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POP : Their Mission: A Refined, Gentler Kind of Rock

August 17, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

In the aggressive 1990s, one of the rarest delicacies in pop music is delicacy itself.

The Innocence Mission from Lancaster, Pa., is a rock band out of its time. Its music does not explode with impulsive bursts of feeling, sinewy declarations of purpose or raw cries of alienation. No, the Innocence Mission, which plays tonight at the Coach House, is almost always meditative and deliberate. There is a sense of refinement, an elevation of sensibility, that contrasts with the suddenness and harsh immediacy that have become standard for much '90s rock. Singer Karen Peris and her three band mates may be pop music's last Victorians, making music that sounds more like a throwback to the 19th Century than part of rock's hectic drive toward the 21st.

This kind of approach calls for a voice of pure beauty, and Peris supplies it with a soft, breathy, languid soprano that echoes Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays, with a touch of Victoria Williams' idiosyncrasy fluttering in its high range.

The Innocence Mission consists of Peris, who plays keyboards; her guitar-playing husband, Don Peris; bassist Mike Bitts, and drummer Steve Brown. The four began playing together in 1982 when they were classmates at a Catholic high school in Lancaster. Their recording debut, "The Innocence Mission," arrived in 1989, followed by "Umbrella" in 1991; the records won good critical notices, but reaped only limited sales.

The band's third album, the recently released "Glow," is a cohesive sequence of songs that draws a listener into the Innocence Mission's world of gentle reverie without the occasionally precious, affected tone that could throw up a barrier to similar immersion on the previous recordings.

While not quite a concept album, "Glow" has an implied narrative flow. In it, a perceptive, sensitive and good-willed young person, the sort who might figure as the heroine of a novel by Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott, is forced from a cocoon of childhood comfort. She faces, with some hope but also considerable trepidation, the difficulties of moving ahead into a matured life, with all the changes, choices and separations that entails.

Peris' style is full of such literary touches as a fondness for using proper nouns for places and characters. "Keeping Awake," the luminous opening track of "Glow," may be one of the few rock songs influenced by Marcel Proust: It exactly parallels the opening childhood bedtime scene of "Remembrance of Things Past," except that Peris' portrait substitutes an overriding sense of safety and warmth for Proust's quaking anxiety. As the album progresses, childhood ends and we hear from narrators learning to cope with losses either anticipated or already suffered. The band is capable of rocking a bit, as it does with a flowing, streaming momentum on "Speak Our Minds." But most of "Glow" comes wrapped in gently thrumming, lightly rippling textures. Like a good 19th-Century novel, the album can take us out of our own frazzled time into a world that seems saner and more hospitable to the nurturing of a sensitive soul. Also like a good 19th-Century novel, it is not divorced from emotional currents and challenges that stay the same for the individual, no matter what the temper of the age.

* What: The Innocence Mission.

* When: Today at 8 p.m., with 16 Horsepower and Hinged.

* Where: Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

* Whereabouts: Take Interstate 5 to the San Juan Creek Road exit and turn left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza.

* Wherewithal: $10.

* Where to call: (714) 496-8930.

MORE POP:

Soulful and sassy former Texans Rosie Flores and Katy Moffatt uphold their home state's fine tradition of producing singer-songwriters who mix country, rock and folk sources and hold it all together with songwriting artistry. Flores and Moffatt share a bill Wednesday at the Long Beach Museum of Art. (310) 439-2119.

It would be hard to order up a tastier menu of local grass-roots talent than the one being offered Saturday at Que Sera Sera in Long Beach. Joyride, Standard Fruit and D.D. Wood offer a stylistic palette from folk-country (Wood) to rockin' pure-pop (Standard Fruit) to punk-powered pop (Joyride), each with well-wrought, melodic songwriting. (310) 599-6170.

Ten years ago Dokken was a standard-issue heavy metal band, but the reformed lineup shows strong growth with its comeback album, "Dysfunctional." Dokken plays tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana. (714) 957-0600.

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