Pooka: The Garage, London

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The Independent Culture
Influenced by such pukka artists as Kate Bush, John Martin and PJ Harvey, Natasha Jones and Sharon Lewis of Pooka (a pooka is a mischievous Irish goblin, apparently) have a precocious song-writing talent and no little charm. Like Miss Bush, they're not afraid to explore the dark side of their sexuality, or to house their intense personal narratives in skewed arrangements that pull the rug from under the listener's feet. "God Sir", which, Natasha tells us, is "about someone I'm still totally in awe of", is a case in point. The middle section wanders right off the map to a very odd place indeed, then plots a sure course for the final chorus. As they lock eyes across the stage to ensure their delicious close harmonies knit together perfectly, my spine gives a little tingle. Such tweaks of the sensual clapometer are hard to argue with.

Most of Pooka's songs are acoustic guitar-based, though tonight, as on their forthcoming second album, Spinning, they employ a rhythm section and add subtle sequencers and samples to the imaginative canvas. The frenetic, skittering beats of "Sweet Butterfly" contrast nicely with the sublime, meandering melody of "Higher". The latter really is quite beautiful, and the delicate wash of digital delay on Jones's vocal bleeds notes together in a flush of intimacy, while Lewis dances as though in a trance. Elsewhere, "Rubber Arms", which was inspired by John and Yoko's primal screaming and documents a long, itching period of shag-less frustration, proves Pooka aren't all lovey-dovey doughnuts. Hair flies, demons are exorcised, and the front row move back a bit.

A fair number of The Garage's audience sit cross-legged on the floor. Sharon is bare-footed, and there's a red velvet drape over her electric piano. These are all indicators that perhaps, somewhere deep in Pooka's heart, a sandalwood joss-stick still burns. It's only this slight hippy factor, and their rather hit-and-miss stage banter (do you really have to tell us that you haven't had a boyfriend for eight years at every gig, Natasha?) that some people might find hard to swallow. Ultimately, these are minor complaints, however, and when they return to the stage sans band, the sense of focused intimacy is compelling. On "This River", the third encore, the pair's voices metamorphose into multi-timbered instruments that scat, quiver and loop in an increasingly complex double-helix of sound. It's a fitting climax, and totally beguiling.

James McNair