Make Trade Fair, Hammersmith Apollo

Shyness is nice, but Minnie is a minor bore
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The Independent Culture

Two years back, Oxfam and Emily Eavis had the grand wheeze of staging a FairPlay gig at London's Astoria, with proceeds going to their Make Trade Fair campaign. The purpose was to raise awareness of the unfair trade rules imposed on poor farmers in the developing world.

Two years back, Oxfam and Emily Eavis had the grand wheeze of staging a FairPlay gig at London's Astoria, with proceeds going to their Make Trade Fair campaign. The purpose was to raise awareness of the unfair trade rules imposed on poor farmers in the developing world.

Laudable stuff, certainly, but it's a shame the line-up was largely coffee-table pop rock, presided over by Idlewild, Coldplay, and Noel Gallagher from Oasis.

Initially, this year's follow-up gig didn't seem to be a step up in terms of billing, with a trickle of ticket sales greeting the over-rated Razorlight, Dublin dullards The Thrills, R&B superstar Jamelia and Minnie Driver, the latter having smartly sidelined a career in acting to become a singer songwriter. Sales stepped up though once news of the "very special international headline artist'' leaked out as being REM. Heaven help us if Razorlight helped shift any of the tickets. Their singer, Johnny Borrell performed with the insouciance of a man who believes the stage to be too small for his ego. As for their so-bohemian gutter punk affectations, their standard issue 1970s New York songs proved their popularity to be as inexplicable as the beanpole bands in explicably tight spray-on jeans.

Jamelia has two things that Razorlight don't have. She has a voice, and the personality and the joy with which she invests Thank You, a riposte to her abusive ex-partner is irresistible. When Borrell returned to duet with her on Blondie's Heart of Glass, the difference between his self-regarding vocals and the slinkily expressive way she sings "It was Divine'' is almost too cruel to draw attention to. In different ways, Driver and The Thrills are both in thrall to American country pop rock, albeit to the same dreary end. Driver is a surprising proficient singer but she overplayed the humility part: shyness is nice until it seems like indifference. As for The Thrills, the Dublin quintet's whimsical take on drive-time Americana is beefier live than on album but still more about crunching through influences than any kind of individual character.

So far so dull. Thankfully Ricky Gervais provided a suitably scabrous build-up to REM. They open up with Losing My Religion but it's played by rote sadly with Michael Stipe throwing some typical Mr Enigma shapes. "It's been quite a night already,'' he said. But it hasn't really. It's been a bit middling. Only as we lead REM into their new single Leaving New York' and a lively duet with Coldplay's Chris Martin on Man On The Moon did the evening finally start to pick up. It's almost a caffeine call an otherwise sleepy characterless night has been waiting for.

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