Air, Brighton Dome

Reluctant duo leave unexpected frost in the air

By Fiona Sturges
Tuesday 10 February 2004 01:00

If, according to time-honoured cliché, the English are emotionally repressed and the French uninhibited, expressive beings then Air's Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel were born on the wrong side of the Channel. In the privacy of their studios, these boys from leafy Versailles are capable of making beautiful records overflowing with tenderness, melancholy and warmth. Ask them to play it live, however, and an unexpected frost descends.

The set draws heavily on Talkie Walkie, a new album which sees them returning to the wafty melodies and diaphanous textures of their unfeasibly successful debut Moon Safari. So different is the sound they make now that, for a few minutes, I wondered it I'd turned up to the wrong gig.

"Run", a sweet, plinky-plonky number on record, begins in the Hammer house of horror and ends in a real-life prog nightmare. The roaring bass is physically impressive but soon descends into a monotonous dirge. Meanwhile "Venus" seems so unfamiliar that it sounds as if Godin is playing in the wrong key.

It's clear that Godin and Dunckel are reluctant performers on stage. They say almost nothing, ending every song with a clipped "Thank you" while Godin thinks nothing of playing guitar with his back to the audience.

Occasionally, a moment of clarity breaks through the muddy surface. "Alpha Beta Gaga", with its cheerfully whistled chorus, is terrific, as are the tender flute-laden "Cherry Blossom Girl" and "Biological". But, alas, these are rare pleasures.

"La Femme D'Argent" comes with an intrusive bass beat while "Sexy Boy", performed during the encore, is played so fast you wonder if Godin and Dunckel have somewhere else to be. If that's the case then they're not the only ones, as I can't get out quick enough.

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