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Smash Mouth Fails to Show Its True Colors

Pop music review: The versatile, idea-laden band performs a monochromatic show, missing a chance to explore and expand.

October 07, 1997|SANDY MASUO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — Smash Mouth may share many traits with contemporaries such as No Doubt and Goldfinger, but the band's quirky debut album, "Fush Yu Mang," hinges on more than just the ska-punk-pop formula that's so popular these days.

The San Jose quartet also dabbles in everything from reverberant surf music to flamboyant pop that verges on Disney soundtrack terrain. The group's hit single, "Walkin' on the Sun," combines the groovy allure of '60s pop a la the Zombies with the scruffy appeal of punk.

Yet for all its colorful compositions, Smash Mouth's show at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana on Sunday proved disappointingly monochromatic.

The group's low-key garage-band vibe seemed out of place in the dinner theater setting, though the youthful crowd, roughly 700 strong, seemed to find it palatable.

Joking with audience members as well as bandmates, front man Steve Harwell generated most of the stage presence, chiefly during between-song banter. While engaged in the music, only the syncopated twitching of his legs and occasional manic pacing made him a more interesting focal point than his stationary colleagues--lead guitarist Greg Camp, bassist Paul De Lisle and drummer Kevin Coleman.

*

As jam-packed with ideas as Smash Mouth's music is, and as energetic as its playing was, the group didn't take advantage of the live setting to explore those ideas any further than it did in the studio. The most adventurous moment was in the closing number, a perky rendering of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Harwell, who had a fleeting rap career under the moniker Freedom of Speech before Smash Mouth, reverted briefly into rap mode, adding much-needed dynamics to the number.

After engaging the crowd in little call-and-response and pulling a few audience members on stage to join in an a cappella sing-along, the musicians briefly left the stage before returning with an encore of the only non-album selection of the evening, a frenzied rendering of "Sorry About Your Penis."

Before Smash Mouth called it a night, Harwell apologized for the abbreviated encore, explaining that the band was due in Arizona to resume its opening slot on Blur's current tour. Perhaps it's not too late for Harwell and company to pick up a few pointers on presentation from their style-savvy tour mates.

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