ classic, Hey Jude. Phone torches and lighters are then held aloft as Mickey leads the mass singalong from his keyboard, the crowd wholeheartedly singing the words and the iconic “Na, Na, Na, Na Na Na Na!” refrain at the top of their lungs.

It’s a magical moment, with Mickey then seemingly ending his set on epic EP closer, Lost In Space. “Go enjoy your Friday night and get f*cked, I love you all,” he says, but the crowd are having none of it, instead thunderously yelling for one more song. “I’ve got nothing left on me laptop!” he exclaims, however the audience in The Chameleon have a solution: “Homospace! Homospace!” Thankfully Mickey obliges the request and plays the song again, going one step further this time by inviting the crowd onto the performance area of the floor to dance with him. It’s an utterly euphoric finale which caps off a perfect Friday evening show.

It's clear from tonight Mickey Callisto is a special artist, one you can see commanding the biggest stages and audiences if he continues this current trajectory as a songwriter and performer. But before he gets to that point, here’s hoping he’s back performing in Nottingham again sometime soon.

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