Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Looks like Velvet

Because Labelle canceled due to illness, Screaming Jay Hawkins headlined at My Father's Place in Roslyn last night. Hawkins has concocted an oldies act which is basically unexciting because most of his material was made famous by other stylists, but he does wear ruffled lavender, and not only does he scream, he snorts like a water buffalo. Needless to say, "You Put a Spell on Me," the song that made him notorious, climaxes the presentation, and it is worth seeing once. If you're interested, call the club and find out whether he'll continue as hoped through Thursday.

The opening act, a four-man rock band called the Modern Lovers, is worth seeing twice, but could probably find a more suitable showcase--perhaps Max's Kansas City, established as a music haven by the Velvet Underground two years ago. Like the lamented Velvets, the Modern Lovers have developed a fantastic following among college students of an intellectual cast in Boston. Unlike the Velvets, the Modern Lovers have a clear interest in superstardom, and many record executives are betting real money that they'll achieve it. I'm rooting for them, but I'm not so sure. The star of the Modern Lovers is Jonathan Richman, a 22-year-old vocalist and guitarist whose short hair and button-down shirt reminiscent of the Velvets' Lou Reed, contrasts vividly with the rag mops and leather of his cohorts. After daring the audience to lose interest with a meandering semi-recitative, Richman gears up into a hard, spasmodic style with flash guitar to match. Like the Velvets once again, the group rocks without any concession to blues-based styles. Concentrating on the neurotic reality of love in the city, they make no concessions to the hedonistic stud fantasies of white funk, either.

The Modern Lovers are staking their future on a desentimentalization of youth consciousness. "I go to the bakery all day long/There's this lack of sweetness in my life," Richman sings and as a climax invites the audience to scream along: "I'm straight." But the sparse crowd at My Father's Place last night wasn't ready to buy. It'll be a long time before the self-conscious hip young are ready to admit how lacking their world view really is.

N'day, Aug. 16, 1972