Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Please Don't Tell Me To Boo The Hath

Charlotte Hatherley, Carling Academy 2, Birmingham, Saturday March 3 2007, 8.30pm.

And so, man about a horse having been seen (oh, do keep up), your blinking (or should that be blinkered?) correspondent found himself faced with a tube network snafu (Northern Line down for maintenance, Piccadilly Line closed in both directions due to a stalled train) necessitating a sharp run for a bus to get back to Euston. With no mobile phone (left on charge at home, d'oh!) to arrange any hook-ups, there was little alternative but to jump on the first Pendolino back up to Brum.

The evening, dear reader, was not to end there, as your cultural correspondent came to the swift conclusion that this hasty exit strategy opened up the opportunity to get to the Second City in time to catch the Charlotte Hatherley show at Tbe Academy that very night. And so it came to pass, with tickets available on walk-up for a tenner, but only after the security staff insisted in furtling through your bleary hack's overnight bag (successfully avoiding a sneer when browsing the previous night's kecks).

With a relatively early start (curfew for tonight's show is 9.30pm!) and a venue only two-thirds full there was a noticeable lack of atmosphere that never quite picked up as the evening progressed, despite the best efforts of the Really Rather Good Charlotte on her first tour since officially splitting from Ash.

Given that Hatherley's arrival as a precocious teenager into that group sparked their transformation from harmless pop-punks into fully-fledged turbo-charged rawk monsters, with a sound muscular enough to force them onto metal festival bills, it's been curious how Charlotte's solo stuff has been characterised by pop nous and thoughtful arrangements rather than fiery bluster. With half of the material unfamiliar to the audience (second album The Deep Blue didn't emerge until the following Monday) this perhaps partly explains her inability to energise members of the audience expecting something less subtle than the fare on offer.

That said, Charlotte balances the set well between tracks from the new album (Again; Be Thankful and Roll Over Let It Go particularly sticking in the memory) and some of the stand-out choons from well-received debut 'Grey To Fade', including classic radio pop hit 'Summer' and a particularly feisty rendition of 'Bastardo' (whoever the source of ire is, one's left in little doubt the wounds still run deep). And yet the encore calls are a little half-hearted and barely deserve what they get: a live rarity (a splendid track from the 'Behave' ep) and a cover of XTC's 'This Is Pop' (Andy Partridge co-wrote 'Dawn Treader' from the new album, incidental pop fact fans).

If Ms Hatherley left the venue that night feeling a little deflated, however, she would be wrong. Dead Kenny headed home with a philosophical assessment of the the venue vibe but also with several hooks from her new songs burrowed deep into his brain, making a purchase of the album sufficiently vital to merit prescription. Charlotte has the smarts to aim high with her solo material, seeking a synthesis between the glacial pop of Blondie and the elaborate songwriting constructions of Kate Bush. In truth, 'The Deep Blue' falls just short of matching those antecedents at their respective peaks, but the potential is evidently there, and if she continues to get support from the money men her third album might provide something very special indeed.



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