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Disco Magic

With new rockin' retro tunes inspired by the '70s, Smash Mouth had plenty to celebrate at the Catalyst last Tuesday

By Sarah Quelland

POUNDING BUBBLY surf rock with dazzling disco and irresistible pop--those cats in Smash Mouth are at it again. With a new album (simply titled Smash Mouth) ready to drop on Nov. 27--the anticipated follow-up to 1999's Astro Lounge--the multiplatinum local boys wowed the crowd at the Catalyst last Tuesday (Oct. 23), giving some very enthusiastic Santa Cruz fans a taste of their new material.

Looking refreshed, relaxed and freshly scrubbed, vocalist Steve Harwell, guitarist Greg Camp, bassist Paul DeLisle and drummer Michael Urbano (along with hot percussionist Mark Cervantes and maniacal keyboardist Michael Klooster) blasted through 16 tunes with the ease and professionalism that come from years of experience. There's no doubt the band's canny, road-tested wisdom helped it balance Wednesday's set list between the in-demand favorites and the as-yet-unfamiliar songs.

The band turned the party on as soon as it hit the stage, flicking the switch with Astro Lounge's "Then the Morning Comes." A confident Harwell owned the Catalyst crowd, which frantically jumped, screamed and waved its arms at his command. There was no room at this show for blasé arm-crossing and bored stares. This was a nonstop, sweaty, bouncy celebration.

Well-primed by Smash Mouth's lively cover of the Monkees' hit "I'm a Believer" (from the Shrek soundtrack) and Fush Yu Mang's snappy "The Fonz," fans were extremely receptive when the band started dipping into its new stash.

Songwriter Camp has the Midas touch when it comes to writing catchy, radio-friendly tunes. He has an intuitive grasp on the nuances of the music from the '50s and the '60s and an uncanny ability to incorporate the strongest elements from those decades into Smash Mouth's own neo-retro sound. Now, Camp seems to be tackling the disco era with the new album's first single, "Pacific Coast Party," a Latin percussion-driven number that brings to mind the theme songs to hit TV shows like Charlie's Angels and CHiPS.

"Your Man," another new song," follows the sparkly disco magic, while "Forcefield" swirls with atmosphere, harking back to the space-age Jetson's vibe of Astro. Other new songs included "The Inset," "Out of Sight" and "Holiday in My Head." They all sounded like hits.

Seemingly tailor-made for Santa Cruz, Astro's "Stoned" was a huge hit as Harwell sang "I'm getting stoned, and what's wrong with that?/The president seems to be just fine," while an abstract pot-inspired tapestry of light twirled behind him. Mang's "Walking on the Sun," with the lyrics, "It ain't no joke, I'd like to buy the world a toke and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony," also went over well. When Camp playfully worked in the strains of the James Bond theme song, the roar of the crowd was deafening.

As an added surprise, the guys brought out Santa Cruz resident Lex van den Berghe, a tattooed rocker formerly of the Frontier Wives and currently of Luckydog, who can be seen every Thursday braving the elements with the rest of the Boran tribe on Survivor: Africa. Before breaking into "Diggin' Your Scene," Harwell busted into the chorus from Destiny's Child's hit "Survivor," and van den Berghe couldn't get off the stage fast enough.

Nearing the end of a healthy set, Smash Mouth really fired up the crowd with Mang's "Let's Rock," a strange and erratic song that launches from a sunny tropical lilt into speedy punk overdrive and back again ... and again. Not unexpectedly, the band saved its biggest hit, "All Star," for last. The fans went wild.

Even though there weren't any songs noticeably left unsung (except perhaps those Van Halen covers Smash Mouth loves to do), there was a general sense of uncertainty among the crowd as to whether or not the band would come out for an encore. Even the sound guy wasn't sure, because on his set list "Let's Rock" and "All Star" were the encore. But Smash Mouth burned through all the songs without stopping, and despite the crowd's tentative anticipation, the band didn't return for more songs.

Maybe it should have. As it was, a quality show that might have left everyone feeling on top of the world, left some people feeling a little let down.

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From the October 24-31, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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