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Drumming Up Fans at Cowboy Roundup

August 05, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — It certainly is unusual to find a drummer positioned front-and-center on a concert stage. But Fred LeBlanc, the fiery leader of Cowboy Mouth, a rock band from New Orleans, is no ordinary character.

Possessed by a preacher's righteous, fist-waving zeal, LeBlanc is a spirited bundle of energy who works relentlessly at molding his listeners into a congregation of true believers. (Reflecting this approach is the title of the band's new major label debut CD: "Are You With Me?").

But such questing for dedicated followers can be a hit-or-miss proposition, and at the Galaxy Concert Theatre on Friday night, LeBlanc (whose nickname is "the mouth") was reduced more often than not to a false Messiah.

His constant and shameless prodding for applause--particularly his profanity-laced, repetitious sermonizing ("I can't [expletive] hear you," "It's not about [expletive] money, man, it's about people like y'all")--was more rock 'n' roll cliche than heartfelt, divine inspiration or revelation.

When fans stand or dance throughout a performance, it usually is because they have been stirred by the emotional power of the moment, riveted and captivated, not forced into enthusiasm. Apparently, this notion is lost on LeBlanc.

Just a few songs into Cowboy Mouth's 95-minute set, he charged out to the floor of the club and demanded--table by table--that everyone get off his or her rear-end and down into the pit. In fewer than 20 minutes, he had gone from musician to preacher to drill sergeant--but, hey, all in the name of rock 'n' roll, brothers and sisters!

Musically, the quartet (which includes lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith, rhythm guitarist Paul Sanchez and bassist Rob Savoy, all of whom sing) fared much better. They stuck mainly to hard-charging, straight-ahead rockers drawn from their recordings but ventured out a bit with the spicy flavored "Louisiana Lowdown," the jangly and free-flowing "Peacemaker" (sung wistfully by Griffith) and the hook-filled pop-rock of their latest single, "Jenny Says."

And one moment of seemingly honest-to-goodness heart and soul burst through LeBlanc's contrived posturing like the sun on a cloudy day.

"God Makes the Rain," written by LeBlanc last year the day after the death of his brother, is an alternately tender and fierce outpouring of confusing, often conflicting outrage and sorrow. Sung with a biting edge, such lyrics as:

I used to hold my fury and keep it bottled tight

and wrestle with the consequences each and every night.

finally brought "the mouth" to the Promised Land.

*

Second-billed Eva's Lyric played the kind of faceless arena rock that made the punk explosion of the late '70s so necessary. In such numbers as "Ginger" and "My Picture" (both drawn from the band's "January 12" CD), the quintet from L.A., Orange and San Diego counties recycled riffs suggesting that watching MTV and listening to KLOS-FM and Journey records can be hazardous to a band's health.

Mule Davis, a clearly impressive act based in the Costa Mesa/Tustin area, preceded Eva's Lyric with a too-brief set of modern-sounding rock. Fronted by the marvelous vocal team of Steve Counts and Holly Steinhilber, the quintet projected personality, confidence and variety, ranging from neo-psychedelic pop-rock ("1973") to acoustic-based rock ("Simple Me") to balladry (the gut-wrenching "Roadside").

The Mercury Tea Company, a band from San Diego sorely in need of stage presence, opened the show with a wobbly mix of gothic, jazz and progressive rock. Except for a hypnotic closing instrumental called "Snakecharmer," the band's predominantly slow and ponderous songs lacked the type of building, brooding intensity that this type of vastly dark music requires if it is to draw listeners in.

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