Noisettes, Komedia, Brighton

Make way for pop's new leading lady
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The Independent Culture

On the ubiquitous critics' lists of über-cool pop babes destined to hit the big time this year – see La Roux, Little Boots, Lady Gaga – one name was conspicuous by its absence. Where was Shingai Shoniwa, the ex-circus performer turned turbo-lunged singer of the Noisettes? Given that there's nothing like a bit of overblown hype to kill a career stone dead, this is probably to her and her band's advantage.

Yet Shoniwa is everything you could wish for in a front woman – seriously stylish, dazzlingly confident and armed with a voice that can veer from vulnerability to pulverising ferocity in the flutter of a false eyelash.

Shoniwa has thus far earned comparisons to the Yeah Yeah Yeah's singer Karen O, though tonight she seems to be summoning the spirits of Billie Holiday, Martha Reeves, Patti Smith and Beth Ditto.

Crucially, though, Shoniwa is her own woman, and her unique style and effortless charm means that had she come on stage, done a cartwheel and gone home, she would probably still have won our vote.

In the event she works a little harder for our approval. In the cramped confines of what is generally a comedy venue, Shoniwa is dressed for a night out at Studio 54 in aviator shades, canary-yellow jumpsuit and embroidered jacket with shoulder pads to rival those of a Yankee quarterback. The absence of a raised stage means that most of us can only see the top of her head – and that's only because she's thoughtfully piled her hair into a mussed-up beehive – yet she effortlessly holds our gaze.

It's worth noting that this is the Noisettes second stab at success. Two years ago they released their debut album What's The Time Mr Wolf? and landed support slots with Bloc Party and Muse, but their anarchic brand of punk-pop fell on deaf ears. On returning home, Shoniwa and co went back to the drawing board and have now re-emerged as a fully fledged pop act, their primary influences being soul, disco, funk and indie-pop.

Far from being a sell-out, this stylistic volte-face suits them perfectly, even if it leaves the scattering of metal-heads at tonight's show looking a tad confused. Tonight they open with the forthcoming single "Wild Young Heart", a jauntily melodic number that sets out their stall as practitioners of pristine pop.

This is followed by the infectious rockabilly-style "Don't Give Up", the electro-tinged "24 Hours" and the gloriously propulsive disco-funk of "Don't Upset the Rhythm". Elsewhere there's the furious tale of a cuckolded girlfriend on "Saturday Night" – "I light you up and smoke you down and watch your world come crashing down" – and "Scratch Your Name" ("Scratch your name into the fabric of this world before you go"), a rousing paean to mortality that, in wheeling in the heavy-duty guitars, proves that they haven't abandoned their hard-rocking roots.

Curiously for a rocker-turned- popstrel, it's when Shoniwa applies the brakes that she is at her most effective. The "Count of Monte Cristo" is a dreamy pared-down number in which she is simply backed by an acoustic guitar. The literary theme continues with "Atticus", a homage to the hero of To Kill A Mocking Bird, during which she instructs us to sit down on the floor so "that I can get a proper look at you".

With the crowd sat submissively at her feet, she strolls up and down, stroking a head here, holding a hand there, and cooing, "Can't you see how my heart yearns to misbehave."

At that point, if she'd told us to empty our wallets and hand over our house keys we'd have done that too. If nothing else, this girl sure knows how to work a room.