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Pop Review : Big Bang Beat Borrows Best Sounds Of The '60s

January 22, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

It's hard to wax nostalgic about the '60s anymore, with all the '60s compilation albums coming out, the "classic rock" radio format thriving, and countless '60s bands reviving. As the title of the old Dan Hicks song put it, "How Can I Miss You (When You Won't Go Away)?"

But for those who have somehow forgotten just how many great soul and R&B records that decade produced, the San Francisco-based group Big Bang Beat reminded a small but vociferous audience Tuesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano what a musical gold mine the '60s were. Even though the group's stance casts no new light on familiar and available songs, Big Bang Beat virtually defies you not to get caught up in them.

The five-woman, nine-man band churned out gloriously infectious renditions of more than two dozen signature hits of Aretha Franklin, Jr. Walker, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, the Phil Spector girl groups and several other Motown/Memphis rock-soul acts.

While such records may seem indestructible, it's astonishing how infrequently their spirit is reproduced live, even by the original artists. The band's cover versions were rounded out by only a couple of its own '60s-styled originals.

The four women who handle most of the lead vocals each have distinctive voices, and they supplemented the musical time travels with glitzy '60s mini-dresses and choreography built around the Jerk, the Monkey, the Froug and other immortal dance steps.

Occasionally the musicians extended beyond the confines of arrangements on the original recordings. A powerful version of Jr. Walker's "Shotgun" allowed tenor saxophonists Armen Boyd and Morey Goldstein to trade scorching solos until the tune nearly exploded with energy.

On the surface, Big Bang Beat (which also plays the Palomino on Friday) would appear to subscribe to the basic "shut-up-and-dance" school of rock philosophy. But if there is a deeper message, it's the not-so-subtle suggestion that the songs everyone danced to in the '60s offered considerably more melodic texture and full-bodied arrangements than most of today's drum machine-heavy dance records.

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