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NEW KIDS IN TOWN

Nostalgia With A Fizz

September 20, 1987|JON MATSUMOTO

Artist: The Grapes of Wrath.

Personnel: Kevin Kane, vocals, guitar; Tom Hooper, bass, vocals; Chris Hooper, drums.

History: For the members of the Grapes of Wrath, their infatuation with rock music began very early in life in the small Canadian town of Kelowna, British Columbia. Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane were only 12 when they first began to jam together in 1976 along with Tom's brother Chris, then a mere lad of 10. Practicing down in the Hooper basement, the trio was at first taken with the sound of such '60s pacesetters as the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel and later wooed by the excitement and sounds of the burgeoning punk/new wave movement of the late '70s and early '80s, with the Hoopers joining a hard-core punk band. Kane splintered off into a Pere Ubu-type experimental group while also playing bass guitar for local community musical productions such as "Stop the World I Want to Get Off." In 1983, the trio rejoined forces after discovering that musically they were all drifting back to the '60s folk-rock sound that originally compelled them to learn their instruments. Since Kelowna is known for its vineyards and the band members are all film buffs, they decided to dub the group the Grapes of Wrath after the John Ford film and classic John Steinbeck novel. (As Kane recalls, the choice of names came down to either the Grapes of Wrath or African Queen.) In 1984, the band relocated to Vancouver and released a four-song EP on the Nettwerk Productions label in Canada. In 1985, Nettwerk released the band's first album, "September Bowl of Green." The album reached number 50 on the CMJ New Music Report charts. In May of '86 the group remixed and rereleased its first and second singles from 1984, "Misunderstanding" and "Love Comes Around." The Grapes of Wrath have thus far performed mostly in Canada, opening for the likes of Robyn Hitchcock and Suzanne Vega. The band's second album, "TreeHouse," is slated to be released in the U.S. on Capitol Records at the end of this month.

Sound: Like early Marshall Crenshaw and Tommy Keene, this trio not only delivers enticing pop hooks but can conjure up images of a whole idealized way of pre-'60s American life based on small-town innocence and virtues. Some of this nostalgic flavor comes from the group's vocal similarities with '50s pioneers the Everly Brothers. Crisp, soaring and sometimes rustically romantic, Kane's lead singing and Tom Hooper's harmonies have an ingratiating clarity and naturalness. Also, the Grapes of Wrath employ a time-tested 12-string guitar approach that has much of the jangly beauty and radiant glow of early R.E.M. The "TreeHouse" LP represents a nifty balancing act between harder-edged rock 'n' roll (courtesy of the Hooper brothers on bass and drums) and a more reflective and breezy folksiness. The Grapes of Wrath could very well shape up to be one of Canada's most valuable rock exports.

Shows: Monday, Variety Arts Center.

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