La’s keep their rock ‘n’ roll short ‘n’ sweet

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
June 28, 1991

The La’s have made it no secret that they hate their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album, which they believe dulled their sound. Compared with their energetic live show Thursday night at Cabaret Metro, it’s understandable why the musicians were upset.

The La’s hourlong concert, in their Chicago debut, was a throwback to the ’60s when brevity counted for something in rock ‘n’ roll. Virtually all of their songs were under three minutes (with the notable exception of their lush eight-minute opus “Looking Glass”).

The La’s is short for Scallies, which is the Liverpudlian term for the average la’ (or lad) on the street, and dressed in their sweat pants and T-shirts, they looked like average lads. They owe much of their melodic pop harmonies to their famous Liverpudlian predecessors, the Beatles.

The La’s wear their influences well on songs such as “Timeless Melody,” creating music that is a pleasing hybrid of stripped-down rock, with a little bit of the musical sensibilities coming from Athens, Ga.

Most of their songs are based around the clear acoustic guitar playing of vocalist Lee Mavers complemented by electric guitarist Cammy’s more jangly playing. Mavers has a nasal, droning voice not unlike R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and a fidgety, almost nervous presence on stage. Nonetheless, the slight musician is engaging. When he returned to the stage shirtless for their three-song encore, it was clear he was hot, and not trying to show off his thin torso.

After a brief guitar jam followed by a punk-style cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the La’s played their No. 1 alternative hit single “There She Goes.”  The song is about as perfect as pop songs get. Starting with gentle, strumming guitars and segueing into a vocal style that veered from mock falsettos to a gutteral reprise, Mavers sang the simple, almost banal lyrics with a distant restraint: “There she goes . . . racing through my brain … And I just can’t contain this feelin’ that remains.”

Their lyrics aren’t art, but they are so pure and innocent it’s difficult not to get caught up in the euphoria of them.

Opening the show was a young band from New Zealand called Straightjacket Fits. Creating whirling guitar sounds and jungle-beat drums that made a striking counterpoint to Shayne Carter’s oft-times ethereal-sounding voice, the band turned in an hourlong show that was technically flawed but passionate. And in rock ‘n’ roll, that’s  ultimately much more satisfying.

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