Pop: Monkey magic

Live; CORNELIUS THE SCALA LONDON

GAGGLES OF Japanese kids, eager to see one of their native pop idols, is hardly a sight you'd expect to see in drab old King's Cross, but tonight the renovated Scala plays host to Keigo Oyamada, aka Cornelius the Intelligent Ape, and in some eyes the most imaginative studio wizard at work in the world today.

Last year's astonishing Fantasma album paid homage to such Sixties greats as the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground, yet Oyamada didn't balk at using 30 years of technological advances, much of it created by his fellow countrymen, of course, to make the year's sharpest, most contemporary sounding record. Sweet pop harmonies sat happily alongside heavy metal riffs, and erratic drum and bass beats, yet the effect was never merely knowing, rather a heartfelt tribute and update. More recently, a collection of Fantasma remixes has seen such well known artists as Blur's Damon Albarn and the highly rated UNKLE rework Oyamada's originals, with mixed results. In short, Cornelius is hip.

Translating his studio-based sound, and famously extravagant Japanese stage appearances (one reputedly featured a set of robots in lieu of a band) into a venue holding a few hundred people proves remarkably successful after some initial hiccups.

Excellent songs such as "New Music Machine" and "Crash" are murdered by a poor sound mix, and all the strobes in the world can't hide the fact. But gradually it all falls into place. The intelligent visuals enhance "Count 5 or 6" and "Ball In Kickoff", a collection of football cliches you can dance to, destined to drive you mad when the World Cup is held in Japan in 2002. By "Brand New Season", Oyamada is in control. Elvis appears on the screen and we're treated to "Love Me Tender" on the theremin. The clunky, whirring "Star Fruit Surf Rider" is terrific and 'Free Fall' is even better, rocking out hard and defiant , a one-string guitar solo intact.

Where else can you see a band clad in matching khakis performing Black Sabbath riffs in front of a huge video backdrop but at a Cornelius show. Noel Gallagher, apparently present, could probably point out just where a Ringo-style drum roll would knit together the two sections of the lovely singalong and closer "Chapter 8", but it hardly mattered. This is great pop music.

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