Never mind the Grateful Dead. World Party is destined to be the hippie band of what's left of the 1980s, even if most of the fans at the group's Santa Monica Civic Auditorium concert Tuesday were probably still cavorting in mud puddles when the Woodstock Nation was frolicking in the mud at Yasgur's farm.
World Party leader Karl Wallinger writes serious songs about unity with titles like "Making Love to the World," and he includes about five times as many religious references in his songs as, say, Amy Grant. The conceits of writing from the point of view of God or of This Island Earth (which are apparently synonymous in Wallinger's world view) could be embarrassing coming from a less crafty artist.
But there's a balance of humor and judgment in songs like "Ship of Fools" that makes it clear that he doesn't see peace-love-and-understanding as imminent in our lifetime. He's a cheerfully cynical hippie, thank you.
And a musically proficient one. On the debut record, Wallinger is World Party on some of the tracks; live, he played guitars and keyboards and brought along five fine (and unidentified) players to join the amorphous outfit.
Lennon, Dylan and (vocally) Jagger overtones were unmistakable. Wallinger can bring to mind more contemporary comparisons, too. During the modern dance-styled (and aptly named) "Private Revolution," he slipped into a falsetto, slid his guitar far enough over to prance a bit, and with the round dark glasses and dark, curly hair . . . good Lord! It's Prince!
Wallinger liberally sprinkled his own songs with little pieces of the classics. In the encore he took advantage of Beatles hoopla by performing "A Day in the Life" in full.
His risk-taking is more musical and lyrical than visual, but Wallinger can get away in this day and age with lines and ideas no one else could. This Party looks to be a long-lasting one.