The Long Blondes, Old Market, Brighton<br/>Patrick Wolf, Concorde 2, Brighton

Pretender to the throne
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The Independent Culture

Like an eel slapped with a plank, The Long Blondes had me stunned. Almost literally. My reactions to the Sheffield quintet have been criminally delayed.

As long ago as 2003, mutual friends were raving about them, so I investigated "Autonomy Boy", their contribution to the Angular Recordings compilation, agreed it was decent enough, but subsequent scowling photo sessions gave the impression of disapproving fun-haters (about which, I couldn't have been more wrong). Even as recently as last August's Reading Festival, admittedly at a moment when my platform shoes were killing my feet, I had them marked down as a second-rate British answer to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Then I heard their debut album, and realised that The Long Blondes had become the band that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs never quite managed to. Someone to Drive You Home was that peculiar paradox: an instant slow-burner. I knew immediately that this was a record which would grow and grow.

In the flesh, they're even more impressive. Hand on hotpanted hip, neckerchief tight, it's easy to see why Kate Jackson has become something of a fashion icon without being a mere clothes horse - combining the voice of Chrissie Hynde with the discreet sauciness (and indeed the hairstyle) of Play School presenter Carol Chell.

Like The Smiths in the Eighties and Pulp in the Nineties, at the moment of their emergence The Long Blondes are led by a singer who is already of a certain age and already has stories to tell and perspectives to share - as lines such as "Out on the doorstep, lip burst and bleeding/Well, that was a crash course for me" attest. This immediately sets them apart from the monosyllabic indie rock herd of Twangs and Kooks and Views.

How old is Kate Jackson? Well, she doesn't have bingo wings or anything, but the internet says 30 going on 31. Old enough, anyway, to be somewhat fixated retrospectively with her teenage diaries, and to be able to act the sassy older sister figure on the anthemic "Once and Never Again" ("19? You're only 19 for God's sake! You don't need a boyfriend!"), like Rizzo teaching Sandra Dee how to smoke.

The Smiths/Pulp comparisons go beyond the frontperson. The Long Blondes' producer is Pulp guitarist Steve Mackey, and the aforementioned "Once and Never Again" is hugely reminiscent of The Smiths' "This Charming Man". Then there's the Jarvis Cockerish vocal of Dorian Cox on the duet "You Could Have Both" (he: "It's like I've painted myself into a social corner", she: "Well, that's what happens when you listen to Saint Scott Walker on headphones on the bus" - ouch).

That song is just one example of The Long Blondes' penchant for breaking down the traditional lead-singer monologue, and just one example of their cultural referentialism. Names like Edie Sedgwick and Anna Karenina are thrown about with abandon, and on "Fulwood Babylon", Jackson sings "Girls fantasise on school trips to galleries/Of men who don't meet their parents' expectations/Who want to introduce them to illicit Russ Meyer films/And dance 'til dawn to old Kinks records."

If my hunch is right, and The Long Blondes are en route to becoming one of the most important British bands of our time, it won't be long until they cease being the namedroppers, and start being a cultural reference point themselves.

Patrick Wolf has got balls. We know this for two reasons. First of all, in the world of singer-songwriters it's compulsory to either wear brown or sound as though you're wearing brown - a rule which Wolf, looking tonight like Paul Kaye playing a camp pirate, breaks with gay abandon. Secondly, we know he has balls because we can see them. The way in which those gold Lurex pantaloons billow and swing in time with his meat and two veg elicits screams from the fangirls who like their boys emaciated and emotional.

Such wardrobe problems are trifling concerns for a man who, at the age of 14, was already performing with Leigh Bowery art-shock band Minty. Wolf positively revels in his nonchalanty ambiguous sexuality, parading about the stage in a lamé cape bearing an artist's impression of the Brighton seafront.

His visual appeal is only half the reason why Wolf is causing such excitement right now. With his third album, The Magic Position, Patrick Wolf - still only 23 - has made the record he's been threatening to make ever since his debut Lycanthropy. His folktronica style (there aren't many gigs where you'll see an iBook next to a harpsichord) has been harnessed to achingly beautiful pop tunes, so that first-album highlights such as "Boy Like Me" actually pale next to newies like "Augustine", the Marianne Faithfull duet "Magpie" (sadly, she's present only in disembodied sample form tonight), and the Dexys stomp of the title track.

It's before "The Childcatcher", aptly enough, that Wolf tells the story of a recent under-18s concert where, to rile a troublesome bouncer, he provocatively announced "I'm feeling really horny" and tried to lure him up on-stage. A journalist got the wrong end of the stick and wrote the incident up as though Patrick Wolf was some sort of indie Gary Glitter.

Never mind Gary Glitter: once upon a time, a boy like Wolf would have been run out of most towns by angry villagers with flaming torches.

Not, admittedly, a town like Brighton.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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