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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Timbuk3 Remains Welcomely Off the Beat

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Timbuk3 may always be remembered in the record books as a one-hit wonder (for the 1986 fluke smash “The Future’s So Bright”). What was potentially more worrisome to fans was whether it would also eventually stack up as a one-gimmick band, with the duo of Pat and Barbara K MacDonald perpetually backed by their charming but necessarily limited third partner, the on-stage boom box.

Inevitably, they’ve sacked the machinery ‘n’ minimalism and finally hired humans for their rhythm section--expanding their horizons and sacrificing a good deal of their individuality in one fell, mixed swoop. On the band’s fourth and latest album, “Big Shot in the Dark,” you can hardly notice the difference, so metronomic is some of the timekeeping. At the Troubadour on Wednesday, the quartet (which also plays the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano tonight) was a little more gratifyingly off the beat in keeping with its offbeat themes.

In a two-hour show, they eschewed early material in favor of more recent but equally sad and hopeful tunes that tend toward a uniquely wry sort of preachiness. The best numbers escaped the mid-tempo track the group usually travels in: “Too Much Sex, Not Enough Affection,” now possible as a nice ska workout with the quartet, and “Acid Rain,” a fast country shuffle.

Also notable was a lengthy story/poem that preceded “Mudflap Girl,” setting up (in classic Red Sovine style) the ghostly legend of how the chrome figure on truck flaps got there.

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Oh yes: The one-hit wonder has dropped its one hit from the set.

Timbuk3, Big Bang and Trip the Spring play at 9 p.m. tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $13.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.


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