POP MUSIC REVIEW : Frantic Antics : British Rockers Play Up a Storm in Tijuana

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Mike Edwards and the rest of the British rock group Jesus Jones raced on stage Tuesday night at Iguanas with all the commotion of exploding fireworks, or at least of the early Who.

Against a backdrop of flickering strobe lights, singer-guitarist Edwards and his mates ricocheted around, frequently bumping into each other and their equipment as they played their danceable hard-rock at raceway speed.

The frantic start mirrored perfectly the youthful theme of exaggerated expectations and impatience addressed in the grinding musical assault and in Edwards' snarling vocal on the opening song, the mocking "Never Enough."

Sample lines:

So you want to be happy

(But) don't you know that

Happiness is never enough.

It was a striking beginning, capped by the lean singer's triumphant, Pete Townshend-esque leap--and the crowd, which was swept up in the swirl of sound and motion, seemed instinctively ready to step back to catch its breath as the group moved to a slower gear.

But the quintet didn't tone things down. One of the most promising of the exciting crop of new English bands, Jesus Jones, whose album has moved into the national Top 30 in the U.S., maintained that frantic pace for almost all of its mostly stirring hourlong set.

At times, however, the band, which was also scheduled to play UCLA's Ackerman Ballroom on Wednesday, may have been better off slowing things down a bit--at least their physical antics.

After half an hour, the near constant movement sometimes seemed more visual strategy than passion--especially that of keyboardist Iain Baker, who appeared simply silly as he lurched about like a man reacting to a series of electric shocks.

The hint of calculation was an unfortunate signal because the heart of Jesus Jones' appeal rests in the quality of Edwards' songs--thoughtful and surprisingly sensitive tales of youthful idealism and identity.

The tunes reflect some of the early craft and observation of the Jam's Paul Weller, another young British songwriter prone to Townshend leaps. They range from the uncertainty of the supercharged "Who? Where? Why?" to the uplift of the gentler "Right Here, Right Now."

While Edwards' writing skills are apparent in the recent "Doubt" album, the group's aggressive mix 'n' match sonic approach--with its odd array of samples and its churning energy--tends to draw attention to the textures rather than the songs. On Tuesday, however, it was clear that the future of the band rests in Edwards' songs, not his or the band's studio invention.

Edwards also flashed some wit on stage, dedicating the sly "International Bright Young Thing" to the crowd after noticing the room was filled almost exclusively with young Americans who had crossed the border for the show. But he'd be even more commanding if he would tone down the sideshow and accept the leadership reins that are waiting for him.

Jesus Jones doesn't assert the captivating boldness of the Stone Roses, still the most compelling of the new British imports, but the group may prove to have an even better sense of traditional song construction and a more clearly defined thematic vision.

Except for the distracting slam dancing in front of the stage on Tuesday, Iguanas was an ideal place to see the band. Just walking distance from the border in the Pueblo Amigo shopping center, the 1,000-capacity club, now in its second year, is becoming an increasingly popular spot on the rock tour circuit and certainly one of the best rock rooms anywhere. The main action is on the dance floor, but three side balconies also give you good sight lines and a sense of intimacy.

The intimacy also helped stir some dance-floor action for Soho, the opening act Tuesday. The British outfit, whose "Hippychick" single was a delightful calling card last year, makes technology-assisted dance music with imagination, though there is something ultimately too narrow about its vision. The beat is not quite sensual enough to be seductive in the best dance-pop or dance-rock style, and the songs themselves rarely fully involve you.

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