The Dead 60s, Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture

Just as the mod revivalists, The Ordinary Boys, cement their comeback, along come our finest white ska exponents to crash the party. They may lack Preston's puppy-dog charm, but The Dead 60s have nailed better than their contemporaries the rhythm's joyous, hopping style.

While Kaiser Chiefs boast the flamboyance and Hard-Fi the terrace-chant leanings, these Liverpool lads have built up a committed following based on not so much a touring schedule as a non-stop carousel. Without even a single to push, the band were filling time before they head to France, having only played London in December. Still they came: the veteran suedeheads and fresh faces in feather cuts alike.

Given their lyrical shortcomings, it was all the more important that The Dead 60s put on a compelling performance and, with practice, they have developed into an impressive machine. Vein-popping intensity, in particular, made up for the singer-guitarist Matt McManamon's charisma bypass. The first blast of an air-raid siren was a call to legs rather than arms, with his band's succession of infectious, danceable beats.

They not only summoned The Specials' punky revival, but went back to ska's original flowering as a Jamaican version of R&B, where the musicians were as well-drilled as their US counterparts. Stuck in the past, for sure, though more competent than those Nineties crusty faves Radical Dance Faction and Back to the Planet. At least, that is, when they were giving their all. A bass-and-percussion interlude was clumsy, while their dub excursions were rarely spacy enough to warrant inclusion in the set.

Beyond the four-piece's trademark skank, the group were just as enamoured of A Certain Ratio's post-punk disco pulse. The sassy funk of "Loaded Gun" was a not-quite-carbon copy of the Manc outfit's take on Banbarra's "Shack Up". Then you realised the group's shared black dress and McManamon's lack of preening was a stab at solidarity and equality, in which case more interaction was needed to improve the band's stage presence.

Another preoccupation was The Clash's vicious rockabilly, as on "A Different Age", a makeweight on the eponymous debut album that came alive here with the group's sure touch. It was an enjoyable romp through a variety of styles, though while the chassis was strong, the bodywork was mainly anonymous. As with their contemporaries, not to mention the band's Two Tone forebears, Dead 60s' preoccupations were mired in an inner-city grime of concrete carbuncles and red light districts.

Even their holidays - on a parent's "access day", naturally, in "The Last Resort" - were a disappointment. Having said that, they mainly lacked the spark of Arctic Monkeys' missives from the wrong side of town. Concision was The Dead 60s' watchword, heard in a succession of barked slogans, yet the group rarely had anything new to say, or even an original way of returning to the tried and tested.

Rather than anthems, The Dead 60s offered party pieces. "Riot Radio" perfectly combined choppy guitars and driving rhythm, before the band closed with their answer to Madness's "One Step Beyond". "Ghostfaced Killer" was all nutty horror show and Ben Gordon's impressively eerie organ, reminiscent of the classic sound of the reggae legend Jackie Mittoo. We should have heard more.

It was all the more remarkable given the band's home city, where they set themselves apart from its usual mellow psychedelic vibe (the clue was in their name). Oddly, more recent material aligned them closer with their fellow Scousers' thrall to melody. "Don't Walk Away" was The Coral in especially bitter mood, while "Liar" took their primitive slant to its logical conclusion with some Cramps venom as well as a Dead Kennedys two-note guitar solo.

With this potent mix of rock'n'roll, reggae and punk, all The Dead 60s needed was more character. On first listen, there was enough promise to suggest they might well outlast the polo shirt's fashion return.

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