Sugababes, Brighton Centre, Brighton

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The Independent Culture

There's a chill wind blowing across Brighton seafront and it's not just coming from the English channel. Already, on the first night of their UK tour, the Sugababes look ready to throw in the towel.

There's a chill wind blowing across Brighton seafront and it's not just coming from the English channel. Already, on the first night of their UK tour, the Sugababes look ready to throw in the towel. As the chords to their first hit single "Overload" start up, teen tough-nuts Mutya and Keisha have the expressions of Shakespearean actors forced into a season of panto, while the older-sister figure, Heidi, goes about her business with a resigned professionalism. With their thumbs hooked into their belts, they gyrate absent-mindedly (and often out of time) with the music as if they're part of the audience rather than the paid entertainment.

If their many grown-up fans are to be believed, Sugababes are the pop act that music-lovers can like. They have a fistful of catchy tunes - give or take the odd Kylie track, the Gary Numan-sampling "Freak Like Me" is one of the best pop singles of the past five years - and you can't fault their singing.

But the Babes' path to stardom has been strewn with obstacles. In 2000, Siobhan Donaghy left the band during a tour of Japan amid rumours of internal bullying. Later that year they were dropped by London Records. But after replacing Donaghy with ex-Atomic Kitten Heidi Range and signing a new deal with Island, the Babes were back on top and had a No1 single with "Freak Like Me".

There may not be any fireworks and flame-throwers tonight - you could never accuse the Sugababes of being flashy - but this is still a proper stage show complete with a live band, a video backdrop and a mini revolving stage. Alas, it's the slickness of the production that reveals their most fundamental flaws. Musically the Babes have got the goods all right, but there's precious little spark between the trio on stage. Heidi, who with her yellow tresses and radioactive tan still bears the scars of the Kitten years, is the most benevolent of the three and even manages a spot of small-talk. But even with their self-conscious little waves at the crowd, baby-faced Keisha and the multi-pierced Mutya struggle to make their presence felt. They may dress like women 10 years their senior, but there's a very teenage gaucheness about the way they play with their hair, wobble on their high heels and, when the lights are dimmed, tug uncomfortably at their G-strings.

When they make the effort to put on a show, they're good value. During "Virgin Sexy" (hideous title, good tune), a bed emerges and the Babes lap dance around a man pulled from the audience. Elsewhere, however, the choreography is half-hearted. Aside from the odd synchronised interlude, the Babes are left to their own awkward devices and often end up singing with their backs to one another. When Keisha yells during the finale "Brighton, you're the best, I swear," she's already making for the door. She, along with her fellow Babes, just can't get away quick enough.

Touring to 2 April

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