The scream has a special place in rock'n'roll. Its primal, animalistic capacity to express the inexpressible – be it sexual desire or inchoate rage – has been utilised by a proud lineage running from Little Richard through Black Francis to The Vines.
Four Anglophile 24-year-olds from Sydney, they're led by Craig Nicholls, a tousle-haired singer-guitarist whose banshee caterwaul is the band's main selling point. To the point, in fact, where it becomes a gimmick. They have one classic song, a debut single as incredible as "Supersonic" by Oasis. "Highly Evolved" breaks and enters your skull without wiping its feet, shakes some serious Nirvana-meets-T.Rex action, and after just one minute and 31 seconds, scarpers out again before the police arrive. (It transpires that it isn't actually The Vines' debut – they had something called "Factory" out last year – but don't let that spoil the story).
I walk through the door just as they're playing it. I'm lucky. Unfortunately, the remainder of their set indicates that "Highly Evolved", like "Supersonic" before it, may be the precursor to disappointment. There are a few good R&B rave-ups (in the Sixties sense of R&B, you understand) like "Ain't No Room" and too many dreary psychedelic dirges like "Autumn Shade".
Nevertheless, it seems The Vines are the latest anointed ones. They're the new favourite band of everyone who has the wrong ideas about what music should be, and they would have been on the NME's front cover if the rock plesiosaur responsible for "Supersonic" itself hadn't chosen this week to open his gob. The bar staff are humiliated by being forced to wear "Highly Evolved" T-shirts – someone's put a bit of money into this, and it ain't Aussie dollars – and most of London's rockerati are here tonight. Drop a bomb on this place, and ... "It's 1969 in my head," Nicholls sings at one point, and, well, at least he's honest. One song starts with the "Made Of Stone" beat and I blush for them, but The Vines' closest cousins are an older generation of Britrockers: The Pretty Things and The Troggs. Towards the end, Nicholls announces that we "might know this one", and they cover Outkast's "Ms Jackson" making it sound like a bloody Neil Young song. The ethics and aesthetics of this sort of thing are always suspect, and The Vines add nothing new to the debate.
Just when it's getting dull, Nicholls hands over the lead vocals to bassist Patrick Mathews and, high on caffeine and sugar from the four cans of Coke he has on the go, launches into another of those wordless Noddy Holder screams. It's a nice trick. But how many times can you watch a dog riding a bicycle?
Billy Bob Thornton wants to see me. Well, OK, not just me. But the actor, director, and – would you believe – singer-songwriter has summoned all the journalists reviewing his debut London concert to a pre-show briefing. It's a strange, unnerving idea (what does he want with us?). In the event, it's an informal chat which, a cynic might say, serves to soften our steely critical faculties. As a major Coen Brothers fan, I ask whether, after The Man Who Wasn't There, another collaboration is likely ("It's so likely," he says, "that we start filming in July.") I try not to stare at the amulet around his neck. It contains Angelina Jolie's blood.
Thornton's intergenerational marriage with Jolie has caused much snickering media scepticism – the Tomb Raider and the Cradlesnatcher – but it has also provided Thornton with the inspiration for the majority of his Private Radio album. It has also, he confides on more than one occasion, "literally saved my life". He thanks her with "Angelina", the third song in tonight's set.
This is Country without the Alt. Prefix, blended with slow-hand blues and bar-room soul, although, on covers of British Invasion chestnuts like Dave Clark Five's "Catch Us If You Can" and Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders' "Game Of Love", we sometimes slide into Commitments/Vonda Shepard territory. (Thornton's love of Merseybeat infects his own material: "Dark And Mad" has the same tune as Lennon's "Working Class Hero".) Billy Bob doesn't actually play a thing, he just sings, talks and stands there looking cool (or as cool as one can look in a diamanté headscarf). In musical terms, he's the man who isn't there.
Luckily, he's a great raconteur. With sometimes uncomfortable honesty, he describes his suicidal thoughts, the death of his brother, his 21 years clean from drugs. "I'm very fortunate in my life right now," he says, "in that I have one." It sounds cheesy, but he's hard to dislike, and we all sing "Happy Birthday" to Max, his adopted Cambodian baby.
Then, something strange happens. He has obsessive-compulsive disorder, he says, and he needs to re-do "Angelina" because he got the lyrics slightly wrong first time. "So it's right in my head," he explains. I later learn that Thornton, like Eddie in the song by John Hegley, is scared of furniture. I think back to the room in which we met before the show. All the chairs were stacked against a far wall, and there were no tables.
Have you been following BBC2's Century of the Self? Me too, and I particularly enjoyed the final episode, which traced the inexorable evolution from Hippies to Yippies to Yuppies, the manner in which the call to "kill policemen in your head" led to the decade of self-improvement, and ultimately, the decade of the self. I think about it as I watch India.Arie. I also think of Eric Cartman's nightmare sleeptalk in South Park; "Hippies! Hippies everywhere! They say they wanna save the earth, but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad!" I have no idea whether Ms Arie dabbles in narcotics, and from this distance I can offer no comment on her personal hygiene. What is clear, however, is that this particular hippychick is of the self-first, world-second variety. Her album, Acoustic Soul, does exactly what it says on the tin, and live she's no different. Blessed with a warm and versatile voice, she has the spontaneity of the busker (able to break into Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name" or Bill Withers' "Just The Two Of Us" at the drop of a headscarf), but also the sameyness.
Whatever virtues she possesses are soiled by her amour propre. Apart from some near-meaningless cant about the power of music and Des'Ree-esque lyrics about "a natural high", she has little to communicate. She's at her most passionate when singing about her favourite subject, India.Arie. She's conceited enough to address herself in the most adoring tones ("Oh, India..."). The hidden message, it seems, is "You too can be like me, India.Arie: organic, non-GM, wholesome Earth Mother."
Self-satisfaction is Arie's downfall. Take, for instance, her debut single, "Video", on which she implicitly criticises women who feel the need to wear make-up, shave their legs, paint their nails and wear nice clothes. ("I'm not the average girl from your video/And I ain't built like a supermodel/But I learned to love myself unconditionally/Because I am a queen"), or, heaven forbid, pay for cosmetic surgery ("Don't need your silicone, I prefer my own/What God gave me is just fine"). It's all very well singing this when you look like she does: big eyes, good complexion, bright smile, flat stomach, and, at a guess, a 36D packed into her tight orange vest. There's a hidden message here too, and it is quite clear: "Maybe you need Maybelline, but I was born with it."