The Coral, Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture

Noel Gallagher is among the Britpop aristocracy at the bar, awaiting the return of his latest heirs. But where Oasis took The Beatles' blueprint as their plan for world domination, John Lennon's co-citizens The Coral seem to have the Fab Four's music in their bones.

Noel Gallagher is among the Britpop aristocracy at the bar, awaiting the return of his latest heirs. But where Oasis took The Beatles' blueprint as their plan for world domination, John Lennon's co-citizens The Coral seem to have the Fab Four's music in their bones.

A huge array of the 1960s' most eccentric talents can be detected in the band's four albums to date, from Love's Arthur Lee to Scott Walker. What marks them out as new is that The Coral are perhaps the first band to draw on that decade's inescapable pop not as pastiche, but their roots.

When they emerged in 2002, The Coral nearly scooped that year's Mercury Prize. With their oldest member, singer James Skelly, still only 24, this low-key show tests whether they still count. Not that they care - they simply saunter on and launch into three tunes from their new album The Invisible Invasion, unheard by almost anyone here, trusting the songs to take care of themselves.

The Coral's separation from celebrity culture has always been this stark. In the forests of newsprint devoted to them in the last four years, they seem able to amuse for hours while revealing nothing. Like another of our current finest bands, British Sea Power, it gives them an aura of mystery that can't be faked. Skelly's Moptop haircut and his band's slanting guitars also evoke a more innocent age. Strolling the stage for the slow motion "Don't Think You're the First", with its Rawhide rhythm, nothing is for effect.

Rumbling sea shanty "She Sings the Mourning" is a fresh-minted Mersey folk song that confirms fashion cannot touch them. The Smiths-like jangle of "So Long Ago", meanwhile, shows their heads aren't stuck in the distant past. But the affectations of a Morrissey mean nothing to them. They are just ordinary boys with very absorbent imaginations.

Their common pop touch is proven when new song "The Operator" provokes an explosion of beer in the theatre's light-beams. Like much of their best music, it combines the immediacy of British pop in 1964 with the mysticism of 1967 and the lack of boundaries that defines 2005. When "A Warning to the Curious" ends with drumming equal parts Art Blakey and Teutonic techno, it isn't surprising.

A brace of older songs midway through the set, "Simon Diamond" and "Bill McCai", then offer striking character sketches. The latter, about a commuter who, childhood dreams destroyed, hangs himself, is an affecting horror story of maturity's price. "Pass It On" then heals such scars with a communal approach to pain and love.

The old stuff is greeted with barely more cheers than the new songs. Everything The Coral play comes from the same source, after all: a place where 40 years' worth of pop sounds eternally fresh.

The Coral will play the Carling Weekend Festivals in Reading and Leeds on 26 and 27 August

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