I Am Kloot, The Boogaloo, London

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"Little strange, not being on a stage," quips Johnny Bramwell, I Am Kloot's dryly witty singer-guitarist, glancing across The Boogaloo pub in Highgate, north London, from the corner his band have colonised for the night. "Normally, I look like a god." That may be, but the beauty of this scuffed Mancunian three-piece lies in their warts-and-all humanity, which warms like whisky and packs a similar kick. On which note, a steamy but welcoming pub on a nippy night, with Shane MacGowan conked out at the back of the venue, might be the best place to see Kloot live. Up close and raw.

"Little strange, not being on a stage," quips Johnny Bramwell, I Am Kloot's dryly witty singer-guitarist, glancing across The Boogaloo pub in Highgate, north London, from the corner his band have colonised for the night. "Normally, I look like a god." That may be, but the beauty of this scuffed Mancunian three-piece lies in their warts-and-all humanity, which warms like whisky and packs a similar kick. On which note, a steamy but welcoming pub on a nippy night, with Shane MacGowan conked out at the back of the venue, might be the best place to see Kloot live. Up close and raw.

It's the first night of Kloot's four-date London pub tour to launch their third album, Gods and Monsters, a magnificently rich work that finds fresh veins for the lifeblood of the band's stirring songcraft. Since their debut album of 2001, Natural History, Kloot have been writing classic songs of everyday hope and frustration, offering biting wit, musical dynamism and often startlingly intimate lyrics where lesser bands might opt for cheap sentiment. Kloot's tender-tough tales of ordinary tragedy and hard-earned grace moments have been cruelly denied success so far, but they wipe the floor with the likes of Keane and Coldplay as musicians and songwriters. And as a live band, they're near-peerless.

After a well-received set at Glastonbury last year, over time, and some serious touring, you have to hope that Gods cracks it for them. There's tremendous warmth and energy in all their songs, and in the new tracks a melodious urgency that sees an impassioned Bramwell bouncing around on his stool and knocking his pint over with the excitement of it all. "No Direction Home" is a keen, hungry opener, hitting the ground running, while "Sand and Glue" lurches tipsily from a tremolo-laden, teetering opening, via a simple riff, to a furious gallop and a scalping guitar solo that almost knocks me off the stool I'm having to balance on to see the band.

For a three-piece, they whip up a hell of a sound. Each member brings great tension and texture to it, from Andy Hargreaves' brush-stroked, jazzy drums on the gorgeous closing-time ballad "Proof", to Andy Hargreaves' dextrous bass on the forthcoming single, the warmly lolloping "Over My Shoulder". As for Bramwell, his mix of sometimes fluently, delicately finger-picked, sometimes sandpaper-savage guitar-playing and full-throated vocal rasp seems capable of soothing the most weathered of souls even as it saves The Boogaloo the expense of stripping the pub's wallpaper this year.

There's great intricacy here and, between Bramwell's bittersweet lyrics and the band's ability to feel their way through every twist and turn of a song, the fuel of it all is its real, raggedy heart. It drives "Because" from a softly strummed opening to roof-scrapingly epic levels (more furious seat-wobbling). And, on a devastating new song called "The Stars Look Familiar", it sees Kloot packing about a hundred times more character, depth and feeling into a sonorous, battered acoustic-guitar solo alone than anything Keane or Athlete could send you to sleep with.

With songs like that and gigs like this, Kloot probably are, on their very human terms, verging on godlike.

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