UNKLE : Psyence Fiction

[B]Third gig in for LODGER and the critical knives are being sharpened... though VICTORIA SEGAL seems to have left hers in the cutlery drawer...[/B]

This could have all gone very wrong. It’s Lodger’s third ever live show, and you can just hear the mean-spirited scuttling out from their skirting-boards, pointing out that what the kind might call a supergroup, the accurate would probably describe as a remainder bin. It’s an opportunity to remind everyone – again – that singer Pearl’s former band Powder have become proverbial for those last dark days of Britpop when the nation’s music was slowly being strangled by a feather boa, and that Supergrass’ last album barely struck a match, let alone set the world on fire.

And as for the two members of Delicatessen, they might be guaranteed immunity for being in one of the finest bands of the past five years, but watching them bring pop to the people will be like witnessing serious actors trying to be funny on late-night chat shows. A few stray sequins tacked on to a heavy conceptualist overcoat, in other words, and that’s bound to carry the scent of second-hand shop in more ways than one. Yes, it could have all gone very wrong indeed. And so it has. Spectacularly. Not in the way predicted, though. Wrong, of course, being a fine compliment when you know what you’ve just witnessed really shouldn’t be happening unless God’s commissioned Shaun Ryder to rewrite the laws of physics.

They appear, all six of them – arcane contractual reasons involving his first-born possibly explaining Danny’s absence – to the sinister skirl of the [I]Tales Of The Unexpected[/I] theme, music every bit as terrifying as [I]Dr Who[/I] and a sure sign we are entering a world that children shouldn’t see. Pearl, looking like an airbrushed Fiorucci ad for the summer goth collection, is scary enough, all Countess Bathory eyes and sabre-sharp cheekbones. In the normal world she’d upstage Neil Carlill, a man in a fringe and a shirt, effortlessly, and rip out his pancreas if he didn’t comply. In his mind’s eye, though, Neil is in full-body false eyelashes, one hell of an exhibitionist for a man from the world of avant- murk. These aren’t so much duets as double acts, Pearl an unwitting Ernie to Neil’s preposterously charming Eric.

So Pearl politely introduces each band member by name while Neil gabbles, “This is the 40-toed, 70-fingered, 50 apposable-thumbed thing called Lodger.” Pearl helpfully points out that it’s hot. Neil holds up the cloth he’s been mopping his face with and says, “This is a towel, it’s a towel and there’s no reason to call it anything else.” Pearl looks very slightly embarrassed. Neil looks like a man for whom inhibitions are just something that happens to other people, an impersonates a dog. For too long the boy-girl duet has been treated as a novelty single by bands who find the very idea of artificial fibres inherently hilarious, and basing an entire career on the form seems akin to deciding to release nothing but limited-edition Christmas 78s on yellow wax.

This is unabashedly exclusive, not tarty parody, but directed at those who know their Lee and Nancy from their Tommy and Cerys, who want vinyl not only on their turntables but covering their soft-furnishings. It’s cool, yet reassuringly ridiculous, and as you’d expect from members of Delicatessen, the band who could make a song called ‘Watercress’ sound like the last word in licentiousness, these songs slide off the edge of reason as often as Neil’s voice slides off the scale. ‘I’m Leaving’ might be unfortunately reminiscent of Space, but there’s no accounting for the disco infernos breaking out in dark corners during ‘Always Round Here’, for the sick jazz creep of ‘Old Ways (Big Ears)’, or for ‘Bones’, a song about the effect of divorce on the family dog and the sound of Dave Brubeck being eaten by Beck.

If this was supposed to be an experiment, then they’ve smashed all the test-tubes, set fire to the curtains and are rolling around in a pool of dangerous chemicals. Laughing. A scientific failure, then, but in the irrational world, a stupid, stupid success.