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POP MUSIC REVIEW

The sensitive guy returns

At KROQ's Inland Invasion, flashback acts such as the Cure and Violent Femmes rule the day.

September 22, 2003|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

It was a moment that would've done Ol' Blue Eyes himself proud. Wearing his heart on his sleeve as he crooned the line "I fall to my knees," Marc Almond literally fell to his knees. And the crowd went wild.

KROQ-FM (106.7), L.A.'s modern-rock radio station, once ruled by the likes of Morrissey and Robert Smith, welcomed back the sensitive man on Saturday at Hyundai Pavilion in Devore, where Smith and his band, the Cure, headlined the station's third annual Inland Invasion show, fittingly titled "Flashback to the Future."

After a long stranglehold on the influential station's playlist by nu-metal acts such as Deftones, P.O.D., Staind, et al., vulnerability is making a comeback. As a bonus, it's bringing with it a focus on songwriting.

Nostalgia was a huge crowd-pleaser at the 12-hour, sold-out affair. The audience sang along loudly with KROQ classics such as Almond's Soft Cell hit "Tainted Love," the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," "Add It Up," and "Kiss Off," and the Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" and "Ghost in You."

When the reunited Duran Duran played "The Reflex" and "Wild Boys," the fans went into rapture.

From an artistic standpoint, though, it was the new acts and those veterans who refused to buy into nostalgia for nostalgia's sake that made the most noise.

Dashboard Confessional turned in a solid 30-minute set marked by a lot of jangly pop hooks and emo matinee idol Chris Carrabba's heartfelt lyrics and delivery.

The only two other new acts on the main stage, Interpol and current KROQ favorites Hot Hot Heat, more than held their own with the veterans.

After starting with a Joy Division-esque synthesizer track, New York's Interpol turned in a blistering performance of new-wave garage rock. The quintet's melding of synthesizers and guitars was a strong fit.

Vancouver's Hot Hot Heat also mixed synthesizers and guitars, with stage presence to spare.

When he wasn't behind his keyboard, positioned square in the center of the stage, lead singer Steve Bays pranced with the cockiness of the Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist.

The underrated Echo & the Bunnymen, who continue to turn out quality work, delivered a stellar performance, mixing classics such as "Killing Moon" with their recent, more introspective material.

The abundance of Cure shirts, black attire and guys in eyeliner made it clear who most of the crowd was there to see. This was the only U.S. appearance this year by the English group, which was to disband after the superb 2000 album "Bloodflowers" but then surprised everyone by entering the studio with producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Limp Bizkit).

The odd pairing seems to be working for Smith and his bandmates. Even on such old staples as "Just Like Heaven" and "Let's Go to Bed," the quintet played with a surprising intensity. And the more atmospheric rockers "Fascination Street" and "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea" took on near-epic qualities.

While the band's 90-minute set drew a lot on the past, it left no doubt that Smith is focused squarely on the future.

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