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Cocteau Twins show relies too much on recorded tracks


With Galaxie 500.

Walter Brown Arena, April 3, 7:30 pm.



ICAN THINK OF FEW WAYS to spend an evening that are more enjoyable then listening to the Cocteau Twins. The Scottish alternative band's ethereal music mixes equal parts of Elizabeth Fraser's diaphanous vocals and layers of otherworldy guitars. The sound is unique and beautiful.

The current tour focuses mostly on songs from their last album Heaven or Las Vegas. The album is wonderful. Fraser's vocals are barely understandable, but her voice becomes an instrument that conveys more emotion than lyrics ever could. Equally good is the guitar work by Robin Guthrie and bassist Simon Raymonde. Their playing is more skillful than it was on earlier albums, even if it is a bit more conventional.

So buy the album. But paying to see them live is an entirely different question. The heady, floating guitars and synthesizer

that are produced so well in the studio can not be reproduced on stage . . . and the Cocteau Twins don't try to. Much of the music for Wednesday night's concert was prerecorded, a disappointment by any measure.

Please do not misunderstand me, the Twins sounded beautiful. Technically the show was one of the best I have seen. The canned tracks were good, of course, and they brought in two extra guitarists to try to recreate their studio sound. Fraser was in fine form as well. With quivering jaw, she jumped from angelic high notes to a lower, almost throaty sound with ease. The subtle variations she made on the recorded versions of the songs, were engaging and exciting.

Still, the notion of canned concerts rubs me the wrong way. A live performance loses a lot of its excitement when it is not live at all, but rather a copy of the same performance given in 20 other cities across the country.

The band's stage presence did not help matters any. The line of performers on stage reminded me more of Easter Island than any rock concert I have ever seen. Fraser limited herself to a few hand gestures that faded away after the third song. Guthrie fiddled with the recorded music between songs, and Fraser got a drink, but other than that the musicians remained silent and still. Raymonde did acknowledge birthday greetings with a wave of his hand.

The Cocteau Twins played a set that came in just over an hour, including two encores. They played most of the cuts from their latest LP and many from 1988's Blue Bell Knoll, but unfortunately absent were early hits like "Wax and Wane" and "The Spangle Maker."

The band was accompanied, however, by a dynamite light show. Five white lights, each casting several beams, traveled across the stage and into the audience, working well with the dense dry-ice fog that shrouded the stage. Equally impressive were the colored lights that danced behind the stage, reminiscent of some primal seascape.

The band has said on more than one occasion that it is more comfortable in the studio than on the stage. The stoicism of the band and the canned background lent a perfunctory feel to the show. The Cocteau Twins really are better on CD.

The opening act, Galaxie 500, is a trio of Harvard graduates who are only slightly more energetic on stage than the Cocteau Twins. The band played a short 40-minute set to a near-empty arena. It is a shame that so few people arrived in time to hear them, too.

Galaxie 500 concerns itself little with lyrics, opting for songs long on instrumental solos. The vocals, slightly blurred `a la REM, faded into lengthy guitar parts. The guitar was slow, but well done, reminding me a little of Neil Young.