Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 27 November 1999

Sensational. I know I always say nice things about Venini in these reviews (that's my job), but there aren't very many other ways of describing the way they were tonight. Opening for deliciously warped ex-glam perrenials Sparks (surely one of the more inspired double bills of our time), the band well and truly delivered on the promise they've been showing over the past few months.

The inscrutible Charlie Collins was back, squeezing those ever-welcome peculiar noises out of his clarinet and sax (especially notable was an amazing introduction to Exotic Night that recalls nothing more than Roxy Music circa Ladytron), and Ash was much more to the fore, applying liberal amounts of synth to everything. Russell, meanwhile, continues to refine his razor-sharp guitar action towards the pure, ultra-saucy da-dang-da-dang understanding of The Troggs' Wild Thing (but with more effects, obv). Scoff if you like, but I honestly believe that there is no better musical unit in Britain today than Venini.

Nick @ Shepherds Bush Empire 27/11/99 - see Pics section for more Much like Charlie and Ash in the musicians' corner, Nick and Debbie have developed an enormously enjoyable on-stage chemistry. Clearly relishing having a nice big stage to play with, Debbie will vamp shamelessly across the stage while Nick follows her a few steps behind, until she coyly pushes him away. It's at moments like this when you realize that Venini understand: they instinctively know that going on to a stage and playing some pop songs to people doesn't serve some sort of intangible higher purpose. They're there to entertain us. As human beings, we demand fun - damn it, we demand to be ROCKED. And that's what Venini give us - an irresistible alternative to those inescapable self-righteous furrowed-brow Manicsisms that don't sum up nearly as much about what it's like to be alive as a bunch of rollicking good tunes about nicking your boyfriend's Jag and wanting to shag dwarves.

Venini have attracted criticism in the past for being "contrived", "pretentious" or (worst of all) "ironic". Those who level such criticisms are missing the point by a million miles. Venini, you see, are very much 4 REAL. The alleged "glam posturing" may be glam, but it can never, in any sense of the word, be posturing. They're not kids playing around with an image that they don't understand. There is no irony involved at any point. They're as cool as fuck, they know it, and they want us to know it too. And what could possibly be wrong with that?

Mark Sturdy