MUSIC / Bubbling under: Curtis Stigers - Town & Country

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Tasmin Archer may be at Number One in the singles chart this week, but she and her band play a fairly poor second fiddle to Curtis Stigers on his current UK tour. A celebration hangover was her rather weak excuse for an enervated performance that only served to prove the robustness of the single, 'Sleeping Satellite', and the relative frailty of most of her other material.

To be fair, the sound engineers clearly hadn't been told that this was a support act which merited more than the usual 'songs from inside a Hoover-bag' mix. Archer struggled to make her precise, Karen Carpenter-like voice shine through the fog. Her band - white boys in dark suits and buttoned-up shirts - looked fresh out of the Scritti Politti school of pop. They produced a knowing concoction of springy bass, jazz- funk keyboards, acoustic guitar and short electric licks that on any other night might have floated along quite breezily. Tonight they got stuck in the mud.

Only on more hard-edged songs with simpler beats did they manage to come together. 'Steel Town', the closest Archer gets to a political number, trundled along nicely with something approaching a reggae beat. 'Lords of the New Church', an irritatingly vague questioning of institutionalised religion, managed to soar a bit too, with the help of a circular piano theme reminiscent of Prefab Sprout.

The best singing was saved for 'Sleeping Satellite' itself, Archer no doubt encouraged by the insistent patter of a drum machine that augmented the song's catchy rhythms. They're the same rhythms that drive the other potential hit in the set, 'Halfway to Heaven'. It would be no surprise to see this released as the follow- up. But where the third single comes from is anybody's guess.

No such worries for Curtis Stigers, of course. He's already carved out three or four UK hits, and is beginning to develop the stage swagger of an established star. What makes him a winner is that he understands the dynamics of a good, old-fashioned soul song. With tracks like 'The Man You're Gonna Fall in Love With' and 'Nobody Loves You Like I Do' he's spot on both musically and lyrically. On faster R & B numbers like 'What Am I Gonna Do About You?' the band play with a control matched only by the awfulness of their AOR hairdos. And the main man himself is no slouch on the saxophone.

Only when he tried to introduce a more 'modern' feel did Stigers' touch fail him. During a new number called 'Dancing in a Rainstorm', he made the mistake of letting his lead guitarist off the leash. The result was a two- minute exhibition of heavy metal wailing and orgasm simulation.

Later, someone told me that the man responsible for these few atrocious moments in an otherwise sweet and skilful set was 'ex-Asia'. Stigers should definitely stick to the USA for his musical inspiration.