First Night: An audience basks in its own reflection

The Beautiful South, The Forum, London
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The Independent Online
NOW BIGGER than Phil Collins, as leading man Paul Heaton joked to a Forum packed to the rafters, the Beautiful South has, in the past 10 years, become middle England's favourite band.

A rare thing in today's increasingly polarised scene, Hull's finest attracts an audience of couples fanatical enough for touts to charge nearly pounds 40 outside this mid-sized venue. While not quite justifying such a mark-up, Beautiful South's 90-minute performance, combining half its 20 hits and material from the new album Quench - already number one - delighted an audience basically looking at their own reflection.

Yes, they voted in Tony Blair and have mortgages - and now the Beautiful South's resigned tones to lull them into a sense of belonging, with only a naughty "fuck" inserted in "Don't Marry Her" to give some edge.

Playing 6-3-2 with three extra horns at the back, the augmented band open with "Look What I Found In My Beer", setting the tone for the twisted perspective of pub philosopher Paul Heaton. Only a man who admits to spending so much time in bars would think of writing an "Ode to The Table" or stagger around while singing "Liar's Bar".

The horns blast into "Pretenders To The Throne", evoking Northern Soul and the fanfares of Dexy's Midnight Runners while later, the gentle "Have Fun" sports an arrangement worthy of Burt Bacharah.

The vocal interplay between Heaton, Dave Hemmingway and Jacqui Abbott puts an expected spin on the easy-listening lushness of America or The Eagles.

Halfway through the set, Heaton abandons the reluctant shuffle of the football substitute and does the old Housemartins' steps around the mike stand, like an anaemic version of a choreographed Motown act.

The aimless defiance of "Everybody's Talking" suits the band to a tee while the "Lure Of The Sea" revisits the melody not a million miles removed from The Drifters' "On Broadway".

Brill Building songwriting meets Alan Bennett's Northern vignettes indeed as Heaton does a wonderful Elvis Presley quiver in "Perfect 10". Heaton and Abbott are not exactly Dudley Moore and Bo Derek but, that a pop group can pervert the medium and juxtapose this message of acceptance next to thousands of radio commercials is bound to make a few consumers think.

This is more than you can ask of a band which will be back for an arena tour in the spring.

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