Pete Shelley's existential punk-pop works best on record, where the subtleties of his songs can emerge and where his thin, briny voice takes on an affecting, yearning tone. You could hardly hear his singing at the Palace on Friday, where he and his five-member band played indifferently to a small, indifferent audience that perked up only when it got the one thing it wanted--the gimmicky but ingratiating '82 dance hit, "Homosapien."
With the sound pressed flat against the feedback threshold, the hooks were lost and the music had no room to breathe or move. It loosened up and gained energy late in the set, and the inclusion of two numbers from the songbook of his former band the Buzzcocks helped. His current "Heaven and the Sea" album has some songs that approach that level, and the studio appears to be the place where Shelley really thrives. On stage he was just going through the motions.