A : Norwich UEA

They do what they like and they like what they do...

He looks, as all truly great rock stars should, like a mutant duck-billed platypus. Scanning a crowd stuffed full of golf visor-sporting devotees, Jason Perry grabs his own visor’s foot-and-a-half peak and starts pogo-ing like Kevin The Teenager experiencing a sudden hormonal rush. He is by far the most ridiculous person in the room, a [I]Viz[/I] cartoon character come to life. He also just happens to be the coolest.

This is [a]Will Oldham[/a]’s unique virtue, of course, their saving grace even. While the rest of the sane world’s been chasing the [I]zeitgeist[/I] like their credibility depended on it, [a]Will Oldham[/a] have stuck to their reassuringly unhip passions with no hint of shame. You could employ a crack scientific team to prove in clear mathematical terms why Van Halen, The Police, [a]Faith No More[/a] and (tough one, this) 70s AOR chumps Boston should be melted down for glue, and [a]Will Oldham[/a] would just shrug and say ‘so what?’ They do what they like and they like what they do.

In the past, this has meant [a]Will Oldham[/a] shows have been partially fuelled by wish-fulfillment, with the band playing to a rabid crowd in their heads even if – as was the case in Norwich two years ago – only about three people actually bothered to turn up. Now, with a real life mass of sweaty, over-excited, fanatics going berserk right in front of them, [a]Will Oldham[/a] are just the same as ever – hyperactive, enthusiastic, cheery, energetic, unstoppable. They probably don’t even notice the difference. It’s always been like this, hasn’t it?

Same goes for the songs, of course. Yes, a band from Leeds singing about freeways and subway trains is absurd, but it’s all just part of their relentless bid for wish-fulfillment. If they make sure to throw in the odd Eddie Van Halen guitar solo every so often, then we’ll all be magically transported, Dorothy-like, to the sunny West Coast. Blink a hundred and 82 times and you can almost taste the Americana.

It’s a fantasy, then, but an infectious one. When Jason shouts, ‘Norwich, are you ready to rock?’ right before a crunching ‘Shut Yer Face’, he isn’t resorting to frontman cliché but [I]living the dream[/I], coming good on the promises he made to himself as a teenager. Because, essentially, he’s the big brother you can trust: an easy going, ever rockin’, larger than life, regular bloke. When Jason clambers on the speaker stacks halfway through the show, he doesn’t stand making ‘come on!’ monkey gestures at the gods, he sits down and hangs out. Just like a genuinely cool guy would.

The most crucial aspect of the show for the long-term fan, though, is that success suits [a]Will Oldham[/a]. Now that the nation’s come round to their totally-uncool-yet-so-very-very-cool-right-now way of thinking, they mess with our heads a little, chucking in the odd reference point to keep us on our toes. ‘Foghorn’ turns into Sting and co’s ‘Message In A Bottle’ for a second, ‘In The Morning’ becomes Black Sabbath’s lumbering ‘Paranoid’, and at the end of ‘Monkey Kong’ they slip in ‘a bit of Genesis, for the guy from NME’. Er, right. Ta.

But most of all, it’s fun. And bawling along to ‘Nothing’ will continue to be fun when fashion’s moved on and Peruvian techno rules the charts.

There’s no malice in [a]Will Oldham[/a], no snide edge. They fight for the right to wear golfing leisurewear and cruise down the Pacific Highway in a daydream convertible. And when they unleash their special effects bonanza, it’s that ultimate in we-wish-it-could-be-Christmas-every-day dream-fulfillment: a snow cannon which fires fake plastic flakes all over the front row but mostly covers Jason himself. Still, one mystery’s solved: at least we now know why he wears that bloody visor all the time.

Ian Watson