Happy Mondays, Brixton Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

What could have been a triumphal return for Madchester's finest ultimately fizzled out in confusion, but this late-night set suggested that the Happy Mondays are finding some of their old swagger.

This was a more solid performance than their two previous comebacks, when frontman Shaun Ryder was an uninterested spectator in his own cash-in. When they emerged close to midnight, it was to a combination of relief and accolade.

This rump of the original group – Ryder, dancer Bez and drummer Gaz Whelan – form the core of a hungrier machine. It's an amazing turnaround, given that in February Ryder complained that he could not play because all his money went to former managers. That situation has been resolved just as the famously drug-addled performer has cleaned up his own act.

Sounding like he was singing from the bottom of an ashtray, Ryder remained oddly immobile for someone who claims to have replaced drug abuse with exercise, perhaps because he has to use an autocue. Despite that, the fans seemed more au fait with the words than he did.

The now 40-year-old Bez, though, was as hyperactive as ever. And after failed experiments with backing singers, Ryder has found a suitable foil in Julie Gordon, who added her soulful voice to huge chunks of the set.

The Mondays' recent comeback album, Uncle Dysfunktional, sees Ryder at his most scatological. It's a return to the country-fried funk of the classic Bummed. Few of the new songs are memorable, but there were plenty of danceable grooves. While Ryder rambled nonsensically, the band built an insistent rhythm, with woozy slide guitar, on "Cuntry Disco", and the crunchy riffs of "In the Blood" suggested Primal Scream.

They treated us to almost all the classics, apart from the seminal "Wrote for Luck", a curious omission in a comprehensive set that encompassed the primitive punk funk of "24 Hour Party People" and an expansive "Loose Fit", via the rave anthem "Hallelujah".

Not even Ryder's clumsy delivery could spoil two of his best lyrics, "God's Cop", a tribute to the former Manchester police chief James Anderton, and "Reverend Black Grape". Strange, then, that the band should encore with a new track that mildly piqued the interest without causing tired limbs to move once again. We wanted more, but Ryder looked like it was past his bedtime.

Touring to 13 October (www.happymondaysonline.com)

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