The Electric Prunes, The Robin 2, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

The Prunes are well preserved, and their original core trio authentically recreates the West Coast psychedelic sound of 1966.

The Prunes are well preserved, and their original core trio authentically recreates the West Coast psychedelic sound of 1966. These Los Angeles troubadours reformed in 2001, and now, at the beginning of a week-long UK tour, the Prunes have tightened their sound. Dressed in flamboyant finery, the period-garbed quintet recall the era with just the right balance of self-mockery and cool poise. Most of them sport shades, and their lead singer, James Lowe, has his curled white locks banded by a big Russian hat. He shakes twin tambourines ostentatiously, and is responsible for some sharp rhythmic accents, also picking up shakers and maracas from his table of tricks. He reads his words from a music stand, and flicks wildly on a small electronic- effects unit. His voice still sounds like that of his younger self, and he strides around the stage with enthusiasm.

The three guitarists build up heady, riffing, cross-patterns, showing off their rapport against tightly stuttering drums. Backing vocals galore summon up the classic harmonies of Sixties pop, neatly topping the heavier progressions. Between the freak-outs lie carefully constructed sections: stops, starts, gear-changes and sudden endings.

The lead guitarist, Ken Williams, is responsible for most of the music's extremes, turning his solos into screaming, wailing, surging waves of controlled noise, full of twiddled accents and hammered strokes in a mire of effects. Meanwhile, the bassist Mark Tulin underpins the music with a rugged sound full of abrasive, percussive power.

"I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" is an obvious highlight (its modest chart-placing was reason enough for the band to visit these shores in 1967). They climax with "Get Me to the World on Time", with everyone ramming hard towards the cosmic crescendo. But the Prunes have been penning new songs, much in the spirit of the old: the governing concept is California life. It must be said that some of the new numbers are markedly inferior.

Lowe has a pleasing attitude, embodying a sense of casual self-deprecation. He scoffs at extended encores, but the band decide to premiere a new song anyway. Its tune is conventional, but the Prunes carry off the melodic predictability with a cacophonous swagger. They are blooming once more with the thrill of performing, as Lowe's enthusiasm leads them back toward the joy of their youth. The moves are all intact. The Prunes have managed to erase the intervening years that separate them from their golden age.

Touring to Tuesday

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