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O.C. POP MUSIC REVIEW : Survival of the Loudest

August 19, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Common wisdom has it that the dinosaurs were dimwitted creatures that became extinct because they were too slow, lumbering and oblivious to adapt.

But maybe reality was more interesting. Perhaps the dinosaurs could, in fact, see their fate on the horizon, made a stab at adapting, but either wouldn't or couldn't go far enough to survive in a changed climate.

Dokken is behaving like that more interesting sort of dinosaur. Like so many other heavy-metal bands during the 1980s, the L.A. foursome took advantage of a hospitable environment for lead-footed bronto-rock in which rock was inflated to a titanic scale of lust and ire. Dokken never grew big enough to eat from the tallest treetops like the top-echelon metal headliners, but it served as opening act on some big tours (including the 1988 "Monsters of Rock" trek headlined by Van Halen and Metallica) and racked up three platinum albums and one gold one between 1984 and 1989.

After that, singer Don Dokken and guitarist George Lynch severed their oft-contentious relationship and started bands of their own. By 1990, Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had set in motion the rise of a new, punk-influenced brand of arena rock. When Nirvana and Pearl Jam exploded, they were a volcano that darkened the once-bright skies for old-line heavy-metal bands.

Now, midway through the '90s, we see a reformed Dokken trying to adapt. Not by imitation of the new breed of chart-ruling mammals, which would be conduct unbecoming an old thunder lizard, but by expanding the reach of the old style.

Dokken's comeback album, "Dysfunctional," takes some promising paths, expanding upon the old diet of hammering beats and stentorian sing-along refrains with songs that are more pop-melodic and less obnoxiously operatic, more psychologically credible and that include progressive-rock shadings. Dokken even winds up the CD with a faithful cover of the Emerson, Lake & Palmer chestnut "From the Beginning."

Dokken's bid to adapt evidently goes only so far though. Playing Thursday for about 600 people in the sold-out Galaxy Concert Theatre, the band played just four of its new songs, with mixed results: "The Maze," with its acoustic textures and almost Beatle-esque melodic departures, offered a definite change, but it still rode a slow, heavy, deadening beat.

That was true of other new songs. In any case, Dokken didn't go very far down the road of adaptation: Most of its two-hour set consisted of oldies from the days when a dinosaur could roar with confidence in an abundant future.

That meant plenty of the usual thing. Weighted, unvarying rhythms that pounded themselves into dullness, guitar solos that whined and squalled, courtesy of Lynch, a muscular, pocket Schwarzenegger with slicked-back short hair and a glowering, taciturn, Conan-like bearing.

Lynch may be a particularly fleet-fingered and technically accomplished metal guitarist, but he lacked the musicality and playfulness to rise above the genre's conventions a la Eddie Van Halen or Joe Satriani. Don Dokken was a game and upbeat host, hawing frequently with his staccato laugh, but his raspy voice betrayed obvious signs of road wear.

On the plus side were some good, sing-along choruses and enough intensity in the playing--particularly on an extended "It's Not Love"--to rev up fans who didn't seem to care that their dinosaurs haven't changed much after all.

When Lynch had to change strings at one point, Dokken filled the time by ragging on MTV for not playing the old style of hard rock anymore. He declared with bravado that "rock [meaning heavy-metal rock] is dead" rumors are greatly exaggerated.

"Keep comin' [and] we'll keep goin', all right?" Dokken said. But judging from the advancing age of the audience--few teens and college-age kids in evidence--it could be that heavy metal has stopped breeding the new generations that sustained its long reign.

The kids are listening to punk rock, a stripped-down, hardy breed that has proven it has the survivability of a cockroach. And Beavis & Butt-head are nightly teaching the young to sneer at the hard-rock '80s.

Dokken in its heyday profited by milking cliches that were widely popular. Now those same cliches are widely ridiculed. The new arena rock has its own tiresome cliches, but if you compare the Stone Temple Pilots and Green Days of today to the Dokkens, Dios and Motley Crues of 10 years ago, natural selection starts looking like not such a cruel process after all.

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