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Young Cannibals: Gifted But Grim

March 08, 1986|CHRIS WILLMAN

As anyone who's seen the Fine Young Cannibals' video for the terrific "Johnny Come Home" single will testify, singer Roland Gift has the biggest mouth in rock 'n' roll. Happily, he has a big voice to go with it. Gift, a sort of English Al Green, has amazing chops and the ideal R&B voice. He's able to sound utterly cool while projecting a quivering tone that suggests he might be choking back tears.

Maybe he's choking them back too hard. If his voice conveys a deep inner well of emotional turmoil, his performance was as dry, arid and aloof as everything else in the Fine Young Cannibals' emotionless and amazingly brief local debut Thursday at Fender's.

There's tremendous cleverness in the way these Englishmen have cannibalized the American soul greats of the '50s and '60s and put their own non-retrograde stamp on it.

But someone forgot to tell this unremittingly grim crew that the music is supposed to be fun , even if it does feature topical lyrics about lost jobs in addition to the usual lost love. The grooving sound the Cannibals have so exactingly picked up on isn't for people with poker faces or poker hearts.

Just when bets were being placed on whether anyone on stage would crack a smile, the show ended. For co-leaders Andy Cox and David Steele, to refrain from playing any tunes from their old band the English Beat is one thing, but to do a set that lasts less than 40 minutes-- including encores--is another.

The Fine Young Cannibals were scheduled at the Palace Friday, and they play tonight at Magic Mountain, where you should have plenty of time to catch all the rides--even if you see both shows.

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