The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club's drummer Emma Daman stands on her stool, hitches up her evening gown, and leans down to inspect us, sternly. As she takes her seat, the guitarist Adam Taylor and bassist Louise Mason march towards each other till their instruments cross. The Club's members have introduced themselves.
It's an arrestingly theatrical entrance, confirming that they are another chapter in the British art-school band story, which stretches through The Beatles and Roxy Music to Pulp. Based in Cardiff, and clearly short on gentlemen, even their name nudges you into thought.
If their recent album stood out from the post-post-punk pack popularised by Franz Ferdinand, because of its debt to The Pixies and freakish, unclassifiable songs, live, their inventive potential is given far freer rein. They are not art-rock (the late 1970s term revived for today's more intellectual guitar bands); they are art-showbiz, entertaining as a means of expressing their characters.
Soho's burlesque club Madame Jojo's has the right tackily glam ambience for the start of their first big tour. But muggy sound makes the fascinating lyrics all but inaudible, and the songs indistinguishable.
This would cripple most bands. It merely throws the Club back on their other resources. The moment during "Stupid as Wood" when Taylor stalks to the lip of the stage to stare at us manically, as his guitar buzzes, shows their mastery of visually emphasised music.
The performance of Daman is a more total example of this. As with Keith Moon, the way she smashes a powerful, free-rolling beat is almost incidental to her visual presence. She switches from mad-eyed shrieking to a poised pout, and doesn't leave a dead second on stage. Her face continually suggests the music is making her think wild, uncontrollable thoughts, helping the crowd do the same.
Taylor, looking like Joy Division-era Peter Hook in early-1980s freaky-straight garb, and Mason, in short white dress and spangled tights, are no slouches either, leaving few holes in this considered show. During "Impossible Sightings Over Shelton", he strums urgently while she stamps out the beat with her high boots. And all three join in exultant yelps that sound natural, not theatrical: adolescent cries of freedom, from a young band lost in the bliss of expressing itself.
Touring to 25 October (www.thevictorianenglishgentlemensclub.co.uk)Reuse content