Middlesborough Arena 13th May 1999
"Hello this is Gay Dad! Do you like my top? I made it myself." The sequin boob-tubed Cliff Jones hovers above the beerboys, angling for a confrontation. It's one of those 'brave bohemian meets homophobic prole' moments as laid down in The Young Megalomaniacs Rock'n'Roll Career Guide. In the the gruff Northeast, where the taxi drivers warn that Gay Dad might not get out 'alive', surely we're in for some bovver.
Cliff looks at the lads, and the lads smile back. Cliff stares at their pints but their pints smile back. So Cliff fluffs up his grunge Rod Stewart bouffant, crotch-hitches his precisely tattered jeans and directs himself to the stubbly, weightlifting freelance bouncer standing within fisting distance.
"This one's a beautiful gay love song..." he teases. But Mr Post-Thug just gives him the thumbs-up and waits calmly for the script to proceed. Seen that movie. In knowing old 1999, shortcutting to stellar notoriety ain't that easy.
If Gay Dad were simply the Cheekiest Thing Since Boys Wonder it'd be over before the end of this review. Mercifully, they back it up with cleverly targeted, fiercely executed playing. 'Dimstar' and 'Friends' surf on a bed of awesome piledriver guitar dynamics, blending cult punk with '70s mainstream rock. 'Oh Jim' allows Cliff's falsetto to struggle above a cowboy-booted pop raunch. And there's much grown-up soloing from solitary Gay female Charley Stone's amusingly double-necked 'axe'.
For all that they deny irony there's something very arch about the Dad's embrace of pre-punk American rock stylings. Keyboardist James Riseboro fills in 'classic' tumbling piano. Former Scream team diva Denise Johnson shadows Jones with soulful screeches. They play like a band who've been brainwashed to picture themselves barrelling down the US freeway with the wind in their veins.
Forget glam or Krautrock. Cliff Jones' nearest current ally is the AOR roots dude from New Radicals. Observe those tiger and eagle patches on his jeans and the sparkle in Cliff's eyes as the massive bluster of 'Dateline' soars and he sings in a slightly too thin voice, "Started feeling blue back in 1972/ Barefoot in the street I had patches on my jeans".
This is a man with a plan and as the night progresses through 'Desire' - Cliff'n'Denise making like Tina'n'Kris Kristofferson - to the Bryan Adams thud of 'US Roach', the Prince gone Eagles pop of 'Mystic' and the finale 'Joy' (Phil Spector doing a Coke ad) it becomes clear what he's up to.
Two words: pomp R&B. You can bemoan the self-consciousness of Jones' waxwork rockstar stage persona, but you can't fault the music's ambition or the singer's wily zeitgeist manipulation. With so many of the alternative styles shagged out, what better vehicle is there for this year's star wannabe than Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band's magnificently hoary '70s Cadillac?
Middlesbrough loves it, eventually. America probably will too. A young, thin Meat Loaf is some kind of progress. But the Trad Dad Review isn't going to convince everyone. Cliff ends the night giving 'V' salutes and hopping about triumphantly, just like Iggy, as featured in the book Jones wrote about him.
The provoking, gauche and grandiose Gay Dad did everything textbook right. But what they produced was good theatre. Great rock'n'roll steals the book and rams it deep into the shredder.