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Soho Dolls
Mechanical Cabaret
Suzerain
The Space Between

Underworld, London
Saturday March 4 2006

Here we are in the Underworld again - a familiar venue, but the band on stage is not. The Space Between are a relatively straight-up alternorock outfit featuring a feisty, energetic singer in Judy Garland shoes. She provides a focus and a distinct personality for a band who, if she wasn't there, would verge dangerously close to becoming merely a bunch of bland blokes playing competent but somewhat forgettable rock. There's some nifty rhythmic elements in the sound (as a rule of thumb, the more rhythmic The Space Between become, the better they get) but I can't quite escape the notion that what we have here is a decent but workaday band being hauled out of the average zone by their singer.

The Space Between Suzerain

And then it's Suzerain, and a sudden surge of boisterous teens in smart-casual High Street party gear alerts me to the fact that their fanbase is here in strength. Suzerain are clearly local heroes on their home turf of Staines - that west London dormitory town not hitherto massively famous for producing indie-rock contenders - and they've certainly brought their crowd in tonight. The band powers confidently into their loud, brash, grandstanding brand of eighties-indie, and the fans go wild. I stand back, trying to fathom the appeal, but alas, it eludes me. Suzerain are very good at what they do, and if you like powerhouse eighties-flavoured indie (allegedly the band are influenced by Duran Duran, but aside from a song called 'Life On Film' I can't quite see the connection) then I'm sure the Suzerain fan club will welcome you with hoots of joy. This stuff isn't for me, however. The fans see a bunch of cute guys delivering the powerpop hits of tomorrow; for me, it's a slicked-up blare with a distinctly hollow centre.

Mechanical CabaretMechanical Cabaret seem to have staked out their stylistic territory half way between Marc Almond and Iggy Pop - not, it must be said, an area where there's a great deal of competition. But while sleazoid electronica is what you might call an area of selective appeal, the good news is that Mechanical Cabaret, with their squelch 'n' grind rhythms and low life lyrics, instantly find themselves number one in a field of one. Frontman Roi looms over the audience with good-humoured licentiousness, and delivers songs like 'Cheap And Nasty' and 'Disbehave' with a relish that suggests he's entirely happy not to be on the side of the angels. The electronic backing - sounding heavier and beefier tonight than at previous Mechanical Cabaret gigs I've seen - rumbles away in the engine room, and it all hangs together rather well. Mechanical Cabaret have just released new album, and it does seem as if this has got the band fuelled up and ready to...well, not rock, exactly - what does a sleazoid electronica band do? Ooze, maybe. Yes, Merchanical Cabaret are definitely ready to ooze.

Now, here's a little story. I first discovered the Soho Dolls when I was aimlessly wandering around the web one day, in search of other stuff. I stumbled on a reference to the band which claimed they sounded like 'a cross between David Bowie and The Damned'. That sounded good - if a little implausible - to me, so I went along to the next Soho Dolls gig I could find. And I discovered that, in fact, the band doesn't sound like David Bowie and/or The Damned at all. But they do sound rather good, and that's why I'm here again tonight, down the front as the Dolls rev up their electro-glam-punk-whatever machine. Trying to pin the Soho Dolls down to a neat comparison or two is almost impossible, so let's not try. Instead, allow me to mention the thumping glammy rhythms, the big bad guitar chords, the neatly-interjected electronic squiggles and the insistent, pay-attention-or-else vocals that combine to make the Soho Dolls sound. Maya fronts the band with lots of personality and very little in the way of clothes; Toni, wearing his Dickensian raggamuffin cap, keeps the glam-guitar churning. 'Prince Harry' is an irreverent romp, 'Ring OF Fire' - a tribute, we're told, to Johnny Cash - sounds rather good as adjusted to fit the Dolls' sound. Naturally, the final tune is 'Stripper', and if I was to name one song which encapsulated what this band does, this would be it. All the essential elements are in there, even down to the splendidly silly 'da-da, da da-da, da-da, da da-da' chant in the chorus. Let's try a neat comparison after all. David Bowie and The Damned? Nah, that doesn't work. How can we sum up the band's boy-girl combination of big guitar and electronics? Try this: the Soho Dolls are like a cross between Hanoi Rocks and Ladytron. There, put that on the web. Oh, I think I just have.

Soho Dolls Soho Dolls

Essential links:

Soho Dolls: Website | MySpace

Mechanical Cabaret: Website | MySpace

Suzerain: Website | MySpace

The Space Between: Website | MySpace

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

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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