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Client
Ping Pong Bitches
Greenhaus
Rapid Fiction
The Problem BeingThe Problem Being
Underworld, London
Saturday November 4 2006

What's this? Five bands in one night? That's going to be a bit of a squeeze. Better hustle 'em on, then. Here comes our opening act: The Problem Being. Now there's a name that might have been specially chosen to give smart-arse reviewers a peg upon which to hang a few jokes. How long, I wonder, before someone smirks, 'The problem being, they're not very good!' or somesuch quip. Not that I'm about make any such remark, mind, because The Problem Being are, in fact, a punchy bunch of glam-punks, all make-up and big riffs. Somewhere in the background, a drum machine rattles. Up front, the lead guitarist grins bashfully from beneath his fringe as the girls in the moshpit cheer his every lick and flick. This machine-beat and guitar thing is not exactly a radical formula these days, of course - The Problem Being aren't doing anything vastly different from the kind of workouts for six strings and beatbox that Metal Urbain turned into their trademark racket, round about 1979. But nevertheless, there's a certain verve and charm about the band which carries them through. Yep, they're good. But I still say that name's a hostage to fortune.

I remember catching Rapid Fiction at another gig a while back, supporting Lene Lovich. Intensity and angst to an indie-rock beat is what I thought then, as I recall. Sure enough, tonight Rapid Fiction do indeed give it the intensity thing - or, at least, the singer does, swooping and gesticulating, Rapid Fictionleaning out over the monitors in a faintly unsettling fashion, as if intent that the audience should pay attention to his every word. Meanwhile, his band colleagues maintain the demeanours of sturdy yeomen watching a highly strung racehorse cavort in the paddock. Rapid Fiction are definitely one of those lead-singer-plus-band outfits; one of those bands where the frontman puts on his own show. Which perhaps explains why, last time I saw 'em, I mentioned Morrissey as a possible reference. Now that I can test my initial impressions at a second gig, I reckon that comparison wasn't far off, although this time I'm inclined to add a bit of Joy Division to the influence-mix. The band's sound has a certain musical density that compliments the singer's personal intensity. The final song of the set brings it all up to a peak - all the intensity spills over into a bona-fide anthem, the singer leaps into the audience, and it all ends with a big bang. Not bad stuff at all (which I think is another thing I said last time), but I'd like the super-intensity of the last song to inform the entire set. Start at that level, gentlemen, and take it from there!

GreenhausI also remember Greenhaus, from much longer ago, doing their instrumental trance-techno thing. There was a time when they seemed to crop up at every electro-ish gig in town, providing what I always regarded as the go-to-the-bar interlude. They certainly never had the makings of a live show back then, and their music always seemed far too smoothly forgettable to grab the ears. A pity they never really ramped things up: they could've been where Hot Chip are now, if only they'd bumped up the beats a bit. But I digress. Things have changed, for Greenhaus today are a full live band, with only one member remaining from those old techno-boffin days. You can instantly tell who he is. In a band otherwise decked out in coolio new wave duds, he's the only one who looks like a techno-boffin. The music the nu-skool Greenhaus make is a kind of honey-smooth, lush and polished take on the latter-day Cocteau Twins sound. I specifically mention latter-day Cocteau Twins, because of course that band did go rather smooth and coffee-table themselves in the later part of their career, and it's this stuff, rather than the more assertive early Cocteaus material, that seems to provide Greenhaus with their jumping-off point. The band is fronted in a suitably restrained manner by a seated vocalist, who smiles benignly at the audience like a teacher taking morning assembly, while the rest of the band stand stiffly on their marks as if they've been threatened with 100 lines if they step forward or back. It's ironic: Greenhaus now have a radically adjusted line-up, but they still don't have much of a show. The music pours out like sonic syrup, layered and precise, but if truth be told it's still too smooth for me. The final number swells dramatically, as if to show that Greenhaus can do dynamics when they put their minds to it, but it's a bit too late to salvage the smoothathon that's gone before. As with Rapid Fiction, I want Greenhaus to do the big dramatic thing at the start of the set - and then push on up from there.

Ping Pong BitchesNow, the Ping Pong Bitches sound like they should be my kind of thing. A brash, irreverent, electro-punk outfit, with two female vocalists who stomp around on high heels while trash-rapping like they just don't give a shit. Yeah, that's going to be up my street, surely? I mean, much as I like to pose as an erudite aficionado of avant-rock, I like high heels and trash-rapping too. So, should be fun. But, to my slight surprise (because I was all primed and ready to dig 'em) I don't really warm to the Ping Pong Bitches after all. Maybe it's the affected, squawky, psuedo-American accents that put me off; maybe it's because all their songs (raps?) seem to be locked to the same kind of tempo, and have the same kind of electronix-plus-guitar-riffs backing, and the formula outstays its welcome after a few numbers go by. They stomp, they squawk, they throw shapes at the audience, the dark-haired one looks amusingly like John Cooper-Clarke, and it's fun for at least five minutes. Alas, the set lasts for quite a lot longer than five minutes, by which time I'm definitely in a go-to-the-bar mood. So, that's what I do. And I wonder, as I wander towards the beer, whatever happened to Shampoo?

ClientIn their uniform outfits and ten yard stares, Client exude a certain air of stand-offish assurance, although I can't help thinking that if you met them in person they'd offer to brew you a cuppa. They exude a very British cool, exemplified by vocalist Client B's dryly down to earth Yorkshire accent, a welcome dose of vocal reality after the ham-fisted Americanisms we've just had to suffer. This is the new, improved, bass-driven version of the band, featuring, as well as Client A on the electronics, new member Client E on bass guitar. I don't know why there was never a Client C or D: Client seem to skip letters of the alphabet when it suits them. They're very much like the MG sports car range in that respect. And here's what else Client are like. They're precision-tooled electronica, laser-cut from the finest, glittering, steel-cool raw material, and polished to a finish as shiny and as brittle as glass. But - crucial point ahoy - Client are a pop group, too. Client's songs are witty and wistful, affecting and anthemic, and they all have hooks that lodge in your head. Tonight we get a primer in Clientism, from the almost defiant 'It's Rock and Roll' to the delicious cynicism of 'In It For The Money'. The bass-boosted sound rolls out of the PA like carefully controlled thunder. Client always keep control; their music is meticulously constructed to Kraftwerkian standards. But - and here comes another paradox that's very Clientesque - there's wit and warmth in there, too. Look at the way Client B steps up to her colleagues and strikes ever so slightly camp poses, throwing knowing, arched-eyebrow glances out to the audience, and before you know it both band and crowd are cracking goofy grins. An encore comes up at the end, after a brief will they/won't they moment, when the crowd suddenly pauses in its applause, as if unsure if another song is really on its way. But it is, and it's a cover of that old Ants favourite (and I mean old Ants: the distinction is important) 'Xerox', transformed by a rolling rythm and - naturally - a hefty dose of Client's unique brand of cool.

Essential links:

Client: Website | MySpace

Ping Pong Bitches: Website | MySpace

Greenhaus: Website | MySpace

Rapid Fiction: Website | MySpace

The Problem Being: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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