Australian vocalist Simon Bonney doesn't really fit the ghoul-rock bag to which he's been relegated. A highly theatrical white blues singer, Bonney--who bears a striking resemblance to Eric Burdon--has neither the hair nor the wardrobe for the part.
But seeing as how his group Crime & the City Solution includes former members of the Birthday Party--a now-defunct band that took the idea of wretched excess to undreamed-of heights--Bonney's following is largely composed of kids who look as though they probably have posters of Bauhaus and Southern Death Cult on their bedroom walls. Black was, of course, the de rigueur color of apparel for Crime's L.A. debut at the Roxy on Sunday.
Bonney is said to have had a big influence on fellow Aussie Nick Cave, and the fans who turned up may have been expecting a violently cathartic show in the style of Cave. That's not what was delivered, however, and the club slowly emptied as the set progressed. Favoring slow processional dirges built around basic blues riffs and strong narrative lines, Crime's music is subtle, serious and occasionally a bit sludgy; the songs tend to blur together into a cloudy puddle of gloom.
Though Crime's sound can lapse into automatic pilot, Bonney exerts a consistently compelling presence on stage. Graceful hands tracing strange kung-fu moves in the air, eyes frozen heavenward, he is an impressively controlled singer and an original writing talent. Unfortunately for his bankroll, he's neither gimmicky enough to grab the Madonna market, tacky enough to score on the Prince scene, nor stupid enough for heavy-metal fans. In other words, doomed to be a cult artist.