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Pop Music Review

Orchestra Morphine's Lively Tribute to Sandman

May 20, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS

When Morphine's front man and co-founder Mark Sandman dropped dead of a heart attack onstage last summer during a European tour, it looked like the end for the bluesy, guitarless alt-rock trio, enduring cult figures since the early '90s.

Instead, saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway recruited some of the Boston-based musician's friends and collaborators to tour as the nine-piece Orchestra Morphine, which on Thursday offered interpretations of Sandman's music to a few hundred fans at El Rey Theatre.

It was a lively tribute that focused on songs from Morphine's final album, "The Night," as well as earlier works and material from Sandman's funk project the Hypnosonics.

In the spirit of communal homage, Colley shared vocal duties with singers Laurie Sargent and Christian McNeill, while original Morphine member Jerome Deupree manned the second drum kit behind a keyboardist, a bassist (who used a traditional four-string rather than Sandman's trademark two-string bass), an additional saxophonist and a horn player.

With such numbers as "Like a Mirror," the players successfully re-created the album's lush austerity and delicate nuances. But too often, Sandman's moodier poetry was smoothed over in favor of a lightweight, celebratory funk groove, which was sometimes fun but proved overly repetitious. The group's need to swing was understandable, and it certainly buoyed some audience members. But by rendering Sandman's music rather less remarkable, the performance failed to shed much light on his legacy.

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