Death in Vegas / Ping Pong

Sheperds Bush Empire, London - 7 November 1999

"Absolutely storming"

Ping Pong

There's the clatter-boom-smash of a drum machine, and three blandly attractive women shouting slogans into their mics. "Let's Rock!!" (clatter-boom) "Hail Satan!" (boom-smash) "Your pretty face has gone to hell!" (ooh! Let's rip off Iggy! Punk Rock, man!) They even rip off Throbbing Gristle's famous lightning-bolt logo. It's hard to tell if Ping Pong are serious or not. They give the impression of three teenage girls (younger than they really are) mucking around in someone's bedroom. Everyone dreams of being a popstar, I just had visions of it being more glamorous, more elegantly sexy, hell, more tuneful than this. I'm sure it's all very fun for them, but it's not very exciting for the rest of us. Perhaps Ping Pong are trying to do something interesting, like challenge images of woman in entertainment: for the second song, one member whips out a pair of nunchukas, and wields them fairly expertly, while the other two execute (pathetic) kung fu kicks around the stage.

The Japanese-looking one in the middle suddenly makes me think of a character in an arcade fighting game, and for the instrumental bit of one song she's pointing her fingers in the shape of a gun and firing at the crowd. When she pulls out a convincing-looking gun that's half the size of her body and starts pointing it at the audience, there's a moment of anticipation when we all wonder whether she's going to fire real bullets - or blanks at least. It's the one truly thrilling moment of the set, and lasts for only a blip of a second before she points it and only pretends to fire. If this lot were boys, nobody would give them the time of day, but vaguely pretty girls can always get on stage and shout over a backing tape - think the Spice Girls, think Shampoo. It would have been great if they could offer something more interesting than shouting over drum beats, because it's all been done before - and by more interesting people. Sadly, Ping Pong are just too boring to persuade anybody to change their perceptions about women in entertainment - all too often they are there to look pretty and offer nothing more.

Death In Vegas

Death in Vegas used to be one guy spinning records at the Heavenly Social club. Now, Death in Vegas is a musical collective - at one point during their set, I counted 17 people on stage - not including the 6 cameramen filming the gig. Having so many people on stage could potentially be a noisy mess of too many instruments and voices, too many egos. Instead, it's one of the tightest performances I've seen for a while, beefing out the sound of the album until you cannot help but be moved. Even sat high up in the gods, the pulse of the two bass guitars and synthesiser rumbles through the upholstery in a way that entices you to tap your feet at the very least. The way the rhythm perfectly matches the onscreen film imagery indicates just how tight this is. It's unfortunate that, being so high up, the screen is half-obscured by a bank of lights, but after a while I stop trying to focus on the film images because the band and all their collaborators are taking all my attention.

Most of the guests from the new album have turned up tonight. Dot Allison seems to glow at the start of the set, her blonde hair and pale skin highlighted by a spotlight, whilst all the other musicians on stage are half-lit and wearing dark clothes. The effect is mesmerising. Bobby Gillespie saunters on stage in what appears to be the uniform for tonight -- black jeans and black shirt making him look supercool. Thankfully, he doesn't offer up his usual scarecrow dance, opting to lope around in time with the moody pace of the music. Even Jim Reid from the Jesus & Marychain gets a loud cheer, although, as with the album version, the song is no standout. With six members of the London Community Gospel Choir on stage for one track, it's hard not to find yourself thinking of comparisons with Spiritualized, but the sound is so assured that in the end, all you can do is thank Death in Vegas for having such cool influences.

Saving the obvious dance numbers for last is a brilliant move, making people jump out of their seats to dance in the aisles. I don't know what it's like down in the stalls, but up here the air has suddenly got warmer from the people jumping up and down in the second circle, and what's more, it looks like the people on stage are really enjoying themselves too. These numbers are absolutely storming, and proof - if it were needed - that, while Death in Vegas are good at making downbeat moody music, what they do best is rock the dancefloor every time.

Anna Jellinek