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Rock finds Love amid orchestral sounds

POP MUSIC REVIEW

Arthur Lee's 'Forever Changes' concert at UCLA blends guitar and harmonica with strings and horns.

June 02, 2003|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

Live orchestrated rock isn't rare nowadays, but it was back in 1967, when iconic L.A. band Love released "Forever Changes," its eclectic, enduring third album.

It sits in the pantheon of influential Southern California collections alongside the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," but leader Arthur Lee still took 35 years to muster a full performance, complete with an octet of strings and horns flavoring his groundbreaking blend of folk, pop, flamenco, blues and jazz.

Friday's sold-out "Forever Changes" concert at UCLA's Royce Hall wasn't as grandly conceived as Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds" show in 2000 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Yet despite such problems as a muddy sound mix, the performance was highlighted by Lee's stellar current incarnation of Love, rendering "Forever Changes" entirely and in order with classical-instrument accents in all the right places.

Such moments were delightful, with clarion trumpet notes invigorating and levitating the hushed verses of "Alone Again Or," a cushion of strings providing lush counterpoint.

Lee played much guitar and a little harmonica, seeming distant at first but eventually warming up.

He offered bits of background and commentary, noting the relevancy of "The Red Telephone," which resonated in a line about locking up people and throwing away the key, and in the ominous rumination, "I wonder who it'll be tomorrow, you or me?"

Although Lee's oblique poetry freed the songs from ties to a specific era and place, his voice belied their timelessness. His singing was disappointingly rough, never more than serviceable, and sometimes nearly drowned out by musical crescendos and obnoxious fans shouting inane comments as if at a sporting event.

Fortunately, the joyful expertise of this Love -- the Los Angeles quartet Baby Lemonade, a longtime Lee collaborator -- did much to buoy the hour and 45 minutes.

Guitarist Mike Randle's marvelously bluesy-to-psychedelic solos were especially impressive, remaining distinctly his while reproducing the style of original Love guitarist John Echols.

Echols himself guest-starred during an encore rendition of the hit "7 and 7 Is," and a later Love guitarist, Jay Donnellan, played on "Singing Cowboy," which he and Lee co-wrote.

These surprises further offset the disappointments, making "Forever Changes" a mostly satisfying, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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