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Electric Six - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 9/7/2007

  by Paul Raven

published: 16 / 6 / 2007

Electric Six - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 9/7/2007


The Electric Six have a reputation for being a dynamic and incendiary live act, but Paul Raven finds little to be inspired about at a show at the Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms

It's an oddly calm crowd for a sold-out show, possibly due in part to the broad mix of ages and demographics that make it up. This seems to be something that happens a lot with bands like Electric Six, who've had a couple of massive singles but are otherwise not that well known. The smash hit single is an odd phenomenon, because it raises expectations of a band that may not necessarily be fulfilled. There are a lot of people here tonight who probably don't go to live shows very often – their vocal frustration at having their drinks knocked as people jostle by them is a dead give-away. Whether or not they own any of Electric Six's albums or not is another question; I can't criticise on that account, anyway, because I'm also only familiar with their high-profile hits. As such, I'm somewhat disappointed as the band come on stage, apologise for the absence of their keyboard player, and begin the show with a medium-paced slice of Franz Ferdinand-esque pomp-pop. They're all dressed up in tongue-in-cheek finery: dinner jackets, New-Romo blazers and neckerchiefs, and a fetching brown suit over a green western shirt for singer Dick Valentine, who looks graduation-day fresh and friendly, armed with a smile that can only be described as endearing. As a friend remarks to me, he looks like the kind of chap you'd like to take home to your parents' place for afternoon tea; charming, approachable, and very very safe. As is the music, to be honest. It's not *bad* – far from it, in fact. It's performed with competence and professionalism, and a good dose of fun. But it's extremely *safe*. There's no edge or energy to it; there's no high voltage, no fire at the disco, regardless of what the lyrics may claim to the contrary. The set continues, song after song of disco-rock with a hint of camp, and the crowd bob their heads and clap along to the relevant parts; there's no lack of love for the band, and a fair few people seem to know all the words to the songs, but there's no demonstrative passion or craziness on display. I feel like I'm at a Saturday night show at Butlins. That's the thing; Valentine and his band are great show-men, but not in the real rock and roll tradition. Perhaps they're a bit more vigorous when the crowd is more keyed up ... but tonight, they could be the regular in-house entertainment for a holiday camp or hotel in a British seaside resort. Even the knowingly camp humour of the songs seems to be more seaside-postcard than anything else – but then, no more than a quarter of the audience seems to be taking any real notice of what the songs are saying. Late in the set, Valentine does a long and strange intro rant to a song, explaining that the band have a plan to transport a number of women from the audience into the future so that they can be impregnated by President Bush's “last shot of the War on Terror” ... not many people seem to get the joke. I'm not entirely sure I did, either, but I did actually notice he was telling one. In a way, I feel sorry for Electric Six, because it seems most of the audience only came to hear the two or three songs that they heard repeatedly on the radio. It's lucky for them that those songs are their most hooky and energetic material ... but it just goes to show how important a good production job is to the perception of a recorded single, because played live, even the hits sound like they're being cranked out by a pub covers band. Unsurprisingly, 'Gay Bar' is the penultimate song, delivered in the encore and garnering a belated show of life and enthusiasm from the crowd. It's a fine single, a great comedy hit; but it just doesn't come across well tonight. Maybe it's the crowd, maybe it's the lack of their keyboard player, maybe it's the phase of the moon. All I know for certain is that Electric Six's reputation for being a dynamic and incendiary live act has not been fulfilled, at least not from where I've been standing. The photograph that accompanies this article was taken for Pennyblackmusic by Katie Anderson

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