Rock: Let's hear it for the roadie

Why are Wilco so damned likeable? Most pop music is retrogressive these days, and the American country-rockers more than most. At the Shepherd's Bush Empire they evoked a mighty arsenal of comparisons, the most obvious being early-Seventies Stones. But somehow they are always more than the sum of their parts.

Touting their lauded CD Being There, they flaunted their roots in a manner that should have been limiting but wasn't. On the surface, for instance, "Forget the Flowers" is somewhere between straightforward country and "Octopus's Garden" slightly reworked by Gram Parsons, and should therefore be about as appealing as a smelly old cowboy boot. But their laid-back, ramshackle intensity, the lashings of messy guitar, give them an indivuality that makes them timeless rather than dated.

It's also the seductive warmth - it's easy to imagine them using crackly old valve amps for the feelgood electric piano and heavenly slide guitar. At first, though, Shepherd's Bush is hard to impress. "Loosen up a little bit, huh?" lead singer Jeff Tweedy exhorts.

It's difficult to work out the attractions of Tweedy. He's no looker, although in this genre that's hardly a problem. And while in interviews he comes across as a regular guy, on stage he's not especially engaging. "Sunday crowds," he whinges. "You're ready to go read the papers. F*** that." Later he says, "You always sound so snotty, you English people."

"Kingpin" builds up to a rousing "Freebird"-style climax, but as it ends one relic stalks out muttering, "That wasn't Wilko Johnson", and when the band reappear for the encore, Tweedy is railing against some imagined slight. "I'll rub my Yankee ass all over you. I'll shit on your heads," he warns. Maybe it's good ol' Yankee irony.

But there is still something about Wilco that draws you in, asks you round for a drink and tells you its life story, leaving you thinking, "What a good bunch of blokes. I must have them over for a white-trash evening." Perhaps there's a clue in what happens at the end, when Tweedy exits alone. A roadie picks up a guitar, and he and the band, just for the hell of it, strike up lusty versions of "Ziggy Stardust" and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". He should be doing more than just plugging in the guitars.

Tricky at the Hackney Empire (Tuesday) was billed as an unplugged set, but he scuppered that one by sacking his acoustic band the day before, so it was more a case of Tricky plugged back in - except for the lights, that is. Perhaps the poor lad's photophobic, but the entire gig took place in almost total darkness. As the house lights went down there was a dash of drums, a rumbling bass and string synthesiser. But where was Tricky? His mumbled intonations were just audible, but it could as easily have been a backing tape. What was this? Tricky and the Shadows?

After a few numbers, a dash of lime green faded up at the back of the stage for a few seconds, giving proceedings the air of an alternative theatre production from the Seventies. Eventually a sliver of red light popped up over the drum kit, and it was just possible to make out Tricky and his singer, Martina, at the front, the music dubbish, all slow guitar chops and knee-trembling bass. Fifteen minutes in and there was a purple light too. Lights in three colours! Get Pink Floyd on the phone and tell them they're being ripped off!

Early on, much of the material was routine funk, making things dull if danceable (not a great deal of use at the all-seater Empire). Soon, though, the real thing kicked in, Tricky probably doing his own DJ-ing (it was difficult to tell). This was proper trip-hop, with the requisite distortions and sound effects. To these ears, though, that was half the problem. Tricky is not to blame for this - he was pioneer rather than pilgrim - but by now, with its tranquilliser shuffle, film noir smokiness and scratchy- record effects, trip-hop has become a set of mannerisms, the skiffle of the Nineties. At least Tricky and his band invested it with a menace and majesty.

By the time he got to "Tricky Kid" (which raised the biggest cheer of the night other than the moment when the stage was flooded with white light for two seconds) there was a Latin feel to the percussion, and the last few numbers left trip-hop behind for something altogether more powerful - great breeze blocks of distortion and squalling guitar creating a kind of thrash salsa overlaid with a convoy of jumbo jets. The climax was ferocious, the encore frenzied. Then the lights - or rather the light - went out and they wandered off in the gloaming.

We were also left slightly in the dark by erstwhile Tricky collaborators Luscious Jackson (Astoria, Wednesday), four women from New York who are to the Spice Girls what Cristina Odone is to Melinda Messenger. Their new CD, Fever In Fever Out, a melange of rap, funk and singer-songwriter sensitivity, is full of intelligence and sex appeal, but here they expended most of their energy on funk work-outs that merged into a seamless but daunting whole. The sexy subtleties of the records were lost, the smoky melodies blown away. As someone in the crowd observed, "It's just like one long song".

The first real melody rush came from the gorgeous current single, "Naked Eye", though still the light-footed quality of the record was lost. But a party atmosphere prevailed, especially when they were joined onstage by the pogo-ing support band, Bis. Even the security guards were having a good time.

Earlier on Bis all but stole the show, staying up past their bedtime to bring you the ultimate in disposable pop. On record the Glaswegian youngsters' sound is thin; on stage it is filled out and muscled up. Bis make many a nod to pop heritage - which is to say they sound like the Rezillos crossed with the Dickies. Even though there's nothing you couldn't have heard around 1980, they have an engaging energy, with Manda Rin, who contributes Mysterians keyboards and a nice line in shrieks, incontrovertibly the star in her shiny blue dress and fluorescent green trainers. "We are the future and nobody knows," they sing. Maybe. There's always going to be a market for choppy, shouty, punky stuff, and a good thing too. Bis are about to headline their own British tour - coming soon to a creche near you.

Nicholas Barber returns next week.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones