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Pop Music : ‘Acoustic Christmas’: An Electrifying Benefit

At the recent Christic Institute benefit concerts at the Shrine Auditorium, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne all seemed to take acoustic to mean slow. It figured that the seven acts at perennial upstart KROQ’s “Acoustic Christmas” concert at the Universal Amphitheatre on Friday would have other ideas.

Or as Chris Isaak told the young crowd: “It’s good to be here with all you acoustic rockers !” Isaak--resplendent in a snazzy salmon-colored suit, doleful Orbisonian voice and renewed acclaim thanks to KROQ just now playing his two-year-old song “Wicked Dream"--had no problem rocking through his mini-set with his three-piece band, Silvertone.

Nor did local heroes Dramarama, Social Distortion or the Havalinas, each showing that rock ‘n’ roll is a matter of spirit and songs, not watts and technology.

So what if most of them cheated a little by using an electric guitar here and there, and/or turning up the acoustics enough that they may as well have been electrics? It’s the thought that counts, right?

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Even Scotland’s gentler Trash Can Sinatras kept one electric guitar in their line-up. In fact, only the Hollies-like-harmonizing Posies (actually, just two members of the Seattle quartet) stuck truly to the acoustic-guitars-and-that’s-all-folks format that the term acoustic usually calls to mind.

Most impressive, and the act making the biggest stretch, was England’s exuberant Soho. In its first U.S. concert appearance, the group, fronted by irrepressible twins Jackie and Pauline Cuff, proved able to leave the elaborate studio touches of the recent “Goddess” album in the studio.

Even the sampled Smiths guitar riff that keys the giddy single “Hippychick” was rendered organically on an acoustic 12-string by songwriter Tim Brinkhurst, and the live bass-and-drums rhythm section provided funk every bit as solid (and much warmer) than what’s on the record. Anyway, with the Cuff’s bubbly, streetwise presence, fancy electronics would only be in the way, a notion the group would be wise to remember when it mounts its upcoming tour.

It was a merry night for all involved, with more than $20,000 raised for the inner-city California Medical Center. Now if only it had come without KROQ jock Richard Blade’s inane, self-congratulatory patter between the sets. . . .

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