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O.C. POP BEAT / MIKE BOEHM

Local Bands Make Good : Bill at Electric Circus Proves All Is Not Quiet on Rock Front

March 03, 1994|MIKE BOEHM

The local grass-roots rock scene has gone to pieces since the loss of Bogart's, the club that kept it glued together. But at least the pieces are proliferating.

Bands on the Orange County/Long Beach scene didn't stop dead with Bogart's closing three months ago. And in fact, O.C. has more options for local rockers now than in recent memory. The current roster includes Club Mesa and Our House in Costa Mesa, Club 5902 in Huntington Beach, Club 369 and the Fullerton Hofbrau in Fullerton and Caffe Nove, the Electric Circus and Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim.

Still, this proliferation of clubs is built around independent promoters who might do one or two shows a week; only the tiny Doll Hut can boast of running its own, self-contained rock 'n' roll business. Without a core alternative music club like Bogart's booking a full schedule highlighted by interesting national acts, the local scene is going to have a void at its center. For such a club to emerge will require a rare confluence of money, business smarts and a patron's enthusiasm that goes beyond profit maximization. We're waiting.

Meanwhile, though, the current fragmentation offers lots of opportunities for fans with a taste for the unfamiliar to see, at low cost, what's out there.

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Five local bands in search of a following shared a bill Saturday night at the Electric Circus, which has taken a step in the right direction by installing a rented sound and light system instead of relying on promoters to haul in their own each night.

Actually, there were six bands, but it would have been far better if Spent Idols, a punk-nostalgia act from San Diego County, had stayed home and left more room for their time-starved betters, who in some cases were limited to little more than 20 minutes onstage.

Standing Hawthorn, with two albums and more than six years experience, was the best-established act on the bill. Still, most of its gigging has been in South County; Anaheim represented a move into less certain territory. Few of the 150 or so in the club were there to see Standing Hawthorn, so it was a promising sign for the band that applause, scant at first, grew steadily as the abbreviated set went on.

There is nothing new or unfamiliar about what Standing Hawthorn does: U2 is a key reference point for an approach that strives for and readily achieves passionate intensity. Singer Paul Schulte gives the band a handsome focal point whose moves are devoid of preening and posturing. As he fervently sang lyrics about the heartache and confusion involved in the transition from adolescence to adulthood, Schulte grimaced and bent his body in ways consonant with the trials in the songs. His singing was clenched, his throaty voice strained with effort, but it packed sufficient power to stand the strain.

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The set's main drawback was the sameness of Schulte's vocal approach. It would help if he could take a break from titanic effort and approach certain songs with a poignant sweetness or a playful lightness that would complement the earnestness that is the primary slant of Standing Hawthorn's music.

The players backing Schulte seem capable of moving in any direction. By keeping a stable lineup for more than five years and by playing more often than most bands on the local alternative scene, Standing Hawthorn has emerged as a tight, assured unit.

Drummer Stoner (full name: Douglas Stoner Peterson) didn't stint on muscle yet did a deft job of accenting his work with tricky, motion-filled rhythm. Brent Loomis' bass often carried the melody while guitarist Chris Karn dabbed on colors and textures with a judicious use of distortion effects.

With its singer's sincerity and strong stage presence, a cohesive instrumental sound and a technical mastery evident on the new CD, "Itch," Standing Hawthorn has the grounding to move forward and experiment with a broader range of moods and emotions.

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Babylonian Tiles cater to a specialized taste with their spooky Gothic rock. The band from Westminster didn't stir this audience, but its ability to re-create strong material from its debut CD, "Basking in the Sun at Midnight," suggests that it can connect with listeners who would enjoy a walk on the dark side.

With her elaborate eye makeup and a star painted in the middle of her forehead, singer Bryna Golden sat at her keyboards looking like a psychic. Her wan but expressive voice proved well-suited for relating tales set in the murk and chill of haunted castles, tombs and lonely garrets. Keyed by her '60s-style psychedelic organ playing and a good rolling and tumbling rhythm section, Babylonian Tiles mustered precision and drive on such songs as "No One Now" and "Crystal Gavel."

Slower passages were steeped in a B-movie eeriness that, delivered in a straight-faced deadpan, didn't take itself too seriously. This is a band that folks with a little Morticia Addams in them might find as tasty as hemlock tea.

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