The hard rock band come on in suits and ties, and play the theme from Midnight Cowboy. Slowly, mournfully, for six minutes. The hard rock crowd whoop with glee. don't care about proprieties. They're on stage to stretch people's minds. Their best album, 1992's Angel Dust, was better than Nirvana's Nevermind, its angst leavened with wit, happy to quote from Shostakovich or Tom Waits. Their biggest British hit is a cover of The Commodores' I'm Easy, with only a vocal flicker to suggest they didn't mean every word. The band got rid of their only cliched rock 'n' roller, guitarist Jim Martin, years ago. It leaves you more time to focus on keyboardist Roddy Bottum, hard rock's only unconcerned homosexual, and Mike Patton, a debonair singer who used to eat shit.
The band's nature dictates that nothing can be relied on. But if you stick around long enough tonight, you'll probably get what you came for. At the end of every ballad, there's a frill-free thrash, and a moshpit to take advantage. But at the end of every thrash, the mosh is jerked to a halt, as the mood spins on a dime. I'm Easy is sung with sentimental zeal, Burt Bacharach standards are dragged back to life. The band are always ready with their strangely momentous, organ-led elaborations on rock 'n' roll, Patton's voice is a portentous constant. But what stitches each strange twist together is something the band's one-time grunge contemporaries would have gagged on: Patton's unremitting sense of showmanship. He's here to entertain us.
His rock 'n' roll patter is of the smoothest kind. But Patton doesn't need to talk. Never losing the stylish cut of his suit, he smirks, emotes, howls, at one point seems about to take off, convinced he can fly. When Sparks come on for This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us, Patton bellows: "And it ain't me who's gonna leave!" you have to believe him.
But what really elevates Patton, and , is something new to rock 'n' roll. Being excessive is always valid. Patton's taste for shit means he's done his share. But bad behaviour isn't enough, eventually. can always summon their rock 'n' roll pasts. But they've also got the dignity to see it from a distance, with wit. They're more elevating than grunge ever was. It's probably why the genre's goldmine was never their's. They've got something better: a shit-eating singer with a brain, and music that does him justice.
`This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us' (Roadrunner), 's joint single with Sparks, is out now; finish their British tour at Glasgow Barrowlands tonight (0141-552 4601).