The Critics: Rock & Pop: Really loved the boiler suits, Brian

E17 Shepherd's Bush Empire, London Creed Borderline, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Growing up is hard to do, especially when you're in a boy band. Do you battle to hold on to a teenage audience? Do you rebrand yourself as a serious musician? Or do you simply reason that there's no point in fighting the inevitable and check into rehab straight away? East 17 always seemed to have a better chance than most of outliving boy-bandhood. The streetwise cockney Rolling Stones to Take That's chirpy northern Beatles, they always marketed themselves as being less boyish than other boy bands. True, they wore matching eskimo coats on Top of the Pops. True also that their frontman (or frontboy) Brian Harvey got the Richard Bacon treatment - but was later reinstated - when he admitted how many ecstasy tablets he got through on a night out. All the same, East 17 had raunchier lyrics and a harder edged hip-hop/rock sound than their peers. And they were the only boy band of the 1990s never to do a song by the Bee Gees.

On their new album, Resurrection (Telstar), they've put away childish things once and for all. They've condensed their name to E17 (a reference to Harvey's indiscretion?) and they've swung their music towards swingbeat. They've generally done all they can to pretend to be black Americans, right down to trimming their facial hair into lines so fine that they could have been drawn on in eyebrow pencil.

But they haven't turned into R Kelly or Dru Hill yet. On Tuesday, in the Shepherd's Bush Empire - quite a comedown from Wembley Arena - Harvey surveyed his fans approvingly: "I can see some men in there, some grown women, black people, white people, Asian people." Strictly speaking, he wasn't lying, but from where I was sitting at least 90 per cent of ticket-buyers were none of the above. They were white schoolgirls, and they hadn't come to hear the new material which E17 and their anonymous backing band insisted on concentrating on. The group's drive for a more mature audience, then, is so far only half successful. They've shed a lot of their younger fans, but they've yet to acquire any older ones.

The problem is that the new-look E17 have lost one member. And, strangely, he is neither the errant Harvey, nor either of the blokes who never make any discernible contribution to the group, but Tony Mortimer, who wrote all their hits. Without him, the new R'n'B-flavoured material is as thin as their voices, while Harvey's painfully flat singing is all too exposed.

Today's E17 don't pass muster as a grown-up band; they're a boy band, only less entertaining. They wear Bacofoil boiler suits, which are a gimmicky throwback to the old days, but the stage is bare, and Harvey's sidekicks, Terry Coldwell and John Hendy, don't bother titillating the crowd as good R'n'B-ers should. They never even speak. Coldwell, the beardy one, is so uncharismatic that the other two members of E17 must forget who he is sometimes. Hendy, the baldy one, just looks embarrassed, and instead of dancing, he shuffles like a grumpy schoolboy kicking a pebble. You can't help thinking that this is how Take That might have ended up if they'd carried on all this time without Robbie. Or Gary, Mark or Jason.

Also playing in rather a smaller venue than they're used to this week were Creed. On Monday, their first ever European date was in London's Borderline, a club so tiny that when crowd-surfers dive off the foot-high stage, they kick the ceiling lights. But across the Atlantic, this heavy metal/grunge four-piece have sold 3.5 million albums to a populace that has been starved of burly two-fisted rock and furrow-browed angst ever since Pearl Jam stopped being a force to be reckoned with. Before a song called "In America", Scott Stapp assured us that the Creed creed was relevant to us British, too. "No matter what country we live in, we all face the same questions about growing up and about life." That's the kind of band Creed are. They ask and/or answer questions about growing up and about life.

And it gets better. Before another song, Stapp said: "I want you to take a little trip with me in your minds. We're gonna go rest on the clouds, we're going to look down on this Earth, and I'm going to paint a picture for you about what you see." There's no need. What we see is Joseph Fiennes acting as Eddie Vedder acting as Jim Morrison.

Having overdosed on Doors concert videos, Stapp is a pretty boy who imagines himself a poet and a philosopher. He runs a hand through his tousled locks at least once per song. He glares at us intensely with his puppy-dog eyes. He preaches and points at us and pads up and down the teensy stage, putting on various Incredible Hulk facial expressions. You have to be impressed with anyone who can act as if he is in a stadium while he's in a venue smaller than his tour-bus.

And so, risible as Creed may be, I warmed to them. They're an engaging live act, with fierce, well-rehearsed riffing set nicely against Stapp's strong, deep voice. Besides, we shouldn't be too quick to laugh at a group who are so intent on communicating with their audience. In these ironic times, it's a rare relief to find a band who believe they have something to say, even if Jim Morrison said it first.