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Pop Music Review

Hey, Alex, Was That Ambivalence or Contempt?

July 09, 1999|NATALIE NICHOLS

Taking a musical stroll through the more obscure byways of his catalog, pop cult hero Alex Chilton played everything from an Italian rock 'n' roll tune to a Michael Jackson song during a rare appearance Tuesday at the House of Blues. Despite his apparent affection for some of the material, however, the 90-minute set was an exercise in ambivalence.

The Memphis-born singer-guitarist first tasted fame with '60s pop group the Box Tops, but Chilton was more legendary and influential as the iconoclastic leader of '70s power-pop touchstone Big Star (perhaps best known to modern audiences through the theme song to Fox's sitcom "That '70s Show"). Yet he has never embraced or even been comfortable with his status.

So it wasn't surprising that Tuesday's concert was deliberately obfuscatory, offering only a couple of originals, including Big Star's "When My Baby's Beside Me," and instead featuring his renditions of "Volare," the R&B-pop come-on "What's Your Sign Girl?" and a cornucopia of '60s pop, jazzy instrumentals, blues and country.

Although adeptly backed by bassist Ron Easley and drummer Richard Dworkin, Chilton mustered all the energy and passion of a disgruntled bar-band singer. His mild-mannered demeanor and smarmy patter ("This is the greatest song ever") seemed to mask a deeper contempt. This lackluster display probably didn't dissuade the handful of die-hard fans in the less than half-full venue, but a lot of casual observers got the message and headed for the door.

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