XOYO, London, May 15

We’ve heard of bands playing ‘intimate’ dates, but this is ridiculous. “How many people can you get in here anyway?” Beth Ditto giggles, getting lippy with the crowd at London’s hipster warren XOYO (answer: about 450). “I can feel the sound onstage! The vibrations are going up my short chubby legs and into my peehole.” While NME is unable to confirm the veracity of such reports, it’s the vibrations emanating from Beth’s me-hole we’re more concerned with tonight. Quite simply, the Gossip girl hasn’t stopped for breath all evening, though the ‘Beth Ditto Comedy Hour’ (as she calls it) is almost as much fun as hearing her buzzsaw her way through the band’s setlist.

It’s a good job too, because since spending time with Gossip’s new record – antiseptically produced by Brian ‘Xenomania’ Higgins – we could do with some laughs. But maybe that’s too harsh: ‘A Joyful Noise’ did have bright spots, and a few tracks shine tonight – ‘Move In The Right Direction’ has the electro sass of pre-cloning experiment Sugababes, and first single ‘Perfect World’ is a killer ’80s power ballad, like Stevie Nicks, Cher and Bonnie Tyler forming a biker gang and busting a few heads down at the roadhouse.

Sure, some of the other new tracks fall flat against toothier fare like ‘Yesterday’s News’ and a ferociously spat ‘Four Letter Word’ – the half-arsed nods toward piano house of ‘Get Lost’ being a case in point. But the strutting, loft party disco of ‘Into The Wild’ totally earns its billing alongside ‘Heavy Cross’. And Beth’s ability to transform slapdash moments into soulful dynamite is not up for debate either: at one point she admonishes the crowd for not dancing enough, relating a story Nina Simone once told about how “Janis Joplin died because she was playing to corpses”. Ouch!

Then there’s that steady stream of zingers we mentioned – “calling straight guys dykes is hilarious!”, “[guitarist] Brace has moved out to a farm to hurdle cows!” – plus the expected, slammin’ encore of ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’, and the small matter of an cappella postscript we can only describe as WTF-tacular.

As her band takes leave of the stage, Beth starts telling the audience how she believes love always wins, before breaking out into a rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ – a love which, Beth tells us conspiratorially, is found within. From other, lesser performers, this kind of self-help stuff would be most heartily unwelcome. But Beth Ditto rules, iffy third albums and all, so we have to agree.

[i]Alex Denney[/i]