Pop Live: Tomorrow never knows

Mark Owen Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The screams haven't stopped yet. The youngest girls are hanging from the balcony. They're willing each other on, sensing the moment for another roar. There's a seven-year-old up there, loving every minute. There are 18-year-olds in the stalls, one last time. On the stage, a shy young man is playing indie-rock. He's heard these screams for years. He thinks they should probably stop. But, like his ageing teenage fans, he can't bring himself to move on. He's having too good a time.

Mark Owen may have been the most fanciable Take That member. But in his solo career he's been the most tentative. Robble Williams' recent stage show ended with a nude encore, and a punk thrash through "Back for Good". Owen released an indie album, Green Man, and hoped we liked it. No one seems sure what'll become of him: there are still enough loyal Take That fans to fill the Shepherd's Bush Empire;. they're happy to sing his new songs, for now. But he must know it's odds on this won't last. Tonight, he meets his future head-on. It's as if he's decided that, if he's going to fall, he'll go down in flames.

It doesn't seem that way at first. It's hard to believe the awkward young man on stage is causing the ecstasy around him. His band do their best with his inconsistent songs, and sometimes, as with the hits "Clementine" and "Child", they play something worth cheering. But for a man who was in one of the best-drilled showbiz troupes ever, Owen seems uncertain, almost incompetent in his stagecraft. His hands flutter, he grins nervously, his eyes dart, distracted by unseen cares. It's like Cliff Richard trying to be Elvis.

Then he plays Radiohead's "Creep" and it all falls into place. "What the hell am I doing here?" he asks. "I don't belong here." It could be his signature tune. Mark Owen isn't a creep. But he is a weirdo. He looks as if nothing he's doing is natural, as if it may never be. His own quietest, most personal songs show the same oddness, and a delicate, feminine voice. The choice of subsequent cover versions is frankly lunatic. Mudhoney's thrashing "Touch Me I'm Sick" is preceded by an admission that it'll probably finish him off, and a polite word to his fans, hoping they enjoy it. It sums up Owen's unexpected appeal. He's not playing this music for credibility. He's not trying to scare off his teenage fans, because he likes them too much. He just knows this could all be over tomorrow, so he's doing what he wants. He could be a rock star yet.

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