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Pop: Something to bleat about

WHEN ANDY Barlow and Lou Rhodes sent out their two-track demo to record companies in the mid-Nineties, many dance music fans were growing up and becoming disenchanted with a scene that churned out tunes with plenty of energy but little real substance. As their sound - a neat combination of dance beats and pop-inspired lyricism - seemed to combat this, they were snapped up immediately. A year later, their eponymous album emerged and instantly secured them a niche.

Last week's gig began with a low electronic hum. It slowly morphed into "Little Things", a song from their new album Fear of Fours. The album's title points to their deliberate avoidance of four-four time signatures and, sure enough, tense, broken beats - half-produced and half-live to create a more urgent sound - were fired from the speakers. Merged with these was a deep sub-bass and Rhodes' strangely sensual voice (think Eartha Kitt meets Nina Simone) condemning our modern, distracted societies in which "we forget to live..." The lighter "B-Line" followed, led by a jazzier walking bass-line. Rhodes, her petite figure in the shadow of the mountainous bassist next to her, prowled around the stage like a cat, purring powerful vocals that belied her size. Each time the songs reached a climax, the bassist, Jon Thorne, began to pogo enthusiastically, managing to both hype the crowd and appear surreally out of synch with Rhodes' calm poise.

But there were calmer moments too. "Gorecki", a modern love song from the debut album lost none of its poignancy in a live setting, and was matched by the brilliant "Fly", a more escapist but equally euphoric moment in dance-pop. Lighters could have appeared several times during the evening but to the credit of the audience, never did. That didn't mean they hadn't been moved by the performance, though. Judging from the nearby faces, many had found exactly what they were looking for.

Paul Sullivan