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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Bourgeois Tagg--Turnabout in Second Act

February 26, 1988|CHRIS WILLMAN

The Grammy award for best new artist is highly coveted, but if one were given for a most improved act--that is, for a pop band that started with a whimper but then reversed the sophomore jinx trend with a dynamite second album--then Bourgeois Tagg, a slick quintet out of Sacramento, would certainly be up for the honor.

Somewhere between its first and second albums--and between its first visit to town two years ago, and its second on Wednesday at the Roxy--the band learned how to put together witty, well-crafted pop songs in addition to the sophisticated rhythmic grooves that were its stock and trade. Whereas once Bourgeois Tagg merely sounded like a funkier, more complicated and more bottom-heavy Toto, now adjectives such as catchy and Beatle-esque (and the somewhat synonymous Squeeze-esque ) can happily be applied as well.

One aspect is very much still the same: Bass player Larry Tagg is the dominant instrumentalist and visual anchor of the group, getting most of the tricky opening riffs as well as the funny or pained facial expressions that are usually the assignation of a group's flashy lead guitarist. (When not mugging, he lifts his eyebrows a lot, in the McCartney tradition.)

But the band no longer seems like just an excuse for a rhythm section to strut its stuff over a dull California studio sound--thanks largely to the psychedelic-pop influence of Todd Rundgren, who produced the recent "Yoyo" LP.

Live, Rundgren's arranging touch remained very much in evidence in the smooth group harmonies and clever instrumental colorings from one guitar and two keyboards, even if his trademark layers of sound proved impossible to reproduce. There was also a little of Rundgren's Philly-soul vocal influence evident during "Cry Like a Baby" in the rasp-cum-falsetto of keyboard player Brent Bourgeois, who plays host and shares singing and songwriting duties with Tagg.

In fact, for anyone still looking for the world-class progressive pop band with heart, soul and hits (at least one, so far, in "I Don't Mind at All") that Rundgren's now-defunct Utopia was trying to be, Tagg--they're it.

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