Stereo MC's : Berlin Maria Am Ostbahnhof

A disappointing comeback for Rob Birch and co...

Jesus Christ! No, really, it's Jesus Christ! Or at least you'd think it was by the crowd's ecstatic response to the first German entrance of the Stereo MC's since they supported U2 on their Zooropa tour. And this is almost certainly due to the fact that Rob Birch and co have been seen live in a public place indeed roughly the same amount of times as the Good Lord himself over the last 8 years or so, and probably not as much to do with excitement over the new and largely disappointing material from the very forthcoming 'Deep Down & Dirty' album.

However, expectation is rife, and this show sold out weeks ago. Bar their 'DJ Kicks' compilation, their fans have been starved of anything new, and are clearly sponges to anything on offer. Kicking off with 'Fade Away', it's evident the reupholstered MC's are feeling the same organic groove they pioneered in the early-1990s, waving the filthy-beats flag for the London branch of the baggy invasion. And although they obviously believe in it all - Rob drawling, eyes closed and hand heavenwards like a stoned exorcist, through the actually-quite-good 'Shameless', the actually-quite-bad 'Traffic', plus the breakbeat-inflected highlight 'Sofisticated' - you can't help but be bored by the unchallenging nature of the new material.

With UK hip-hop in the ascendancy, they seem to have picked the right time to return, and the crowd love it, but tonight they at times walk closer to Jamiroquai than to any envelope pushing. As Rob points out, nobody sounds like them and they don't sound like anybody else, but this is mainly because the melting pot has moved on about, ooh, a decade since. Maybe Mark B & Blade blowing them offstage on their upcoming UK dates will serve as the jolt of electricity they need. For now, don't call it a comeback. Just call it limp.

Tim Milner

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