Rock 'n' roll geography is a funny thing. These days I frequently find myself heading east to catch live bands - to the east end of London, where new arts and media money rubs up uncomfortably against traditional cockney grit, and where there are now more music venues than sequins on the outfit of a pearly king.
This time we're at the bijou E1 arts centre that is the Spitz, for a gig which ties in somehow with a rock 'n' roll photographic exhibition. I say 'somehow' because none of tonight's bands seem to be featured in the photos, which lean heavily in the direction of today's indie megastars. All very nice, but frankly I don't think we need yet more carefully posed pix of the White Stripes and Pete Doherty. I'm more interested in what's happening on stage.
The Violets are bundled on first, to warm up an audience that is politely interested rather than seething with enthusiasm. At first I'm nonplussed by the crowd's restrained reaction - come on, this is The Violets! - but then I remind myself that The Violets are still very much new contenders. Notwithstanding their growing following they're still somewhat unfamiliar to Johnny Punter, who naturally approaches the band with a certain caution.
But The Violets' cool clamour has a way of inserting itself into the human psyche, and their on-stage demeanour - brisk without being brusque, good humoured yet retaining a certain aloof reserve - has a way of grabbing attention. The drums skitter and clatter, the guitar duels mightily with its own reverb, and the vocals lead implacably from the front. The whole thing builds into the band's trademark pell-mell racket, songs hurtling by like a succession of locomotives careering down a gradient with their trains piling up behind. The crowd moves closer; you can see dawning interest spreading over faces. Yes, this band is good.
And yet, the audience as a whole never quite loses its hang-back-and-observe-with-caution stance, which means that things don't quite kick off in the way that The Violets' crisp energy demands. The band send out their bolts of sonic lightning, but no wildfires break out tonight. Still,I think a few people ended up with sparks glowing in their brains. We'll call that a result.
Now, an anomaly. The Horrors have a jokey, schlocky-comedy name, and they play a familiar brand of boisterous, fits-in-with-the-Misfits horror-punk. So far, so usual: there's no shortage of bands these days doing just this sort of ramalama stuff.
But here comes the unique selling point. Instead of dressing up like they've been dragged through the Hammer Films wardrobe department backwards, which tends to be the usual visual accompaniment to this kind of music, The Horrors look like they've just finished hangin' out with their buddies in The New York Dolls and the Rolling Stones.
Their style is consummate garage-punk. Whip-thin rock 'n' roll fops with impeccable hairstyles, they've got the cooled-out poise and pose to go with the style - except, curiously, for the lead singer, who lurches about, delivering the vocals head-down, hiding behind his unruly mop of hair, as if unwilling to look the audience in the eye.
In a way, the band's high-glamour style collides head on with the music. Instead of the cocky rock anthems their image hints at, The Horrors punk it up post-Ramones style, and although they never lose their studied rocker expressions, you know they've all got their tongues firmly wedged in their cheeks. They've got a song about Jack the Ripper (but of course) and even a tribute to the Ramones' 'Sheena Is A Punk Rocker', which, in the hands of The Horrors, becomes the vampiric 'Sheena Is A Parasite'. I'm not sure how much of The Horrors I could absorb before the natural limitations of their musical area start getting on my nerves, but the gleeful verve of their style-sound collision makes them an engaging prospect for now.
If there's no shortage of horror-punk outfits around these days, there are even more bluff, blokish, straightforward indie-rock outfits cluttering up our venues, and Shit Disco turn out to be one of them.
A bunch of lads in what John Cooper-Clarke once witheringly called 'middle market leisure wear' take the stage and launch into a set of...bluff, blokish, straightforward indie-rock. And the crowd - which has now grown, and clusters close to the stage with every sign of keen enthusiasm - loves it. Every galumphing riff and ruthlessly middle of the indie road workout receives big cheers, while I stand aside and wonder just what the big deal is.
I suppose Shit Disco are fine if you simply want some rumbustious indie-rockin', played by a crew of geezers who look like they've just wandered in from watching the footy in the pub next door, and I dare say it's exactly this friendly, undemanding ordinariness that touches base with our mythical Johnny Punter.
But - and you can call me Mister Demanding here if you like - I'm more interested in bands which exhibit a touch of wayward glamour, and a few musical ideas that extend further than the usual four-square routine-rock moves. I'm afraid me and Johnny Punter will just have to disagree on this one.
Shit Disco: Website | Myspace
The Horrors: Website | Myspace
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.