Meltdown Festival: Carbon/Silicon & Rachid Taha, Royal Festival Hall, London

Muffled sounds of the Seventies
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The Independent Culture

It's a cliché that history repeats itself. Sometimes history seems condemned to repeat itself in clichés. Patti Smith's Meltdown series at the South Bank completed its first week's worth of concerts with a curiously backward-looking pairing of painfully hip acts.

Mick Jones's Carbon/Silicon, a guitar-driven quartet dressed in the mandatory middle-aged rockers' dark suits and open-necked shirts, were introduced by Patti Smith and wasted no time in establishing what could best be described as a T.Rex boogie groove.

Apart from the fact that the band weren't wearing glitter and Mick Jones's lyrics weren't about Jaguars (well, they probably weren't - the sound system was so awful not a single sung word was decipherable), everything else fitted into that 1972 Bolan Boogie time-warp. In fact, Jones's first two guitar solos, spare and laconic as the man himself, could have been lifted direct from Electric Warrior. But somewhere along the line, Jones jettisoned the concept of melodic lines for his vocals. Given that the sound was so bad you were left trying to hang on to the thread a melody brings to give the performance some sort of continuity and defining shape, it all became sadly unravelled. Still, Jones and his crew were enjoying themselves, even though the band sounded as well mixed as a Bay City Rollers wardrobe.

It seemed that things must get better with Rachid Taha. Well, if Carbon/Silicon were T.Rex, Taha was Gary Glitter. His band were a septet - drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, bouzouki, percussion and himself as vocalist and front man - but only the drummer, bass-player and Taha himself need have bothered to turn up in terms of audible sound, for the rest was smothered, apart from the occasional stab of scuzzy rhythm guitar. The bass was at least twice as loud as everything else, apart from the bass drum, which was probably three times as loud as the bass.

Taha's vocals floated in and out of this mêlée. Well, if it was a night for rhythm (and the crowd certainly thought so, for within a couple of numbers they were up and jerking away down the front and in the aisles), then it was good that we had something to look at while we sat waiting for something to happen in the music.

Like Gary, Taha didn't disappoint his fans: he, his bass-player and his guitarist were all in black leather trousers (the guitarist, a Brian May lookalike, had what looked like patent leather trousers and a shiny blue guitar), and Rachid himself swapped between black shades, sitting on a bar stool, posing with a variety of cigarettes lit for him by a stage hand, dousing himself with mineral water, and gobbing spouts of it on the stage to show how exhausted he was. Not quite James Brown, but then that's another era again.

Speaking of eras, I'm not sure which one the diminutive keyboardist came from - he was in a fire-engine-red boiler suit and jumped around like it was a little too hot for comfort.

Anyway, whatever else this band were, they were seasoned pros, just like Gary Glitter's were back in the early 1970s, when their back-to-basics trip-shuffle boogie held whole arenas enthralled. As Taha and his band built to their thunderous set-ending and the crowd swayed in Ibiza-like ecstasy, it became a ritual Dionysian curve to the inevitable climax and release that stretched back way beyond early 1970s to Elvis and beyond.

So, there you go - the cutting edge of a bygone era comes back to cut you up all over again, in another guise and with a different set of faces. History repeats its own clichés.

Meltdown continues to Sunday (0870 401 8181; www.rfh.org.uk)

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