A commonly acknowledged kingmaker of an event on the British music scene, the annual NME Awards Tour is actually about as likely to launch a band towards a lower division of had-their-chance irrelevance as it is to rocket them to household-name status. If a group don't come to the table prepared, the opportunity to play here can be a coffin lid rather than a springboard – and part of the fun, it must be said, is trying to guess whom success will overlook.
Not all of 2008's chosen quartet will follow in NME alumni Arctic Monkeys' or Franz Ferdinand's steps, but history shows that at least one or two of The Cribs, Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, Does It Offend You, Yeah? and The Ting Tings will find themselves winning a couple of Brits or a Mercury before too long. Or possibly a prize for the silliest name in rock.
Anyway, the evening's time constraints mean that Manchester's Ting Tings play almost as soon as the doors have opened, which means the crowd is woefully small for a band of such seemingly effortless pop nous. Yet the boy-girl pair – singer Katie White and drummer/programmer Jules De Martino – deliver a set that is sassy and proud, and their best tracks, "That's Not My Name" and "Great DJ", position themselves between pop, dance and jagged indie-rock well.
Does It Offend You, Yeah?, meanwhile, are both a sub-editor's nightmare and, on first impression, some kind of joke. Dressed in unselfconsciously outré nu-rave gear, the young and unfeasibly posh quartet deploy an electronic sound that is cacophonous and, in the case of vocalists Morgan Quaintance and James Rushent, vocodered almost into another universe.
Yet their set is toploaded with their best songs, and the staccato crunch of "Let's Make Out" or the untiring finale of "We Are Rockstars" position them as rave-friendly descendants of The Rapture. They still make utterly stupid music, of course, but it takes brains to be this stupid and yet this entertaining.
In which case Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong are Does It Offend...'s polar opposite, although their name is by far the evening's worst. The titular young singer has had a career of eclectic distinction so far: as Joe Van Moyland, he has acted in everything from The Tudors to Peep Show; as Robin of Loxley, he drummed for the Brightonian girl group The Pipettes; in his current guise he dates Peaches Geldof.
His band, who start with a really quite promising quasi-surf instrumental, are chiefly notable for their frontman's CV. Otherwise, their set is jangling, samey and low on any ambition apart from getting in the game and staying in it. Finding that they have already been christened "Razorlite" comes as no surprise.
The evening's headliners, The Cribs, come with a similarly guitar-heavy, radio-friendly ethos, although their music is built on strong choruses and passionate delivery, and the exuberant beer-splash gusting over the crowd is in sharp contrast to the odd silence that saw off the JJJ. Of course, with three albums behind them already – not to mention a reputation for riotous live shows, occasionally ending in A&E – The Cribs come with a loyal following. Yet there was something about seeing them in a venue of this size that suggests they have massive potential; that Gary, Ryan and Ross Jarman, these three brothers from Wakefield, will only truly come into their own when they graduate to arena shows.
Already they have powerful seals of approval – Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo made a pre-recorded video appearance on the magnificent "Be Safe", while Johnny Marr turned up in the flesh for a cover of his old band's "Panic" and The Cribs' "I'm a Realist". That they will be the big success of this year's NME shows looks beyond doubt. For the bill-propping but great Ting Tings to take "second place" and go on to forge a career of their own would be a real pleasure to see.
The NME Awards Tour 2008 continues to 22 February (www.nme.com/gigs)Reuse content