Times Staff Writer

Anyone who listens to the new 12-inch single by the Abecedarians and then sees the Newport Beach trio open tonight for New Order at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre might think he's heard two different bands.

Lead singer and guitarist Chris Manecke won't argue that point.

"I kind of have mixed emotions about the record," Manecke, 26, said during a recent interview at the Newport Beach record store where he works part time when he's not busy rehearsing or performing.

The single, "Smiling Monarchs," which is available only as an import, "took 17 months to come out," said Manecke, who is joined in the band by bassist John Blake and drummer Kevin Dolan. "We were using a lot of keyboards then. Now we're more of a guitar band. But they are good songs, and we still play them live."

On top of that, the pulsating, synthesizer-heavy sound on the Abecedarians' record, which is similar to that of many currently popular groups, has been abandoned in favor of a new style that Manecke describes as "rhythmic weird."

But whether that approach is commercially successful isn't Manecke's primary concern.

"Pink Floyd made some of the weirdest music on earth and still managed to sell millions of records. If I could pull something like that off and not lose my integrity, it would be great," he said.

"Everybody has what it takes to be commercial," Manecke added. "But one of the big things that hurts a lot of bands is that radio overplays their records. When I write songs, I try to make them as adventurous as possible so that won't happen."

On a smaller scale than Pink Floyd, but still respectable for a first effort, nearly all 3,000 copies of the record's first pressing have been sold, and Manecke said a second batch of 2,000 will be released shortly.

Abecedarians, which means beginners or those who are learning, landed the opening slot for several of New Order's California shows because it is the only American band signed by Factory Records, the same label that released New Order's first album in 1983.

Shortly after the threesome formed in 1981, it appeared to be well on its way to becoming an overnight success.

"I sent out a lot of tapes to record companies," Manecke explained. "A week after I sent one to Factory's New York office, they called and said they liked it. That was the fastest response we ever got. A week later, somebody from the label was out in Los Angeles and came to see us."

After that quick start, however, the wheels of the star-making machinery ground to a virtual halt.

"There were a lot of phone calls back and forth trying to nail people down to make a commitment. After a year of that, we decided to take out a loan ourselves to do the recording and just have Factory put it out in England. We sent them the master tapes, and then it took another 17 months to come out. So it's not really representative of what we are doing now."

"It's extremely frustrating. Every day I see records come in the store by bands that have been together for maybe eight months--and a lot of them are making money. We've been together four years, yet it takes 17 months for our single to come out and I'm still riding a bicycle."

While waiting for Factory to release the current single, the group recorded numerous songs in demo form that Manecke hopes to release, possibly as a double album, later this year on a local independent label.

"I've learned a lesson and that's to get your good songs recorded right away and put them out," he said. "We have a record out now that's over 2 years old. I don't want that to happen again. It's easy to control that by having the guts to dump songs when they are old, even if they are good."

Ironically, although the Abecedarians has made more progress than the majority of aspiring Orange County bands, the group's visibility is relatively low because it rarely performs on its home turf.

"There's no place to play and no one to play with," Manecke said. "There are a lot of punk bands around who are doing the same stuff they were doing in 1980. It seems pretty ridiculous to me. If

you don't progress, you dry up and go nowhere."

AROUND TOWN: Sting closed out the California leg of his first solo tour on Wednesday with a potent 2 1/2-hour show at the Pacific Amphitheatre. In fact, at one point the performance was a little too powerful: an hour into the set a power surge caused a transformer to overload and electricity to the stage went out. After a 10-minute break during which the problem was remedied, Sting returned to the stage and jokingly laid the blame on keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, who was in the midst of a dazzling solo when the show was interrupted. "I guess Kenny's solo was too hot for the system. Well, that's one way to get to see an episode of 'Dallas'." . . . One of the members of the capacity crowd at John Anderson's show Monday at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana was lyricist Bernie Taupin, Elton John's longtime songwriting partner. Relaxing in the band bus after the performance, Anderson said that Taupin has invited him to sing on his forthcoming solo album, which will be recorded this fall. "I ought to hang out in L.A. more often," said Anderson, a native of Apopka, Fla. Perhaps the biggest musical surprise of Anderson's 90-minute set was his inclusion of "Haunted House," the rollicking 1964 hit by Jumpin' Gene Simmons. Anderson returns to Orange County next Friday to open for Hank Williams Jr. at Irvine Meadows.

LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Sunday for the Night Ranger-Cheap Trick show Sept. 25 at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. . . . The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Channel 3 have been added to X's Sept. 14 Irvine Meadows concert. . . . Tickets will be available Monday from Stryper's concert Oct. 5 at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . The Minutemen and DIN will play the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach on Sept. 6. . . . Ricky Skaggs makes his first Orange County club appearance in four years Sept. 15 at the Crazy Horse. Tanya Tucker returns to the Crazy Horse on Sept. 16. . . . The Nashville-based White Animals will be at Spatz in Huntington Harbour on Thursday. . . . Sound Barrier will appear at Radio City in Anaheim on Sept. 14. . . . Witch and Ruthless will be among 16 bands taking part in Heavy Metal Marathon, Part II concert Aug. 31 at Prado Park in Riverside. The day-long outdoor show begins at noon. For ticket information, call (714) 525-0285.

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