Rock and pop: A bit puny, but there was plenty of moshing
Royal Albert Hall, London
Apparently, there's been a bit of a Seventies revival lately. Or was that last month? Whatever, are right there on the crest of an old wave - even if they are four blokes from the West country who were mere infants when men in loons bestrode the world of rock'n'roll.
So the Albert Hall, scene of such historic occasions as Cream's farewell gig and Deep Purple's only public rendition of their Concerto for Group and Orchestra, should have been a fitting venue. That it wasn't was hardly their fault.
On a big screen behind them, the word "" was picked out in letters of raised steel - which for Seventies rockers evoked the cover of Deep Purple's Machine Head. From the opening "Higher Vibration", though, it was clear that it's not the Purple they take after. Or even Free, the group of whom their name is an anagram (unintentional, they say).
They're probably sick of hearing this, but it's Led Zeppelin who provide the template for their four-square rock'n'roll - an impression boosted by the uncanny vocal similarity of Gary Stringer to Robert Plant, with a soupcon of Janis Joplin. There's that same grating squeal, the sound of a dentist's drill attacking a lump of granite.
On record, Stringer is more satisfyingly distinctive, but he strained to fill the Albert Hall's echoey expanses, and it is under duress that the vocal similarities are most marked. The band, too, were ill-at-ease with the puny sound. When a fortysomething executive type comes out of one of the boxes moaning that it wasn't loud enough, then you know it wasn't loud enough.
There were plenty of empty seats, which didn't help, though the sizeable mosh-pit doubled in number for the second song, "Place Your Hands". This is the track made famous by the band's adaptation of it for the letters slot on TFI Friday (Chris Evans declared himself a fan some time ago; it was a blow from which they recovered).
There was even a modicum of wigging-out in the boxes from that point on - which was an indication of the main problem. What on earth were doing at the Albert Hall in the first place? It's perfect for boxing and sumo wrestling, but possesses the acoustics, in rock terms at least, of an old cowshed. Yet still bands persist. The place to see is in a sweaty club with condensation pouring off the ceiling and exotic fungi growing on the walls.
As a showcase for their fine new album, Rides, the gig left something to be desired, though the increased variety of their songwriting shone through. "Sweetie", the next single, uses a synthesiser - again very Seventies with its Who-ish sequencing - while later on, the splashes of acoustic guitar gave the set a bright, sunny feel. Some muscular slide guitar from Kenwyn House, too, added vivid colour to the palette. But given the surroundings, it was all a little quixotic.
: Mayfair, Newcastle (0191 232 3109), Tuesday; Apollo, Manchester (0161 242 2509), Thursday; Shepherd's Bush Empire, W12 (0171 771 2000) Friday. Credit card hotline: 0115 912 9203; or www. ticketweb.co.uk and www. tickets-online.co.uk.
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