Damage: London Hackney Ocean

Damage play MTV's Five Night Stand and are joined onstage by Emma Bunton...

For the urban night of MTV’s Five Night Stand, more than any other of this week’s shows, there is no room for the indie ethic. There is nothing to be celebrated in underachieving or keeping it real; there is no room for ‘credible’ commercial failure, as of course tonight’s headliners discovered after being kicked off their first label.

Which makes it all the more strange that while they may toy with ghetto fabulousness tonight – even in a less-than-fabulous trawl through ‘Ghetto Romance’ – Damage are so screamingly worthy. The ambition’s there in their new material as it was in their first wave of mid-’90s successes (at its heights, much-delayed comeback album ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ maintains, if by no stretch of the imagination sets, the standard for UK R&B), but the band’s continued insistence that they reach beyond the boyband arena falter in such a tightly choreographed show as tonight’s.

It says something that Emma Bunton, the only factor in the Damage equation that makes this decade-old band seem relevant, is wheeled out so early on in the show. Predictable though her appearance may have been (she and Jade are going out together), any sensible act would have kept a surprise-except-not special guest for a showstopping finale. Yet so cautious are Damage that Buntois wheeled out for the ‘I Don’t Know’ duet before the show has barely started.

And, as it happens, the latter day Kurt and Courtney‘s moment together is absolutely showstopping – in the good sense – but also in the sense that here, the show does effectively stop. Emma, clad in white, is flanked by four female dancers and Jade, in his denim ‘n’ leather uniform, is flanked by? Well, the rest of Damage. Four male dancers, basically. There is bumping, there is grinding, and there is nothing wrong with that, especially when it scales heights of formation dancing rarely seen this side of a Janet Jackson video. But then Emma blows a kiss and clears off. It’s been ace, but she may as well have kissed the show goodbye, for it fails to recover.

Peter Robinson