Toploader, Water Rats, London

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The Independent Culture

There was an avid discussion beforehand about whether time would have altered one of Toploader's most important features: Joseph Washbourn's hair. That crazy blond barnet; would time have cropped it short? Had maturity cut those curly locks? There's a collective ripple of relief as the band appear on stage – mop intact. Toploader are back.

Opening with "Marrakech", it's immediately noticeable that the band's sound is brushed with a darker paint than before, but it's still distinctly Toploader; the deep and echoing percussion, the dark electric tones, and, of course, Washbourn's voice, still reaching those surprising, gravelly heights.

The audience is with them completely. It's always a hard task playing a gig where your audience don't know your material, but Washbourn, Dan Hipgrave, Matt Knight and Rob Green appear unfazed – and so do the crowd. Throughout, the four musicians look comfortable on the small stage as their anthemic indie rock fills the intimate venue.

Washbourn teases his audience with a "reward" for receiving the new material so avidly. "Well, maybe not a reward, depends how you feel about it," he adds smiling, referring, of course, to the band's most famous track, "Dancing in the Moonlight".

"It's like the little nephew we couldn't get rid of," he laments as the distinct intro makes the crowd yelp with delight.

Some tantalising vocals pull the crowd back into the band's new material, which culminates with "Achilles Heel". They return to the stage for a bright and rousing encore, which includes "She Said" and "Time of My Life".

"Somewhere along the line I discovered how to write about the things that really matter to me," Washbourn says, an admission that is starkly evident in tonight's well-received return.