Pop: DR ROBERT Blue Note, London

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The Independent Culture
The floorplan of the cramped Blue Note club poses problems for any artist wishing to convey that little extra gravitas. To reach the stage, you must nudge through those crowded on the stairway before negotiating a hop into the spotlight. It's hard to act the star when you're beating a path through your fans with a flurry of "excuse me's" and "mind yer backs". But Dr Robert took it on the chin like the star that he isn't but should be.

At school we loved him for the tinny soul he plied in the Blow Monkeys, and for his sleepy-eyed demeanour, and most of all his whopping great quiff. But that was the 1980s. Soul has swollen into gospel. The sleepy eyes are hidden by shades. And the quiff collapsed before the first verse of the opening song was out. He would have looked a shadow of his former self were it not for the padding around the chops. The lyrics only encouraged you. "It's high time I found my way out of the woods," he sang. "I'm scraping all my make-up off / And I'm throwing away the pose," ran "Full Moon Fever". You were waiting for the one that went "I was in a stylish top pop group once/ And now I'd like a Paul Weller-style muso rebirth/ Please."

He was saved by some sweet self-deprecation and a voice so muscular it could hold its own in a pub brawl. The new songs were sweeping gospel epics to a man, bashed out with impossibly-sustained vigour. The most stirring number, "Circular Quay", had a desperate spiralling melody driven by dexterous guitar work and a tragic church organ. It took you to a higher plane, or at least to a posher part of London. You could tell the good Doctor was digging it too: he kept making what Dennis Cooper calls "heavy metal lead guitarist faces". That was nothing compared to the chap on the organ though, whose frenzied eye-rolling and ooh-yehhing made you want to douse him in holy water.

There was no doubting the tumultuous passion of the music, but song after song bludgeoned you into submission. Without trying to sound nostalgic, a few sparkling Blow Monkeys favourites scattered here and there would have struck a lovely balance and helped pronounce some of the set's more homogeneous elements. But Robert wasn't having any of it. "We're out of strings and songs," he lied after the second encore. I expect he was just tired of ploughing up and down that blasted stairway - despite his modesty, he must know, like us, that he deserves better.