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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Tommy Conwell Plays the Crowd

“How ‘bout those Dodgers?” queried rocker Tommy Conwell--a confirmed Philadelphian--midway through his local debut at the Roxy on Tuesday. When the partisan crowd cheered, Conwell added, “A little cheap applause never hurt.”

In an election year, such blatant willingness to do anything for approval arouses suspicion. And on Conwell and the Young Rumblers’ recent debut album, “Rumble,” the hodge-podge of workmanlike Huey Lewis to Bon Jovi rockers and nifty tunes that sound as if they could have been lifted from “Wings’ Greatest Hits” seems something of a populist calculation. So it’s a point in Conwell’s favor that at least he acknowledged his intent Tuesday.

Still, there were times when it was hard to determine just what was real and what was an affectation: Conwell’s Elvis/Billy Idol lip curl? Looked real enough. . . . The “authentic” rocker attitude, as signified by the sleeveless jean jacket? A bit of a pose, at least at this point in rock history. . . . The blues-based rock riffs and rhythms? The Rumblers sounded pretty convincing. . . . That abundant tunefulness? Well, these songs sure sounded fresher than those of your average people’s rocker, though on Jules Shear’s winsome pure pop gem “If We Never Meet Again” Conwell and crew really were miscast.

But when it came to letting it rock, Conwell--slinging a beat-up guitar autographed by Chrissie Hynde and John Lee Hooker, among others--was clearly the genuine article. Climaxing the show with his own churning “Workout” (on which--thanks to wireless technology--he didn’t just wander through the crowd during his guitar solo but actually out the door onto the sidewalk to play for passers-by), he proved himself a natural showman. He was enjoying himself so much, it’s a good bet that when he makes it to the Forum scale (not an unlikely prospect), he’ll probably figure out some way to keep this bring-the-house-down move in the show.

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