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POP MUSIC REVIEW : No Escape From These Puerile Pop Ditties

Exploitative and manipulative, the Escape Club came off as yuppie overlords at the Coach House Sunday night. Messages such as “consume,” “sleep” and “obey” seemed implicit in every calculated turn of the British quartet’s otherwise-undemanding music.

A bit harsh? Perhaps. After all, given the choice between living on the dole in Britain (where the group’s current No. 1 U.S. hit “Wild, Wild West” has been aptly ignored) or conquering America with puerile pop ditties, who wouldn’t go for the gold?

On stage at the San Juan Capistrano venue, though, the Escape Club seemed singularly unprepared to handle such success.

The show’s suspect tone was set in the opening seconds, when the band came on stage to the sound of thunderous applause--most of which happened to be synthesized and coming through the speakers. The set following sounded chiefly like a bland approximation of the Raspberries doing the T. Rex songbook with an ‘80s dance beat.

For what it’s worth, vocalist Trevor Steel did sound much like his obvious mentor, Marc Bolan, though Steel’s sole bit of stagecraft consisted of wiping his greasy locks from his face every 18 seconds or so.

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The rest of the band was scarcely more colorful or original, with only a hired-hand keyboardist performing with the competence called for by the group’s sudden fame.

Though on stage for barely an hour, including encores, the group fell back on cover-band versions of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam” to fill out its set, a wise move considering how wan many of its own songs proved.

Of the 10 originals performed, only “Walking Through Walls” stood out as a well-crafted, albeit innocuous pop song--though a verse of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” was tossed incongruously into the middle. Didn’t U2 wear that one out on its last tour?

There was little the Escape Club did that was not derivative, “Wild, Wild West” being the standout example. While the song is not without its charms, it would be unfair to attribute them to the group, as the parts that appeal happen to be a slavish steal from Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up.”

While Costello certainly owed a nod to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues"--which in turn was derived from Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business"--those artists had claimed the song style as their own by altering the rhyming structure and pushing it in bold new directions, virtues that evidently escaped the Escape Club.


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