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Snap, jangle and pop

After four albums, Pavement still exude a ruddy-cheeked joy at the marvellous things a guitar can do. Ryan Gilbey heard them at the Brixton Academy
It would be nice to report that the wired, eclectic band dEUS took aim at our preconceptions about European music in their support slot to Pavement last Friday, that they brought us to our knees with their violin-driven rock. But, off-form, they merely confirmed all your worst fears about any band whose biog includes the words "Belgian" and "avant- garde".

Pavement ambled on in that just-got-out-of-bed way of theirs, singer Steve Jenkins shuffling shyly over to one side of the stage. They mumbled pleasantries, none of which we could discern because they all talked over one another. As a metaphor for their music, that's just about perfect: the songs come at you from so many different directions, it's like trying to cross the road during a demolition derby.

In sneakers and unironed plaid, Pavement are your mum's worst nightmare. They've always been a capricious bunch, but as they wrung out bite-sized wedges of surreal Americana, you felt as though you'd just happened upon a suburban garageful of college kids rehearsing with the instruments they got for Christmas.

Which is not to suggest they're incompetent. But after four albums (the best of which, Wowee Zowee, they're here to plug) they still exude some ruddy-cheeked joy at the marvellous things a guitar can do.

So what exactly are these marvellous things? Well, that's tricky. The guitars went snap, jangle and pop on "Brinx Job", with a wah-wah pressed like the gas pedal on a clear stretch of motorway. On the woozy "Black Out", we got a glimpse of how those same guitars might sound like if they could get plastered on Jack Daniels. Never ones to let a sweet melody outstay its welcome, Pavement's songs are gone before you've had a chance to get friendly, leaving a faint stain on the memory like a face you think you know from somewhere.

They've been chided for borrowing something other than a cup of sugar from musical neighbours The Fall. Indeed, the ramshackle "Flux = Rad", which closed the show tonight, owes a debt so great to the grouchy Mancunian, it's a wonder Mark E Smith hasn't called the bailiffs in. But that's not the whole story. Even the more raucous numbers are passed through the country & western filter. This, and an attention to melancholy chord changes, makes them far closer to their countrymen Firehose. And besides, you'd never catch a Fall song rhyming "Corpus Christi" with "You're so misty".

As the show rolled on, the band gradually turned gaga, the way school goes to pot on the last day of summer term. The drummer donned a lemon paramedics coat. Bob, the mad percussionist, was wearing a featureless mask with eye-holes cut out, you realised suddenly. There's probably some logic in there, but you'd go off your trolley looking. Best just to wallow in Pavement, like the three kids who were attempting to dance, arms wrapped around each other, pulling this way and that, all sunny with smiles. Schizophrenic - but happy. Which sounds worryingly like another perfect metaphor to me.