POP MUSIC REVIEW : Two Garage Bands Barrel Into L.A.

A few years ago, groups like Field Day and Sweet Baby wouldn’t have stood a chance in corporate music-land. But now there’s a proven market for anti-image garage bands, and they spell it “college radio.” The two Northern California groups barreled down a megaton-pop highway at Club Lingerie on Sunday, finishing in a split decision.

Field Day may be an “alternative rock” band, but the quartet plays within parameters that are as well defined for its audience’s expectations as George Michael’s are for his. Those drawling vocals buried in a wash of frantically strummed fuzz guitars--did someone say Husker Du? A few side-gallops into countrified chicken-pickin’ followed by a blast o’ metal--a side serving of Meat Puppets, perhaps? For all its youth, spirit and energy, Field Day never surmounts its influences.

Sweet Baby promotes the same slop-rock aesthetic, but the quartet’s friendly mayhem had some memorable Merseybeat harmonies cutting the bluster. The material may revolve around some hoary rock ‘n’ roll structures, but the baby band--with a wobbly-legged scarecrow of a vocalist providing the personality-plus--infuses the old routine with a fresh dose of adrenaline. They might even replace the Replacements when they grow up. When they do, maybe they’ll get a bass whose strings don’t all break.