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Fuzztones Dust Off ‘60s Hits but Fail to Play With Polish

The Fuzztones are one tremendous band, believe them. Where other outfits may find it necessary to fall back on originality, feeling, chops and sundry virtues, the Los Angeles-based quintet’s show tumbled free from such constraints Tuesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

Performers with less faith in their vision might have felt shame in offering up a set that was wholly derivative of ‘60s one-shot garage hits (“Psychotic Reaction,” “Pushin’ Too Hard” and the ilk) while retaining none of the tunes’ novelty or charms. But not the Fuzztones: Let others trouble over content and competency; isn’t it enough that this band has invested in Cuban-heeled boots and vintage, anachronistically correct Vox equipment?

Fuzztones’ front man Rudi Protrudi had a rare British Colorsound fuzz-tone pedal that he stepped on at times, perhaps intentionally. It is difficult to know because Protrudi--who has claimed that “The Rolling Stones were tame compared to us"--seemed incapable of even walking out on a table without stumbling to the floor. When is the last time Mick did that for an audience?

The Fuzztones are a minor big thing in Europe (which, remember, was also where World Wars I and II first caught on), and maybe it is that mini-adulation that has pumped the band members to a near-mythic level of nonchalance. While the group did apply a certain loutish energy to “She’s Wicked,” “I’m in Heat” and the recent “Nine Months Later,” it meandered lamely through most of the other tracks and all but disintegrated at one point when guitarist Jordan Tarlow broke a string.

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As if that string was some last tenuous link with reality, Tarlow responded to the situation by leaving the building and wandering shirtless through the parking lot for a spell. Meanwhile, on stage, drummer Mike Czekaj decided that the pause was a good time to tune his drums, which a lesser artist might have bothered to do before the show. About two-thirds of the audience, which numbered only 100 or so to begin with, had left by this point.

Protrudi did little to stave off this exodus by beginning a Link Wray guitar instrumental--one so simple it probably could have been played with Crayolas--only to stumble to a halt several hapless bars later. In what can only be considered a prudent career move, the band’s manager called the show to a halt two songs later.

Most of the audience Tuesday had evidently come to see the local opening band, Wood and Smoke, and that interest proved well warranted. In sharp contrast to the headliners, the guitar-based quartet’s original songs showed a melodic knack, a willingness to experiment and a well-developed musicality. The latter was particularly evident in the propulsive but never overplayed drum work of member Greg Ernst.

While guitar-vocal front men Lance Whitson and Gary Williams showed room for development--a proclivity to scream like Japanese cartoon robots being their chief debit--each displayed a questing spirit on their instruments and a flair for songwriting. The latter was most evident on the acoustic, R.E.M.-harmonied “Up in the Air” and “Restless,” which maneuvered emotional content through some complex melodic twists.

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