Rock: Morrissey: our friend in a coma

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Indy Lifestyle Online
That Pink Floyd album cover doesn't do the Battersea Power Station justice. Up close, this gargantuan brick cathedral is like a Gotham City prison: as searchlights flit across its walls, you half expect to spot the Joker clambering out of a window. In its shadow is "the world's largest temporary indoor arena" (I bet you never even realised there was a league table), an outsized builders' hut which is currently housing a fortnight of gigs under the banner of Midland '97. In these unconventional surroundings, any gig becomes an occasion - and these days, Morrissey gigs need all the help they can get.

Johnny Marr has said that he knows what his old pal's albums are going to sound like without listening to them, and this bitchy comment can't simply be dismissed as the forced indifference of a bitter ex-bandmate. Morrissey now has seven solo studio albums stacked on his mantelpiece, and while the quality remains impressively consistent, so does the band line-up, the approach, and the fan base. He has reached that plateau on which each new album is no longer an event, and from which it's harder to pick up new admirers than it is to cater for those faithful few thousand whose Meat Is Murder T-shirts are disintegrating from too many washes.

Morrissey's famous quiff may have shrunk to a Tintin flick (either that or it just looks that way because the rest of him has grown so much chunkier), but otherwise Wednesday's gig was the same as they always are: a Smiths song or two, some very poor jokes, and a lumbering, distracted figure who stirs the air with his microphone like a child making patterns with a sparkler. He seems bored, concentrating less on his songs than on the ritual of shaking hands mid-verse with those fans who have dodged past the security men. What might these fans reply, you wonder, if someone asked them why they want to run this gauntlet every time they see Morrissey. "Want? We don't want to do it. We have to do it. Just as we've always done, and as our fathers have done before us."

But this ceremonial predictability shouldn't blind us, or deafen us, to the fact that the gig's most tuneful tunes came from Morrissey's latest record, Maladjusted (Island). There's the elegant pop of "Alma Matters", for instance; there's "Trouble Loves Me", a lounge ballad seemingly inspired by his cover of "Moon River", and there are the sparkling, Marr-worthy guitar riffs of "Satan Rejected My Soul". If post-Smiths indie is your thing, then Morrissey does it at least as well as Gene and Echobelly.

As Ian Broudie, mastermind of the Lightning Seeds, is best known as "that speccy bloke who did 'Three Lions' with Skinner and Baddiel", I feel I should jury-rig a metaphor wherein he is a goalkeeper who's trying to be a centre-half, or something. But as my sporting knowledge amounts to remembering which footballers are engaged to Louise Nurding and Posh Spice at the moment, I'll have to be put it another way: there are lots of sexy, magnetic performers in the world who would need an infinite amount of time and an infinite number of typewriters to write a catchy song. And then there is Broudie, who burps pristine pop, but has all the charisma of a Railtrack platform announcer. In pre-Beatle days, when one person wrote the songs and another, better-looking person sang them, Broudie would have been gainfully employed behind the scenes, as indeed he was before he made his own bid for stardom with the Lightning Seeds. These days - so long after the Beatles that Zak Starkey, Ringo's son, is the Seeds' drummer - multi-skilling is the norm, and Broudie has promoted himself to frontman. At the London Astoria on Monday, his white polo neck reflected the spotlight, but otherwise he didn't exactly shine.

His surprisingly raucous guitar-playing only makes you wish that he'd stick to the instrument and leave the singing to someone who found it less of a strain: as if looking like David Baddiel weren't worrying enough, Broudie has decided to sing like Baddiel, too. Still, given his natural unsuitability as a pop star, the running order he's formulated for this greatest-hits tour works a treat. After a wobbly start, during which an uncoordinated band sounded as if they required a recording studio's buffing almost as urgently as Broudie's voice did, the mood lifted through "Pure", "Life of Riley" and a "Lucky You" which had the whole audience ba-ba-ba-ba-baaing spontaneously.

But there was never any doubt which song the Lightning Seeds were building up to: the crowd would have been happy to hear "Three Lions" over and over again all night, with "Life of Riley" (a song which, I'm informed, crops up regularly on Match of the Day) thrown in as a change of pace. A game of two halves, then, but a fine night out, as long as you didn't mind the impression that the whole concert existed as a warm-up for one football song.

On Thursday, in Islington's Union Chapel, the Sundays finally got around to playing a concert in support of Static & Silence (Parlophone), their first album in five years. And despite the long wait, it was as if they'd never been away. On the negative side, this was because their cosy, folky jangle never changes. Harriet Wheeler's heart-melting voice recalls that of Kate Bush, Bjork and Nina Persson of the Cardigans, while her husband, David Gavurin, twists his fingers into knots high up the fretboard of his semi-acoustic - but this has been the Sundays' sound for the best part of a decade. On the positive side, the impression that they hadn't been away arose from their being as comfortable and endearing onstage as regular giggers. If they had more live experience - if, say, they played two shows a year - who knows how good they'd be?

Midland '97 (0870 9080 888), to 21 Dec. Lightning Seeds: Liverpool Royal Court (0151 709 4322), tonight; Manchester Apollo (0161 242 2560), Mon.

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