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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Holiday Christian Rock Program Comes Up a Winner

December 25, 1987|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Those who think Christian Rock is staid and one-dimensional probably haven't attended enough concerts like "The Night Before the Night Before Christmas" program Wednesday at Goodies in Fullerton.

The Goodies' show was a winner in many respects. Not the least of which is that two nights before Christmas--with no alcohol available--the club was packed . But the most notable aspect was the remarkable variety of Christian-oriented music.

Presenting all the styles--seven bands took the stage, and singer-guitarist Daniel William entertained between sets--made the evening something of a marathon.

But just zeroing in on the three acts in the middle of the bill captures the diversity of the night and likely represents the scope of Christan Rock.

The third group was Breakfast With Amy, which quickly staked out a psychedelic-garage rawk territory. Christopher Colbert embroidered the propulsive rhythms with alternately fiery or atmospheric--and often Edge-y--guitar lines.

Indeed, this outfit has spent more than a little time listening to early U2 (toward the end of an extended psycho-jam, Amy even dropped in a snippet from that band's first LP) and seems to have an even stronger sonic connection to early Echo and the Bunnymen. Yet, while the band wears its influences on its tattered sleeves, it's not beholden to them.

For one thing, Breakfast With Amy rocks harder--or at least faster--than those models and seems intent on speaking with its own voice, even if it hasn't yet found that voice. The band can generate enormous power, but the trick will be harnessing that power to best serve the song--and serve the band.

While the group is learning to consolidate its strengths, it can rely on singer-front man Dave Koval, an engaging chap who obviously believes spreading humor and the word are not mutually exclusive.

Before one song, for instance, his patter included "God is love; Jesus is returning." Then, practically in the next breath, he said: "I'd like to thank myself for being here."

He also ventured on to the dance floor repeatedly, handed out Christmas gifts (including a "Disco-Mania" album and some shoe cream) and sang a speedy medley of Christmas songs changing a few lyrics along the way ("Jesus Christ Is Coming to Town"). Funny and fun. Let's just hope this band lives up to its potential.

Following another fine, passionate between-set set by Daniel William--this guy is enormously gifted too--Glory Glory hit the stage in a blaze. Like Amy, this group operates on firm rhythmic footing, and the fact that drummer Paul Pelligrin and bassist Tennessee Beans play in both bands may have something to do with that shared plus.

And the group, which mines a more traditional American rock vein, turned in a similarly inspired performance. Although fairly focused and tight, the quartet managed to achieve a nice musical range, roaming from gentle pop to a loping country to a smokin' acoustic punk-gospel romp that would have done the Mercy Seat proud.

Curiously, given everything this band has going for it, what Glory Glory lacks most is confidence. Singer Freddie Almanza seems to be a reluctant front man--his uneasy between-song comments only confirm that impression--and maybe that's the crux of the problem. Whatever, this is the kind of problem that should work itself out over time, simply by doing more shows and gaining more experience.

Lack of experience was definitely not a problem for the Rev. Billy Watkins, who has been performing longer than most of the Wednesday's audience members have been alive. And it showed. Backed by his excellent trio, Free Spirit International, the charismatic Watkins had the crowd on his side--and in the palm of his hand--before the end of the opening number.

And a few minutes later, when the foursome kicked into a spunky version of "The Battle of Jericho," Watkins didn't have to say a thing to lure several folks to the dance floor. The music did the talking. Or the inviting.

And what a voice Watkins has! Whether crooning a slow gospel selection or easing his way through the band's own two-step contribution or soul-shouting an absolutely hair-raising rendition of "Glad That the Lord Saved Me," this sharply dressed man proved himself a singer extraordinaire .

Plus, the three members of Free Spirit International are no slouches instrumentally--or vocally. Mostly they created stunning harmonies around Watkins' lead vocal or engaged in fervent call-and-response singing with him. But they also took some solo turns, highlighted by guitarist Vincent La Bauve steering the group through a delightful, slithering take on Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody."

Everyone was well-served Wednesday.

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