Brighton Beach, The Cockpit, Leeds, 24 September 1999

Encouraging signs pre-gig: milling around in the bar amongst the expected legion of Russell clones (you know the score: ten blokes in black demob suits, horizontal fringes and square sidies telling you you're the violinist) was no small number of Debbie clones: sculpted hair, vampishly black clothing, eyeliner, possibly even the occasional elbow-length glove. Could we have the beginnings of a cult here? I hope so.

Venini take the stage and start with Hoboken and Exotic Night, two of the slower, semi-acoustic numbers. Possibly this was a mistake, because it meant the audience took a while to get into it. Things got going with Un Shaker, a rollicking little thing with a fabulous rockabilly drumbeat, showcasing Russell's all too seldom-heard Fall influence. Both sides of the single followed - Mon Camion reinvented as an insistent, reedy Bowie/Ronson rocker, and an incredible, intense, frantic version of St Tropez. Next was the approriately named Roxy, sporting a funky Love Is the Drug drumbeat and some nicely Manzanera-esque (circa Prarie Rose or Whirlwind) guitar from Russell. And, yes, it also had the legendary "dress me up in Gucci" line, which actually makes perfect sense in context. They finished with upcoming single Carnival Star, which should hopefully get more attention than Mon Camion - three pert, punky minutes, entirely in English with an intro not entirely unlike Heart of Glass by Blondie. Lovely.

Russell @ Brighton Beach, 24/9/99 - see Pics section for more Debbie seems to be settling into her role of frontperson. Although still doing her same groovy thing, she appears a little more relaxed and confident than previously, putting less of a front on. Beyond "Thanks, we're Venini, this is Carnival Star," there is little chat, but occasionally it's possible to glimpse behind the catwoman stage moves and panstick glamour. At one point, a cry of "Woooaaarrghh! Nice arse" rises up from the lairy pisshead contingent of the crowd and is greeted not with an intimidating stare or a snappy comeback, but a demure half-smile and fluttered eyelashes.

The size of the stage meant that the band kept banging into each other - at one point Nick (resplendent in Playboy t-shirt and face glitter) scissor-kicked across the stage and collided with Russell, and you could see Russell trying not to burst out laughing while Nick looks over his shoulder as if to go "oof, sorry". What strikes me about Venini, though, is their professionalism - there's no between-song rambling, no five-minute pauses to tune up or argue with the sound mixer. They come on, bash the songs out one after another, get off, bish bosh. Venini are glamourous. They rock. They are glam rock. And I like that.

Mark Sturdy