Triumph of Black Grape

Pop: BLACK GRAPE Riverside Studios, London
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The Independent Culture
Normally the peroxided girls in silver dresses wander the Hanover Grand club for the best place to be seen. Tonight they have to squeeze past the hordes of beery lads in fraying Happy Mondays T-shirts hanging from the balconies, the whey-faced indie kids crowding the bar and Noel Gallagher lurking on the stairwell. As the lights flash and the crowd surges towards the stage, these professional babes are forced to concede that the evening belongs to a gang of goggly-eyed, uncouth ex-junkies. They decide to damn the hairdo and fight with the rest of us for the best place to watch Black Grape.

Singer Shaun Ryder strolls on stage handcuffed. Dancer Bez bounds on wearing a white string vest and a nutter's gaze. Rapper Kermit appears sporting a black string vest and a fedora. As the audience howls with excitement, Shaun approaches the microphone. "We wanted to stay at home and watch Panorama."

The band haven't even hit one note when you realise the first great thing about them: everyone's guard is down. Unlike your average Suede, Elastica or Blur gig, there is not one person in the audience leaning against the bar, arms folded across their chest, afraid to sweat.

As they begin "Tramazi Party", all wall of throbbing bass, keyboards and saxophone, you realise the second great thing about them. Whereas every other rock band today bases itself around feelings of 20th-century malaise, Black Grape are the party Prince described in "1999".

But by far their greatest triumph is that the Happy Mondays are now just a footnote in Black Grape's history. The Mondays were the arch-hedonist late Eighties band that Shaun and Bez shot to fame with and the band that nearly sucked them under.

For good reason, Black Grape have entitled their debut: "It's Great When You're Straight ... Yeah!" Nowadays Shaun seems like the Nineties Serge Gainsbourg, growly, sexy and coarse. Kermit is the new Flava Flav, every rap and movement exaggerated. Bez is the new Bez.

Bez is less a dancer than a mascot. Looking like a hooligan Hugh Laurie living on a diet of tartrazine, he jumps before us, gurning, grinning, staring crazily into the middle distance. He happily knocks over Shaun's microphone, trips over the bassist, blocks Kermit's spotlight. He touches the hand of every sweat-sodden fan and climbs a balcony to reach those stretching down from the gallery. Would the Queen Mother bother to do that?

All three take it in turns to snort lustily from a silver canister, prompting the hard core fans to bicker over what it might be. It turns out to be purified oxygen. It's Great When You're Straight ... Yeah!

The Mondays were guitar-based and inept musicians at that. Black Grape are more like a hip hop band - they have a solid backing sound, a saxophone for Chrissakes, and three loons at the front to focus on. Not only do they sound like the last gang in tow but they look like it, too.

Black Grape are best summed up by Shaun's chant towards the end of the super-funky "Reverend Black Grape": "Oh yes, oh yes, oh f***ing yes indeed!"