Pop: Space not the place

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ONE OF the drawbacks of being in a cartoon band is that, for the band members, the joke begins to wear thin. It is Space's lyrical surrealism and permanently raised eyebrows that caused them to stand out against their gloomy contemporaries two years ago, but the skewed humour that they so effortlessly relay in the studio was severely lacking at Brixton Academy on Friday night.

Compounded by the venue's notorious PA system, Tommy Scott's vocals came over as a muffled whine, while the soft-rock histrionics of guitarist and vocalist Jamie Murphy would have fitted a Dire Straits gig.

Space date from 1984, though fame and fortune eluded them until 1996 when their eerie "Female of the Species" suddenly shifted a million copies. If Space's knowingness has been part of their act all that time, their listlessness is hardly surprising.

One of the tragically few high points of the evening came with the arrival of Catatonia's Cerys Matthews, albeit on a video backdrop, for their celebrated joint-rendering of "The Ballad Of Tom Jones". Unlike Scott, her pleasingly chafing voice wasn't drowned out by Murphy's pompous fretwork, while the startling line "I want to cut off your nuts" provided ribald amusement among the swathes of lager-swilling lads in the crowd.

But the lounge-lizard crooning, the sunny splashes of reggae and the rousing string arrangements of Space's album Tin Planet were sorely missed and Scott seemed strangely subdued. One would expect such a relentlessly wacky band to be bursting with Jarvis-like inter-song witticisms. But the only time that Scott spoke up was to shout, "Prince Charles is a tit, don't you think?", but he failed to elucidate any further.

You longed for the vaudeville of their recorded material, but though Scott climbed the balustrades during "Neighbourhood", and clambered over the DJ box during "We've Got To Get Out Of This Place", they lacked passion and precision.

Considering their catastrophic world tour in 1997, during which Murphy had a breakdown and drummer Andy Perle suffered from nervous exhaustion, it is a wonder that Space are playing at all. They managed to produce a classy album, but as a live act, it seems that Space are burnt out.