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Pop Music / WEEKEND REVIEW

Kendrix and Persuasions a Fitting Bill for Ash Grove

July 29, 1996|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

For owner Ed Pearl and fans of the Ash Grove, maybe the last-minute delays in opening were meant to be.

Pearl's two-decade dream of reopening the landmark Fairfax area folk and blues club had been scheduled to come true July 11 in its new location on the Santa Monica Pier, but permit problems caused that date, and subsequent ones, to be pushed back.

As fate would have it, the two acts that had been booked for Saturday long before the cancellations both had strong ties to the old club, which closed in 1973, and it's hard to think of a more appropriate bill than a cappella masters the Persuasions and Eddie Kendrix with his 11-piece Family of Faith.

The latter outfit's joyous gospel offerings even served, under the circumstances, as a sort of christening for the comfortable and attractive new room.

"I've missed the Ash Grove terribly," Kendrix said backstage before the show, referring to the dozens of times he played the old Melrose Avenue club as pianist with Bessie Griffin & the Gospel Pearls. "When I walked in here tonight, it felt like the answer to my prayers . . . I just hope we're good enough to live up to the old club's spirit."

No problem. Kendrix and his wonderful array of singers had the audience clapping along within minutes of taking the stage in a club that is blessed with outstanding sound and sight lines. Pearl says its capacity of 300 will eventually be expanded to 500.

The Persuasions followed with an uplifting if conservative set that focused on classic R&B numbers, including "Under the Boardwalk" and "In the Still of the Night." Except for the clownish "Besame Mucho," the set was a nice balance of frivolity and finesse.

It's going to take some time to tell if the down-home '60s spirit of the old Ash Grove can survive in the more upscale '90s Santa Monica setting, but the club--whose rootsy booking policy will lean to a mix of blues, country, folk and world music acts--got off to an encouraging start.

"Welcome to the Ash Grove," Pearl said at the start of the evening, adding good-naturedly, "That's something I've been waiting 23 years to say."

He wasn't alone. The Ash Grove was long an invaluable part of the Los Angeles concert scene, and it's exciting to have it back.

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