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Pop Music Review : Powered by Passion, the Proclaimers Energize

August 09, 1994|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Who can blame the Proclaimers for sounding particularly fervent when singing to American audiences about Scottish politics? Ours is, after all, the country that created the most famous ersatz-Scotsman of the era, a portly engineer who is always whining to Captain Kirk: "I canna give ya any moor poower!"

The Proclaimers' twin front men, Craig and Charlie Reid, may live in a galaxy far, far away from that of "Star Trek's" Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery Scott. But they do have at least one trait in common: passion.

Indeed, the Reids are as passionate about their native Scotland (just listen to their unequivocally independence-minded "Cap in Hand") as they are about their music, which brims with American roots-rock sources as well as with Celtic folk and skiffle.

It didn't take long for all that to be made perfectly clear Sunday night, when the Proclaimers played the Coach House. It's hard to imagine that these energetic laddies could have mustered even a wee bit more power than they expended over the course of their 21-song, 85-minute set.

The group is on its first U.S. tour in five years--and its first since "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," a song the band recorded in 1988, turned into a smash single after being featured last year in the film "Benny and Joon".

Despite an even longer (six-year) lull between albums (reportedly caused by a divorce-induced case of writer's block for Charlie Reid), the adrenaline-stoked enthusiasm of the first two Proclaimers albums is intact on the new one, "Hit the Highway."

This time, along with the vibrant folk-rock aimed at lifting hearts and stirring minds, the boys have added some funky grooves that give the hips and feet something to do, too.

*

It's a canny move that lends a temporal balance to this frequently spiritual music. It's too bad the Reids didn't bring a saxophonist on tour to add the gritty, sensual parts that flesh out several songs on "Hit the Highway." But journeyman work by their explosive four-man band, particularly by guitarist Stuart Nisbet, made the absence of the sax as painless as possible.

The Reids may not be Christians (a count on which they frequently express reservations in their interviews), but their soulful yearnings certainly are God-directed. It's no contradiction that they can castigate smug proselytizers in such songs as the new album's title tune and "The Light" (powerfully played back-to-back on Sunday), and then turn around to sing, in "The More I Believe":

The less I believe in me,

The more I believe in thee.

As the Reids see it, faith comes differently to each person, and they are suspicious of anyone who offers one-size-fits-all answers. Still, they'll accept no substitutes for faith, a fact they outline in another nifty section of "The More I Believe," answering a couple of knocks on God from one of John Lennon's most skeptical periods:

I don't believe in beads or crystals,

Instant karma or Mother Earth.

I don't believe that what I think

Makes any difference to what I'm worth.

What does make a difference in the Reids' quests for spiritual truth are their roots in everyday life. They still haven't found what they're looking for, but unlike U2, they're looking for it with feet planted right here on Earth, not floating breathlessly through swirling clouds of mystic haze.

And the feisty "Shout Shout" showed they aren't so preoccupied with matters of the soul that they are beyond an all-too-human marital row.

Several times during the show they reached an utter abandon that was breathtaking. The spotlight was mostly on Craig Reid, who puffed his chest, jutted his jaw and belted out song after song with a brogue as thick as his horn-rimed glasses. The relentlessly infectious "500 Miles" marked one of the few times during a rock concert that a singer seemed in danger of inciting a parade.

*

Charlie Reid laid on sweet high harmonies and pounded his acoustic guitar as if the road to heaven were paved with enthusiastic strumming. When Charlie threw his head back and took over the lead in the soaring, octave-leaping "Sean," it was world-class goose-bump time.

With the opening set by Baltimore's Greenberry Woods, it was a full evening of carefully crafted melodic rock.

The Woods boast their own pair of twin singers in guitarist Matt and bassist Brandt Huseman, who trade off leads with the band's third singer, guitarist Ira Katz.

The group hasn't developed as far as the Proclaimers, but many attractive elements are falling into place: distinctive melodies, attractively layered harmonies and even a bit of vocal counterpoint--exceedingly rare in this Riffs R Us age.

The lyrics tend to toward the elliptical, which isn't in itself a problem--Crowded House often leaves the listener guessing. But with Crowded House, at least the listener remembers what he or she is guessing about. Greenberry Woods's catchy melodies cry out for lyrics that are equally memorable.

Still, they did pull it all together occasionally, with "37 (Feels So Strange)," "Trampoline" and one or two others included in the briskly paced 12-song, 37-minute set.

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