Ladytron, Academy, Birmingham

After an extended period of touring, they might just be hatching from their plastic shells. Helen Marne and Mira Aroyo are clad in costumes that come from an era somewhere between Flash Gordon and Ed Wood. Aroyo's elaborate collar suggests an extrovert nature that is about to emerge from its hiding place.

Ladytron came together in 1999. Their first album, 604, dwelled in obscurity, but 2002's Light & Magic brought the band to a much wider audience, its high point being the classic single "Seventeen". For their third disc, Witching Hour, Ladytron have signed to Island Records, but have perversely avoided the expected saccharine conversion, instead hardening up their sound with a more driving intensity.

On the album, this wall of sculpted noise is layered so that all of its elements are equal, but in the live arena Ladytron must struggle with an initial muddiness, before clarity arrives about five songs into the set.

Their augmented line-up is synthesiser, synthesiser, synthesiser and synthesiser, with a preference for vintage Korg models. On some numbers, all of these are played at once, but most of the songs feature various permutations of bass, guitar and a real drum kit.

The current single, "Destroy Everything You Touch", arrives surprisingly early. Marne and Aroyo are the Yin and Yang of the band. Marne's voice is encased in candy, representing pop sensibility. The band's strength is the schizophrenic presence of a wrenching analogue bass brutality, a sonic disruption that still leaves their commerciality unscathed. Aroyo handles a quarter of the lead vocals, but her delivery is darker, sneering with a menacing, punky edge. She's still a robot, but there is a glimmer of hope that her stilted dance twitches are putting her on the verge of losing control.

One of the best songs arrives shortly before the end, not easily identifiable from their albums. Aroyo intones over a pulsating repetition, building up a sinister, suffocating atmosphere. Then, for the encore, it has to be "Seventeen", heard in an abrasive incarnation, and another sign that Ladytron are toughening up, rather than blanding out.

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