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The Garage, London

The most gloriously uncool band in Britain are back, and the "sold out' signs appear outside The Garage two hours before they take to the stage. Cud have been away for too long, but evidently plenty of people still remember how difficult it is !o see and hear them without dancing, or at least grinning broadly.

Cud were playing dance music on guitars before it was fashionable, and they've carried on doing so now that Happy Mondays are nothing more than an unhappy memory. But now they take more risks. The new hit single, "Neurotica", is their finest moment to date, an untypically dark and unnerving song with lashings of drama and tension, seemingly about the familiar scenario of being irresistibly drawn to someone who you know isn't likely to be good for you. Carl Puttnam -he of the fashion designer's nightmare clothes and magnficently booming voice - delivers it brilliantly, alternating between apprehension and breathless, erotic anticipation.

The way that Puttnam carries off his unlikely sex god act is one of the wonders of the modern pop world - a great source of inspiration to me and, I'm sure, many other overweight and not exactly pretty people. It's hard to think of anyone else who could get away with songs like "Purple Lave Balloon" or "Eau Water" ("I want to plunge right into you). In other hands the imagery would seem puerile and objectionable but Carl's ungainly charm is such that no one takes offence.

Cud's music grows richer and stronger as time goes by. They're sometimes wilfully whimsical, sure, but they're never a two-dimensional cartoon like, say Sultans Of Ping they have far too much warmth and emotional range for that. "Sticks & Stones", which I'm told may well be the next single, is another intriguing diversion from the central Cud scheme of things: a slow, brooding thing that gives Carl a chance to turn crooner. There's a joyous, celebratory "Rich And Strange", and then another fresh treat for the first encore: "Ski Bum", a fizzing fiery thing built around classic punk-pop ascending chords. What's really impressive tonight is seeing a band who've thrived for a few years, on the strength of one good set of ideas and learned some new tricks, whilst getting better still at the old ones. The dozens of sweat-drenched T-shirts passing through the door at the end bear witness to the fact that Cud remain an irresistible dance band. And now they've loomed a few sharp new moves.

Dave Jennings

(Pic: Geoff Pugh)