Review by Darren Gawle
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
We all know which the last band Josephine Wiggs played for was, and it's a pleasant surprise to find out that her new project sounds nothing like the Breeders. However, the lacklustre quality of opening number "Trieste" (with Ms. Wiggs on electric upright bass) makes one think that maybe sounding like the Breeders wouldn't have been such a bad thing after all. The guitar is out of tune, the band isn't particularly tight, and you're left wondering if this is some impromptu jam session that the band has decided to inflict on us.
Then, just before despair sets in, Josephine picks up an electric guitar and something wonderful happens, something along the lines of the Velvet Underground playing the hits of Henry Mancini or even (during "Make Me Feel Like Doris Day") Paul Mauriat. You wonder why it took a whole weekend for you to hear something like this. Of course, it's not particularly unique going where Pram or the Tindersticks have gone before, but it sounds good. And, considering some of the acts we've had inflicted on us over the past several days, that's not too much to ask for, is it?
The crowd's enthusiasm for the Josephine Wiggs Experience grows with each song, partly due to Ms. Wiggs' rewards of free stickers for correct answers to the occasional trivia questions (Where is Trieste? Does anyone know who Co-Star are? Who is Mr. Blobby?**) The mood is relaxed and, musically-speaking, we're sipping brandy in front of the fireplace at the end of a long day. The problem is that the Sneaker Pimps have now come to put us to sleep.
Something seems to have gone wrong on the journey between the group's album Becoming X and its live reproduction. Although album tracks like "Tesko Suicide" and "Becoming X" retain some of their original trip-hop atmosphere, the rest of the songs don't survive well. The difficulty in translating sample-heavy studio work to the stage must be appreciated in situations like this, but it can be done, and the Sneaker Pimps fall disappointingly short in this area, re-arranging their tunes so that they sound more like a low-watt Cocteau Twins with Liz Fraser on helium. Each song ends up sounding pretty much like the previous one did, and although keyboard player Liam Howe tries to spice things up with an OSCar (a keyboard which sounds like a Moog and looks like a Moog, but is definitely not a Moog) and vocalist Kelli Dayton injects some slinky sensuality, the Sneaker Pimps' live show verges on middle-of-the-road boredom. Current single "6 Underground" most noticeably falls victim to this, although the audience gives it the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
The Sneaker Pimps are polished, professional and give the impression that they're trying to impress the A&R reps more than they are the fans. This we'd expect from an L.A. band, or a Toronto band, but it's unfortunate that a band from one of the only interesting scenes around these days (i.e. trip-hop) should behave like this. The Sneaker Pimps are too inoffensive, too safe, and until they start taking more risks live -- or at least look as though they are -- they run the risk of being forgotten before too long.
** Answers: A town on the Italian-Slovenian border. Some band. A character on British children's television who looks like a big pink bowling pin, says "flobalobalobb!" and falls over a lot.
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