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One of the biggest surprises of last year was the commercial coming- good of perennial underachievers Mercury Rev (right) from Buffalo, New York. Their splendid Deserter's Songs album appeared like a rash over most end-of-year polls, topping several in the process. This quick return trip to the UK capitalises on that album's success and ends with a prestigious headlining spot at one of the NME Premier Award nights at London's Astoria. Though the album is a polished affair, their gigs still include some marvellous improvisation. Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton (01902 552121) Mon; Junction, Cambridge (01223 511511) 17 Jan; Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth (01705 863911) 19 Jan; Fleece & Firkin, Bristol (0117-927 7150) 20 Jan; Astoria, London W1 (0171- 434 0403) 21 Jan