No Soul No Strain

Wire Train is one of those "Rock of the Eighties" bands that never quite made it through the decade. The Bay Area group debuted almost ten years ago with In a Chamber, a confident, "new wavy" album highlighted by the bouncy single "Chamber of Hellos." A 1985 follow-up album, Between Two Worlds, was kind of cool, too, in a "modern music" sort of way.

But then Wire Train suddenly disappeared. The band was last seen power-shifting to neutral behind a flurry of lineup changes and a pair of innocuous discs, all resulting in massive audience indifference to a once-promising band.

But Wire Train's luck may be changing. The band's latest release, No Soul No Strain, is a clever, accomplished collection of perky pop songs neatly manicured for radio playlists. Indeed, the CD's first single, "Stone Me," is already a fave on the alternative-college radio circuit.

In many ways, No Soul No Strain comes off like a rsum of singer-songwriter Kevin Hunter's musical acumen. He gets a faux funk thang goin' on "How Many More Times," and INXS deserves an IOU for the peppy "Willing It to Be." Even the likes of Lenny Kravitz becomes an obvious influence on "Higher," which stands as Wire Train's most convincing cross-pollination of world beat and the Beatles.

But No Soul No Strain has no heart. The CD gives off an unmistakable air of calculation. Only one song, the daydreamy "When I Met You," has an identity in and of itself.

Wire Train will never be accused of breaking new ground, or even revisiting the past with panache. This is simply a decent modern-rock band with too much smarts--and too big a record collection--for its own good.--Ted Simons

Wire Train will perform on Wednesday, July 15, at the Roxy, with Live and Spent Poets. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.

Allman Brothers Band
An Evening With the Allman Brothers Band, First Set

I know what you're thinking. Another Seventies relic on the road, paying the bills with a shameless, passionless recycling of what were once classics. And it's an obvious, if not a downright cheap, shot to say that this record's opening tune, "End of the Road," is an apt metaphor for where the Allmans are. That might have been true until bassist Allen Woody, percussionist Marc Quinones, harmonica player Thom Doucette and guitarist Warren Hayes joined the band. Hayes alone has given this most cherished of American rock n' roll bands new life. Somehow he's managed to perfect the difficult art of evoking Duane Allman's irreplaceable solos while he builds his own style. And having a second guitar ego in the henhouse has also brought new sinew and imagination to Dickey Betts' playing. When both guitarists launch into a twin-leads give-and-take on "Southbound"--the Allman trademark that Lynyrd Skynyrd turned up to a superheated trio--the energy rises above grind-out-the-hits level. The new blood may also have had an effect on the band's sole remaining brother. Despite years of abuse, Gregg Allman's voice is clearer and more expressive than ever before. The gain-from-pain richness he growls into his bluesy "Get On With Your Life" is one of the finest vocal performances of his long career.

All this is not to say that First Set--a worthy third chapter in the proud tradition of Allman live records that began with At Fillmore East--is as glorious or inspired as earlier work. It's not. Twenty years ago, this band lost its only genius, Duane Allman, and a player crucial to its success, bass player Berry Oakley. Rightly seen at the time as fatal blows, those deaths nevertheless ensured the band a place in the history of rock tragedies. And in general, there is undoubtedly something moldy and anachronistic about Southern boogie still alive in 1992.

But after years of halfhearted albums and even worse concert tours, the Fates have smiled on Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. The young half of this band has given the old a future. It's a point not lost on Betts and Allman. On First Set, the band doesn't venture back beyond its post-Duane comeback, Brothers and Sisters, for material. Partially recorded last New Year's Eve in the band's birthplace of Macon, Georgia, First Set also has the feel of a band coming full circle. Whether the old and new sides of the group will pen new material, whether, as a past greatest-hits collection was titled, "the road goes on forever," is unclear at this point. But for now, the Allmans remain one of the few Seventies acts that still mean something in the Nineties.


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