Where James Brown meets Jim Morrison

Click to follow
The Independent Online
"THERE WILL be no support act for tonight's show," announced the poster tacked to the wall of the Hemel Hempstead Pavilion, "as Terence is performing for two and a half hours." Crumbs. Surely this is a warning to make even the hardiest Terence Trent D'Arby fan tremble. It might have been simpler if the poster had just said: "For every 'Wishing Well' or 'If You Let Me Stay' Terence will also play a polite, easily ignorable, MOR ditty."

Still, things started well, with two vibrant songs from D'Arby's latest album, Vibrator (Columbia). The title track and the equally demure "Supermodel Sandwich" are both dynamic funk rockers that would do Prince proud. (I know you're sick of the comparison, Terence. Gene are sick of being called Smiths copyists, too, but it doesn't make it any less true.) The band are agile and distinct, though their most impressive instrument is D'Arby's voice - which incorporates the best bits from Michael Jackson and James Brown. This is especially helpful when applied to lyrics that incorporate the worst bits from Jim Morrison. On the cocktail ballad "If You Go Be-fore Me", D'Arby trilled: "One day in the spring a question fell/ And went straight through me/ Do bleeding angels sing when close to tears?" "No bleeding idea, Terry," is the obvious reply; none the less, his superb vocal technique has you entering the Sobbing Seraphim Debate despite yourself.

He does the splits, he jump-kicks, he swivels his hips with a blurred speed that makes the young Elvis Presley look like - well, the old Elvis Presley. He peels off his top and his sculpted pecs remind that you really should go to the gym more often. Add this physique to his smirks, his poses, his green flares, gold shoes, and Gazza/Robbie bleached crop, and the evidence of his infam- ous narcissism seems undeniable. On the other hand, which is more egotistical: the scruffy band who shuffle their way through their set with a bore- dom they've copied from The Jesus and Mary Chain, or the showman who has worked out, dressed up, and put on a performance of extraordinary flair and stamina - and all for Hemel Hempstead?

Under the pretentious patina, D'Arby is an old-fashioned entertainer and a lustrous star. He is courteous to his crowd, and he explains that the length of the show is intended "to give you your money's worth". If only he knew that a great show lasting 75 minutes is worth more than a good show lasting 150.

There are those who attribute Reef's commercial success to a commercial. The West Country four-piece featured in last year's TV advert for Sony Mini-Discs, and, although it didn't do Mini-Discs much good, it encouraged enough people to buy Reef's debut album, Replenish (Sony, naturally) to take it to No 9.

And every one of these fans, it seemed, was squashed into London's claustrophobic Astoria 2 club on Wednesday. It was less a show, more a wet T-shirt competition, with your clothes being soaked not only with your own sweat, but also with the steaming, slimy secretions of the dozen adolescents pressed up against you. As unpleasant concert experiences go, it's not quite Altamont, but it's not far off.

Whether all this smelly teen spirit can be put down to one advert is doubtful. The thing is, it can't really be ascribed to Reef's serviceable, circa-1970 hard rock either. You can admire the jazz-funky syncopation of Gary Stringer's raw-throated yell; and Kenwyn House (the guitarist, not the National Trust property) packs a punch. It's just a pity that these assets don't have any fresh songs to support them.

Reef's success, then, owes a lot to their being good-looking and tirelessly enthusiastic. In a world of lethargic indie kids whose shoe-gazing is actually a boon because it prevents you seeing their faces, Reef are well-scrubbed and square-jawed, with rufflable hair and tight little guitar riffs. Bassist Jack "Keanu Reef" Bessant jumps and grins as if he can't believe he's in a famous rock band. I know how he feels, because I can hardly believe it myself. He and his colleagues look more like the most popular members of their university boat club, who have got together at the end-of-term ball to play their favourite tunes: Lenny Kravitz, Spin Doctors, Black Crowes and Free (of which Reef is a co-incidental - they promise - anagram). Fun for an evening, but whether you'd want to listen to Reef the following term is a knotty question.