ROCK: Reprobate goes for full baptism

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The Independent Culture
IF POP is principally about sex, then INXS, with their sultry frontman, Michael Hutchence, are its perfect expression, and his magnetism drew wannabe groupies of both genders to a hastily convened gig at Brixton Academy.

It has always been difficult to separate the persona of Hutchence from the character he played in Dogs in Space, the movie that dissected Australian punkdom. He played a feckless reprobate, lovable only for his distrait sexuality. He cuts a similar figure on stage with his soulful self-absorption.

INXS kicked off with 'Taste It', one of their better power-chord numbers, while 'Disappear' incited a frantic singalong. 'Need You Tonight' was imposing, with its military stomp and funk guitar, but it typifed the extent to which the breathy qualities of Hutchence's voice were lost over the Academy PA.

Whatever the band's musical qualities, INXS stand or fall on the basis of Hutchence's appeal. As 'Mystify' inspired frenzies of ecstasy, he poured water over his head from an Evian bottle, walked to the edge of the stage and shook his head like a mischievous dog over the slam-dancers at the front. They loved it. And as the crowd dribbled away at the end it was instructive to see die-hards pushing and shoving over the scraps of memorabilia thrown from the stage by the roadies. They were all little boys at heart.

There was plenty of sexuality lapping round the Royal Albert Hall, too, at the 1994 Equality Show put on by Stonewall, the gay pressure group, with Sir Ian McKellen as Master of Ceremonies.

Sheboom were first on, an astonishing all-woman troupe of drummers whose thunderous hammering filled the place like some joyous primal ritual, their faces flushed and giddy.

Next came Melissa Etheridge, who last year declared her lesbianism with her album Yes I Am. She performed a tremulous version of 'Maggie May', the Rod Stewart classic, perfect in her husky voice, and adding a Sapphic twist to the ballad of a love affair with an older woman.

P P Arnold, star of the musical Once on this Island, sang 'Human Heart', the song which has become the HIV anthem in the United States, with sumptuous backing vocals from the cast of the show. Then came Alison Moyet, belting out a magnificent version of the Jacques Brel song, 'Ne me quittes pas', her voice soaring in operatic splendour.

The real attractions, however, were Elton John and Sting. John performed a new song, 'Believe', before being joined by Etheridge for the hymn-like 'Don't let the sun go down on me'. He proceeded to crystallise the spirit of the evening, donning a fancy waistcoat and a string of pearls for a version of 'I feel pretty', a song which hardly needs camping up.

Sting stuck to his hits, with a jazzy version of 'Englishman in New York' and, together with Etheridge, a singalong 'Every Breath You Take' which climaxed in a fine state of abandonment. Finally he sang 'Big Spender' to Elton, before coquettishly baring his chest in a gesture that suggested an apology for not being gay.

What distinguished the Equality Show was the fervour in the auditorium. With everyone seeming to know everyone else, it was like a particularly exuberant works outing. By the end, as the balloons came down and the entire bill gathered on stage, it was like being bathed in blissful warmth, the Albert Hall a huge jacuzzi of love.

Precious little love was to be had at the Union Chapel in Islington, where a burning question was answered: what happens to anarchists when they grow up?

Bursting forth in 1978 from an Epping commune in the echo of punk's big bang, Crass established squatters' rights at the radical end of pop's (admittedly simple-minded) political spectrum. As the cacophony of no-future nihilism raged, they seemed to have exclusive rights to a vision of Utopia.

They split 10 years ago once the original fire had dampened, most of the members going to ground.

Now a few Crass old-timers have made their contribution to the Anarchy in the UK Festival, with a performance of Penny Rimbaud's 'The Death of Imagination' at the Union Chapel, Islington. Based on his Reality Asylum recording, it explores the politics of sex and the body, the unbridgeable gulf between lust and conformity.

It was as much a theatre piece as a musical event, with Rimbaud, Eve Libertine and Johnny Sharian reading or declaiming (in Brechtian sprechtgesang) such glorious lines as 'Our thoughts stay unscathed in the vortex of blades' and 'Thunder is the spoken diagnosis' over a discordant cello and acoustic guitar. Perhaps I was missing the point. After such an arcane and rigorous evening it was odd to see these erstwhile revolutionaries air-kissing like proper luvvies.

Elton John, Royal Albert Hall, 071-589 8212, 27,28,30 Nov, 1,3-5, 7-8, 10-12 Dec. Anarchy in the UK Festival, The Robey, London N4, 071-263 4581, tonight.