Pop: Look forwards in anger
60ft Dolls ICA, London
Tuesday 14 April 1998
The new album, Joya Magica, pays homage to the concept of perfectly packaged pop tunes, with echoes of Oasis, Squeeze, James and House of Love. But these only get a token showing tonight. Instead, the live bait is anger, enough to get a pacifist grabbing the T-shirt of the person next to them and collapsing in a lager-strewn mess. The lack of energy from the floor sits oddly with the pirouettes and on-stage jumping about - it's like fascinated children watching the plastic ballerina dancing in the music box.
As they play the frantic "Eggshell" from the first album, you can see why the Dolls disappeared to tour America for almost two years just as they were being welcomed into the bosom of Britpop. Live, most Britpop bands sound like their records, but the Dolls bring their records to life. Rabble-rousing worked for the Sex Pistols because they had an anti-establishment message and the nihilism to provoke a passionate response. But the Dolls sing about universal experiences (relationships in "I Want You", changing seasons in "Summer Is Gone") with a strong narrative thread and philosophical questioning, giving their punky attitude an intellectual depth. Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix could indulge in teeth-baring guitar capering because they belonged to the rock club; the Dolls don't fit in quite so easily, and the ICA crowd didn't know how to equate their rock/punk attitude with their lads-and-lager British contemporaries.
Music comes pure with the Dolls, the guitar-driven love-fest rendering the lyrics irrelevant - and, mostly, inaudible. But, given the lack of crowd reaction, you can't blame them for running through their songs at such a speed that they pass by like trees through a car window. For the ICA audience, though, they are merely thought-provoking. The hits are there if you want, but would you want John Belushi to calm down and behave himself?
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