A Rocky Start for Deacon Blue
Los Angeles Times 5th August 1989

Rule No. 1 for a highly touted British band making its local debut: However ecstatic the crowds were back home, don't come on stage here expecting--or, even worse, trying to force--immediate frenzy. It's better to underplay than overplay.

Rule No. 2: Don't chide folks seated at the rear tables for not getting up and dancing midway through the show. You're just pointing out that the music itself hasn't been sufficiently stirring to make those people want to leave their chairs.

Deacon Blue lead singer Ricky Ross ought to paste the rules on his next U.S. tour itinerary. By breaking both of them Thursday night at the Roxy, he got his highly touted Scottish rock band's first local appearance off to a decidedly clumsy start.

Ross rushed on stage shortly after 10 with the anxious energy of a man about to yell "Fire!"

As the rest of the six-piece group got settled, he paced back and forth, striking a few Springsteen-ish rock-hero poses before lunging at the microphone and singing Buddy Holly's old hit "Not Fade Away" with the urgency of someone who thought he had just seen the new "future of rock 'n' roll"--in the mirror.

The idea was to create an immediate explosion--a connection with the greats in rock history--and it may have worked some nights back on the campaign trail in Britain. But it just seemed awkward and even a touch embarrassing this night.

This wasn't a room filled with devoted followers, but mostly curious onlookers who must have felt they were part of some video shoot. There was such a sense of exaggerated emotion in Ross' manner that he seemed to be acting out some triumphant concert moment for, say, the upcoming "Eddie and the Cruisers II." Ross--with his boyish, clean-cut appearance--even resembled "Eddie's" Michael Pare. You kept waiting for someone to yell "Cut."

If all this helped keep it from being a night to remember, there were moments in the final half of the 90-minute show--after Ross loosened up--that suggested Deacon Blue is a band worth watching. Ross, who put the band together in 1985, shares the rock-as-inspiration sensibilities of such figures as Springsteen and U2's Bono Hewson, and he writes appealing, compact songs. He also showed late in the show that he could relate to an audience on a more convincing and intimate level.

Ross' tunes on Deacon Blue's first album, "Raintown," carry an especially strong sense of detail and emotion. While the lyrics on the new "When the World Knows Your Name" sometimes lack definition, the music itself is brighter--a touch of post-Motown snap and the Celtic soul of Van Morrison. There are some imaginative touches in the arrangements, including the way Lorraine McIntosh's vocals interlock with Ross'.

The Roxy show was part of a brief, introductory U.S. tour. If Ross can learn to be more personal and less of a role player next time around, the band could well be quite special.

Thursday's show was opened by Toad the Wet Sprocket, a promising young Santa Barbara band (lead singer Glen Phillips is just 18) with a strong R.E.M. instrumental shading. While the quartet's arrangements tend to be somewhat colorless and a little flat, there is an interesting blend of youthful idealism and wary pessimism in Phillips' frequently imaginative lyrics.