Crumb are quite possibly the least self-conscious band this country - or at least Wellington - has ever produced. Last night's King's Arms gig was as if four kids posing in front of their bedroom mirrors had been magically transported on to a real stage, their hair brushes morphed into microphones and tennis rackets into Gibson Firebirds.
Crumb: they're a cartoon alright, and a genius one. In this age when even the most poisonous, unoriginal and lame acts (Eminem, 50 Cent, Slipknot...) have their ugliness expensively packaged up for the suckers, Crumb are anti-fashion as if the phrase still meant something. In their 70s rock warp, guys in bands really are weirdo outsiders who can't get chicks any other conceivable way - not buff photo-opportunists who travel with their personal tattoo artist. Fatboy frontman Carter really does look like his mother dressed him - maybe even cut his hair too. He's glorious: a rolling, panting glob of sweat and sebum who nonetheless sings and moves like the Rock God of his dreams. It's like watching Robert Plant trapped in the body of a teenage Meatloaf. And the crowd love it. At a Crumb gig, they don't throw panties, they throw asthma inhalers.
Carter is a showbiz natural and a pop culture Rolodex. He whips out an impromptu rendition of "Against All Odds" that makes the crowd scream with delight, and the band vamp the intro of "Detroit Rock City" just in case you wanted to check their credentials. Like a certain other chubby former metalhead, Carter may well turn out to be spokesman-for-a-generation material.
Even without their inflatable superstar, Crumb are a killer band - deceptively simple and almost psychically connected. Their music is risky in the sense that it might be mistaken by cynics for yet more '70s recycling. But to dismiss them as "fun" or a "party band" is to miss the shrewdness and sophistication of Crumb's quotations, recharged by a real joy of discovery. The Datsuns had to leave the country to get appreciated, after all. And in a basically Protestant music culture where incandescent talents like Shayne Carter (no relation) are encouraged to dim themselves down to a tasteful drone, Crumb's day-glo will undoubtedly be seen by some as being beyond the pale. But that's OK. As their artistic namesake knew all too well, the chief enemy of art is good taste. Keep on truckin'.