Tom Vek’s name is a hot one to drop in rock circles – the 23-year-old is about to release his anticipated electro-rock album, 'We Have Sound', on Tummy Touch records. Stand-out single 'If You Want' is an effective answer to the angular rock currently dominating indie circles, but is far more sparse than most of its contemporaries. Vek apparently draws his influences more from 1980's electro and 1990's house than the post-punk and indie favoured by bands such as Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand.

Live, however, he is a different prospect. Supporting Graham Coxon at this NME date, his band come on stage smartly dressed and ready for business. The sound is far more rocky than on record – what, on record, comes across as danceable, beat-filled music, is translated live into an altogether more guitar-led affair. That’s probably because Vek is playing with a conventional rock-band set-up – guitar, bass, drums, vocals, keyboards – than the keyboard and sampler that you might expect if you were familiar with the record.

'If You Want' is the outstanding track of the live set as well as the album, the rest of his set is largely lost in the rock drone. It could be down to the fact that he is third on the bill, with the lack of soundcheck that that position implies, or it could be nerves at playing the cavernous Palais (which is more used to hosting the School Disco club nights than indie bands). Either way, Tom Vek’s live set is distinctly unimpressive tonight.

On the album, he flits impressively between styles, but live this spirit of experimentation is lost in the grungey, driving guitars. He veers dangerously between styles, sometimes coming across like 1970's classic rock, other times like a poor approximation of Britpop. The saving graces are the aforementioned 'If You Want' – which he dedicates to “that bloke just there”, pointing at a man in the front row of the crowd – and 'C-C (You Set the Fire In Me)', the album’s opening track. It’s likely that this was a blip on the way up and that future gigs, particularly the headline slots, will come off better, and that Tom Vek will live up to the promise displayed on his album.

It doesn’t help Vek’s cause that he is followed, with a brief and pleasant interlude from another up-and-coming group, the Departure, by Graham Coxon. Since leaving Blur, Coxon has continued to build on the successes of his early solo work, and his latest album, 'Happiness in Magazines', is a remarkably accomplished piece of music.

Half of tonight’s 16 songs come from that album, and the gig takes place just a day after Coxon was voted Best Solo Artist – on the strength of 'Happiness in Magazines' – at the NME awards. In a double-ego-boost for him, the best-known single from the album, 'Freakin’ Out', was the theme tune for the night, held in the venue in which we are currently standing.

He reaches the stage sans spectacles and clothed in a suit, necking a can of Red Bull. While tuning his guitar, he begins mumbling in a series of nonsense sentences, and then launches straight into the, well, spectacular, 'Spectacular', the first track on 'Happiness in Magazines'. The next two also come from the album, and then he heads into his back catalogue.

The mood varies from angular punk to shouty punk via indie-punk – although the songwriting ability and the ear for a tune shine through from Coxon’s Britpop days, his set is energetic and lucid. It’s not as angry as he used to be, but then you could argue that he has less to be angry about, now he’s more settled, both artistically and in terms of his family. He’s also still off the sauce – hence the energy drinks from which he continues to swig throughout the night – which can’t hurt.

There are a couple of new songs sprinkled into the set, notably ‘I Can’t Think Of Your Skin (‘Cos It’s Doing Me In)’ which he says is going on to the new album, on which he has been working. He’s certainly prolific. From there he goes straight into 'Freakin’ Out', which he introduces to loud cheers with the words: “This one’s been all over Channel 4 like a rash. A bloody itchy rash.”

His energy is impressive – his guitar playing never lets up, and nor does his voice. It’s exciting and fun to watch, and the home crowd are with him all the way, pogo-ing along like children for most of the set. Characteristically, though, he can’t resist toying with the friendly crowd, leaving a long gap before coming out for an encore, and playing two songs – 'Lake', and the progressive, long-winded 'All Over Me', which ends in minutes-long squalls of feedback and strange noises as he removes his guitar and plays with it for a while on the floor of the stage. Even that damp squib ending can’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, however. It’s an impressive performance from someone who is rapidly becoming one of British indie music’s most important figures.













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Commenting On: Hammersmith Palais, London, 18/2/2005 - Graham Coxon/Tom Vek








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