The Horrors, 100 Club, London<br/>Cerys Matthews, Scala, London

Faster than a speeding mullet
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The Independent Culture

Something wicked this way comes, carried into the city on a backwards Estuary tide. The Horrors are five Dickensian wastrels from Southend on Sea who play demented garage rock with a macabre edge, and they're sounding and looking (which hasn't escaped the attention of the female MySpace kids) like the most exciting thing around right now.

Two of them - singer Faris Badwan (or Faris Rotter, depending on which source you choose to believe) and Joshua von Grimm (the requisite drop-dead pretty boy who'll be breaking all the hearts) - have John Cooper-Clarke-meets-Johnny Thunders finger-in-the-socket hairdos, while the other three have Percy from Blackadder bowl cuts. They sport an assortment of waistcoats, white shirts, black cravats, drainpipes and winkle pickers, and generally look like villains who might have stepped out of Dr Terrible's House Of Horrible.

Tonight, the "100" in 100 Club is the multiple of the actual crowd who will, one day, claim to have been here and witnessed this sexily spindly quintet getting physically hoisted onto the stage (as though they're too pale and consumptive to scale the steps themselves).

The sold-out basement, whose name will be forever resonant in rock'n'roll folklore for its punk/Pistols connection, is dotted with celebs. To my right, the chap from The Mighty Boosh (you know, the one with the nice hair). To my left, the chap from Bloc Party (you know, the one with the nice hair). No question, The Horrors are well-connected: the perturbing video for their last single was directed by sick genius Chris Cunningham, and starred Oscar nominee Samantha Morton giving birth to an alien squid.

The famous names are far outnumbered, though, by really young kids. Everyone's glancing around, catching each other's eyes with gleeful "We're here! We're seeing this!" expressions. And with good reason. From the moment they take the stage to the moment they leave, The Horrors are visually and sonically compelling.

What they're doing is far from novel, but they're injecting it with new life. The Horrors are taking rudimentary R&B (in the original, Sixties sense) chords and charging them with a triple dose of amphetamines. Think of obscure garage nutters such as The Count Five and The Novas. Think of first-wave shock-rockers such as Screaming Jay Hawkins and Screaming Lord Sutch, whose "Jack the Ripper" they've covered: whichever way you look at it, that's a lot of screaming. Now imagine it played at 78rpm. (The rhythm Coffin Joe beats out on "Sheena is a Parasite" is so speedy and skittery it sounds like drum and bass played by humans.)

The result is reminiscent both of the deconstructed/reconstructed rock'n'roll spasticity of The Birthday Party, and the headlong gonzo velocity of The Ramones.The whole thing is lent a scream-if-you-wanna-go-faster fairground delirium by the Vox Continental organ.

I'm not sure whether the fantastically-named keyboardist Spider Webb is the coolest Horror, or merely the closest to where I'm standing. Either way, with his ketamine eyeballs and St Vitus dance, he's the most unnerving practitioner of his instrument since Ron Mael.

Between songs, Faris makes semi-coherent, and apparently random exclamations: one minute sounding like "The lights! The lights!", the next "Red red red!" or simply a Black Francis-esque "Aaargh!".

"I feel we haven't reached Level 10 yet," he threatens, before what turns out to be their final song. There's a stage invasion of (I swear) 14-year-old chav kids in Hallowe'en make-up, causing scenes unseen since the 2 Tone Tour. The show implodes in chaos, with flashbulbs popping and Horrors having to be manhandled back to the safety of their dressing room. The Horrors, it's safe to say, will never be nominated for the Mercury. And that's absolutely fantastic. We don't need another Editors.

There are two ways of approaching a Cerys Matthews (pictured, left) gig in 2006. You can brace yourself for a 90-minute slog, standing there in the hope that she'll play a Catatonia song. Or you can take it on its own merits, and enjoy it for what it is. Anyone who takes the former option is a fool destined to end the night crying into their pint of Brains SA. Unless I ear-blinked and somehow missed "I Am the Mob" or "Mulder and Scully", there are no songs from the band who split in 2001, their singer citing the time-honoured rock'n'roll euphemism "exhaustion".

Since then, she's got married and moved to Tennessee, and what we do hear tonight reflects that. In a big white dress and pigtails, with a big wooden guitar slung around her neck, it's only the accent in which she speaks between songs (almost too Welsh to be believable) which betrays her origins as being closer to Neath than to Nashville.

Matthews and her all-American band, from places such as Philadelphia and Missouri (and with C&W legend George Jones' grandson on drums), now have two albums' worth of solo material to draw upon, with Never Said Goodbye due soon. It's these - sweet country-tinged songs of devotion, in which she vows in her lost-cat caterwaul that she'll be there "come hell or high water" - that we hear tonight, along with a couple of neatly chosen covers: Bowie's "Soul Love" re-imagined as a trip-hop track, and the third movement of Presley's "American Trilogy". She has the makings of a Welsh Dolly Parton.

Gabbling away in the encores, she laments the passing of Top of the Pops. Meanwhile, some of us privately lament the passing of a time where she was on it. (The owners of a solitary Welsh flag slung forlornly over the balcony are probably thinking similar thoughts, nostalgic for the high water mark of "Cool Cymru".) Matthews' unaffected, lairy, ladette persona made for a brilliant pop star. That unaffectedness, though, was the very reason why she never wanted to be a pop star.

When she skips offstage tonight, you get the feeling it doesn't come a moment too soon for Cerys, and she can't wait to leave her most-hated city (no, I haven't forgotten "Londinium") and fly back to Tennessee.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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