POP MUSIC REVIEW : Out of Church, but Still Sounding Joyful


Seeking to forge an economic match made in heaven with pop fans who put their faith in heaven, the Galaxy Concert Theatre has begun to book national headliners on the contemporary Christian touring circuit.

A trial run of three dates by established Christian pop-rockers began Friday night with two shows by the accomplished husband-and-wife duo Out of the Grey. It was a first for Folgner Management, which runs the Galaxy and the Coach House, Orange County’s two leading concert clubs. It was a rarity for the Southern California music scene, where touring acts in contemporary Christian circles typically have been booked into the sanctuaries of some of the larger churches.

(Some louder, harder-edged Christian bands have made it onto mainstream nightclubs’ alternative rock and heavy metal bills, and crossover pop successes such as Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman have headlined Orange County’s arenas and amphitheaters. But it is a new development to see Christian acts playing mainstream pop in a mainstream nightclub.)


“There’s a big movement, a whole Christian market out there,” said Roger LeBlanc, general manager of the Galaxy and the Coach House, noting that audiences of 2,000 or more can turn out for concerts at churches. “We’re going to try to do one or two [Christian] shows per month on a regular basis. It all depends on how much support we get from the Christian community.”

Working to drum up that support is Luz Marina, a fan of contemporary Christian pop who lives in Costa Mesa, persuaded the Galaxy to expand its booking horizons and now is serving as co-promoter of the Galaxy series. Marina, who owns a video production company, felt that fans like herself would take to Christian music presented in a smaller room with sound, lighting and layout specifically designed for concerts.

“A lot of these churches are huge echo chambers,” she said. “They hold a lot of people and it’s wonderful to have them [staging concerts], but I wanted a place that would be small enough to get that intimate feeling, hear the words, get to know the artist on a more personal level.”

LeBlanc and Marina said they were encouraged by the first-night turnout, which they said would total 500 to 600 for the two shows by Out of the Grey--about half-capacity in the 550-seat club. A somewhat higher attendance threshold of about 400 per performance needs to be met for the Christian series to continue, LeBlanc said, noting that he expects the trial series’ draw to improve as word about it gets out.

There was one major difference between Friday’s concert and any other rock, pop or blues night at the Galaxy: You couldn’t get an alcoholic drink. Marina said the no-booze policy is essential if Christian fans are to become comfortable moving out of the church halls and into a nightclub. Galaxy bartender Clyde Banfield mustered a special menu of a dozen fruit juice and soda pop confections. “We had two people who ordered beers, but we didn’t serve them,” he said after Out of the Grey’s early show.


Out of the Grey--singer Christine Dente and her guitarist husband, Scott, plus a three-man backup band--spent the 75-minute early set serving catchy pop hooks that would be the envy of many a mainstream songwriter.


Christine showed a mastery of the Joni Mitchell mode of phrasing--light, quick-paced notes leading into fuller, sustained ones in a flowing stream. She also came up with a bright, breathy, anthem-leaning Shawn Colvin-esque approach on the winsome “Bird on a Wire” (not the Leonard Cohen classic).

Her talents were compromised, though, by a poor frequency balance that skewed badly toward the treble end and wrapped vocals in a less-than-seraphic halo of harsh, tinny, hissy sound. The same problem beset Chris Eaton, the English keyboards player who took over the spotlight for 15 minutes at mid-set, concluding with a nice, heraldic open-spaces anthem akin to some of Bruce Hornsby’s stuff.

Scott Dente proved a far more exciting guitarist than he is able to show on Out of the Grey’s tightly tailored albums. Playing acoustic guitar for the first half, he used tap-the-fretboard techniques for pinging, percussive colorations, while generating strong rhythmic drive. Later, on electric guitar, he produced a fluid, throaty-toned attack out of the George Benson jazz-pop handbook.

The Nashville-based duo’s material and between-songs intros asserted faith without strident preaching; songs typically pointed to the struggles and challenges of spiritual awareness. Most of the lyrics supplied eventual affirmations, but the upswings didn’t seem too lightly achieved. The Dentes’ songs could be better-drawn when it comes to character and scenario, but the themes themselves are not superficial.

Christine Dente’s choreographed movements bespoke a hard-working pro, but one lacking the freedom and spontaneity of the best stage performers. Scott Dente was the more natural bopper with his body English and foot-pumping to the beat. The two, who met as students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, related to each other with wry, ironic humor that seemed calculated to remove any notion that they are the perfect, perky Christian couple. But a lot of the laugh lines were like well-worn sitcom fare. After four albums (released since 1991), Out of the Grey isn’t yet a blue-chip stage act, but the twosome’s talent and pop acumen make that a possibility.

* Coming headliners in the Galaxy’s Christian concert series are Margaret Becker, an R&B-leaning; veteran who plays Oct. 13, and PFR, a Beatles-esque pop-rock band, Oct. 22. (714) 957-0600.


Meanwhile, Christian shows continue in a more customary setting, the Calvary Church of Santa Ana, where Rich Mullins and Ashley Cleveland play Saturday; 4 Him plays Oct. 7, and Michael Card plays Oct. 28. Also on tap is “Zoom ‘95,” an outdoor gathering of 11 edgier punk and alternative-rock Christian bands playing for nine hours on Oct. 7 at Rancho Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano. (714) 740-4007, Ext. 9.