London Brixton Academy

The crowd's reaction tonight is typical of the sort of response [a]Gay Dad[/a] have evoked since their expensive marketing blitz first descended a few months ago  half unconvinced, half adoring...

We don’t need reminding. It’s 1999, OK. As Cliff Jones tells us, [I]”It’s the end of modern times”[/I], and here are two bands, both acutely aware of this context, tackling the spectre of Rock 2000 in very different ways. Think about it. What is rock’n’roll – now middle-aged, its impetus for rebellion long gone – supposed to sound like at the end of the century? And, just as importantly, what’s it supposed to [I]look[/I] like?

[a]One Lady Owner[/a] have the apocalyptic rumble and ominous, mechanised Mad Max ambience down pat. In their vision of the future, human emotion has been hollowed out and replaced by the cold hum of computers, the turbine roar of engines. They are – as their name and song titles (‘Wheelkings 1973’, ‘Acceleration’, ‘Police Car Sex’) indicate – automobile-obsessed. Accordingly, their muscular, bass-heavy rumble zips along like a road movie starring Bela Lugosi and ZZ Top, leaving a blanket of blackness in its wake.

This makes for compellingly mean listening. Every song is belligerent and oblique, yet strangely soulless. Their dispassionate delivery (singer Steve Dougherty keeps his eyes squeezed shut) and pub-casualty demeanour render [a]One Lady Owner[/a] a visual desert – no effort is made to match the sinister, determined cool of songs like ‘I Do Need You’ with suitably flinty attitude. It’s sexy music made by unsexy men, and though infectious, you can’t help but wonder how much more thrilling the ride could be had they not taken a charisma bypass somewhere along the way.

No such problems for Gay Dad. Cliff Jones knows the importance of mystique, of style. He’s a true believer in the ‘pop star as alien’ myth, consummately executed by Bowie but lost en route to Oasis-style everyman earthiness. We have become so wary of artifice in the post-grunge era (compounded by the glut of synthetic teen-pop groups) that personality and glamour are habitually sacrificed in favour of ‘4 real’ authenticity. Gay Dad are waging rebellion against the doldrum indie rock that has a strangle-hold on the zeitgeist, but it’s not going to be an easy battle.

The crowd’s reaction tonight is typical of the sort of response Gay Dad have evoked since their expensive marketing blitz first descended a few months ago – half unconvinced, half adoring. There are the hardened cynics, marking Jones‘ Machiavellian behind-the-scenes manoeuvres and self-conscious ‘image’ as highly suspect, refusing to be swayed even by the deft glam-rock fizz of ‘To Earth With Love’. Then there are the few who are ready to make a leap of faith and join the Gay Dad crusade, who are thirsty for spectacle, and who hear within the T Rex/Roxy stomp of ‘…Love’ the spark of something truly exciting.

“Is there a disagreement out there?” Jones squints, ruffling his bottle-blond mop and grinning rakishly at the girls in the front row. He’s aware that many of the audience have come simply to gloatingly confirm rumours that Gay Dad cannot, actually, play. But the joke’s on them. From the swirling adrenalised rush of ‘Dim Star’, through the blistering steel-studded clamour of ‘Black Ghost’ to the spectral drift of set-closer ‘Blue’, Gay Dad are the very picture of practised perfection. Tiny girl guitarist Charley wields a double-decker guitar in frenzied counterpoint to Jones‘ insouciant posturing, and the band’s ensemble slickness belies suggestions that Gay Dad are nothing but a glitzy scaffold around a talentless core.

Certainly, there are ropey moments, and a forgettable song or two. Even their effusive space-rock dynamism and Jones‘ crowd-baiting confidence (at one point he climbs up on to the wall separating the band from the audience and challenges a heckler to a fight) aren’t going to convince everyone that Gay Dad are anything more than a manufactured one-hit-wonder with a suspiciously quotable ex-journalist pretty boy out front. But as ‘To Earth With Love’ fades out, and Cliff Jones grinningly declares it to be “the first of many”, you get the feeling that Gay Dad have a lot more surprises in store. They have ambition and charisma to take us somewhere new, let’s just hope they know where they’re going.