ROCK / Down but not out: Lloyd Bradley reviews American Music Club, in suits at the Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture
'The reason we wear suits,' the singer Mark Eitzel explains, 'is because we're older men.' Ill-matched, ill-fitting - American Music Club's suits would shame a solicitors' clerks' convention, which is what qualifies them as appropriate stage-gear for the band. That they find them funny is appropriate too: this group seems to occupy the place where punk would have gone if it had stayed spikey when it grew up and learned to play its instruments properly.

American Music Club are confident enough in their own cynicism to be genuinely disconcerting. Mercury, their most recent and widely acclaimed LP, was their first for a major label, and some suggested that the edges had been smoothed off. But live, the band trash the notion that they have become a slick adult rock band. Tunes that on record seemed to be heading into the middle-aged heartland which is countrified rock - big, jangly guitar chords laced with pedal steel - subtly tighten up and assume a startling belligerence.

In the band's lyrics, the bleakness offered up by punk rock has been reassigned to an older person's wasteland of emotional and social failure. It is as if the band is remembering those 'no future' predictions from 15 years ago and saying, 'I told you so.' 'The sound the air makes as I fall is like a laugh,' Eitzel sings on 'Keep Me Around'. Or listen to 'I've Been A Mess' - 'Lazarus wasn't grateful for his second wind, another chance to watch his chances fade.'

So far, so clever, but it is the singer's delivery which pushes the band along and explains why they have so few peers. Songs like 'Apology for an Accident' and 'Johnny Mathis' Feet' (in which Mathis comes to Eitzel in a dream and informs him 'a true showman knows how to disappear in the spotlight') are catalogues of disappointment. But this isn't Morrisey: Eitzel's manner courts no pity and his aggression precludes your empathy. In fact, you spend most of the show wondering if he's about to take it all out on somebody.

It must be said, most of the audience were unprepared for his intensity. Introductions to songs were cheered, but only a hesitant smattering of clapping rounded them off. Either American Music Club need to go a little easier on the uncompromising stances, or they should discover the art of pacing. Or they could do what they did at the Astoria and blame the crowd: 'I can't believe you all showed up,' we were told, 'but now I have no idea what you think of us. What's with you guys?'