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Zany Rugburns Shake, Rattle and Cajole

Pop music review: The San Diego quartet rocks 'em in noisy fashion at the Blue Cafe. They'll be at Coach House on Friday.

February 14, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Tired of waiting for a reunion of the late, great Replacements? You can always catch the next best thing: San Diego's Rugburns.

In a sloppy but endearing set Monday night at the Blue Cafe, the ghost of Paul Westerberg took possession of front man Steve Poltz in a wild affair during which drinking, disrobing and serenading were as prominent as the quartet's music.

Such zaniness is no big surprise from a band whose latest album is titled "Taking the World by Donkey" and features such wonderfully goofy songs as "Tree Hugger," "The Girl With the Wandering Eye" and, most appropriately, "Pile on the Hangover."

Thriving on spontaneity and unruliness, the Rugburns delivered a free-flowing 90-minute set of modern folk, pop and rock full of unpredictable twists and turns.

After opening with a segment of well-played, fairly straightforward versions of songs from their two full-length releases, singer-songwriter Poltz and kilt-clad drummer Jeff "Stinky" Aafedt initiated what evolved into a series of seemingly impromptu diversions.

The first side-trip was a kinetic version of the delightful "Dick's Automotive," for which Poltz shot out rapid-fire lyrics while Aafedt raced about the club, making percussive use out of everything from the stage floor and nearby tabletops to Poltz's acoustic guitar and bassist Gregory Page's rear end.

Poltz then temporarily ditched the set's song list (assuming there was one) to dedicate a warped novelty song ("Uncle Reggie's Pantyhose") to a friend's father who was in the audience.

Former high-school teacher turned lead guitarist Robert Driscoll unleashed surprisingly crunchy riffs as Poltz dryly sang out: "He wore a garter as big as Cheetos/Extra crunchy, I suppose."

A little bit o' Ireland visited the cafe with a rousing, smartly played rendering of "Kilkenny Man," which inspired a raised whiskey glass and toast to the crowd from Poltz, as well as another stroll into the crowd by Aafedt.

At this point, Poltz mooned the audience after asking a photographer if she wanted a picture of his behind.

The final oddity of the night was a love song Poltz sang directly to club's bartender for the evening, Marjorie. The serenade, egged on by a boisterous crowd despite her blushing, included Poltz's mild, semi-striptease act while he sang: "I swear I'll always love you and stop drinking/Not really."

*

In between the shenanigans, some finely crafted songs were hammered home in a style closer to that of the Violent Femmes than, say, Jonathan Richman or Barenaked Ladies. The harder-edged, more electrified live approach worked well for rockin' numbers such as "Me and Eddie Vedder" and an explosive version of their latest single, "War."

Songs requiring a quieter, subtler current suffered, such as the usually excellent "Now's Not the Right Time for Love" and "I Want to Learn About Love," which mutated into a stumbling reggae number.

Nevertheless, these guys know the value of spontaneous entertainment and aren't afraid to follow their impulses on stage. More often than not, Poltz's intelligent, literate song craft emerges unharmed, and the wackiness has its twisted charm.

In fact, they look poised to challenge Southern Culture on the Skids as kings of kitschy rock 'n' roll.

Long Beach trio Mention opened with a 45-minute set of a promising hybrid of funk, soul and rock. Written by singer-guitarist Mike Carillo, the songs cover subjects ranging from stars and satellites to innocence lost, sexual awakening and political injustice.

Highlights included the jangly pop of "Caffeine," a voracious sexual appetite unveiled in "You" and heartfelt concern for Bosnia in "508."

* The Rugburns, Painted Id and Suva perform Friday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $8.(714) 496-8930. The Rugburns return on Monday and Feb. 26 to the Blue Cafe, 210 Promenade, Long Beach. 9:30 p.m. $6. (310) 983-7111.

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