Rizzle Kicks; Alex Clare – review

XOYO, London

The lot of a soul man has never been easy. All those women to woo, all that hurt to channel, and so many hats to choose from. The lot of 26-year-old Alex Clare – a thoroughly modern soul man with Titian hair tucked under a flat cap – has been no less fraught. His debut album, The Lateness of the Hour, came out in July to acute indifference, despite being produced by Diplo and Switch, two of the most in-demand beat-merchants on the planet. The fact that Island Records did rather well with its last gritty London Jewish soul singer, one Amy Winehouse, can't be ignored either. Tonight, Clare's band can't even get started. They slope off sheepishly while an unexplained glitch is rectified.

When they do return, it is to motor through a selection of tracks in which head-banging rock, dubstep wobble, drum'n'bass shakedowns and reggae lilt all jostle for headspace. These are fluid times in pop, with barriers between musical genres falling like ninepins. Still, though: the impression here is of ducking random missiles lobbed more by committee than conviction. It doesn't help, either, that when he's not bellowing, Clare's default mode is the pained yelp of Blunt and Bedingfield via Mick Hucknall. And when Clare oversings on an overwrought version of "When Doves Cry" by Prince, it is like a wounded water buffalo run amok in a display of kitchen sinks.

Still, though: there might be hope for Clare. A fusion-friendly singer-songwriter with red hair was at the top of the albums charts last week. Ed Sheeran was propelled there by tireless gigging and collaborations with urban artists on the up, an affinity helped by Sheeran's rap-like delivery, as well as that aforementioned Genre Collapse Disorder.

Brighton hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks (also signed to Island, headlining tonight) have been knocking about with Sheeran at least since last year; there's YouTube footage from 2010 of Jordan "Rizzle" Stephens freestyling merrily over Sheeran's acoustic hooks. Now, this amiable duo of 19-year-olds, completed by Harley "Kicks" Alexander-Sule, are eyeing an ascent of the pop charts themselves, thanks in part to another ninepin effect – success by association.

Having caused a minor stir a couple of years ago for rapping over indie-rock hooks, Rizzle Kicks caused a slightly bigger stir last spring with their nimble reworking of Jessie J's "Price Tag". It's worth watching the video just for the bit where they wait ages for some toast to pop. When they play "Price Tag" tonight, it doesn't feel like celebrity padding, but like a track of their own.

Rizzle Kicks's last single proper, "Down With the Trumpets", blared into the top 10 in June, a cheery, Mariachi-inflected romp. Since then, Rizzle Kicks featured prominently on Olly Murs's August No 1, "Heart Skips a Beat". Their debut album, Stereo Typical, is due out at the end of October.

Whatever company they may be keeping, Rizzle Kicks deserve to be big on their own merits. They are both clever and funny and – despite tenure at the Brit school – it feels like they have clawed their way up out of leftfield with crampons. They bound on to the stage of this club packed with moshing boys and camera-aiming girls, a two-man tag-team bearing banter, self-deprecating jokes and bounce-able tunes. There's a live band, including a trumpet player, who adds a brassy sheen to every track. Even with grime collapsing into pop, collapsing into folky singer-songwriting, collapsing into rap again, Rizzle Kicks offer a niche fusion – a revival of old-school wordplay, allied to a magpie musical sensibility. Fellow Brightonian Norman Cook is one of the producers of Stereo Typical, and you can hear their worlds colliding perkily on "Mama Do the Hump", which adds surf-pop to their mix.

Stephens is the rapper, letting fly torrents of words that never once resort to gangster cliches. "I'm so ghetto," deadpans Alexander-Sule – the quieter, hook-singing straight man – at one point. "Never say that again!" admonishes Stephens with real horror. They peddle mischief rather than menace, like hip-hop did before gangsta rap.

Rizzle Kicks's next single, "When I Was a Youngster", is a bittersweet ska'n'bass tune that harks back to boyhood dreams of being a fireman. It unleashes gleeful pandemonium tonight. The night ends with "Down With the Trumpets", another tune that turns the middle of the crowd into something like a food-processor. Five years or so ago, there was some talk of grime and indie fusing to become the next big thing: "grindie". Instead, we have Rizzle, an indie-influenced pop-rap act there is no shame in liking.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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