It was oddly appropriate that two members of Germany's most successful rock export, the Scorpions, should be seen dashing around the stage at Irvine Meadows sporting that ultimate symbol of Americana, the baseball cap.
After all, this is a band that goes into a concert with two strikes against it. The Scorpions' pop-metal repertoire is at best superficial, and on stage they embrace just about every performance cliche in the arena-rock prompt book.
But these 20-year veterans fended off strike three and managed to bring some joy to shivery Mudville Friday night during a 1-hour, 45-minute show that opened the outdoor concert season.
What the Scorpions--who also played Saturday at Irvine Meadows (both shows were sold out in advance)--lacked in meaning, passion and originality, they made up for with assured competence, punchy and tuneful material, and, most important, a sense of enjoyment and enthusiasm for playing that was commendable in a band that has been on the arena circuit for so long.
Klaus Meine, like Ronnie James Dio, is a little guy with a big voice. Meine wasn't a particularly expressive singer Friday, sounding essentially the same whether the subject was lust, romantic contretemps, the joys of rockin' or some generically stormy opus about struggle and strife. But Meine's accented English, and his avoidance of the pervasive Robert Plant banshee shtick, worked to his advantage, lending some charm to his delivery and setting him apart from most of the pop-metal pack.
Starting the evening in a black Dion DiMucci cap and finishing it in that red baseball hat, Meine was a lively presence who spent instrumental breaks hoofing around with a vaudevillian slide-and-kick dance step (apparently the only one he knew, but a good one, anyway), or scurrying about shaking a tambourine.
Lead guitarist Matthias Jabs (the other baseball-hatted member) spun out fluid, efficient solos that all sounded pretty much the same but came with the bonus of a winning smile (drummer Herman Rarebell also wore a huge kid's grin, proving that not all beamers from Germany come with four wheels and a horn).
Rudolf Schenker, the big, brawny, Teutonic-looking rhythm guitarist, was a special treat to watch. Whether he meant to be or not, Schenker was an engagingly awkward figure who struck all the rock-hero poses and attempted all the run-around steps that the Steve Vais of the universe go for--except that Schenker did it with all the grace and finesse of pro basketball gawk Kurt Rambis driving the lane.
As with Rambis, Schenker looked stiff and silly, but the effort was endearing. For all their pose striking, the Scorpions seemed less interested in affecting a gods-of-metal attitude than in having a good time while playing sharp, crunchy power rock.
The show's pacing was brisk, with no between-songs filler except for the occasional banal bellow of "We love you, California." (At the same time, Meine mercifully eschewed the even more banal cussing-to-show-attitude that you hear from most hard rockers).
The Scorpions occasionally went flaccid (a bland version of the Who's "I Can't Explain," a few ballads that plodded, a Schenker solo guitar spot that only served to prove why Jabs was taking most of the leads). But they would always come back with fun, muscular rockers such as "Blackout" and "Dynamite," which were paired together in a late-set run that brought the energy level to a peak.
The Scorpions sustained that peak through a half-hour encore that included sharp renditions of their catchiest storm-and-thunder numbers, "No One Like You" and "Rock You Like a Hurricane," plus a spirited "Long Tall Sally" that featured guest yowling from Jon Bon Jovi and fast fret-burning from another guest player, Scorpions alumnus Michael Schenker. Lacking the insight to cast off light, the Scorpions made a chilly evening worthwhile with enthusiasm and heat.
The opening act, Trixter, was strictly for kids. The group from Paramus, N.J., could serve as a transition band for pre-teens getting over their New Kids fixation, but not yet ready for the hard stuff. Trixter played 40 minutes of candy-fluff that lacked the power of real metal or the zest of real pop.
The band's hit, "Give It to Me Good," sounded like a Doobie Brothers knock-off, except that you could rely on the Doobies to sing their own backing vocals. Goosed by electronics or aided by tapes, Trixter sounded at times as if it had all of Fleetwood Mac singing backups, along with half the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Some trick.
Having found a way to compensate for the fact that guitarist Steve Brown and bassist P.J. Farley can't really sing competent harmonies, perhaps Trixter now can turn to some electronic image-masking to hide the fact that its lead singer, Peter Loran, performs with all the flair of a man waiting for a bus.