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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Does Fire Theft speak of history? Yes

October 02, 2003|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Funny how things come around. Twenty-five years ago, punk rose in part as a reaction to and refutation of the over-baked music of the rock mainstream, in particular such progressive-rock "dinosaurs" as Yes, Pink Floyd and even the Who.

Today, punk is entrenched in the mainstream, and some of the more intriguing music made in reaction to it is rooted in prog. Radiohead, the most challenging high-profile band today, bears many echoes of Pink Floyd. And the much-praised Mars Volta has a lot of King Crimson in its veins.

In the Fire Theft's concert Tuesday at the Troubadour, there were times when the band's music was just a few Rick Wakeman flourishes and some Roger Dean art design shy of a Yes show.

Singer-guitarist Jeremy Enigk's reedy voice often was a dead ringer for Yes man Jon Anderson's, and the songs' lush textures, shifting time signatures and soaring exultations of love as spiritualism recalled "Close to the Edge," with Genesis and the Who circa "Quadrophenia" also evident influences.

And yet the quintet, showcasing its new debut album "The Fire Theft," clearly stood apart from such specifically neo-prog acts as Porcupine Tree and Spock's Beard. For one thing, there's its indie-rock lineage and fan base. Enigk, bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith were three-fourths of Sunny Day Real Estate, a band that emerged from Seattle's post-grunge scene with unfulfilled next-big-thing hype, though its earnest approach served as a blueprint for what became emo rock. Mendel and Goldsmith also were in Dave Grohl's first Foo Fighters lineups.

Most significantly, the band does not indulge in the showy instrumental digressions that defined (and undermined) prog rock. Tuesday it kept a tight focus on song structure, playing music that reached for big ideas while remaining as intimate as the club setting.

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