How to look good half-naked

Seventies robo-popsters Devo cavorted like embarrassing uncles, but Iggy defied the years with a blistering display of defiant punk attitude

Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown: Devo/ Iggy & the Stooges/ John Barry
Royal Festival Hall, London SE1

Perhaps 30 years ago it made sense: a group of five men from Akron with red flowerpots on their heads performing jittery synth-pop about how we were de-evolutionising back into primitives. These days, watching Devo is one of the worst forms of live entertainment you can buy, the nightmare of a new wave band formed entirely by unfunny uncles. Wearing flowerpots after the age of 50 may well be against the law in Ohio. If so, they must have enjoyed the greater level of tolerance here, with some members of the audience also wearing flowerpots, and a whooped appreciation for the big hits 'Whip It', 'Jocko Homo', and the still inexplicable 'Mongoloid'.

How this ever got under Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown radar is unknown, though it's possible this form of industrial herky-jerky was big in Sheffield when he was growing up. But the band have not dated well. They came on in orange boiler suits and robotic mood, and acted confused. Halfway through, one of them ripped off the others' sleeves, and they ended the set in black gym gear and knee pads. I tried to enjoy this as a novelty act, an ironic art-school piece about the futility of the workplace, but most of the time I had to keep lifting my jaw from the ground. They were loud and tight, but if I want that I can stay at home and listen to my neighbour getting drunk in the garden.

There has been no official theme for this year's Meltdown, bar the usual pursuit of eclecticism and musical mismatches. It began last Saturday with Motorhead and Melanie (not, alas, on the same stage) and has encompassed Jerry Dammers' tribute to Sun Ra, the Jesus and Mary Chain and various artists performing songs from Disney. 'Survival' seems to be a common thread.

Jarvis has brooded about how best to prolong his own career, and has chosen to forge ahead with new solo material and other experiments. Most of those performing at the South Bank last week have gone the other way, playing songs that made them famous and iconic. Age is not the problem: one simply couldn't believe Devo as either heroes or rockstars, but the following night Iggy and the Stooges were alarming, compelling and utterly convincing, and it was a transforming experience.

Iggy did the best imitation of Iggy that he knows how, despite some obvious problems with his health. It was a wonderfully defiant show, a blast against authority and mediocrity delivered by a 60-year-old with a huge grin on his face and his usual simian lurching, and it contained everything one could hope for from live music - a semi-naked singer, a stage invasion, smashed glass on stage, several attempts by the singer to have sex with amplifiers and drums. Then there was water, bottle after bottle poured over Iggy's head until his jeans and stage were soaked, one drenching spotlit from behind as if at a diabolical baptism. It was a ferocious performance, a few recent songs from The Weirdness comeback album mixed in with 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' and 'Search and Destroy', all of it driven along like a garbage truck by guitarist Ron Asheton and his drumming brother Scott.

You can map out an entire history of punk on Iggy's ripped and leathery torso, and its contortions are now exacting a revenge. He limped badly during the second half of the show, and his energies lessened for the encores. But before then there was audience-diving, Iggy borne aloft by fans and startled Royal Festival Hall stewards who had never done this sort of thing for Alfred Brendel. The visual highlight was the stage invasion accompanying 'No Fun'. Some fans can dance well and others can't, but most of Iggy's think they are in fact Iggy, and the stage was filled with the overweight and overambitious. Coolest of all was the Stooges' elderly roadie, who coped with the between-song mopping and glass disposal as if it was a nightly occurrence, which it probably was.

On Thursday night the Royal Festival Hall got the gig it was built for - the London Philharmonic playing John Barry's great movie themes. It was a wonderful set-list - the key themes from James Bond, Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa, Body Heat and Born Free - and a swooning lushness wrapped the hall in such a velvety cocoon that a man up the aisle from me took his shoes off as if in preparation for a doze in front of the fire.

Conductor Nicholas Dodd treated the audience a little as if we were at the Robert Mayer Concerts for Children, introducing each piece with a 'this one needs no introduction' routine and his soloists by their first names. Jeremy performed a haunting harmonica solo on Midnight Cowboy. A man behind me punched the air with a 'Yes!' when Dodd announced that next up would be The Persuaders

The Royal Box was occupied by Jarvis and Barry himself, the singer appearing for 'We Have All the Time in the World', the composer, early seventies and very thin, taking bows at the end to a standing ovation. The planned encore, 'The Girl with the Sun in Her Hair', was scrapped in favour of another blistering version of Bond, during which I hoped Jarvis would appear with Martin i and tux, but he stayed in his box and looked content. Not a classic Meltdown, but an enlightening one, and one for the ageless.
Simon Garfield

Send in the clowns... and that woman in the big boots

If Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown nights at the Royal Festival Hall run the gamut of pop, proceedings in the South Bank's smaller venue, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, are just as engaging.

On Sunday the KPM Allstars take the stage for an evening of TV themes and other library music. There is choppy guitar and clavinet, lush brass and funky organ, and strangely stirring moments, as when composer Keith Mansfield's sporting medley sends you straight back into the melancholy cocoon of a Saturday afternoon in the Seventies. Alan Hawkshaw's Grange Hill music sounds a bit like Mungo Jerry while Madeline Bell (who looks half her age) sings a jazzy 'I Always Seem to Wind Up Loving You'.

Monday is different. Chrome Hoof, who dress in sequinned monks' cowls and have a walking effigy of the Hornèd One with them, sound like a cross between Gong and Slayer. The auditorium fills with dry ice for Sunn O))) who are also dressed for holy orders but whose music, an hour and a half of relentless drone, is assault and battery with guitars. Their singer, in blond wig and claret-stained potato sack, chatters like static and chants like a shaman; I find it oddly calming.

Veteran performance group Forced Entertainment's Bloody Mess almost lives up to its name as the dynamic between the 10-strong cast overwhelms proceedings. There are a pair of grim clowns who end up fighting like tramps and a woman in knee-length boots, black knickers and a succession of loose frocks who spends the first hour or so rushing repeatedly forward to some dramatic climax, drenching herself with bottled water and changing her dress at the back. Theatre about theatre, absurdist exhibitionism? Good fun, certainly.

Jerry Dammers's Spatial AKA Orchestra perform a rich tribute to Sun Ra, processing through the audience before they play a dozen warm, hypnotic numbers in which tight arrangements give way to wild skronking. 'I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman' is a knotty version of the Caped Crusader's theme, and they close with 'Space is the Place', filing outside for an open-air finale.
Molly Woodcraft

The GuardianTramp

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