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Petrol Is Worth A Fill-up

October 23, 1987|CHRIS WILLMAN

It was just about a week ago that Scotland's Silencers were rocking the Roxy, warning of the wiles of the devil and singing the praises of "God's Gift." On Wednesday, we had a Northern Irish group, That Petrol Emotion, in the same club, singing, "I'd rather be the devil than go creeping to the cross." Guess it takes all kinds.

Given the kind of politically (and agnostically) correct cant to which That Petrol Emotion is prone, a certain brand of snotty European arrogance might have been expected from the quintet on stage. But the band--which plays The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Saturday night--turned out to be quite casual and user friendly, with animated and sweaty singer Steve Mack (a Seattle native, and the group's one non-Irishman) offering a barrage of witty and even self-mocking asides.

The stream of jokes didn't do much to foster understanding of Petrol's lyrics, which tend to be oblique enough that you might not know the band has a lot on its mind if it weren't for the albums' liner notes. It did, however, win points for personableness, important for a band with just a few songs per album likely ever to get played on mainstream radio.

On record, the guitar-focused band is a textbook case of "post-punk." Live, however, the less drone-prone Emotion sounded a lot more like just plain old punk . Energy, cacophony and precision aren't three bad hallmarks to start off with, and there was even a pop hook, catchy guitar riff or harmony here and there as a tipoff to those suspicious of pure thrash.

The songwriting isn't always rewarding or emotional, but instrumentally--in such songs as "Belly Bugs," with its frantic, Middle-Eastern-sounding twin guitar leads, or a new Clash-style funk number--the group is frequently as incendiary as its name threatens.

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