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Pop Review : Peter Case--taking It To The Streets

January 12, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

These are revolutionary times in rock.

Imagine a headliner putting on a half-hour show on the sidewalk for the hundred or so fans who can't get into the sold-out club.

That's what Peter Case and two buddies did Saturday night at the Lingerie.

It's easy to suspect in this age of mass-marketed rock that the whole thing was just a publicity gimmick. But think about it: In the business-as-usual world of rock, a hotshot manager might come up with the idea of a sidewalk show, but you can bet he would have alerted the media.

Consider the news value: An acclaimed rock singer-songwriter like Case (his 1986 album "Peter Case" was just named the best pop/rock record of the year by the New York Times) playing for the folks on f-a-m-o-u-s Sunset Boulevard! Rolling Stone would throw out the latest update on Sean and Madonna for that .

But the affair was so low-key that the critics and sole photographer--already inside the club--didn't even learn about Case's sidewalk show until the second number.

More crucially, the move was in step with the generous, almost communal spirit of the local rock scene, a scene that has re-introduced individuality and adventure to the music.

Local musicians, like Case, have become leaders in promoting a radical alternative to the star-making machinery that stresses sales-conscious conformity: Sometimes the best way to extend the passionate, independent spirit of rock is to partially abandon rock itself.

Case and Phil Alvin were leaders of key bands (the Plimsouls and Blasters, respectively) that contributed greatly to the local rock renaissance of recent years. Their key rule: Set your own rules.

This led Case and Alvin, among others, to surprising, yet inspiring career shifts. Case left the Plimsouls for a bare-bones, song-oriented folk 'n' roll style. In his 1986 Geffen album, he explored passionately such varied issues as the rock machinery ("Steel Stings") and lost idealism ("I Shook His Hand").

He sang these and other songs Saturday (on a bill with Alvin, the Cruzados' Tito Larriva and the Wild Cards) with a conviction and purpose that was as forceful as anything that most bands convey with their 3 million watts of power at the Forum. At the end, he felt comfortable enough to set down his acoustic guitar and rock out with some pals (including R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, ex-Plimsoul Eddie Munoz and songwriter Marvin Etzioni) on the Plimsouls' near-hit "A Million Miles Away."

Alvin, who still leads the Blasters, made even a more radical solo album last year, applying his own gritty, blues-leaning, roots-conscious stamp on old (mostly pre-World War II) songs from pop, country, jazz and gospel sources.

In an invigorating set Saturday, he underscored the point that good music, however diverse the style, has much in common--a fact that has been frequently lost since the '60s as radio programmers increasingly segregate music by category. It's this mix of influences, he suggests, that leads to the healthiest musical climate. That his argument can be called revolutionary illustrates how stalled the big-time rock machinery has become.

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