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Pop Music Review

Two Grittier Bands From British Isles

January 23, 2002|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Not every British Isles band in the flowering post-Oasis wave is a moony romantic a la Coldplay or Starsailor. Two exponents of grittier brands of dreams played Monday at the House of Blues: Welsh group the Stereophonics and young Dublin trio JJ72.

The difference between the two was indicated by their frontmen's choice of attire: Stereophonics' singer Kelly Jones in efficient, reliable denim; JJ72's Mark Greaney in black leather.

In the course of three albums, the Stereophonics have developed a style heavily rooted in '70s workingman's rock: Zeppelin beats; pub-rooted character studies a la Rod Stewart and his Faces bandmate Ronnie Lane; guitar licks straight out of, dare we say, Wings. They came off at times Monday as a less-jaundiced Oasis.

Jones' raspy voice suggests both Liam Gallagher and Stewart, with maybe a little bluesy screech of Humble Pie-era Steve Marriott. And song after song portrayed regular folks faced with big dreams and temptations, yet satisfied with being regular. It's a noble state, and the Stereophonics make a worthy ambassador for it.

JJ72, though, doesn't seem likely to settle for regular. On the band's recent debut album, Greaney seems to have digested everything from the Velvet Underground to David Bowie to Joy Division to Nirvana to Radiohead and managed to make something of his own, with melodic drive and lyrics portraying complex emotional states from scattered images and fragmented thoughts.

Live, though, the chemical reactions of that mix were explosive, with Greaney's high, quavery voice jacked up to a raw scream and the music flecked with bursts of feedback and noise from his guitar and thunderous backing from bassist Hilary Woods and drummer Fergal Matthews. And yet it retained plenty of anthemic hook appeal. The performance was impressive not just for visceral power, but for possibilities it promised.

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