POP MUSIC REVIEW : ‘Psychedelic’ Tour Fails to Light ‘60s Fuse

Times Staff Writer

In the ‘60s, the combustible summers invariably were described as long and hot.

The latest repackaging of ‘60s rock, “The Psychedelic Summer of Love,” was long indeed (four hours), but seldom searing as it opened Tuesday night at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

Performances ranged from punchy and proficient (Big Brother & the Holding Company) to nearly parodic (the Seeds) to poignant but pallid (Arthur Lee of Love).

(The same bill--plus the Music Machine and the Strawberry Alarm Clock--appears Friday at the Universal Amphitheatre, and on Saturday, minus the last two bands, at the Ventura Theatre.)


In the ‘60s, the members of Big Brother & the Holding Company were four long-haired guys who backed up Janis Joplin for a couple of albums at the start of her career. At the Coach House, sans most of the hair, they did a convincing job of playing their old blues-rock repertoire with skill and enthusiasm, and displayed a continuing knack for finding good women singers.

Michel Bastian brought a big, rangy voice to straightforward renditions of songs like “Piece of My Heart” and “Down on Me,” carrying them on the strength of her singing instead of resorting to Joplin’s array of screams, rasps and moans. Bastian may not have been braying out her innards as Joplin did, but she put across the songs with zest and feeling.

Like the other bands on the bill, Big Brother showed no zest for telling ‘60s war stories between songs. Not only did its no-nonsense approach preclude any reminiscing--it precluded even a single mention of Joplin’s name. Some memories would have been nice.

Arthur Lee, the key member of L.A.'s Love, played with a three-man backup band that didn’t include any other members of the ‘60s lineup. His set was short, awkward and underrehearsed, and the striking vocal range and flexibility he had years ago have diminished. Still, there were affecting moments when Lee’s signature plaintive tremor kicked in.

The Seeds sounded more capable than ever in the original lineup’s first show together in 21 years. Then again, the Seeds were one of the least capable bands ever to win a spot in rock history. While the players laid down a serviceably hypnotic blanket of two- and three-chord garage-psychedelia, singer Sky Sunlight Saxon’s main contribution was his look: pure Charles Manson wildness.

Saxon’s monotonous, nasal bleat, which inspired hope and confidence in a nation of musically ungifted garage-rockers 20-odd years ago, lacked the bite to cut through the sonic carpet. While the set contained nuggets like “Pushin’ Too Hard” and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,” the Seeds’ hourlong trip eventually turned tedious.