Pop: Live: Band on the re-run

Elastica/ Kevin Rowland Reading Festival
Click to follow
FOUR YEARS ago the impeccably well-connected Elastica released their debut album - a convincing distillation of the pop maxim that "if you have something to say, say it quickly, and if you don't, say it quickly anyway". Since then, nothing (apart from rumours of drug and emotional problems). No longer the "First Lady of Britpop", Justine Frischmann has seen her defunct relationship with Damon Albarn anatomised on Blur's last album, watched band members leave and rejoin, and lost co-conspirator Donna Matthews.

Elastica's return is something of an event then. Frischmann, no longer showing the easy swagger of the English upper classes, even if she still concludes each song with a strangled "chee-aars", now heads an extended band including two keyboard players - one seemingly more of a cheerleader than an active musician - and an excellent new guitarist called Paul (ex- Linoleum - this is the Indies Nation, after all) who makes a fine fist of the old songs.

And they are old songs. The current EP (featuring vocals from the otherwise indisposed Mark E Smith, who might well have guested had his guitarist not hospitalised him earlier) is a ragbag collection of demos and fragments. It's not bad at all, but seems firmly aimed at John Peel rather than the Top 40. Even tonight's unreleased tracks like "Human" and "Love Like Ours" were premiered on a Radio 1 session years back.

They can still excite though. "Connection" is particularly terrific and is now an acknowledged classic. Debut single "Stutter" thrills, in a "my first song" kind of way, and "Line Up"... er... stutters along better than ever. The peculiar decision to cover Trio's novelty hit "Da Da Da" fits as well as their unashamed thrash through Wire's art- punk classic "12XU". Though it's good to have them back, who would have thought that the first Britpop revival act would visit us before the century's end? Next year's second album will clarify matters.

The festival also saw Kevin Rowland's first public performance since 1985 and, frankly, one needs dolls to recreate it. The once great ex-Dexy's frontman effortlessly dispelled reports of his rehabilitation after hellish personal problems. Scheduled to perform three songs from his curious new album of cabaret classics, Rowland appeared sporting a sarong (more restrained than recent publicity shots which reveal a predilection for transvestism) and belted out "You'll Never Walk Alone" over a backing tape as if auditioning for Stars In Their Eyes, all to a tumultuous reception of missiles. Worse followed, as a couple of strapping lap dancers joined him for "Concrete and Clay", and he whipped off his wrap, Bucks Fizz-style, to reveal a disco-dolly mini-dress and white hold-ups. The concluding, "Greatest Love Of All" ("they can't take away my dignity" - uh?) would puzzle a psychiatrist, though remarkably the voice remains intact. Creation's Alan McGee, who recently signed Rowland, was spotted later, apparently looking like a man who'd just lost a wallet with pounds 100,000 in it.