When Beth Ditto and her often-naked plus-size form crashed on to the scene three years ago, her band, Gossip, were lauded as irreverent pop-punk heroes, geek-chic hipsters tasked with smashing pseudo-political monoliths of discrimination and intolerance.
After "Standing in the Way of Control" appeared in the drama Skins, their place in the hearts of Britain's teenagers was assured. With their imminent fourth album, Music for Men, they're looking to cement that following.
The crowd at Scala took in an idiosyncratic mix of fans, from teen rockers and fashionable scenesters to punky femmes. Ditto has a knack for charming all sorts of people; it's part of the reason she has managed to straddle the chasm between loud-mouthed iconoclast and mainstream commercial entity (she launches her clothing range for plus-size chain Evans next month).
Her voice is strong, too, and capable of carrying what could otherwise be fairly weak tunes and disingenuous lyrics. Old favourite "Yr Mangled Heart" and latest single "Heavy Cross" went down well, and "Standing in the Way of Control", as a finale, drew the popsters and punkos together. It seemed to be what everyone had been waiting for, and one hopes that it won't end up a millstone around the band's neck.
The energy and enthusiasm, not to mention near-saccharine girlishness, that Ditto first became known for are still there in abundance, but some of her fight seems to have gone. There was none of the happy chaos that characterised Gossip's early London gigs, and the crowd were equally diffident. Ditto's sequinned dress stayed resolutely on throughout – perhaps she is looking for her music to be taken seriously.
But the effect was rather po-faced – there was little back and forth with the crowd; apart from a hedged gag about being gay at a family wedding, Ditto moved between songs like a well-oiled machine. Possibly punk fans want their machines to be a little creakier and sputtering, although the chart-friendly elements of the crowd were pleased. The band's new material is a blend of their original stomp rock with a pleasing amount of bass and synth-pop.
The band's problem may be that they don't have anything to complain about any more. They've been accepted as gay or fat or from the Midwest; they have no more gripes, and it showed in their resigned performance.