ROCK / A live cabaret for old chums

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The Independent Culture
THE OPENING night of Madonna's 'Girlie Show' has Wembley Stadium on tip- toes. Few other performers have been so successful in uniting the forces of reaction against them, and the knowledge that we are here to be delighted by the Material Woman and they aren't is somehow intoxicating. The joy of this expectation is not entirely lost even when the show itself turns out to be a slight disappointment.

It's as if the waves of hatred summoned up by Madonna's many crimes (being a powerful woman, growing older, etc) have sapped her will to entertain. Not that all the dancing and most of the costumes aren't fabulous. Not that her singing isn't stronger than it's ever been. The show just doesn't have the momentum, the sustained sense of fun, of 1990's 'Blond Ambition' spectacular. The cabaret-in-a- stadium idea is a nice one, and the set - all ruched curtains and Parisian lettering - looks sumptuous, but the air-brushed perfection of much of Madonna's recent music does not translate so easily to the great outdoors.

The opening 'Erotica' is a case in point. Dark and supple on record, in a stadium it sounds shallow and clumpy. Other songs from her most recent, and most underrated album fare better - notably a translucent 'Rain' and, later, the delightful 'Bye Bye Baby' - but still the show does not quite hang together. The Seventies revivalism of 'Deeper and Deeper' is well past its sell-by date, and no one, not even Madonna, can get away with dancers in Pierrot costumes. These rare lapses of taste are buried in an avalanche of staging marvels - Madonna disappearing into a ring of fire at the end of 'Fever', and riding into 'Express Yourself' on a giant glitter- ball. Even so, by the middle of the maudlin Aids ballad 'In This Life' a grim mood is beginning to settle.

She looks almost unnervingly beautiful, a self-made statue of perfect muscle, a gleaming goddess stepping stilettoed across her dancers' backs. She sports a lovely new haircut too, sort of Paul Weller meets Jean Seberg. But not until late on does Madonna start to relax - gleefully desecrating 'Like a Virgin' - and give the crowd a chance to show its affection. Tonight's 'Like a Wirgin' (sic - maybe you had to be there) is Madonna doing Marlene on the way back from the pub, and 'Holiday' is a delirious romp in Soviet army surplus - 'Company . . . Celebrate]' By the time she returns in imperious grey velvet topper for 'Justify My Love', it seems a shame she can't start over and do all the great songs she hasn't played.

'Just another area for me to patrol,' proclaims one of De La Soul casually on the Long Island rappers' third album, Buhloone Mindstate (Big Life, out now), but there has been nothing casual about this group's retaking of the hip-hop high ground. On the cover, Mase, Posdnuos and Dave (formerly Trugoy the Dove) are human balloons, mouths tied, heads expanding with information and chat. With their remarkable 1989 debut, 3 Feet High & Rising, they built a crazy sound world out of their own imaginations, only to see it torn apart by its own success, and have their intelligence thrown back in their faces as somehow unmanly.

The follow-up, De La Soul is Dead, was a brave attempt to confront the resulting disillusionment, but hardly anyone liked it. This left De La Soul free to do their own thing again, and the results, from the first resonant guitar twang of 'Eye Patch', are intensely enjoyable. The dense weave of samples - film soundtracks, Smokey Robinson, Jefferson Starship - is interlaced with superlative live horn-playing from one- time James Brown stalwarts Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. The voices over the top are sometimes funny and sometimes angry but always compelling. This record doesn't climb into your head as instantly as

3 Feet High, but once there, there's no getting rid of it.

It's a rainy night in Brixton. A soggy Academy crowd is waiting for Nick Cave, but before the lovable old buzzard has shown his face, upsurgent support act Tindersticks have already soaked up the evening's store of melancholy and wrung it dry. This band's name might not seem like one with which to conjure, but they certainly produce rabbits from some unexpected places. An electric violin and a creaky valve organ are their sound's obvious novelty elements, but it's the mournful grandeur of the whole that most impresses.

Singer Stuart Staples is no louche mumbler. There is a bit of Leonard Cohen in him, and a lot of Peter Sarstedt, as he sings of Embassy No 6 ashtrays and bendy forks. Their forthcoming debut double album (remember them?), Tindersticks (This Way Up, 11 October), crackles with a distinct sense of mystery. When you get to the bottom of it, there might be nothing there, but it will have been fun finding out.