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Savage Republic's punk art hardware still stimulates

November 15, 2002|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Have the members of Savage Republic ever thought that if they'd just painted themselves blue and spat marshmallows at each other, they might be rich and famous today?

Way before Blue Man Group started making music with PVC tubing and oil drums, these Los Angeles art-rockers were making similarly powerful, rhythmic instrumentals, just with different hardware and without the conceptual comedy.

Wednesday at the Knitting Factory, Savage Republic, reunited for the first time in more than 13 years, showed theirs to be a more nuanced, more sophisticated and more viscerally stimulating brand of music than the azure upstarts'.

With five of its six members rotating on electric guitars and basses, anchored by martial drumming and at times extra beats banged out on their own oil barrel, SR's majestic music evoked Pink Floyd playing surf music, or Dick Dale jamming with German space-rockers Neu. Mediterranean tones melded with epic sonic sweeps and, in a few songs, poetically polemic vocals.

Perhaps performance art renown was never in the band's destiny, but it probably could have found success creating film scores and multimedia campaigns.

But then, mainstream fame never seemed a priority to them or to the three other veteran L.A. punk-era, art-oriented acts on the bill.

Human Hands (with three original members) still offers L.A.'s answer to early Talking Heads or XTC. The Urinals found an unlikely middle ground between PiL and Brian Wilson, and Mike Watt's new band, the Secondmen, finds his thundering bass complemented in intricate compositions by organist Pete Mazich and drummer Jerry Trebotic, showcasing new material of near-operatic scale.

It was challenging yet approachable -- the hallmark of this night of distinction without regard to commerce.

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