ROCK : Clinton wasn't the only American rocker in town

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's American Rock Week here at the Independent on Sunday, and the obvious choice to start us off are the Foo Fighters - although on the evidence of their new album, maybe it isn't quite so obvious after all. Not that The Colour and the Shape (Capitol) is a bad record, but it won't convince anyone that Dave Grohl is a punk-pop genius, either. If he hadn't once been the drummer of Nirvana, his band would be nowhere near so well-known. They'd have a loyal cult following, and in Britain their records would graze the top 38. And maybe that's what Grohl would prefer.

These patronising musings were shaken somewhat by the sight of the queue which stretched halfway round the Astoria on Thursday, and they were pulverised by the sound inside. Maybe the Foo Fighters do deserve to be a big, big band, because they certainly make a big, big noise. "Monkey Wrench" was ear-melting, as Grohl applied the same energy to his singing and guitar playing as he did to his powerhouse drumming in Nirvana and on the Foo Fighters' albums. He has pinched that throat-shredding roar from Frank Black, via someone called Kurt Cobain, but there's no denying that he matches his forebears when it comes to singing with as much raw ferocity as is possible without the risk of your head exploding.

Beneath a blizzard of lights and seven retina-scorching strobes, the band kept up as well as they could. Taylor Hawkins, the Foos' new drummer, was employed until recently by Dave Grohl-lookalike Alanis Morissette, and one wonders if he realised what the transfer would entail. His face stretched into a fixed grimace as he battled to hit the drums as hard as Grohl did. He failed - but who wouldn't?

On the other hand, the likes of "For All The Cows", a grungey soft-shoe- shuffle, provided just enough tonal variation to prevent the sonic assault becoming monotonous. And between songs, Grohl was an amiable, self- deprecating fellow, without a drop of rock'n'roll swagger. He seems particularly unthreatening now that he has grown a moustache and beard, and cut his headbanger's hair into a feathery mop. It looks less like a fashion statement than a bad disguise - and maybe that's what it is. Don't be fooled by the mild-mannered alter ego. Grohl is a brute force to be reckoned with.

The bafflingly named Fountains of Wayne aren't big names in their own right, but Adam Schlesinger, their bassist, wrote "That Thing You Do", the title track of Tom Hanks's fluffy beat-group movie. This song is some indication of FoW's knack for an old- fashioned pop ditty, and their debut album, also called Fountains of Wayne, is full of bittersweet, summery melodies, a la the Lemonheads, or a grungier Teenage Fanclub.

But the record leaves one with the suspicion that Schlesinger worked harder on "That Thing You Do" than on any of the songs he co-wrote with Chris Collingwood, FoW's singer/guitarist. These songs are wispishly slight, under-developed both musically and lyrically. "Leave the Biker" and "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight" are proudly geeky, which is not a bad stance per se, but if you're going to be a sap, you have to be a sap with the precision and perception of Jonathan Richman, or even Weezer. FoW are vague and non-committal even about that: they're wimpy about their wimpishness. On "She's Got a Problem", Collingwood mewls the words in his customary disengaged tone. "I know a girl who you've got to keep an eye on/ Every time she goes outside/ She barely gets home alive/ She's got a problem, and she's gonna do something dumb." To which one can only respond: Yes, but what else? What are you going to do about it? How do you feel about it? Or is the song just an ironic exercise?

No clues were given at Dingwalls in London on Wednesday. Looking like Pavement's nephews, Fountains of Wayne are four etiolated scruffs who perform with sleepy detachment. They've definitely got talent, even if they rarely bother to stretch it, and they sound great on a few songs towards the end of the set, when Jody Porter, the guitarist, lets himself go. But for all the charms of "I've Got a Flair" and their recent single, "Radiation Vibe", Fountains of Wayne are still a snack band: they make music you can listen to between other records, without ruining your appetite.

One of their songs goes: "You curse at girls/ Don't you know it isn't right?/ You could get yourself in trouble." What on Earth would Body Count, Ice T's part-time speed-metal band, make of that? Ice T has been known to curse at girls on occasion, and he has indeed got himself into trouble. On the new Body Count album, Violent Demise: the Last Days (Virgin), he does most of his girl-cursing on "Strippers", a well- observed, tongue-in-cheek song about a misogynist which some reviewers have already mistaken for a song by a misogynist. Don't be blinded by the expletives: Ice T is one of the most well-informed, witty, intelligent and liberal figures in the business.

Besides, there isn't much that Ice T doesn't curse at. Money, deceit, the legal system, record company executives - they all fall prey to a righteous rage which is so well-suited to the pounding, astonishingly heavy music that other metal bands are rendered embarrassingly obsolete.

For these reasons, it pains me to record that the gig at the London Astoria on Tuesday was a let-down (it may pain me literally - the opening track on the new Body Count album has Ice T shooting a disrespectful reporter). On the plus-side, Ice T is quite a performer: half-clown, half-demagogue. And the evening had its stock of that vital gig attribute, Moments You Can Go Home And Tell Your Flatmates About, including a stage-diving contest, and the antics of a guitarist called The Executioner who wore a Friday the 13th-style ice-hockey mask.

But while Violent Demise is a breakneck journey through Ice T's concerns, the gig meandered aimlessly to its anti-climactic conclusion. The momentum was dissipated by formless songs, ponderous, portentous chords, and one too many bass solos (ie, one). Still, Ice T fans should bear in mind what Mr T reminded us on Tuesday: all journalists are "illiterate assholes".

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