Too casual to take the limelight

Rock

WE WERE body-searched on arrival at London's Hammersmith Apollo on Friday, which, I suppose, only added to the atmosphere. This was a Warren G concert, after all, and Warren G (no relation to Kenny) specialises in everyday stories of Longbeach, California folk: carjackings, drive- by shootings, running in the 'hood with Snoop Doggy Dogg. It would be odd to get through the evening without at least one gun battle.

Except that tonight's audience would be more likely to carry water pistols. The only person I saw who was safely beyond school age was ex-Queen guitarist Brian May, and he was there with his children. There were no screams of pain tonight, just the type of screams which greet Janet Jackson, or Brian from East 17.

But we had a while to wait before the star arrived. First came support acts Adina Howard and the Whitehead Brothers. Then Warren's band eased into a laidback groove. After that we had two other rappers, The Twins, followed by three more, the Five Foota Crew.

Finally, Warren loped onstage with a basketball player's easy grace. He was every bit as casual as his shrugging, conversational style of rapping suggests. If you hadn't heard the multi-million-selling, Brit-nominated, Regulate...G Funk Era (Island) you'd think he was making it up as he went along.

He was so casual, in fact, that he frequently stood back like a lanky big brother and let the Five Footas and the Twins take over. Before Regulate... made him one of the biggest names in contemporary hip-hop (if it's possible for "G" to be a big name) he was a producer and DJ, so maybe he prefers to be behind the scenes.

But if he didn't work hard, the audience did. I lost count of the times we were asked to "put our Oedipussing hands together and make some Oedipussing noise", or words to that effect, and how often we were asked: "What's happening, London?" I mean, how do you respond to that question? Then we were instructed to beg Warren not to quit, before he declared: "Damn right I ain't gonna quit!" I should hope not, Warren. You've only been on stage for 40 minutes. And 10 minutes later, damn right he did quit.

It was generous of him to share the limelight with so many others, but it was him the crowd paid to see, and he should have aimed his generosity at them.

In "Twilight World", the lead vocalist of The One sings: "Last time I saw her she was just about ready to audition for a George Romero movie." Well, look who's talking. It's Peter Perrett, formerly of the Only Ones, the New Wave band who have all the more kudos for being so obscure (comedians Sean Hughes and Mark Lamarr are among those in tonight's crowd). Perrett has spent the past decade or so working on other projects, most of them pharmaceutical and illegal, so on Thursday at London's Splash Club, he doesn't look healthy enough to get a part in Dawn of the Dead.

Imagine Richard O'Brien in a heavy metal wig. Somewhere in the folds of his red pyjama suit is a nervy, twiglike figure with an equally unhealthy creaking Dalek voice. If it's not monotone, it's stereotone at most. The sound of Perrett and the rest of The One (guitar/bass/drums/ inaudible keyboard) borders on punk, glam, and gothic rock, but resembles more than anything a subdued, minimalist Only Ones. Perrett croaks songs about "when I was kidnapped by aliens", and when he prowls through the audience, drawling, "You have been assaulted with a deadly weapon," everyone is afraid to get too close, just in case his mental state is anywhere near his physical one.

It is in a word, baffling, although that could be because The One play only two songs that anyone has heard before: "Twilight World", from last year's Cultured Palate EP (Dwarf), and the only Only Ones hit, "Another Girl, Another Planet". You have to wonder how they'll fare, because at the moment they would seem as commercial as edible socks.

Seeing Carmel at the Jazz Cafe on Wednesday was not a thrilling prospect. The Northern jazz-pop combo are popular in France, apparently, but according to the stereotype that's like being a top comedian in Germany; they're filed alongside Sade, but were never as successful; and they're as Eighties as shoulder pads, Mexican beer and Margaret Thatcher.

Sure enough, they tended to be a little too smooth, and even had some of those electronic drum pads that go "pyoo pyoo". Singer Carmel McCourt was sometimes flat - although there was a piquant contrast between the sour regret of her voice and the even flow of the music - and she didn't make any friends by warning that their songs might have been too profound.

But just as they produced gasps from the audience when "Imagine" emerged from some fluttering ethnic rhythms, warmth and humour eventually emerged from the frostiness and helped make an agreeable show. Every now and then a bottle of Sol goes down well, too.

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