Little Richard, Victoria Theatre, Halifax <br/> Maximo Park, University of Northumbria, Newcastle

Good golly! I'm glad my dad didn't kill Little Richard
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The Independent Culture

In a Yorkshire hall, almost 40 years ago, a young man threw a knife at Little Richard. At least, he threw a knife at someone. And that was the point. The young man was convinced that an unscrupulous promoter had, as was disgracefully common custom in those days, duped the audience with a lookalike.

In a Yorkshire hall, almost 40 years ago, a young man threw a knife at Little Richard. At least, he threw a knife at someone. And that was the point. The young man was convinced that an unscrupulous promoter had, as was disgracefully common custom in those days, duped the audience with a lookalike.

The knife, stolen from Sheffield University's refectory cutlery service earlier that afternoon, wasn't sharp enough to maim. The young man reached into his pocket and sent the silverware spinning through the air, narrowly missing the singer's face. It landed with a clatter which brought the band to a sudden halt, and prompted Little Richard (or "Little Richard"), having mis-read the thrower's motive, to squeal that he was the victim of a racist attack.

That young man was my father. Almost 40 years later, I find myself in another Yorkshire hall, watching Little Richard. I, however, come unarmed. And there's no question at all that the man I see tonight is the real deal.

Before we even set eyes on him, a minder places a plastic figurine of Jesus on the grand piano, a mysterious leather case, and a box of tissues. We're clearly gonna be in for some brow-mopping madness, ooh my soul. Then, out he stalks with a panto villain walk, wearing white linen and rhinestones, a towering syrup, and more make-up than I've ever worn, grinning from ear to ear, his eyes as big as ostrich eggs. With a little assistance, he climbs on the piano top, and there's pandemonium.

And pandemonium is something Little Richard Penniman knows a thing or two about creating. When this beautiful black boy - or "Jewish-Indian", as he has it - former travelling circus showman crawled from Macon, Georgia, in rock's mythical South and onto America's TV screens, screaming blue murder and leering into the camera, stamping on the piano keys, nothing was ever the same again.

More than Presley, more than Cochran, more than Berry, more than Holly, Little Richard shaped rock'n'roll. Let there be no doubt: this man is the greatest of all.

And now? He's still as camp as Christmas, a black Liberace, spitting his catchphrase "Shut up!" at any opportunity, and repeating that "I just made 72, and still beautiful". Indeed, this show is very much An Audience With Little Richard, and when he isn't bashing out the boogie-woogie hits with his freakishly long, manicured fingers, he's spinning lengthy anecdotes.

He rambles and gets confused, as old folks do, often in a world of his own, laughing at his own jokes ("What do they do in Halifax? Send faxes?"), and there's a bizarre altercation with photographers ("I told you. No pictures till 'Good Golly Miss Molly'. Go back to your posts. I ain't joking."). He tells us that when he worked as a dishwasher in his teens, he came face to face with Governor Wallace, and screamed "Awopbopaloobop, alopbamboom!" into his face. "He didn't know what I meant... and neither did I." But we all knew. Richard's ecstatic glossolalia, his yodelling in tongues, communicates more meaning than a thousand Bob Dylan albums.

Tonight, he has to order the sound man to turn his vocals down ("When you've got talent, you don't need that."), and when he screams, he still needs to hold the microphone away from his mouth, to avoid feedback. When he sings "Lucille" and lets out a blood-curdling "woooh!", I think I see the Holy Spirit.

A fortnight ago I wrote about Kaiser Chiefs, sharp-dressing Northerners who make dramatic pop with an all-pervading sense of place. Room for one more? "This is our hometown gig," Maximo Park's Paul Smith tells Newcastle, the place where, as their website has it, "we met and which birthed our songs". He sings a song that goes, "You left your home town where you grew up/ I hadn't noticed how your accent had changed..." The Geordies give it the full Radio Ga-Ga. They understand.

Maximo Park are romantics to the core. There are shades of The Smiths, not least in the singer's Morrisseyesque turn of phrase. Smith, wearing a grey demob suit and white sneakers, his hair swept over to one side across his high forehead, does nerdy star jumps (à la Cocker) and nervously fiddles with his mic stand (à la Curtis). He is, crucially, not afraid to look uncool. Neither are his bandmates: there are NHS spectacles and sensible sweaters onstage.

Propelled by big tubthumping drums from Tom English, Maximo Park's music has a similar giddiness to the aforementioned Pulp, and a similar angularity to Franz Ferdinand, and their repertoire - running from tunes written four days ago, to tunes unplayed for a year - is full of songs of lust and jealousy ("I sleep with my hands across my chest/ And I dream of you with someone else...").

"What are we all doing here, if romance isn't dead?" Smith asks in one song. A more pertinent question, when faced with a band with the poise and passion of Maximo Park, might be: what are we all doing here if it is?

Little Richard: St David's Hall, Cardiff (029 2087 8444), Mon; RFH, London SE1 (0207 960 4242), Tue; Brighton Centre (08709 009 100), Wed; Princess Theatre, Torquay (08702 414120), Thur; Regent Theatre, Ipswich (01473 433100), Sat. Maximo Park: Carling Academy, B'ham (0870 771 2000), Thur; ULU, London WC1 (020 7664 2000), Fri

s.price@independent.co.uk

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