Music: Live - A princess of trailer trash

CHA CHA COHEN BORDERLINE LONDON
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The Independent Culture
BEFORE THEY play a note, Cha Cha Cohen's story is the singer's alone. Jacqui Dulany has ranged the world, from her native Sydney to five years in an unknown Manhattan art-rock band, to Texas, and her current day job as a croupier in a New York Native American casino. The cover of Cha Cha Cohen's eponymous LP shows her as a kitsch saint, anointed by angels. The lyrics are all country noir, trailer-park tragedy.

The Leeds musicians whohelped graft Madchester organ grooves to Dulany's adopted NYC blues - not to mention techno and hip-hop loops, a touch of Beck and a smidgen of Stax - are clearly vital to the record's allure. But it's Dulany whose history animates their name. It sounds like her secret identity.

She arrives breathlessly late, having overseen the hospitalisation of an appendix-punctured member of the support band. She's tall and blonde, in an oriental green dress, and her presence inevitably overwhelms the four bookish men behind her. They concentrate on the record's complexities, achieving the mood of an old blues movie or, as on "Clean Slate", a version of the Velvet Underground's drone, Dulany muttering on top, their Nico.

The drama of the night, though, is the gap between such icons and the pretender in front of us - the feeling that the transformation of an adventurous Sydney woman into the mythic Cha Cha is not yet complete. When the crowd shout complaints, she answers every query; when a man reaches out his hand, she shakes it, as if it's the audience who are in control. But then, when she sings, she sways slightly, her gravelly voice getting lazy, eyes slowly closing. She seems in a space between terror and abandon. Eye- contact reveals her progress. At first, it's almost desperate. But, as the band begin the groove of "Serpentine Slip", and her voice is made to carry it, she starts to believe in herself. Then someone shouts "Trailer trash!", a compliment in this context.

This still seems a version of herself, a performed persona, an exaggeration of whatever real desires pushed her round the world. When the super-cool Sixties organ riff of "Nothing to Do" begins, the look on her face still wonders, what am I doing here? But when she sings "I am the only cowboy in my class", it sounds real. She ends to genuine applause, and as she tells us we're great, nerves finally fading, an Australian accent peeks through. Possessed of star power, she isn't yet the finished article. Instead, she's her band's awkward edge.

Cha Cha Cohen support RL Burnside at the Garage, London, tonight

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