Eel starts proceedings here with a short acoustic set that sounds as fey and indie-pop and different to what her fans have come to expect of her as it is possible to be. Strong of melody and squeaky of vocal, it is the kind of thing that we are more accustomed to finding in places such as the ever-lovely Clover Records. It's very nice.
Less nice but more fun are the Titan Go Kings, who are a thoroughly typical Benten label band who sometimes sing and sometimes shout and always wear colourful clothes. This is idol-pop music with guitars so teenage boys don't have to feel so bad about liking it, the grins are fixed to their faces with a near manic intensity, they make a great show of it, and at least one or two of their songs have hooks that remain dug into your head for a fair while after they've finished. Enjoyable and totally superficial.
Plus-Tech Squeeze Box are a brilliant group of course. "Cartoom!" was one of the albums of the year and every aspect of their music bubbles over with invention. This semi-live performance of remixes, however, is perhaps inevitably something of a disappointment. The sound quality out of the DJ booth is too quiet and the crowd that gathers round ensures that no-one outside the first two rows can see anything. They have a singer in a spangly dress come up to do "The Martin Show!!", which is nice, but too much of the set falls flat for this to ever be anything more than a curiosity.
A drummer in a scary witch-doctor's mask, a vocalist in a tuxedo, and two dancers, one of them in an excitingly revealing punk-girl outfit and one of them painted black with an inflatable snake wrapped round her and bits of tin-foil stuck over her tits. Much of the entertainment value of Petit Mit's set comes from watching the snake gradually come unstuck and watching its mistress gamely battle to prevent it taking her knickers with it as it unravels. The music was kind of techno influenced with vaguely tribal beats, if you're interested in that sort of stuff.
Maywa Denki are another act where the visual and comedic aspects of what they do totally overshadow the fairly flimsy melodic side. Still, it's remarkable nonetheless. All the music is controlled from a small laptop that is connected to a series of bizarre musical Heath Robinson robots. When the laptop crashes in the middle of the set, one suspects that this is merely part of the act, but such is the attention to detail that has gone into the performance that we all laugh anyway. Oh, and there are a couple of robot-dancing technicians for a couple of songs, just in case your mind wasn't blown already.
So Eel is back, this time with a backwards baseball cap and an army of the most un-stylishly dressed backing non-musicians, prancing around behind her, posturing and throwing t-shirts at the audience. Perhaps it's ironic or perhaps they just don't care about fashion and only care about having a good time, who knows, but what subtlety there is in the music is buried by the overbearing arrangement and over-the-top performance. Nevertheless, the kids with the bobble hats and ruck sacks love it, and there's plenty of Ramonesy shouting back and forth between the stage and the audience as the set draws to a close. - Ian Martin, Jan.19.05.