VICTORIA SEGAL gets blinded by the brilliance of Theaudience's, um, brilliance...

Theaudience

Manchester Apollo

Confidence might be a trick, but when Theaudience use it to steal the hearts of innocent spectators, it becomes more than cheap illusion. Band after band might proclaim they’re, like, the future of rock’n’roll, man, but no amount of blustery braggadocio can match the moment Sophie Ellis Bextor appears onstage and sings, “I never thought I’d ever punch you out” with all the starry nonchalance of someone flicking ash from a cigarette. Some things don’t need articulating, especially when your singer looks like she was found in a rush basket next to the handprints on Hollywood Boulevard.

Sure, there’s songwriter and guitarist Billy Reeves yelling, “Onetwothreefour” with the deranged enthusiasm of Joey Ramone on a trip to the zoo, but Theaudience know the value of understatement. There’s a tangible desire here to be Edith Piaf, Debbie Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, Marianne Faithfull – and that, ho, ho, is just the boys. Sophie, of course, just looks like everyone else should want to be her. There’s no doubt that she would be hideously irritating if she showed even a sliver of self-consciousness, but she doesn’t, standing there with one hand on her hip like she’s reprimanding the whole building, snapping consonants like she’s breaking arms.

It’s a voice made for The Stage rather than the grubby succession of stages that led to this support slot with the unglamorous James, but still, it can only raise the tone. Any fears that she was constructed out of Kenickie’s mascara scrapings and the ambitions of evil Svengalis vaporise instantly – not least because you can imagine her stiletto-to-the-groin retort at the merest suggestion. Yet there is something innocent here – maybe the way Sophie can’t stop smiling at the band, or songs that sound as fresh and wobbly as a kitten on ice, poignantly packed with ideas in case they never get another chance.

‘Now I’m Eighteen’ and ‘I Know Enough (I Don’t Get Enough)’ are equally sassy; loose-limbed, long-eyelashed Frankenstein babes, somewhere between Elastica, Television and The Sundays. Both have Sophie breaking into a sudden startling ‘mockney’ that makes Brett Anderson look like he’s been running a pie and mash stall in Bow for 60 years. And although this might correctly be termed post-Britpop, it hits none of the flag-decked dead ends that implies. From the measured, opulent ennui of ‘If You Can’t Do It When You’re Young…’ to the summery picnic-hamper jaunt of ‘A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed’, there’s an intelligence, wit and scope that stretches way beyond magpie retro.

If this audience doesn’t quite empathise, never mind. In the rarefied surroundings that they undoubtedly deserve, this could soar. ‘I’ve Got The Wherewithal’ shows the beautiful monsters Billy could create, the bat-black orchestral dramas that flirt with Phantom Of The Opera and wave a feather boa at Marlene Dietrich, Sophie’s voice rising from the guitars like a plume of menthol smoke. It might take some time for Theaudience to blossom from gawky ingenue to seamless sophisticate, but it’s already a struggle not to fall in love. The sensible side of your brain is weighing up the options, testing the water, pondering their future. The other half is sending flurries of bouquets backstage and grinning like a fool. Thank you, Theaudience. You’ve been lovely.

Victoria Segal