Vincent Gallo, Royal Festival Hall, London

Click to follow

Vincent Gallo is a born provocateur, naturally at war with the world. The 42-year-old writer/director/star of Buffalo 66 is also a photographer, painter, Calvin Klein model and musician, all roles in which he has been showered with acclaim. But he has also inspired equal loathing - first, he alleges, from abusive parents who were ashamed of him, and most recently by critics of his second work as a director, The Brown Bunny. Infamous for a scene in which Gallo receives oral sex from Chloe Sevigny, it was loudly jeered at last year's Cannes. Gallo, no fan of journalists, issued an ironic apology.

What is often missed beneath the hurricanes of controversy and an image almost calculated by Gallo to make him seem a fraudulent braggart is his real worth as an artist. His most treasured possession is a letter of support from William Burroughs, and his uncensored self-exposure is firmly in the Beat underground tradition.

Though he has a huge ego and ferocious temperament, he uses it to support work of Zen-like gentleness. This softer side is most apparent in the centrepiece of tonight's show, Gallo's first UK record, When, a sensitive album about love that would shock his detractors more than any blow job.

Gallo takes to the stage late and looks nervous. Wearing a black velvet jacket and backed by Jim O'Rourke and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth on guitar and drums, his attempts at the higher notes on "When'' are hopeless. Scattered sniggers suggest that more than one member of the audience sees him as a freak show.

But they are to be disappointed. Gallo's voice soon settled into its thin, hauntingly wistful range, singing "it would be so nice'' as if he wants to believe it, while O'Rourke provides harmonies and bluesy riffs. "I'm used to playing on my own,'' Gallo the control freak apologises when his guitar lets forth an unruly screech. But he fits in with his band modestly enough, focusing on jazzy duets with O'Rourke.

Though Gallo's sharp-boned body marks him as a model and movie star, the feral, aggressive charisma which made directors like Scorsese seek him out is invisible tonight. Instead, on "Laura'', we get Gallo the would-be torch singer. Elsewhere he employs an electronic piano to help create post rock soundscapes.

Unlike most movie stars moonlighting in music (an almost unbroken roll of shame from Keanu Reeves to Russell Crowe), Gallo's talent here is obvious. Though there are longueurs, at his best he sucks you into moods of tangible longing and defiantly amateurish intimacy. The appearance of rumoured lover PJ Harvey for a closing, aching duet on "Moon River" only adds to his charm.

Flawed and inflammatory though he is, Vincent Gallo's strange, soul-bearing artistry cannot, finally, be denied.