Review by Chris Brooker

There was a hushed sense of anticipation over the crowd before the gig tonight. Well, I say the crowd, merely the portions of it that had been around previously when Gavin Webster had been booked to appear. Would it be fifth time lucky for the Geordie mirth-maestro? Suffice to say there were a few abnormally tightened sphincters in the house as the show kicked off and he was nowhere to be seen...

Young Toby took to the stage to warm the crowd up in his inimitable self-effacing manner. The Malarkey faithful welcome him with open arms as always and, while it took a while for him to find his stride, he squeezed in a few choice quips to get things started.

Kieran Butler Our opening act was Kieran Butler, a man that hadn't graced the boards at Bar XS in, oh... at least seven days?

He'd been squeezed on at the last minute to do another cheeky five minute set of tight Antipodean gold and there were no complaints at all. In the ten days since he first strolled into the Manc circuit Mr Butler had been making quite a name for himself and tonight's performance yet again demonstrated why. A natural on stage with some belting material, even when a few references went over the audiences heads (and mine too) he managed to get a good laugh. Look forward to seeing longer sets from Kieran in future, welcome to the party.

Daisy Next up was the pocket-sized fireball of humour Daisy.

It didn't seem that she was at her best, possibly due to nerves. There's a unique kind of pressure to playing at XS and on this one night it may have gotten the better of her. Not to say that Daisy's performance was bad, it certainly wasn't, she just didn't quite hit her stride tonight. Also the über-young audience might have failed to get a few of her Cliff Richard references. Got some good laughs and didn't let the side down by any means. Having seen Lil' D (Word.) rip the roof off of many other gigs I'm looking forward to seeing her back when the pressure's off a little.

Dave Bishop Rounding off the first half... third... part of the show was "Dangerous" Dave Bishop.

Already something of a veteran of the XS stage, Dave was clearly in his element and tore into his set with gusto. Clearly passionate about what he says, DDB has a selection of well honed comedic masterpieces up his sleeve. Tonight saw everything from revelations on the best place to look for your first pornography to the trouble in Palestine. He also happened to turn 25 tonight, joining myself and Ashley Frieze in the elite club of those that celebrated their birthday with a gig at XS. The XS faithful lapped it up and thus the curtain fell on part one.

During the interval Gavin arrived and you couldn't have taken the grin off of Toby's face with a belt sander. I bet Mr Webster wishes people were that glad to see him everywhere he gigged. Would he be worth the wait though? Meanwhile Mike "Mike Thorpe" Thorpe, also known as Fishcake for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained, started selling tickets for the awesome Stewart Lee's gigs at XS on March 7th and March 8th. If you're reading this in time, get your tickets as they're going to sell out and we'd hate to turn you away. Not that we'd lose sleep, mind.

Brian Lowry Part the second saw Brian Lowry in what I believe was also his XS Malarkey debut.

Brian's act is somewhat unique as there aren't a lot of immediately discernable gags, it's more of a stream of consciousness and anecdotes. Sometimes this can work and sometimes it can't and tonight it's safe to say he struggled. His delivery was a bit fast and a bit mumbled, not helped too much by a relatively broad Irish accent. Not a great set and not helped by a number of comics at the back of the room that all but shat themselves laughing when he failed to get a response. It's not right and the cries of "more" when he came off were quite frankly taking the piss. Brian's a genuinely nice guy and deserved a lot more respect.

Andy White Making the first long overdue return to Malarkey's next was Brummie sensation Andy White who, as a bizarre side note, is one of my parents' favourite acts on the circuit.

Andy gets better and more polished every time I see him and he did a fine job of retrieving the gig from the somewhat surreal quagmire it had fallen into. A mix of up to the minute material and old favourites, my personal favourite was his line about a sign declaring the dangers of mixing alcohol with violence. "Surely mixing anything with violence is dangerous?" Inspired stuff, especially the material about his mixed race background which manages to be edgy without ploughing up hack old pastures. Hopefully it'll be less than a year before he's back.

Gavin Webster The main event of the evening was, as I may have mentioned once or twice, Mr Gavin Webster.

For one reason or another The Gavster had had to pull his last four bookings at Chez Hadoke hence the anticipation heading into his set was pretty high. Did he deliver? He tore the roof off and had one of the best headline gigs I've seen there. People were laughing to the point of breathing difficulties and I saw a number of faces with tears running down them. Watching Gavin on stage you'd think he could read tax returns and make them hilarious, his delivery is absolutely spot on. Throw in some belting material too, some of which is dark enough that you're almost laughing in spite of yourself, and it goes to show why he's held in such high esteem by fans and comics alike nationwide. As a cap to his set he produced a banjo and treated us to a couple of musical numbers. His song about a certain Channel 4 programme involving a chef and a riverside cottage was genuinely one of the funniest things I have ever heard. I laughed until I made a strange squeaking sound and people stared.

All in all? Top to bottom, possibly the best XS Malarkey of 2005 to date although, looking ahead, there's likely to be a few nights that will snap at its heels. I've said it before, if Carlsberg made comedy clubs...

Chris Brooker.