Pink, Wembley Arena, London <br/> The Hot Puppies, Islington Academy, London

Blonde, and nearly naked, ambition
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The Independent Culture

'Where have the smart people gone?" It's a fair question, but it's debatable whether Pink is in any position to be asking it. Her recent single, "Stupid Girls", elevates the singer above the supposedly slutty and airheaded likes of Paris Hilton and Beyoncé Knowles (impersonated in the video and by a couple of dancers on the Wembley catwalk tonight): "Baby, if I act like that, flipping my blonde hair back, push up my bra like that..."

For one thing, Alecia Moore's own smartness has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction. For another, her own outfits leave little to the imagination, nor is she averse to humping the mic stand like a pole dancer. When she strips down to a bikini, you're left wondering exactly what the difference is between her and her targets.

She may plead the "irony" defence, but irony is something to which she appears to be a stranger. Exhibit A: the moment in "Just Like A Pill" when she adds the adjective "fucking" to that line about the nurse being a bitch, accompanied by a puerile middle finger salute. It's symbolism of the route-one, most bleedin' obvious kind.)

Tonight, after a parade of scary Da Vinci Code druids, a curtain falls and is inexpertly scrambled into a pit by stage hands: Madonna this ain't. (Then again, Madonna she ain't. And that's a small mercy.) Pink steps out in butch drag, wearing a leather cap, aviator shades and cropped blonde hair, looking like the motorcycle cop from Silent Hill (the worst film ever made, so don't worry if you fail to get the reference). It's a look you'd expect to see rocked by Peaches, whose "Boys Wanna Be Her" is played during the half-hour delay before Pink appears. If the real Peaches weren't her buddy (they duetted together on "Oh My God"), she'd surely sue. At best, Pink is a softcore Peaches: slightly dykey, PG-pottymouthed and mildly sexually aggressive.

Thenceforth it's a fairly routine arena show: a flamenco duo for "There You Go" (the only one of her R&B hits to get an airing), a burlesque high-backed chair dance, the usual. The daredevil circus act she performs during "Fingers", hanging upside down from suspended netting, is undeniably impressive; the hologram-effect screens overhead are novel, and the digital clock counting down the seconds until the encore is a cute touch. Apart from that, we've seen it all before.

She's not much of a talker, either. For half the show she says nothing, finally breaking her silence during the acoustic section. Even then, it's "How are you doing at the back?" This section is a low, featuring covers of Bob Marley's abysmal busker chestnut "Redemption Song" and, worse still, "What's Going On?" (not the Marvin Gaye one, but the bloody 4 Non Blondes one).

In reality, Pink is a moderately charismatic MTV madam with powerful lungs (most noticeable tonight on the handful of ballads). She'll never be the authentic Janis Joplin hellbeast she aspires to become, but a latterday Bette Midler - that is, a ballsy but essentially mainstream diva - is an outside possibility. In the meantime, if Pink is the smart people, god preserve us from the thickos.

In the context of an all-ages matinee show on a Sunday lunchtime in Islington, a glitter-trimmed slip, a tablecloth gingham dress and sailor hoops are the biggest concession to showbiz dazzle. The Hot Puppies, a quintet from Cardiff fronted by bare-footed Becky Newman, are dressed thus as they run through a set of pounding, melodic indie rock which recalls Tanya Donelly's Belly and Cerys Matthews's Catatonia. Their simplest song, a 1950s-style ballad called "How Come You Don't Hold Me No More?", is their best, and it suddenly makes sense that they've been supporting The Pipettes. They're alright.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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