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Wakeling Mix of Old, New Goes Over With a Bang!

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whether a symptom of grunge’s self-loathing and angst or rampant political correctness, much of today’s pop music population seems to be taking itself too seriously.

Thankfully, the good-natured quartet Bang! demonstrated Tuesday night at the Coach House that the notion of fun is still alive.

Led by former English Beat and General Public cofounder Dave Wakeling, the Orange County band put on a clinic for creating energetic, melodic, danceable rock ‘n’ roll with an emphasis on entertainment.

Wakeling not only brings a smiling face and engaging personality to the stage, over the years he has co-written a slew of terrific ska and rock tunes.

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To his credit, Wakeling freshened up some of his late-'70s Beat and General Public chestnuts--which dominated the set--by adding new spices and flavoring, such as the neo-psychedelic layers in “Mirror in the Bathroom,” the jangly guitar strumming, a la Peter Buck, in “I Confess,” and a much funkier version of “Best Friend.”

Others, including the warmly seductive “Tenderness” and careening “Twist and Crawl,” required no such tinkering. Their original arrangements sounded lively as ever on the sheer strength of their percolating beats, catchy melodies and sing-along choruses.

Wisely, the Coach House created a squared-off dance floor for the dance-lovers in the small but enthusiastic crowd.

The band’s satisfying 90-minute set of ska, pop and rock did enter the ‘90s with about a half-dozen new songs.

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In contrast to his ska-oriented bands of old, Bang! leans in a punchier, harder-rocking direction with its stripped-down four-piece lineup.

Still, it can and did branch out. Its versatility stood out in songs ranging from fast-paced power pop (“Do Me a Favor”) and ska (“How Can You Stand There?”) to a pair of slower ballads, including a heartwarming tale of devotion (“I’ll Be There for You”).

The band’s biggest asset may be lead guitarist Chris Karn, the former member of Standing Hawthorne who is emerging as a confident, adventurous player in his own right. His soloing, which easily segued from extended, feedback-laden excursions to quieter moments of economy and restraint, was consistently appealing and, at its best, downright captivating.

To create more distance from his past, Wakeling recognizes the need to rely less on old selections and include more original Bang! material.

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In an interview before the concert, Wakeling said he would like to work 10 to 12 new songs into his set eventually. “You want to do plenty of new material to show you’re not resting on your laurels, but you don’t want to throw ‘em half a set of songs they’ve never heard before, either.”

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Is it polka-flavored ska or ska-based polka? Either way, the 30-minute opening set by My Superhero was definitely a treat.

Led by accordionist-vocalist Mike Berault and drawing material from their debut album, “Skateboard Music,” the Anaheim quintet played an original concoction of surf, ska, rock and polka with surprising aplomb. The high point was a frenzied version of the quite contagious “End of the Line.”

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