ROCK : Tennant needs that little extra

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The band's name is outside in smart pale neon. Your tickets are taken by people who are neither seven feet tall nor seven feet wide. You walk through bars that don't specialise in beakers of lager, past ushers selling chic little programmes and tubs of ice-cream, past Janet Street- Porter. And finally, into the 950-capacity auditorium, to take your seat, and then you stand up again as someone squeezes past you to take theirs. For their first UK concerts in six years,the Pet Shop Boys have hired the Savoy Theatre for a fortnight, and recast the pop concert as a West End cultural experience. For the regular gig-goer, this novelty alone was almost worth the ticket price.

I'm not so sure about the concert itself. The music, better suited to a club or a bedroom, lacked the sweep that it has on CD. Halfway through, Neil Tennant drily assured us that we were allowed to dance, and the audience gratefully got to its feet, only to discover that the tight rows of seats rendered any movement impossible. Tennant is not a comfortable performer, and his distinctive singing is shaky out of the studio. It was lucky he had the show-stealing Sylvia Mason-James to help him. On "Love Comes Quickly" he barely found any of the right notes at all.

All of which leaves Sam Taylor-Wood's staging. Chris Lowe stands in a small, disco-lit room, baseball cap, shades and synthesiser in place. Flanking this room are two video screens, and on each of these is continuous footage, from a single stationary viewpoint, of half a dozen beautiful people on a sofa, chatting and drinking. Now and then, a Pet Shop Boy leaves the room and appears on screen, at the party. As interactive film- theatre goes, it's not as sophisticated as Take That's equivalent in 1994. By the show's second half it had become less of a fascinating distraction than an irritating one.

And that's about it. The minimalist approach - the old Boys stuck to hospital orderlies' tunic suits - made for a pleasing intimacy, but that wasn't enough to sustain a whole concert. They shouldn't have opened the show with "Yesterday When I Was Mad", with its line about making a little go a long way.

Aerosmith's show at Wembley Arena was disappointingly short of wit, ideas or naked guest appearances by Steve Tyler's daughter Liv, but it had enough flamboyant pop-metal anthems to keep the crowd entertained, and it did boast the sight of Tyler having sex with a fan. Sadly, the recipient of his pelvic thrusts was a rotor-bladed air-conditioning system, as Tyler cooled himself down after too much strutting. The singer, whose mouth would serve as a starter home for a family of neanderthals, doesn't have half the energy he used to.

Maybe, after 25 years of rock'n'roll, the 'Smiths are finally showing their age. For one thing, there were autocues ranged along the front of the stage. For another, Noel Edmonds was in the audience. I just felt that the world should know.

Two points about the Wallflowers (Dingwalls, Tuesday) we should get out of the way at the start: 1) Their singer/ songwriter/rhythm guitarist is Jakob Dylan, the 26-year-old son of Bob; and 2) the family resemblance is gob-smacking. The short curly hair, the permanent frown; the hooded eyelids, arched eyebrows and pursed, downturned mouth. In the right light, he is indistinguishable from the man on the cover of The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Then there's the lilting, husky voice that doesn't land squarely on the notes, but brushes them in passing. And Bringing Down The Horse (Interscope), the Wallflowers' platinum-selling second album, contains several songs whose titles - "6th Avenue Heartache", "Three Marlenas" - could well have come from the notebook of Dylan Sr. Meet the new Bob, same as the old Bob.

As Rami Jaffee slathered Jakob's earnest narratives with restless "Like- a-Rolling-Stone" organ, all that was lacking was Bob's musical innovation: the times they have a-changed, but the Wallflowers aren't doing anything which wasn't being done 30 years ago, apart from growing goatees. Is being an excellent bar-room r'n'b band enough?

It is in America. In the Wallflowers' defence, their retro style has less to do with a desire to cash in on a famous name than with the current US vogue for roots rock'n'roll. A further defence is that the show, to misquote the album title, brought the house down. Jakob has four vibrant backing musicians, and he has more concharisma and songwriting talent than any second generation rocker bar Jeff Buckley. As the show fell just a few days after Bob was admitted to hospital with a heart problems, and Buckley was pronounced missing presumed dead, it couldn't help but call forth confused emotions. But, as Jakob's heartfelt songs were tempered by a clip-clopping country version of the Beatles' "Ticket To Ride", with backing vocals from none other than Jon Bon Jovi, levity and celebration won the evening.

To continue the theme of big stars in small venues, David Bowie was in the garden-shed-sized Hanover Grand on Monday, letting his public see him close-up. The public in question couldn't have contained more than a dozen people who weren't in the fan club or the music business - I was squeezed between the tall chap from Placebo and the short chap from The Divine Comedy - but perhaps that was beside the point. Bowie was having fun, looking dispiritingly beautiful for a 50-year-old, and sounding a lot closer to the cutting edge than he had any right to. Most of the set list came from his latest albums, Outside and Earthling, and even "Fashion" and "Scary Monsters and Super Creeps" were incorporated into the scary, monstrous, fashionable sonic assault of jungle beats, guitar squalls and basslines that set your toenails vibrating. Should be just the thing for the festivals later this summer, especially as, at a festival, you can slip away to the comedy tent when the barrage all gets too much for you.

Pet Shop Boys: Savoy, WC2 (0171 836 8888), Mon-Sat, to 21 Jun.