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POP : ROCK'S HARD PLACE : In the early '80s, the Plimsouls went their own, angry way in rock, not too punk or too pop, and others followed. Now they're back for more.

June 29, 1995|RICHARD CROMELIN | Richard Cromelin is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times.

Peter Case and David Pahoa sit in a parked car around the corner from the Alligator Lounge, the Santa Monica rock club where their band, the Plimsouls, will play in a few hours. Bassist Pahoa pops a tape into the cassette player, and the car is filled with rollicking, mid-tempo garage-rock blues, guitars chopping hard behind Case's raspy vocal.

It's the kind of sound that galvanized a good portion of the L.A. rock audience during the Plimsouls' initial run in the first half of the '80s, but this song was recorded by the reunited quartet only a day earlier.

"If we had two more days, we'd be ready to put an album out," Case quips.

The comment isn't the joke it might seem. The Plimsouls have come back together after a 10-year hiatus without missing a beat. They're scheduled to play Saturday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

"Immediately it had the whole thing going. It was like we'd taken a 10-minute break," marvels Case later as the band--original members Case, Pahoa and guitarist Eddie Munoz and new drummer Clem Burke--does its sound check at the Alligator. The show is sold out, and the club's manager tells the band that they've received 300 phone calls that day inquiring about tickets.

Tony Berg, director of artists and repertoire at Geffen Records (which released the Plimsouls' second album), expects a similar level of interest among record companies.

"I think there's a lot of goodwill toward the Plimsouls in any music community, as long as [their reunion is] not nostalgically motivated," Berg says.

"If the guys in the band feel strongly that this is the most important musical statement they can make, and they can continue to do it with the kind of verve they did when they were originally together, I think there will be a lot of receptivity to it."

The Plimsouls built that goodwill during a dizzying five years on the thriving Los Angeles rock scene, starting in 1980. Rejecting the minimalism of hard-core punk and the lightweight approach of the power-pop bands, the group went for the throat with a sound that combined early-rock rootsiness; enticing pop hooks and textures; a taut, throbbing foundation; garage-rock directness, and Case's raw, Lennon-like vocals.

At its best, the music crystallized the urgency, tension and release of life lived hard in Los Angeles, and though the band's two albums failed commercially, its influence is felt today.

"It seems like all the music that happened in the late '70s, early '80s had a really strong effect on kids, and it's coming to fruition now," notes new Plimsoul Burke, who made his name as Blondie's drummer before going on to work with Eurythmics and the Romantics.

"As far as the band being contemporary, I think it really works right now," he continues. "Listen to the music that's happening now, from Green Day to Elastica. . . . Those people were listening to bands like Blondie and the Plimsouls. . . . Gin Blossoms are a good example of a band that is mining that same thing."

Still, the failure of the band's records--the 1980 EP "Zero Hour," 1981's "The Plimsouls" and 1984's "Everywhere at Once"--to capture its essence was one of the prime motivators in Case's decision to strike up the band again.

"[One] impetus was, the band did all this work for years and years, did a lot of music and played all over the country and had a lot of fans. We only made two albums, and neither of them were, like, fully realized.

"[Another] impetus, I guess, was, my songwriting really got in gear a few years back. I just really found out what I was doing. Every third or fourth song I was writing was a rock 'n' roll kind of song. . . . I have played rock 'n' roll with a variety of musicians, and I was always trying to get them to sound like this band."

Case, 41, has focused for the past decade on his career as a folk-flavored singer-songwriter in solo and small-group modes. Typical of his uncalculated approach, he's just released a solo album on Vanguard Records, "Torn Again," and will interrupt the Plimsouls reunion for a solo tour early next month.

"My record company thinks I'm crazy for doing it this way," he says.

His record company should have been around during the Plimsouls' first incarnation.

"We were so disorganized," Case recalls. "Sometimes we didn't live anywhere. We used to sell our equipment and go to the racetrack. . . . We just didn't take care of business. Me and David would do things like, 'Let's play a trick on the road manager; let's hitchhike from New Orleans to St Louis. Let's blow his mind.' Stuff like that.

"The last tour was kind of the high-wire point of the thing. . . . We really were insane. We'd been playing this kind of music night after night after night for years, and it was very intense. . . . It's like the whole thing just exploded."

Case left the Plimsouls in 1985, worn down by that intensity and disillusioned by what he perceived as a lack of communication between group and audience.

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