ROCK / Glam 0, Rap 1

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHY DO Shakespears Sister come on stage to Bette Davis singing 'I've Written a Letter to Daddy'? Bette is clearly a big influence on Siobhan Fahey's madwoman-just-out-of-the-attic routine, but she and her glitter-pop partner Marcy Detroit want to forget their respective pasts (in Bananarama and Eric Clapton's band), not relive them.

They appear in the shining raiment of their videos - Siobhan as Morticia Addams meets the Christmas fairy, Marcy as Louise Brooks with a solid career in personnel management. In person, these are not quite as convincing.

Siobhan has a strong physical presence, striding about doing arbitrary drop-kicks and lolling to one side in Lene Lovich broken doll mode. But she doesn't have a very strong voice, a fact that cannot be got around in the wide open spaces of the Hammersmith Odeon. The band don't sound too good either. They look fine - properly glam and androgynous - but the drums plod and the solos labour. Only Marcy's occasional harmonica and reliably swooping falsetto have the power to cut through the sludge.

Shakespears Sister sound like Haysi Fantayzee one minute and Big Country the next. They're never really funky and they don't quite rock out, but people seem to like them. Their feminist credentials are less than rock-solid - on tour with Eric, Marcy used to do a solo number called 'Teach Me to be Your Woman', and Siobhan's transformation does not entirely ring true - but this has not done their sales much harm.

'Stay' didn't monopolise the No 1 slot for as long as Bryan Adams's 'Everything I Do . . .', but it felt as if it did. The song's alternately shrill and doomy neurosis, compounded by a truly morbid video, struck a depressing chord with the populace. They do an impressively fresh version of it tonight though, and follow up with two good songs: 'I Don't Care', and the newly re-released 'Goodbye Cruel World', which is actually two good songs in itself, being an astute weld of the bass line from Bowie's 'Heroes' and the cheery snarl of Steve Harley's 'Come Up and See Me'.

Any group which opens its first British show by saying 'We are here to celebrate life, death and the struggles of our ancestors', and leaves proclaiming 'Peace, love and power to the people' might reasonably expect to be run out of town as a shocking bunch of hippies. Not so Arrested Development, who - deep-fried, deep Southern rural eco-rappers that they are - are about as current as you can get, and put on such a show that the venue is threatened with civil disobedience when they don't do an encore.

The small stage of the Jazz Cafe, usually a bastion of metropolitan swank, is overwhelmed with folksy props - nave art, a washing line, hessian bags of coffee and sugar. The DJ, Headliner, reclines jovially at his single turntable - which is like a guitarist only having three strings, but it seems to work. If this sounds a bit self-conscious, it is, but the affectation is carried off in a joyful blur of music and movement.

Arrested Development do something almost unheard-of in hip-hop - they come across better live than on record. The beguiling chat and croon of rapper/philosopher Speech bounces spryly off the soulful tones of singer Dionne, and skilful choreography, a live drummer and theatrical use of props like umbrellas and wigs enable the six-strong group to sidestep the static aspect of so many rap shows. They also fly in the face of the genre's dead- end machismo. You'd think something this ideologically wholesome would be pretty indigestible. Not a bit of it.