The Zutons, Academy, Birmingham

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Last year, this Liverpool band's debut album, Who Killed The Zutons?, was a Mercury Prize nominee, generating four successful singles.

Last year, this Liverpool band's debut album, Who Killed The Zutons?, was a Mercury Prize nominee, generating four successful singles. The hardest of them, "Pressure Point", arrives early in their Birmingham set, and is being used in a Levi's television advertisement in the US. The Zutons have been together for three years, and still seem very much a band in the early stages of their evolution. Even so, they have just been supporting REM on their fragmented UK tour.

The band's choice of warm-up music belies a taste for groovesome Sixties and Seventies sounds, and The Zutons dress the retro part as well. Hair choices are either lank or frizzed, and the dress code is mostly Frisco Summer of Love. The drummer, Sean Payne, commands the stage from his riser, flailing in flamboyant Mitch Mitchell fashion. The lead guitarist, Boyan Chowdhury, sports a drooping moustache, and prefers to use a bottleneck on most of his searing solos. The lead singer and guitarist, David McCabe, is a regular guy who doesn't possess much imagination for a front man, lacking articulation and poise as he shouts at the crowd. Whereas Manchester's Gomez flirt with the idea of interchangeable anonymity, McCabe is genuinely ordinary.

The acts that he cites as influences are admirable forebears, but they're also highly ambitious choices that could be viewed as arrogant name-drops when set beside the reality of The Zutons' songwriting output. It's hard to discern any Talking Heads, Devo or Dr John in the mixture, but McCabe's mention of Sly & The Family Stone provides a useful guide to the democratic Zuton straddling of rock, funk and soul motifs.

Not that they have anything like the substance of The Magic Band, but in their most frenzied moments there are hints of Captain Beefheart's crunched-up, interrupted blues. There is also a love of the chugging guitar latticework that calls up images of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Zutons would probably prefer to be the MC5. Their real strength is revealed when they're rocking out, with Payne and Chowdhury interlocking naturally, as Abi Harding's tenor saxophone blurts out forceful one-note riffs. She's a primitive (as opposed to primitivist) player, not functioning as a hot R&B squealer, and certainly suffering from any jazz-sphere comparisons. Even within the established tradition of direct rock-band saxophone-blowers (X-Ray Spex, The Psychedelic Furs), she operates on a fairly basic level.

When The Zutons are firing full-thrust, they have an uncomplicated dynamism, but they crumple and collapse when McCabe tries to be a sensitive singer-songwriter. The lyrics are probably intended as direct, open-hearted statements, but end up sounding simply dreary. "Remember Me" heads the pack of banal whimsy, where the band displays a need to be loved by the singles charts. With their best-known number "You Will, You Won't", at least The Zutons have struck a reasonable balance between earthy rock and bland pop.

Apollo, Manchester, tonight