MUSIC : Basic Folk Rock : Peter Case says he's an ordinary musician leading a normal life. He plays Santa Barbara Friday.

You know how those music critics are. They have to put everything in a neat little box.

Well, so-and-so sounds like Elton John doing Surf Punks' songs, accompanied on washboard by a David Bowie impersonator and a Gemini whose dream is to rent Madonna a house with glass floors and live in the basement.

Singer-songwriter Peter Case, who will be at Chuy's Long Bar in Santa Barbara Friday night is a little tougher to pigeonhole.

"Duke Ellington said it best when he said, 'There's only two kinds of music--good and bad,' " said Case in a recent phone interview from his Los Angeles home. If you can believe the critics, Case is good--real good.

More proof that everyone from New York is here already, Case moved to L.A. from Buffalo. "I've been here since I've been shaving." That's long enough for him to see reality and become a Dodger fan.

Case was the founder of on of the best L.A. bands ever, those power pop masters, The Plimsouls. Between 1980 and 1983, the band released three records on three different labels, and they gigged incessantly. The Plimsouls played Santa Barbara many times and never failed to get the crowd jumping with their signature tune, "A Million Miles Away."

Case broke up the band in 1984. "I had to go solo. They had to find a new singer, and they couldn't. One of the guys, guitarist Eddie Munoz, has a band now called The Train Wreck Ghosts--they're great."

Since then, Case has released a pair of solo albums, about one every 2 1/2 years. "I'm still slow, but I write a lot of songs, I gig a lot, and I try to live a normal life. I'm going to go watch the Dodgers tonight."

His most recent album has got to be a contender for longest title: "The Man With the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar."

Case is your basic folk rocker, heavy on the folk. Sometimes he tours with a full band, but this gig will be pretty basic, just a troubadour and his guitar.

"All these terms don't mean a lot to me," Case said. "I want the audience to feel like they've been somewhere. I'm not trying to push Peter Case. I'm a musician, and I play music for a living. I want my show to be an 'E' ticket for the fans. It's the music that's important."

Now for the inevitable comparisons. Case is sort of like Mojo Nixon without the humor; John Wesley Harding without the accent, or John Hiatt without the electricity. He's a gifted writer who weaves mesmerizing slice-of-life vignettes--you won't laugh a lot, but your mind won't wander, either.

Best line from "Travelin' Light:" " . . . there's a hole in your soul where the wind blows through. . . . " Don't forget your coat.

* THE DETAILS: Chuy's Long Bar is at 111 State St., Santa Barbara.

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