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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Farmers Dish Out Country-Flavored, Home-Grown Fun

January 01, 1988|HOLLY GLEASON

Considering that their current album is called "The Pursuit of Happiness," San Diego's Beat Farmers couldn't have performed more appropriately at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim Wednesday night, where they shared the bill with Mojo Nixon and Skip Roper and the Delgado Brothers. The Farmers' sets were exuberant and triumphant celebrations of a local band done good.

Drawing heavily on material from the new, country-flavored roots-rock LP, the Farmers had many members of the audience on their feet and dancing, cheering and singing along from the opening number, "Hollywood Hills," until well after midnight, when the band wound up with "God Is Here Tonight."

Farmer front men Joey Harris and Jerry Raney are the perfect foils for each other: Harris has a sweeter voice (when he sings "Powder Finger," it's much easier to believe it's a young man's story than it is while listening to writer Neil Young's own version) and a sleek way with a slide guitar, while the dark-haired Raney is more reedy and mysterious vocally and more prone to guitar solos with distortion.

As the two of them trade lead vocal spots and guitar licks, the rhythm section--bassist Rolle Rugbyrne and drummer Country Dick Montana--keeps up choogling boogie ("Texas"), funky country-rock ("Ridin' ") and slower, straightforward balladry ("Make It Last").

There was plenty of quick picking ("Big, Big Man" was especially noteworthy, as Raney and Harris traded riffs before finally collecting themselves for the final verse). But those slower tunes were nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps the most special was Tom Waits' "Rosie." As Harris offered the song in an almost confessional tone, the group wisely sat out; the only accompaniment was Harris' own simple finger-picking. Then, on the chorus, Raney added some face-to-face harmony, for an enchanting effect.

Still, for all Harris and Raney's contributions, it was Country Dick Montana who managed to turn things upside down every time he got in front of the mike. Whether it was skewering Kenny Rogers' "Lucille" with high-drama treatment of the chorus, or merely tossing off a bawdy song ("Wind Up Your Little Ball of Yarn"), Montana broadened the band's context and made it something more than just another roots-rock band. And when he joined forces with Skid Roper on "I Belong to the Me Generation," there was no stopping him.

Roper and Nixon also seemed to bask in the crowd's lavish attentions. With the call and response chorus on "I'm in a Gin-Guzzlin' Frenzy," Nixon especially managed to strike a chord. Looking like the genetic link between Tom Waits and Jethro Bodine, Nixon skewered everything from drug testing to Japanese cars, Tammy Faye Bakker and MTV before pausing to celebrate the King with "Elvis Is Everywhere." A manic, frenzied cheerleader for the counterculture, Nixon may be the Sam Kinison of swampabilly.

Opening the show, the Delgado Brothers turned in a seven-song set that was long on the same kind of blues-rock popularized by their former HighTone label mate, Robert Cray. With lots of jamming, anchored by brother Joey's guitar, the music was solid, though commercial.

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