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POP MUSIC REVIEW

An Evening of High and Low Notes

March 14, 1997|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was an evening of mood music at the Troubadour on Wednesday--or rather, moods. Los Angeles quartet Polar Goldie Cats dealt jagged intensity, Minnesota trio Low followed with becalmed stasis, and Australia's Dirty Three headlined with, well, everything in between.

Sometimes trickling, sometimes raging, Dirty Three's involving, all-instrumental music snakes like a river along a path set out by violinist Warren Ellis' fluid, flamboyant and very physical playing. The elements are varied, from Gypsy-like waltzes to rhapsodic swirls.

On the feedback-spiked "Indian Love Song," electric guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White provided an almost bluesy foundation, while Ellis lived out apparent fixations with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, making dramatic gestures as he coaxed sighs and groans from his instrument through two furious climaxes.

Ellis offered increasingly off-the-wall verbal introductions to each song, but the music ultimately said more than words possibly can--which helps explain why this group has become an unlikely cause celebre among the alternative-rock cognoscenti.

Low, the only act of the night employing vocals, is less engaging. There is, though, a beauty to this languid, drawn-out musical understatement and to the duet singing of guitarist Alan Sparhawk (a vocal twin of Art Garfunkel) and drummer Mimi Parker.

Polar Goldie Cats, in contrast, filled every bit of the room with dense, quasi-surf music, refracted through Sonic Youth and maybe some Elliott Carter. It was at first a bit distancing and cold, but soon proved warmly enveloping.

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