For all their supposed 'horror' aesthetic, the Texas Chainsaw Orchestra turn out to be a relatively unscary bunch of good-time rockers, a bouncy party combo complete with horn section and a repertoire of amiably rockin' kees-up numbers.
Squashed onto the venue's narrow stage - which was surely never intended to accommodate a multi-piece big band, complete with a chorus line of zombie cheerleaders - the musicians probably aren't having the best time ever, but to their credit they deliver their good ol' boy hoedowns with professional cheeriness.
The vocalist - behatted and besuited, like Kid Creole's gone-wrong brother - leers and mugs for the crowd, toting a bottle of booze in a manner which suggests it's a prop rather than refreshment. He gives us his best Master of Ceremonies performance, while the sparse early-doors crowd favours the band with polite interest and restrained smatterings of applause.
There's a crowd-pleaser finish, in the form of a mid-tempo arrangement of 'The Time Warp' - a song selection which neatly illustrates where the Texas Chainsaw Orchestra are coming from. Although the almost zydeco-style wheezing accordion is a neat touch, it's not quite enough to set things on a roar. It's still early, the crowd is still thin, and nobody's ready to party just yet.
I was under the impression that The Faces Of Sarah had split up just recently. Well, reports of the band's demise were obviously exaggerated, because here they are, large as life and twice as scruffy. There's a revised line-up in full effect, although exactly who in the band is new and who's old is a moot point: the band looks just the same as always - a bunch of downbeat rock-blokes in distressed monochrome.
The sound hasn't changed much, either. It's still the same distressed monochrome rock, give or take some incongruously intricate basslines (my guess is that the bassist is one of the newbies, and he's a secret jazz-head) over which frontman Nick Shultz presides with lashings of angst, a side order of melodrama and some stentorian enormodome vocals.
It's impressive stuff, I suppose, if you're into straight-ahead no-surprises rock. The Faces Of Sarah occupy some very conventional musical territory, but they do it with unpretentious aplomb. For those of us who are fans of weirdness and extravagance, however, it's all a bit of a bread and butter experience.
If The Faces Of Sarah represent bread and butter, Theatres Des Vampires are a multi-layered raspberry trifle with a good glug of vodka and lashings of whipped cream.
They take the stage in a flurry of leather and lace, big boots and bigger hair, and proceed to hurl their glam-noir anthems at the audience like chrome plated hand grenades. It's been noted before (not least by me) but it's probably worth noting again: the present glam-slam-thank-you-ma'am incarnation of Theatres Des Vampires is a very different beast from the band's early days as a doomcookie horror-metal act, fronted by a male vocalist with a comedy moustache and a frankly embarassing penchant for tacky theatrics.
Several years and several personnel changes down the line, Theatres Des Vampires have more in common with Hanoi Rocks than Dimmu Borgir. Although the band's old hardcore metal fans might frown mightily at the transformation, I don't think anyone would want to swap the band's present vocalist, the disarmingly charming rock 'n' roll valkerie that is Sonya Scarlet, for the old bloke, or the band's swaggering, accessible rifferama for the old grunt-and-rumble metal.
In a set that rocks it up with gusto from beginning to end, there's just one element left over from the band's early days. With due ceremony, Sonya produces a weighty leatherbound tome, presumably intended to represent the Arcane Lore Of The Dark Side, or somesuch horror-schmorror concept. The book bursts into flames, whereupon Sonya slams it shut, and slams into the next song.
I suppose we have to expect a touch of theatre from a band named Theatres Des Vampires, but it's interesting to note how the burning book stunt - once a major production number, acted out with lengthy ceremony - has now become a swift interlude that in no way interrupts the flow of the set. The Arcane Lore Of The Dark Side now very definitely takes second place to the rock 'n' roll. Sonya couldn't have slammed that book shut more quickly if she discovered she was holding the Haynes workshop manual for the Morris Marina.
Then it's full-tilt into a cover of The Cult's 'Rain' (again, a revealing choice: interesting that the band didn't select some rampaging doom-metal anthem for their cover) and a special guest appearance of Martini from Maleficent, who out-flounces Sonya (no mean feat in itself) in a flurry of white lace. Theatres Des Vampires are a curious band, in a way: a self-proclaimed vampire metal act which is getting less vampiric and less metallic as they go along. A night ride to Glam City? If that's where they're heading, I'll take that trip.