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POP MUSIC REVIEW : It’s Rough and Jagged, but Savatage Shows a Scrap of Originality

In a field crowded with cookie-cutter metal bands virtually indistinguishable from one another, at least Florida’s Savatage seems more to have been hewed out with a jagged can lid or some such. At Anaheim’s Bandstand on Wednesday, the quintet played with an intensity (measuring somewhere between Motorhead and Canada’s Nomeansno) and modicum of originality that set it apart.

While singer Jon Oliva got his voice down at Ed’s Screech ‘n’ Growl and the rest of the group had their amps set on “pummel,” there was a distinctive musicality to their thrashings. On songs drawn from the group’s four albums, guitarists Criss Oliva and Christopher Caffery churned up some heaving dissonances that would have done noise artist Glenn Branca proud.

Lyrically, Savatage falls pretty much in the post-apocalyptic doom school, though Wednesday the words were chiefly lost in the tumult and an awful sound mix. It’s scarcely ironic then that during the anti-violence of “Of Rage and War,” the group’s slam-pitting fans and the club’s bouncers were engaged in a limited ground war of their own.

The group’s amps were covered by structures with paintings of shrouded ghouls flipping the finger, and steps led to the top of these boxes. There was a nearly Spinal Tap-like humor to seeing Savatage’s members dramatically scale these things, only to have to crouch to avoid the club’s low ceiling.

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Second-billed Cold Sweat might have been better named Tepid Drool, as it delivered a pandering rote-rock set capped by a version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” that sounded as if Foghat was the band members’ idea of roots.

The show was part of a Wednesday night concert series (L.A.'s Junkyard will appear on July 18), that is sandwiched amid Bandstand’s usual bookings of country music and Top 40 dancing.

As a concert venue, the 940-capacity hall is a mixed blessing. It certainly is roomy, with four tiers allowing fair sight lines to the stage from most points. There are three full bars, a burger restaurant (which closes early), two corralled dance floors in addition to the area in front of the stage, five pool tables and even a cloak room. But with its segmented layout, the club may be a tad too expansive, with its farther reaches feeling detached from the stage area.

The sound Wednesday was abysmal, cavernous and distorted, though it’s difficult to say how much of that was due to the room or the particular sound mix. In decor, the venue seems lost in time, a mishmash of disco lights and ‘70s rock trappings (Where else are there still posters of Donna Summer, ELO and Olivia Newton-John?).

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As for the show’s logistics, putting a headliner on at midnight might work in Hollywood, but in Orange County--where people tend to have real jobs--that practice might not be entirely in the interests of the customers. Savatage’s set didn’t wind up until 1:20 a.m.

But let’s get down to what really matters: This place has great air conditioning! You could chill dessert forks in there. This could be an important feature to remember, now that California’s climate has come to resemble the internal temperature of a Susie Homemaker oven.


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