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Pop Music Review

Depressed? Desperate? Conspiracy Helps

March 29, 2001|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Willard Grant Conspiracy makes the kind of music that could be used as an antidotefor depression. When you listen to the group's noir tales of agony and quiet despair, you can't help but feel that no matter how sad your life may be, you are definitely not alone. And the somber beauty of the Conspiracy's tunes implies that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Although the Boston group has achieved cult status in Europe, to call them a well-kept secret here would be an understatement. On Tuesday at the Knitting Factory Hollywood the band presented its new album, the excellent "Everything's Fine," in front of 25 fans. Talk about an intimate show.

The Conspiracy includes as many as 26 different members (on Tuesday it performed as a quartet, but at its core is the songwriting partnership of guitarist Paul Austin and singer Robert Fisher. A rotund man with an air of mystery about him, Fisher is blessed with a highly expressive baritone that complements masterfully the music's orchestral sweep, folk vibe and alternative-country echoes.

"There can't be too many songs about drinking," Fisher said wryly, before launching into yet another number focusing on some of his preoccupations: loneliness, alcohol, darkness and its paradoxical power to heal the wounded soul.

Opening act Jeremy Eade, lead singer with New Zealand pop-rock foursome Garageland, presented a lively set made up of stripped-down versions of his group's repertoire.

The new arrangements worked remarkably well. Eade's introspective demeanor, sharp lyrics and distinctive singing somewhat made him sound like a distant cousin of Paul Simon--with a bit of Paul McCartney thrown in for good measure.

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