The world of British-atmospheric-alternative-rock is like that of rap: every six months or so the old guard leaders get challenged by some new act that puts a younger face and spin on the style.
The champion Cocteau Twins--the Run-DMC of the British mysterioso genre--have seen the likes of the Sundays and the Heart Throbs rework elements of their sound recently. And now comes perhaps the strongest challenger yet, Lush--the style’s De La Soul--which opened for the Cocteaus at the Wiltern Theatre on Thursday. The champs withstood the test admirably, but the newcomers served notice as an act to watch.
Low expectations would have been realistic for the Cocteaus’ show. The Scottish-Anglo trio--augmented in concert by two guitarists--hasn’t toured for five years and its sound always seemed pretty much studio-bound. But just watching singer Elizabeth Fraser mouth her trademark nonsense syllables and baby talk was enough to give dimension to music which on record can often be great atmosphere and texture, but not necessarily more.
Fraser’s stunning vocal flights were matched with three-guitars-and-a-bass sonic sculptures (over programmed drum and keyboard tracks) and imaginative lighting (drugless psychedelics), giving the show surprising dynamics. If only the group would bag the programmed stuff and go all-live--especially the drums--the music might really take off.
Lush does use live drums, and more power to it--literally. Like the Sundays and Heart Throbs, the co-ed quartet (which comes from the same 4AD Records stable as the Cocteaus) had little stage presence Thursday. What the band does have is a winningly harsher sense of texture than the other named bands (including the Cocteaus), some cool hooks and a potentially mesmerizing front-woman in Emma Anderson, with her Day-Glo red hair and penetrating gaze.
Perhaps Lush will loosen up in the more intimate setting of Club Lingerie, where it plays tonight. Meanwhile, following the two-night Wiltern stint, the Cocteau Twins move to the relatively cavernous Hollywood Palladium tonight, with Mazzy Star opening.