Bill Bailey: Steamplunk, Edinburgh International Conference Centre <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

That the cavernous EICC is a Fringe venue is as laughable as suggesting that the Military Tattoo is really an egg-and-spoon race. But Bill Bailey hasn't been a Fringe-sized act for some time now and the sky is the limit in terms of housing his whimsical talents, as talk of gigs in stadiums and castles suggests.

Bailey's success still seems odd, not because he isn't a wonderful performer but because he is such an unlikely hero at first glance. He ambles and rambles round his set (which consists of various guitars and synthesizers) dressed in "roadie chic" (ie black jeans and black T-shirt) and introduces himself several times over. Of course, it's all a gentle ruse but the bemused, long-haired, beardy comic can't hide the sharpness of both his mind and ear for long.

Among the musical treats are a reworking of the EastEnders theme into a Seventies funk tune, a Nihilist reworking of the children's song "The Wheels on the Bus" called "The Nihilists On The Bus (Go What's The Point?)" and a manipulation of images of George Bush, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney et al singing along to Bob Marley's "One Love".

On this occasion, though, the musical pastiches and trickery don't steal the show - it's all about the banter. Some fans may be disappointed by this turn of events, and there may be room for more musical tinkering. But the shift of emphasis is a good thing - even if it could well have come about because of a dearth of new tunes.

There's no theme or obvious routine structure to Bailey's vocal musings but equally there's no feeling of being jarred as he talks one minute about how the whale that found itself in the Thames was obviously retarded and the next remarking that Ben Affleck acts "as if it is just dawning on him that he left the back door open".

Meanwhile, the emotional range of Bailey's material is refreshing, going from the power struggle within a packet of Revels to an ironic rendition of the Friends theme tune played while images of the New Orleans hurricane disaster and George Bush appear on screen. The latter is notable for its relative ferocity and is a reminder that under that hippie exterior there's a satirist at work.

The improved banter is one of the reasons why this show compares favourably with Bailey's last outing,Part Troll, and helps the comic to answer critics (myself included) who feel that his chat is often shown up by his musicianship.

The other crucial difference is a much shorter running time. It is possible to have too much of a good thing but tonight was the best of Bailey, his warm welcome not outstayed.

To 19 August (0131-668 1688)

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