SO, AT last, we have it. After almost six years and four albums of splintered singles and critically adored albums - and still, despite manly efforts, not a single decent photo session along the way to prove it - The Boo Radleys have arrived at their triumphant London show. Nothing will detract from the Boos experience, gushed the press release heralding the news a few weeks back, not even a support band in sight to deflect attention from the Boos' special soiree.

We really should have got here earlier. Because at just 3pm, while the band's roadies are still gamely shunting a quietly spectacular bank of TV screens stage-front (Boo TV?) and the band are busy idling away the day in their hotel, contemplating the pop triumph to come, an 'x' enters the equation. Oasis have split up, so the nation's scoop-hungry media tells us, and the pop world is officially in tumult.

Oasis have split up [!]

Consequently, by the time the National is filling up at 8.30pm there's barely a soul in the place who isn't speculating wildly over what's actually going on, while the assembled Creation mafia - including Alan McGee, no less - attempt to quell the hysteria by assuring everyone that the rift is merely "temporary". The only souls blessedly spared this madness (most idiotic declaration, from one unnamed music biz bod, "The industry won't let them split up!") are the legions of Japanese girls who gather in huddles throughout the place and await the arrival of their heroes in a blissful ignorance.

What we get, in biz-parlance, is an 'experimental' set. The band trudge on looking their usual unremarkable selves (and thank God Martin has ditched that absurd New-York-pimp-in-a-snowstorm look) and crank straight into a zinging 'C'mon Kids'. Then, before there's any real time to wonder at the Boos' new super- boosted sound, they've rattled through 'Meltin's Worm', a squalling 'Wake Up, Boo!' and are blitzing through large chunks of the new LP in some warped show of strength.

And, despite all the reservations (which we're getting to ... ) they really don't sound half as scratchy and downright half-baked as they have done live since time immemorial. Instead, tonight, they sound much like a modern incarnation of The Who's 'A Quick One' album ('C'mon Kids' is its '90s mirror-image, no doubt about it), all shuddering staccato guitars and (wild) honey harmonies. Which would be cool, but then The Who had to turn stadium rock before they could slay the planet, and even when they were dabbling in this sort of cosmic whimsy they looked magnificent. Which, let's face it, the Boos never will.

Tonight, they sound much like
a modern incarnation of The Who's
'A Quick One' album

The trouble is that Martin Carr and Sice, splendid chaps as they undoubtedly are, were simply not made to slay the world from the stage. They can bluster with the best of them -'What's In The Box?'and 'C'mon Kids' are almost blue in the face tonight with histrionic good intentions - but, outside of your own bedroom, where they always have the ability to sound sublime, the Boos feel like an anomaly. Sure, they'll get some hearts racing stage-front, and the die-hard fans will always nod along approvingly at the back, plastic pint in hand, but live they'll never provide any insurrectionist zeal or sexual fizz or even any snotty, don't-give-a-fuck incompetence. They'll just be the Boos.

Martin knows all this of course - hence his latest spate of "we'll always be failures" press confessions - but it doesn't make events like this any more pleasurable.

As it turns out, the industry bods spend the whole night crouched at the bar, salivating over the Oasis 'split', the fans go mildly ga-ga and the band close the encores, fittingly, with 'Stuck On Amber'.

Which, as notes to end on go, couldn't be more apt.

Paul Moody, NME, September 1996