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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Fu Manchu Comes In Loud, Unclear

January 27, 1998|JENNIFER VINEYARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CORONA — Fu Manchu might serve its goal better if the members took a tip from Spinal Tap and went through an instrumental "free jazz" period. Who knows? More people might even show up.

If only 30 or so fans come to what amounts to a homecoming show, as was Fu Manchu's gig at the Showcase Theatre on Sunday night, something's not working. When the San Clemente-spawned band let loose its trademark '70s-style, mind-numbing riffs, the punk-informed sludge might have made you sell your soul to rock 'n' roll. Then lead vocalist Scott Hill opened his mouth.

On records, Hill's ultra-laid-back, Jeff Spiccoli-from-"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" impression defuses the heaviness of the grind. Hard rock and metal all too often feature over-emoting and screaming, so Hill, for a change of pace, coasts through his words, barely singing at all.

Live, the drums were so wincingly loud that no words could be discerned. Not that this mattered. Like "Seinfeld," Fu Manchu boasts of being about nothing. Unlike "Seinfeld," this is neither brave nor charming.

Odes to monster cars and the ubiquitous Chevy van or half-articulate musings on sci-fi trappings such as aliens and UFOs (giving rise to trippy feedback and swirly, psychedelic effects), meaningless as they may be, were squandered as mere distractions from the slow, spacey rumble. If only Hill would shut up and let the velocity he wants to sing about take over.

*

New additions--guitarist Bob Balch and drummer Brant Bjork, late of Kyuss--fit the spaces left by longtime members Eddie Glass and Ruben Romano, now both in Nebula, but the defections left something lacking, be it camaraderie or chemistry.

Bjork was in his own giddy world, singing away when there were no lyrics to be sung, hitting his cowbell to count off songs. Balch and bassist Brad Davis spent more time facing their amps, striving for maximum feedback, than the sparse crowd. By the time they were done, 30 minutes into the set, the band members didn't even look to see if anyone wanted an encore. If they had spent more time exploring their deliciously deep, dense grooves, maybe the room wouldn't have cleared before they put down their instruments.

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