Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, 93 Feet East, London<br></br>The Rocks, Frog, London<br></br>The Modern, Riot Fever, London

Got hips swingin' out of bounds
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The Independent Culture

Hips. That's what alternative rock was lacking in the early Nineties. Straight up, straight down, boyish, six o'clock, sexless. When Jon Spencer, a refugee from the frankly awful Pussy Galore (who also spawned the intermittently astounding sleaze rockers Royal Trux) formed his Blues Explosion, he gave the scene a long overdue hip replacement operation, issuing a liberating call to "Spray paint the walls/ Trash the halls/ Hit the sauce/ Shoot your boss... Fuck shit up!", and allowing a generation bored by lumpen grunge or uptight indie to shake loose and boogie.

That's not to say that JSBE were always any good at it, but they were sufficiently fresh to spawn a whole new genre of testifying funk'n'roll (without them, there would arguably have been no Make-Up, Gold Blade, Pink Grease, Eighties Matchbox, Mo Solid Gold, maybe even no White Stripes).

And so, many of the London hip-movers and hip-shakers crammed into 93 Feet East are there out of a sense of loyalty and respect, without much of a hope that Spencer, Russell Simmins and Judah Bauer can recapture the chemistry of a decade ago (their last album, Plastic Fang, having been by common consent a tired sub-Cramps turkey). And they're in for a mild surprise, because the new album Damage - most of which is showcased tonight - is a considerable return to form.

There's always been a kitschy element to JSBE, with songtitles like "Bell Bottoms" and "Afro", and the diminutive Spencer's jokey Pub Singer Elvis delivery can grate (when he calls us "friends", it sounds like he's saying "France"), but you can forgive him anything when his trio conjure the kind of dirty funk-blues storm they achieve on the album's title track, and on oldies like "Sweat". Not a static hip in the place.

Last week's New Musical Express featured a double-page photo of new London-based bands, under the banner "The Future Starts Now!" It formed part of an issue celebrating London's rediscovery of its "maverick spirit". Which would be fantastic were it true, but if you took a glance at the herberts who supposedly comprise this thrusting new scene, pictured in a straggly indolent line-up outside Buckingham Palace, they all looked like sub-Strokes, sub-Libertines, sub-Razorlight chancers in thrift shop jackets and lank hair. Nothing futuristic and nothing maverick about them. They all, frankly, looked the bloody same.

The Rocks were not involved in the photoshoot, although singer James Taylor would not have looked out of place amid the Borrell/Doherty/Casablancas clones. Perhaps it's for the best. There are several things about the quintet which separate them from the herd (which is, of course, the original meaning of "maverick").

Taylor, who has the look of a dissolute rogue about him, is a magnetic frontman, scaling the speakers and leaping about with no concern for his personal safety, his skinny frame and spindly movements reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker (indeed, one helpful punter points out that "I Won't Need You When You're Dead" is a dead ringer for "Bar Italia" by Pulp).

The other Rocks are almost as watchable. There's blonde, ballgowned rhythm guitarist Sarah Bacon, there's plastercast-legged bassist Chris Mann, who is seated throughout (having broken a bone "thinking he could fly from a six-foot barbed-wire fence"), but handsome Portuguese guitarist Mauro Venegas is the favourite of the gaggle of retro-elegant girls who all look like Eighties supermodel Christie Brinkley, and all congregate on his side of the stage. When Venegas dedicates a song to the great, and now late funk superfreak Rick James, before chopping out some sharp funk licks himself, it strikes you that most of the other allegedly maverick futurestarters on the scene probably think Rick James was the guy from the Carry On movies.

A compère in a Victorian topper and circus ringmaster's moustache appears and, beating his palm with a riding crop, introduces The Modern. Before they've played a note, you know that this is not another bloody Razorlight.

Three heartbreakingly handsome boys in suits and ceremonial military jackets, one girl in a burlesque corset and a drummer with a shark's fin for a hairdo who doesn't have a single acoustic item on his kit (it's all Simmons synth toms and Linn rhythm boxes), The Modern have names like Nic Van Kasio, Tudor Hart and Tellee, and stand behind white, curved reception desks playing Roland Juno 60s.

They may have coalesced at squat parties held in a deserted doctor's surgery, but they were also inspired by a visit to an illegal late-night cinema club in Berlin. This makes a lot of sense, both musically (they're inspired by the German school of synthpop, and their official website includes Kraftwerk on the links page) and visually (a Super 8 projection runs above their heads throughout).

New single "Suburban Culture" is poignant and maddeningly memorable, the missing link between Kylie and Ladytron (although other references are from the previous era of futurepop, notably Duran Duran and Visage), largely thanks to the Human League-esque backing vocals of Aamee Nitrate (she's Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley rolled into one).

You wanted maverick futurists? You just weren't looking in the right places.

The Rocks: Lux Club, Wigan (01942 700 296), Wed

s.price@independent.co.uk

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