An Indie gig guide

With the independent scene in the rudest of health, there has never been a better time to get out there and take in some live entertainment. Here we recommend the best of the up and coming names, together with a couple of seasoned mavericks
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The Independent Online

Arctic Monkeys

On tour until 27 April

Having topped the download and traditional singles charts, Arctic Monkeys (below) were all too aware that great things were expected of their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. "If it doesn't cure cancer or solve inner city poverty, it'll be [viewed as] a disaster," the group's 19-year-old frontman Alex Turner said. He needn't have worried. Medical breakthroughs and major social change notwithstanding, expectations for this tour are similarly high. The Monkeys' scuzzy ska-punk guitars and literate geezer-dom have thrilled many a gig-goer already, though, and these shows should underline why fans of their South Yorkshire accent-imbued tunes are legion.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

On tour 3-11 February

This Philadelphian quintet's early US gigs sparked considerable word-of-mouth sales, the group mailing out 25,000 copies of their eponymous debut from their front rooms. Packing David Byrne-esque eccentricity and the odd organ-grinder-led ditty, the album has since come out on Wichita. Reviews have been mixed, but personally I can't wait to hear "Sunshine And Clouds (And Everything Proud)" performed live, not least because it sounds as though it was written on the innards of a grandfather clock. Vive la difference, and let's hope these shows are as good as last November's sold out gig at the University Of London Union reportedly was.

Howling Bells

On tour 4 February - 7 March

A year ago, the evocatively named and impossibly good-looking Howling Bells (above right) left their native Australia to set up shop in London. Their Bella Union-released debut single "Wishing Stone" has drawn comparisons with Polly Jean Harvey and The Velvet Underground, but the group's raven-haired chanteuse Juanita Stein has been quicker to name-check the likes of Wire and Siouxsie And The Banshees. Already noted for their raw, combustible live shows, the group will release an eponymous psych-rock and Southern gothic-flavoured debut album in April. These dates should offer the curious a tantalising preview.

Nick Cave

Edinburgh Playhouse 4 February; Glasgow Concert Hall 5 February; Manchester Bridgewater Hall 6 February.

Few live performers have Cave's (below) stage presence, and 2005's Jekyll and Hyde double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus was the stuff of genius. Old Nick is ringing the changes with his live dates too, switching between full-on assaults with his backing band, The Bad Seeds and stripped down jaunts such as this one. Expect murder ballads; perhaps even a selection or two from Cave and Ellis's soundtrack album, The Proposition.

Jenny Lewis

On tour 8-12 February

Don't be fooled: her band Rilo Kiley's third album More Adventurous might have been distributed by Warners, but Jenny Lewis is an indie girl at heart. The one-time child actor grew up on The Cure and Built To Spill, and with Rilo Kiley currently on ice, she has now inked a solo deal with Rough Trade. Lewis's debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, is a heart-warming country record. US gal duo The Watson Twins feature on backing vocals, and Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes) is among its many guest instrumentalists. The 250-capacity London Spitz gig on 9 February should be special; it promises an intimacy befitting Lewis's gently paced Americana.

Stereolab

London Koko, 14 April

Stereolab's art rock aesthetic has occasionally seemed overly precious, but they've always been big on memorable tunes. The tragic death of guitarist Mary Hansen in 2002 stalled the release of Margarine Eclipse until 2004, but their forthcoming album, Fab Four Suture, out 6 March, documents happier times. In a move that can only be described as very Stereolab, the group have been releasing tracks from the new record on seven-inch vinyl since last September. The Anglo-French outfit's Koko date follows a North American tour, so the new material should be nicely played-in.

Cat Power

London Barbican, 4 March

Atlanta-born high-school dropout Chan "Cat Power" Marshall (below) is that most cherishable of things: a striking yet wholly unpredictable live performer. Still, if fans buy tickets in the knowledge that tearful walk-offs are not unknown, they are rare, and with Marshall's latest, The Greatest, garnering numerous plaudits, she should be match-fit for this must-see show. The Greatest sees a once bleak songwriter employing strings and sweet Memphis horns; better yet, it features Al Green's guitarist Mabon "Teenie" Hodges. Word is he'll be playing with Marshall at the Barbican, too.

Sparks

On tour 12-18 February

Beloved of Björk, Morrissey and Franz Ferdinand, Ron and Russell Mael (below) continue to set the standard by which inventive pop music must be judged. On their latest tour, they promise their fab new album, Hello Young Lovers, in its entirety (opener "Dick Around" is an operatic tour de force to rival "Bohemian Rhapsody") followed by a greatest hits set that's bound to include "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us". Expect an evening of choreographed lunacy.

Silver Jews

London Scala April 25; Edinburgh Bongo Club April 27; Glasgow Tramway April 28.

Published poet David Berman formed the Silver Jews with Stephen Malkmus (later of Pavement) in 1990. We've since had five albums' worth of his off-kilter, alt-country genius - but not a single UK gig. The Jews' upcoming shows are therefore cause for much celebration. As well as selections from 2005's ace Tanglewood Numbers, we are promised a "fiery oratorical challenge" from the Jews' percussionist Bob Nastanovich.

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