Boy George/Amanda Ghost, Pigalle Club London <br/> Camera Obscura, Scala, London

Why we're mad about the Boy
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The Independent Culture

There's something of the Gloria Swanson about Boy George these days. The downturned lipstick scowl of the veteran diva, returning once again to reclaim the headlines, albeit for regrettable reasons.

But the cameras tracking his every move back in August belonged not to Cecil B DeMille but to the baying hounds of the New York press pack. And to a Channel 4 film crew, following the 45-year-old singer for a documentary which was broadcast on the same night as this hastily-announced showcase gig.

The Madness of Boy George showed George on fine, proud form, despite his experience at the hands of the NYPD and the rough justice of an American judiciary keen to bring a mouthy gay celebrity down a peg or two. There's something pleasingly unapologetic and unrepentant about Boy George these days. Which is why the contrition of his chart-topping cover of Ken Boothe's "Everything I Own", a thinly-veiled plea to the British public for forgiveness sits uneasily with the don't-give-a-toss George of 2006.

But it's one of his three No 1 singles (ever the crowd-pleaser, he performs them all), and it does set the musical tone for the evening. In the expensively elegant Pigalle, Vince Power's attempt to recreate the supper club cabaret of Seventies Vegas on a smaller, boutique scale, and in front of a celeb-littered audience ranging across the size-scale from Kylie Minogue to Vanessa Feltz, George reveals that the music with which he first won our hearts still owns his: that is to say, Lovers' Rock, the finest form of reggae (and don't let any purist snob tell you otherwise).

He's preceded by Amanda Ghost, a half-decent jazz chanteuse who has been knocking around with George for years, released numerous recordings via his More Protein label, and is now set up for life as a result of co-writing "You're Beautiful" with James Bl***. After making a reasonable fist of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy", she makes way for the man himself.

Wearing horrifically loud half-mast trousers, bejewelled sneakers, rainbow socks, a jacket adorned in diamante safety pins and CND symbols, and a rakish hat bearing the image of his late friend, the inspirational performance artist Leigh Bowery, George is making no sartorial concessions to the understated sophistication of the venue.

Among a handful of hits - "Everything I Own", a sublime "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" and the ever-cheesy "Karma Chameleon" - and the odd cover, such as the song he claims Stevie Nicks wrote for him (which turns out to be a reggaefied version of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way"), George unveils his latest material. The sentiments of "Shadowboxing" ("sex is only shadowboxing when it comes without love") seem strange from a man who, in The Madness of Boy George, insists he doesn't believe in true love and admits using male prostitutes. Forthcoming single "Time Machine" (a duet with Amanda Ghost) deals with more familiar Boy George themes of regret and recrimination.

In one night, simultaneously on screen and on stage, Boy George proves that we still need a figure like him around: refreshingly refusing to participate in the celebrity love-in (he happily disses Elton and Madonna), openly evincing a lifestyle which would make the Daily Mail choke in apoplexy, and still able to knock 'em dead with the sweetest white male voice of the modern age. Ironically, he doesn't need us at all.

Camera Obscura couldn't be more different if they tried. One of the last generation of bands to make their names via John Peel sessions, they've spent a decade sneaking their way under the radar to a cult status comparable to that of, say, Broadcast. Their sound - exhibited on a cover of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You" (Tracyanne Campbell wisely eschews the ultra-high note), as well as material from their third album Let's Get Out Of This Country - is reminiscent of early Belle and Sebastian-meets-Northern Soul. (They reportedly hate the B&S comparison but, well, tough).

They're shamelessly derivative (what, another song with "Be My Baby" drums?), but with Campbell's clear-as-a-bell voice, the playschool pulchritude of the instrumentation, and the Mariachi finale from the horn section, they possess a certain charm all the same.