I saw Everything But The Girl in the spring of this year, in Bristol - home to their longtime pals Massive Attack. Two things about that night stick in the memory. One was the coy smirks Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt exchanged during "Walking Wounded" and "Before Today". Not only were the songs full-on - horrors! - drum'n' bass compositions, but they were totally live as well, complete with a genial, sensible-looking geezer on double bass. This was clearly not the Everything But The Girl the thirtysomething audience had grown to know, the painfully polite twosome who soundtracked their fans' university-to-mortgage days in the late 1980s. And Tracey and Ben were having a quiet, self-satisfied laugh about it.
The second pivotal point came at the end of the shiversome "Better Things", a trip-hop masterpiece of cool elegance. "Thanks to Massive Attack for that," gushed Tracey, who sang the song on MA's Protection album. "Who are Massive Attack?" piped up a puzzled voice in front of me. In this city of all places, to ask that. If Everything But The Girl have gone through a revolution - from Brit MOR folk duo to hip house, dancefloor shakers - it hasn't caught up with their fans yet.
But maybe long-time devotees would actually debate whether EBTG had really changed all that much anyway. Tracey Thorn has one of the most refined, distinctive voices in English pop, and the same warm but melancholic beauty heard on the 1982 Cherry Red Single "Night and Day" is heard again on "Single", from EBTG's current album Walking Wounded.
The essence is this: EBTG have managed radical change without losing their soul. The assistance of Tod Terry and Massive Attack was invaluable, but it's EBTG who had the confidence to make the magic work, and turn the bad times of two years ago into a stack of purring hits over the past year.
EYE ON THE NEW
On Friday, to help see out the old year, the Piao! club in London presents bright young things from Wales, England and Scotland. From Wales comes Topper (a weirder version of Super Furry Animals), from England there's the moody Broadcast, and the Scots are cool instrumentalists Ganger.
London Upstairs At The Garage, Highbury Corner, London N1 (0171-607 1818), 20 DecReuse content