Art Brut, University of London Union, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If you had to bet on a contemporary guitar group to go orchestral, the one named after a high-brow term for outsider art would be a long shot. At least Art Brut do it on their own terms: rather than fill the stage with classical musicians, they spread them over two gigs, with tonight's string section followed by a brass line-up. It's a strategy in keeping with a back-to-basics approach that has seen their rudimentary punk shapes and front-man Eddie Argos's anti-singing style pick up cult fandom at home and support abroad.

Following critical acclaim for 2005 debut album Bang Bang Rock & Roll, Art Brut didn't greatly improve their fortunes with the relatively polished It's a Bit Complicated. Their chamber ensemble perform the opening notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra as a tremulous prelude before the rockers jump in with their needling Buzzcock guitars. Thank-fully, primary-colour tunes provide enough space on occasion for the strings to shine through.

Art Brut play surprisingly robustly for an outfit steeped in indie lore. With strings, the end result is Magazine meets ELO. Argos continues to impose himself on proceedings, dressed in a light-coloured suit that he slowly unpeels as the gig unfolds. Rather than adopt some mockney drawl, he declaims his lyrics in a clipped, unashamedly Home Counties accent.

This is a good thing, as his lines are full of neat observations, particularly of his adolescent outlook: "Wet trousers are in the washing machine/ but I'd rather be damp than seen in jeans". A new song has the sterner refrain, "the record-buying public shouldn't be voting", with the band as furious as on any of their early material. But it's Argos you watch, his wit and constant movement making him a lardy Jarvis Cocker.

It all raises the question why Art Brut are not more lauded here. Argos can come across as overly ironic in his refusal to take himself seriously, but there is no missing the plight, say, of his erectile dysfunction in "Rusted Guns of Milan" nor his commanding showmanship. The only answer must be the band's inability to fit in, something about which you suspect they are defiantly proud.

Comments