Gig review: Half Man, Half Biscuit

Half Man Half BiscuitLiquid Room***

Chances are that Half Man Half Biscuit isn't a name that rings a bell in general circles, and given their notably sardonic, devil-may-care outlook on things, that they remain largely off-radar is hardly a surprise. Mate of the Bloke, for example, warns that one should "beware of the band who type out their set lists", and on at least two occasions Nigel Blackwell strains his eyes at a crumpled sheet of paper in knowing reference.

In other words, the Liverpudlian quartet are not ones to exalt anything, least of all themselves. It's a mindset that happens to coincide with an explanation to their stiff, sluggish start at the Liquid Room: the spotlights.

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Have you got any cooler lights? One is shining directly off of his head (lead guitarist Ken Hancock] and onto mine."

Lark Descending is the chirpy shoegaze (probably the first and last time you will encounter that phrase) number that manages to rouse HMHB from their torpor, and the crowd plays a big part in this; a small group of fans planted front-and-centre pogo their way through the entire 90 minutes of the set. Adrenaline levels soar once the lairy ode to late Middlesex cricketer Fred Titmuss is in full swing, and the guttural refrain bounces around the soaking walls and the treacle-coated floor of the venue with unanimous approval.

As the show progresses, it becomes clear that HMHB's seemingly bottomless pit of circumspection does have its occasional down sides - especially when it extends to their own stuff. Blackwell writes off Moody Chops as a "throwaway song"; in fact, there are a handful that fit the description, and the skeletal texture of some songs, beset by bland post-punk chuggery, could have done with a bit more care and craft.

Encore time brings the usual slew of singalong favourites (Worried Man Blues in particular), but it's the micro-level observations of garage forecourt etiquette on Twenty Four Hour Garage People that shows the foursome in their most flattering light: something that, once they get going, HMHB look rather more suited to than they would care to admit.