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Quick Fixx? No, This Was an Overhaul

Pop music review: The passionless '80s techno stars appear to have been reborn as a revved-up and inspired '90s rock band.

November 19, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — "Are we ourselves . . . and do we really know?"

That line--sung at the Coach House Sunday night by Cy Curnin of the Fixx--summed up the band's show: Just who were these guys? The group that was playing such an impressive, spirited and entertaining set of rock 'n' roll couldn't have been the Fixx, that pretentious techno-pop British band from the '80s.

In fact, the four men on stage (plus touring bassist Chris Tait) indeed were the original Fixx, the same guys who had scored commercially on the strength of such synth-driven, lightweight but catchy tunes as "Red Skies," "One Thing Leads to Another," "Stand or Fall," "Deeper and Deeper" and "Saved by Zero."

The Fixx had been blasted by critics for a passionless sound and a reliance on ponderous electronics and abstract, simple-minded anthems, and the group pretty much vanished after 1991 when it released "Ink," an album that flopped with the critics and the fans. Now, like many aging popsters, they are on the comeback trail, a 12-date tour showcasing most of the group's hits and previewing material from a release to be called "Happy Landings."

At the Coach House (which was about two-thirds full), the band was focused and energized, performing less like technocrats and more like rockers. Lead guitarist Jamie West-Oram now serves as the instrumental cornerstone, with electronic guru Rupert Greenall using his synth and keyboard washes only as color for the most part.

Curnin, meanwhile, was in a loose, gracious mood, high-fiving nearby fans, shaking hands and complimenting them on unsolicited backing vocals. ("The Coach House is in fine voice tonight. Thanks for the good vibes.")

*

A couple of songs ("Climb the Hill" and "Secret Separation") fell flat, opening the 85-minute set on a sour note. More characteristic, though, were the revved-up, melodically-rich selections, especially the careening, guitar-fueled "Driven Out."

If the four-song sampling of new songs was indicative of the rest of "Happy Landings," the Fixx may find a place in the '90s. The most impressive were "We Once Held Hands," a vibrant, appealing song about holding onto hope, and "Happy Landing," an acoustic number about personal struggle, perseverance and redemption.

Second-billed Parkaimoon recalled the punk group Firehose, bashing out trippy, often dissonant, hard-edged rockers. Led by Damon Tucker's funky, percolating bass lines, the trio from Huntington Beach served up 30 minutes of promising originals (especially the topical "Talk Radio" and the structurally complex "Out") and a winning cover of Prince's naughty, provocative "Darling Nikki."

The opening act, Esoteric, appeared hopelessly mired in the outdated Duran Duran school of synth-techno drivel. Nick U.'s thin vocals lacked the punch necessary to carry such emotionally grounded songs as "Wave Goodbye" and "No Apology." Only a thoughtful mid-tempo number called "Private Place" stood apart from the hapless din.

* The Fixx, Jay Nixon and Tommy Reiser play tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theater, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd, Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $22.50-$24.50 (714) 957-0600. The Fixx, Roger Kraft and DV8 play Wednesday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $22.50-$24.50 (714) 496-8930.

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