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WEEKEND REVIEWS / Pop : H.O.R.D.E. Heavy on Talent

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bands in flaming headdresses, bands led by wrathful wild men, demonstrations of bile drinking--those were some of the interesting sights at Irvine Meadows back when “Lollapalooza” used to stop there.

But that famous attitude-rock extravaganza has skipped Irvine since its second run in 1992. In its place Saturday came H.O.R.D.E., a traveling festival where all the bands did was play.

But boy, could they play. All four main-stage headliners--the Allman Brothers Band, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd & the Monsters and Sheryl Crow--turned in satisfying sets that dispensed with the attitude and laid on the talent.

Unlike the celebrated “Lollapalooza,” the eight-hour H.O.R.D.E. (for Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) was a relaxed and relatively low-profile event, played to a half-capacity crowd of about 8,000. Launched by the New York band Blues Traveler in 1992, the annual festival (which hadn’t reached the West Coast until Saturday’s show) has featured bands that like to stretch out and jam.

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A little over 20 years ago, the band occupying the most advanced horizon of jam-oriented rock was the Allman Brothers Band. Time changes lots of things, but not everything. The Allmans’ nearly 2 1/2-hour performance wasn’t quite perfection, but it was still magnificent. What was exhilarating was the sheer band-ness of the Allmans’ approach, the perfect interlocking of cooperative parts, providing a framework in which individuals could step forward and shine--notably the brilliant guitar tandem of Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes.

Blues Traveler also had the probing, adventurous spirit. A rhythm-oriented, gleefully energetic guitarist, a nimble bassist and a drummer who combined power with a good sense of tonal coloration provided the backdrop for some wide-ranging excursions. John Popper manned the foreground (and this tall, rotund John Belushi look-alike can occupy a lot of foreground) with reedy, chance-taking vocals, good comic instincts and prolific harmonica playing.

The 85-minute set moved between energized, lighthearted excursions and ballad laments. Overall, Blues Traveler projected a youthful optimism, an ability to shake off setbacks and go chasing after the new possibilities suggested by its bright, excursionary music.

Good song craft, more than jams, provided the foundation for appealing sets by Big Head Todd and Sheryl Crow.

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