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The Dogbones
Viktoria Modesta
Me And The Beast

Water Rats, London
Wednesday March 24 2010

Me And The BeastFive bands tonight, which is quite a lot to fit in before last-train time. We're certainly getting the big value package at this gig. Then again, the band selection seems so incongruous it's as if the promoters simply pulled random names out of a hat.

As I peer cautiously into the band room, Kitayah is hollering some thunderous AOR to a near-empty dancefloor. The phrases 'AOR' and 'near-empty dancefloor' are not, I suspect, unrelated. There's probably a large audience out there for post-Bonnie Tyler, neo-Cher power balladry and glossy, Americanised metal, but it sure ain't in here tonight. I think I'll leave Kitayah's overwrought emoting and precision-riffage well alone. Back to the bar it is, then. Call me when the next band's on.

And here comes the next band. Me And The Beast (which, of course, should really be 'The Beast And I' - what do they teach them in schools these days?) are, fortunately, a world away from AOR. A collection of muso-blokes generate a mid-tempo electro-rock noise, while a glamourous girl next door provides vocals and visual excitement up front.

So far, so good. But the curious mismatch between the singer - all flash and charm, her mop of blonde hair shining, her PVC cat suit gleaming in the lights - and the muso blokes, who obviously opened the style book at 'scruffy and downbeat' suggests to me that the band is really some sort of session musician project. You can imagine them planning it all in the pub: 'Look, lads, all we've got to do is knock a few songs together and get a cool chick to front it - we can't lose!' Betcha the long-term plan involves marketing the singer as a kind of suburban version of Lady Gaga. In that scenario the spotlight will never fall on the backroom boys, so getting the chaps scrubbed up a bit doesn't really figure.

One possible flaw in that plan might be the music, which chugs along pleasantly enough, but never gets beyond a mid-tempo bump-and-sway, and certainly doesn't stick in the brain for longer than the songs themselves last. File under: singer with potential. The rest needs work.

Maleficent, I suppose, are also a work in progress - at any rate, they seem to have a revised line-up every time I see them, which suggests that there's stuff behind the scenes that hasn't quite been nailed down yet. They're also a band fated to be frustrated by the small venues and smaller stages they're playing at present, for the theatrics that are a key part of the Maleficent experience need space to unfold.

Then again, there's something compelling about the Maleficent experience, squashed, as here, into a performance space barely big enough to hold it. The songs seethe with strident drama: vocalist Martini struts and pirouettes and collapses over the monitors as if choreographed by internal demons. Electronics shudder, guitars roar, and Maleficent's nightmare ballet unfolds, oddly effective as a result of being so hemmed in.

Maleficent / Viktoria Modesta

With a sculpted hairstyle that looks like an architectural folly by Le Corbusier, and a glassily detatched demeanour that seems almost otherworldly, Viktoria Modesta is the very model of a futuristic pop star. She's inscrutably cool, and her vocals skate with unruffled composure over music in which classic electropop moves collide wiith the crunch and buzz of guitar. Everything hangs together well - this is far more of a fully-realised concept than Me And The Beast. But, not for the first time tonight, we're very much in the mid-tempo zone.

Viktoria and her band of guitarist, drummer, and reel-to-reel tape machine ( which purports to be plugged in, but the the VU needles never move) keep things locked in second gear. The songs display a nice line in retro-electro kitch - 'Jane Bond' in particular has an 80s-tastic skinny-tie charm - and the sleek to-and-fro of the rhyhms certainly passes the foot-tapping test. But I find myself waiting for the moment when the performance cuts loose and steps up.  Alas, that moment never quite arrives. Viktoria Modesta cruises through the set with plenty of self-posessed aplomb, but she never drops her cool and the music never picks up the beat. Those never-moving VU meters become an unintentional metaphor for the performance as a whole: nobody's in the business of pushing things into the red around here.

The DogbonesExcept, perhaps, The Dogbones. If you could attach VU meters to life, The Dogbones' needles would probably be permanently in the red.

This is a band that likes it fast and loud, but they've got a genuine pop sensibility lurking in the racket, too. That means that for all the band's dual-drummer assault and battery, for all the razor-slash guitar, thrashed out by Crispin Gray in a frenzy of slightly disturbing grins and grimaces, for all the crazed acrobatics and mentalist theatrics from vocalist Nomi Leonard, and for all the sheer noise and mess of a Dogbones performance, you'll still go home whistling the tunes.

Case in point: 'The Whole World Is Weird', which tonight is at once a snarling fuzzfest of overdriven guitar, and also a quintessential pop song. Hear it once and you'll be singing the chorus: 'The whole world is weird/It's not just you' - a reassuring sentiment, even when it's delivered by a blue-haired punk diva with an oversized baby doll stuffed up her T-shirt.

Tonight The Dogbones' rock 'n' roll theatre of the absurd is in splendidly cacophonous effect, and while the band's precarious balance on the knife-edge between rampaging glam-punk histrionics and pin-sharp pop songwriting might look a bit wobbly at times, you know they'll never fall off.

The Dogbones

The Dogbones: MySpace

Viktoria Modesta: Website | MySpace

Maleficent: Website | MySpace

Me And The Beast: Website | MySpace

Kitayah: Website | MySpace

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

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Red N version by Mark Rimmell.
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