Mick Harvey, Camden Underworld, London

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The Independent Culture

With his new album, One Man's Treasure, he tentatively steps into the spotlight, sprinkling a couple of his own songs among covers ranging from Tim Buckley to The Gun Club, and pushing his voice to the fore. It's quietly elegant work. But there was a reason Mick Ronson never made it on his own. Great sidemen are uncomfortable in the glare, lacking the ego to claim a crowd's attention. So it proves with Harvey.

The musicians he's brought with him to this small basement club - PJ Harvey's original drummer Rob Ellis, and the Gallon Drunk singer and sometime Bad Seed James Johnston, on keyboards tonight - could be called a high-powered trio of nearly men, if you were feeling cruel. Harvey doesn't help matters by beginning with the dirge-like "Bethelridge". "Sorry to start with something so miserable," he says. "But it doesn't get much better..." It suggests an uncertainty which defines Harvey tonight. Though he's dryly witty and likeable, he leaks confidence, clearing his throat nervously and questioning himself. His quiet, diffident presence isn't built to suck in a crowd.

A song by Die Haut, Cave collaborators from the Bad Seeds' Berlin period, is one peak, built on Johnston's Animals-esque organ. The Gun Club's "Mother of Earth" is a more melancholy affair, Harvey claiming "I gave you the key to my hotel door," with an air of doom, to a Celtic country off-beat. He follows it with minutes of nervous guitar-tuning.

At least Harvey's choice of songs can't be faulted, from the pensive adoration of "Louise" to the hotel-room ennui of Chris Bailey's "Photograph". There are tougher, poppier blasts too, like the hopeful surge of "Come On Spring", and the fast strum of "Hank Williams Said It Best". Tim Buckley's "The River" is given a rockabilly echo, and Gainsbourg's "Bonnie and Clyde" is approached with sultry grace. Through it all, Johnston throws out wild Hammond riffs, grabbing our attention. Harvey, by contrast, seems dragged down by the weight of our stares; a fine talent who can't hold a stage.