PJ Harvey, Tate Modern, London<br></br>The Soledad Brothers, 100 Club, London

One night with foxy Polly Jean
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The Independent Culture

Every night, when I walk home down my darkened street, my gaze is met by the green glint of vulpine eyes. Polly Harvey wishes that it were not so. If she had her way, my beloved uneatable urban foxes, and their rural cousins, would be hunted down by The Unspeakable until they can run no more, and mercilessly tossed into a pack of 30 ravenous beagles to have their entrails torn asunder.

Still, each to their own, live and let live eh? It's been something like a decade since I first decided that Harvey's open endorsement of bloodsports meant that I no longer wanted to listen to her music, thank you very much. Throughout that time, I have always had a nagging awareness that I was probably missing out, and that perhaps the grudge I was harbouring was cutting off my nose to spite my face (in much the same way, indeed, that a master huntsman might do to a defenceless vixen).

To separate The Art from The Artist - especially with one whose oeuvre is as intensely personal as Harvey's - is often a Herculean mental task, but perhaps a worthwhile one. After all, Bryan Ferry is another Countryside Alliance supporter, but that hasn't stopped me luxuriating in the opulent delights of the - admittedly more third-person and detached - Roxy Music back catalogue.

So what if she feeds beefburgers to swans and breeds 20ft high chickens? We city folk just don't unnerstaaand the woyys of the country. Red skoy at noight, get orff her laaand. And so on.

So there she is, a tiny five foot queenie in her white, fringed satin two-piece, looking like Todd Rundgren or some other glam rock sunchild, and - having come as a reviewer, not a saboteur - I don't have a bucket of blood handy to soil it.

The acoustics in the vertiginously high-ceilinged Turbine Hall of Tate Modern are - purely by architectural accident - surprisingly well-suited to rock concerts, although the gallery's peculiar fire regulations mean that it could comfortably admit twice tonight's crowd, causing a strangely hollow atmosphere (which will not be welcome news to the many people locked outside).

The purpose of tonight's show - apart from treading where her former lover Nick Cave recently trod - is to try out some songs from her forthcoming album, still a work in progress. One, which takes two attempts to get going, is introduced as being "about my hair", but of course, it's about washing someone out of it.

There are also, however, a great many selections from her past works, most cherishably "Rid Of Me" (her poor drummer/backing singer hitting a very unmanly note on that "lick my legs" refrain) and "Oh My Lover". For all her anti-rockist intent - her desire to, as the French would say, bouleverser - PJ Harvey has, like Patti Smith on "Because The Night", a great unreconstructed rock voice, and never more so than on the still-thrilling "Dress".

The specifically female rockabilly rumble - Rockapolly? - that she and her band create defies the cliché that in order to be womanly, music must gentle. After all this time, and especially given her dabbling with orchestral arrangements, one might have expected PJ Harvey's music to have mellowed, her demands more considered, her expression more becalmed. Not a bit of it. Brutal, explosive and concise, this is what Elastica might have sounded like if they'd tried. To call it "pre-menstrual" would be to trivialise it, but PJ Harvey's music is inescapably hormonal, bearing the same relationship to the body as did Pixies' early work. This is the music of panic attacks and spontaneous rages, composed of uneasy lulls and sudden detonations. The bass, played tonight by Bad Seed Mick Harvey, is crucial: the tick tock on the time bomb, the cello chops before the shark attack. It is also, against all odds and good sense, sexy music.

Later, as I approach my front door, a young fox - its kin emboldened by their new freedom from persecution, not to mention global warming - scuttles underneath a parked car. I smile, knowing that there ain't a damn thing Polly Jean Harvey can do about it.

Blues N'Trouble. Otis Span. Tommy Chase. Slim Gaillard. Howlin' Wolf. These, in glass-fronted frames, are the jazz-blues names I can see from my vantage point. And listening to The Soledad Brothers and their 12-bar, bottleneck raunch, I could be standing here on any night in the last 50 years (and indeed the microphone sounds like it's been there since 1953) This, forgetting the odd landmark show by The Sex Pistols, Suede or Kenickie, is the 100 Club's bread and butter.

The difference is that le tout Londres is here. Why? Because The Soledads are the latest band to arrive from Detroit with the magical fairy-dust of White Stripes endorsement in their greasy hair (there's a minor commotion when everyone thinks Meg has walked through, but it's only VV from The Kills).

Soledad Brother No. 1 is singer-guitarist Johnny Walker, whose unfashionably curly shoulder-length hair make him resemble Michael Bolton or Curtis Stigers. Soledad Brother No. 2 is Ollie Henry, the bassist/saxophonist who looks like a member of The Lovin' Spoonful. And I can't see Soledad Brother No.3, drummer Benjamin Swank, but I'm willing to bet he's not as cute as Meg.

And, for that matter, Walker is no Jack. Which is a real problem when you're playing music as hidebound and hackneyed as this (at one point, blowing a harmonica, he seems on the point of breaking into the Old Grey Whistle Test theme music).

The Soledad Brothers may, like the MC5 before them, pay lip service to a radical agenda - they take their name from a biography of an imprisoned Black Panther, and co-opt the Panther logo on their merchandise - but all that's audible tonight are the sexist cliches of trad blues: "If I see your daddy, you know he'll try to shoot me", "You've got to cage that tiger..."

At one point, Walker announces "I don't want any fightin'. If two of you came in here lookin' for a fight, I hope you leave together. No foolishness." Who do they think they are? Jake and Elwood?

There is something which feels fundamentally wrong about seeing so many men nodding their chins to the swampy old rhythms of their fathers. It's like being teleported back to a gig by Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival or Blood, Sweat And Tears. I wonder how long this novelty - "Hey look, hip young guys playing downhome badass R&B like they used to make!" - can last, and how long the reflected glow of White-conferred cool can elevate bands like The Soledad Brothers above mere pub rock.

Indeed, The Stripes themselves were more enjoyable when it seemed they were freaks, a two-off, not shock troops for a whole Luddite invasion which will never end: one thousand years of Soledad.

s.price@independent.co.uk

The Soledad Brothers play Barfly, Liverpool (0151 707 6171), tonight and support Spiritualized on tour: Vicar Street, Dublin (00 3531 609 7788), Monday; Roadmender, Northampton (01604 604222), Wednesday; Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh (0131 225 2564), Thursday; Leadmill, Sheffield (0114 2212828), Friday; Concorde 2, Brighton (01273 207 241), Sunday

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