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WEEKEND REVIEWS | Pop Music Review

Touring in Good Faith

Creed's Christian message is heartfelt, though largely uninspired.


Sincerity sells.

Who'd have thought it still possible here in the age of cynicism?

But along comes a band like Florida quartet Creed, which kicks sonic derriere as forcefully as the most demonic hard-rock outfit while lead singer Scott Stapp unashamedly touts love as the cure for the world's ills.

And how does the public respond? By gobbling up more than 10 million copies of the year-old "Human Clay" and its 1997 debut album, "My Own Prison."

Meanwhile, everyone except those millions of Creed fans are trying to figure out "Whassup?"

But the Creed phenomenon isn't any big mystery. Clearly this band of spiritually questing Christians--albeit believers who don't call themselves Christian rockers--fills a void by offering a dramatic alternative to the hedonists who dominate the hard-rock world.

In the business world it's called product positioning, or niche marketing. And the niche Creed has discovered is vast enough to house a few hundred semis packed with Creed CDs.

The group's concert Saturday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine--on a tour with Collective Soul that hits Universal Amphitheatre tonight--made another key difference obvious.

After a decade or more of rock stars who have been reluctant, cynical, ironic, contemptuous or self-deprecating about fame, Creed and Stapp welcome it.

Stapp repeatedly offered utterly heartfelt expressions of gratitude--an attitude that's all the more disarming in the context of the expletive-spewing tradition of hard-rock front men.

Stapp also comes across as honest-to-the-marrow in the Big Questions of Life he poses in songs he writes with Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti: "Are you ready?" and "What if I avenge?" and "Can you take me higher?"

True, the musical framework for those questions isn't particularly varied or fresh--Zeppelin-cum-Metallica thunder with echoes of U2's Edge-y moodiness and Pearl Jam grunge in nearly every tune.

The combination makes Creed's albums and concerts musically monochromatic and oddly joyless affairs, except perhaps for the hit anthem "With Arms Wide Open," celebrating the arrival of a child.

Creed's music also is virtually humorless, to the extent that it's hard to imagine Stapp ever wrestling with the more concrete dilemmas of daily life, such as "Are those 10-10 phone numbers really cheaper?"

Yet lack of variety or inspired originality haven't prevented a certain fast-food chain from serving billions for decades.

Obviously, fans can't get enough of Stapp's heart-on-sleeve emotionalism and cords-wide-open vocals, so until somebody comes along with a livelier way of addressing that hunger for crunching rock with a positive message, Creed will have this corner of the pop market pretty much to itself.

Collective Soul, unfortunately, suffered the curse that often befalls non-headliner acts: a bad sound mix. In this instance, a horribly thick, bottom-heavy jumble obliterated the Georgia quintet's hallmark harmonic subtleties, much of lead singer Ed Roland's vocals and some appealing Beck-like sonic twists in two songs previewed from the band's forthcoming "Blender" album.

* Creed plays tonight at Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. With Collective Soul, Full Devil Jacket. 7:15 p.m. $38.50. (818) 622-4440.

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