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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Charlie Daniels Tries to Fit Arena-Size Act Into Cozy Club

December 01, 1987|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Talk about squandered opportunities.

Charlie Daniels rolled into the Coach House on Sunday, beginning a two-night stint at the 380-seat nightclub. The last time the burly Southern rocker appeared in Orange County, he performed at the 18,000-capacity Pacific Amphitheatre.

You don't need a calculator to figure that the Pacific is almost 50 times the size of the cozy little San Juan Capistrano nightspot.

So here was a chance for Daniels to disengage from arena auto-pilot, loosen up, tilt back that huge cowboy hat he tends to hide under on stage, maybe dust off some really obscure blues and country chestnuts and just enjoy the intimacy rarely afforded him since such '70s hits as "Uneasy Rider" and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" made him a major concert draw.

Well, it didn't work that way during Daniels' first set Sunday night. Two songs into the show, Daniels announced: "We came out here to have fun," suggesting that some sort of informality and spontaneity might materialize.

But barely a moment later, he and the front line of his backing quintet were indulging in the kind of stagy gestures that would seem excessive in a Vegas showroom. And the next minute they launched into "You Been Cheatin' Again Juanita," which crams a standard country theme into an unstandard crunch-rock setting.

It was as if the musicians are such creatures of large-hall habit that they felt the song needed a hopped-up, metal-edged delivery to successfully reach the last row. But, hey, when the folks in the front row can set their beers at Charlie's feet, the last row ain't that far back.

It was curious that the singer refused to back off on the bluster and tailor the performance to the room. But as the show unfolded, it went from disappointing to downright puzzling.

Daniels devoted the latter part of the set to "paying homage" to Southern Rock compadres Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band--by playing their music! This made Daniels & Co. the unlikeliest Southern Rock cover band around.

Not that it's a particularly crowded field these days. And there's a reason for that, just like there's a reason Charlie Daniels should stick with arenas: He no longer knows how to play clubs.

Kimm Rogers opened the show with an all-too-brief sampling of her first-rate songs. Although Sunday she accompanied herself on acoustic guitar, she's often backed by members of the Rave-ups--including songwriter Jimmer Podrasky, with whom she shares a gift for poignant observations and an exceptional verbal flair.

In fact, one of the standouts of the set was "Takin' the Train to Nowhere Fast," a Rogers composition that the Rave-ups often perform and that may end up on the band's forthcoming album. Her songs and her lovely, faintly twangy vocals even managed to win over a large part of the audience.

Considering that this was a decidedly partisan--not to mention slightly rowdy and impatient--Charlie Daniels crowd, that was no small feat. Somebody get this girl a record deal.

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