Luke Haines, St Luke's, London

St Luke's, London

The tickets for this gig read "St Luke at St Luke's", a bit of whimsy that must have struck Luke Haines as irresistible. "Saint" comes close to his own estimation of himself, which is founded on a belief in his own infallibility and contempt for everything else. His Victor-Meldrewism was reaffirmed this week, when Das Capital, a compilation of the work of his 1990s band the Auteurs (subtitled, typically, The Songwriting Genius of Luke Haines and the Auteurs), failed to reach the Top 75. But what does commercial ignominy matter when God is on your side - as, presumably, he is here, at this airy East End church?

Ever the autocrat, the consumptive-looking Haines stands apart from the backing band, who are billed as the Auteurs. It's immaterial that none of the original members are present; the mainspring of the band has always been Haines and his lofty misanthropy. As he wrote in the programme: "Some of these so-called 'original' Auteurs were dismissed on grounds of diminished musical responsibility."

Diminished anything is one charge that can't be levelled against the singer himself. The passing years have, if anything, solidified his commitment to righteous ire: in a show of two lengthy halves - the first backed by the Millennia Strings octet, the second by the Auteurs - he sustains the mood throughout.

This is all the more impressive because he can't sing. Twenty songs' worth of malevolence is conveyed in a baby's whisper, which has the perverse effect of emphasising his disgust. When he coos "Satan wants me" in the song of that name, as the violins whip up a lugubrious storm, it's a safe bet that even the devil would find Haines too bitter a pill to swallow.

Ancient numbers such as Showgirl and Starstruck, transformed into game-show Muzak by the string section, are sung as if they still mean something to their author, who smacks an acoustic guitar for good measure. Haines and the Millennia Strings are unlikely bedfellows, by the way, given the octet's knack of evoking Cher's Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves with every rollicking note.

Consequently, the show works better after the interval, when it is just St Luke and his backing trio. The gloves come off and they tear into Baader Meinhof and Mogadishu with all the buzzing spite they can muster. What a nifty little band they are, and what a priceless kettle of haddock Haines is - grimacing, making laboured jokes between songs and being grumpy for England.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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