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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Stereophonics show a resounding delight

September 18, 2003|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

The aroma of fresh paint and new carpet surrounded concertgoers Monday for opening night of Avalon, the newly remodeled Hollywood theater formerly known as the Palace. The scent of spilled ale and stale cigarette smoke would have been more appropriate for the Stereophonics, the Welsh band that christened the redecorated digs.

The group in six years has established itself as the U.K.'s top purveyor of the kind of pub soul-rock perfected in the '70s by the Faces (as well as Rod Stewart's early solo albums) and Steve Marriott's Humble Pie, and then renewed in the '90s by Oasis. Singer-guitarist and principal writer Kelly Jones' gravelly voice is a blend of Marriott's, Stewart's and Oasis singer Liam Gallagher's, and the band Monday proved more than capable of both the muscular riffing and strummy soul-folk of those antecedents.

Jones, too, while lacking the bloke-ish showmanship of Stewart or surly swagger of Gallagher, was able to draw on four albums of potent material balancing cocky strut (the opening "Madame Helga," from the strong new "You've Got to Go There to Come Back" album) and wistful, been-hurt-too-many-times wariness ("Just Lookin'," from 1999's "Performance and Cocktails").

The Stereophonics themselves also have undergone mild remodeling, with ex-Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman filling in for indisposed Stuart Cable and the addition of two female backup singers helping underscore the soul-ish roots.

That those elements were even distinguishable was good news for anyone who suffered through the notoriously bad sonics in the Palace's more than 20 years as a rock venue. For years the idea of a Welsh accent being intelligible on stage there was unthinkable -- it was hard enough to understand someone from Sherman Oaks! But a new sound system, custom-designed for the club and assisted by acoustic material added to the high ceiling and walls, now is a crystal-clear delight.

This was true from every spot in the Avalon, from the dance floor to the balcony. If anything, the sound was a little brighter upstairs, a miracle considering the many places in the Palace where sound would be lost in waves of sonic mud. On Monday, individual instruments and vocals were distinct and crisp.

Even opening act Leaves, a young Icelandic band favorably comparable to Coldplay for its musical ambience and emotions, benefited from the clarity and was well-received by the Stereophonics' faithful following.

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