We're the Foo Fighters and this is not about Kurt

"HI, we're th' Foo Fighters," says the guy in the red T-shirt. He's not being entirely candid. He may be playing in a cramped student bar, but there are 14 photographers hoping that his hair will spill off his face so they can get a picture. There are more flapping notepads than there are publications that carry music reviews, so I can only assume that Farmer's Weekly has sent someone to elicit his views on crop density. He is Dave Grohl, formerly of Nirvana. Here we are, now entertain us.

He does just that, as energetic a frontman as he was as a drummer. At first his voice is a weak rasp, but soon opens into a very strong rasp. He plays serviceable garage guitar, backed by Beastie Boy look-alike Pat Smear, Nirvana latter-day backing guitarist.

"This song's about a real jerk," says Grohl, introducing "I Stick Around". Ah, we nod, a song about Kurt. "It's not a song about Kurt," Grohl says. "None of them are about Kurt."

What are Foo Fighters' songs about? They are as heavy as a safe on the head, but lighter in spirit than Nirvana. "For All the Cows" starts as a lounge-bar tinkle and becomes a headbanging grunge attack; "Butterflies" starts as a bruised strum and becomes a headbanging grunge attack; "X- Static" starts as a melancholy, nocturnal driving song, and, for some reason, stays that way.

The spectators clap, cheer, and wave their notepads. Foo Fighters are already fighting fit, and one of the best contemporary punk bands around.

Whaler by Sophie B Hawkins is the kind of album Madonna makes in her notoriously wet dreams. Behind the harpoon-sharp hooks are some startling lyrics in which love is enslavement, and the only release - sex - is akin to death. So her first ever London show, at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, should have made a big splash. As it was, I wish it had been rained off, like her last scheduled London concert. As it was, the potentially sublime pop songs from Whaler sank without trace

The hollow sound was more shrimp than whale. The single "Right Beside You" was arranged for acoustic guitar, graceless glock- enspiel, blaring organ and odd percussion, while Hawkins sang with breathless desperation. It was brave of her to go semi-unplugged, but it seemed as if half the band hadn't turned up. Damn, I wish I was your sound engineer.

At the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday, Laurie Anderson sawed away at a viola reduced by woodworm to the fingerboard and chinrest. Three screens stretched across the stage, showing a shirt bobbing up and down against a purple background. In a Stephen Hawking voice she intoned: "When my father died/ It was like a whole library had burned down."

This is fine as far as it goes, which is not very far. It's soundbite poetry. For all Anderson's intellectual image, she has never written a lyric as well-crafted and insightful as "Caught by the Fuzz" by Supergrass. Her anecdotes of Tibet and of interviewing John Cage are quirky fun, but if you've heard her latest albums you'll know the punchlines.

One non sequitur is about "that clock on your VCR flashing 12 noon because you never figured out how to change it". This basic observational-comedy- dressed-as-allegory sums up Anderson. She talks about getting weather reports from the North Pole on the Internet, but she can't even set a video. All that technology, all those travels and interviews, and she remains a dilettante whose fifth-form philosophy is superficial and vague. What's left is sub-Bill Bryson travel-writing, sub-Jean-Michel Jarre music and sub-MTV graphics. Not that her self-assured theatricality isn't entertaining. But the brochure for her new CD-ROM says, "Bring your brain". "No brain required" would be more appropriate.

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