THE ALBUM PAT TRAVERS, "Radio Active," Polydor PD-1-6313.; THE SHOW FRIDAY AT 8 at Georgetown University.
Although hairy-chested, arena-style blues-rock has enjoyed great success in the last few years, nobody seems to be getting a lot of fun out of it. Even the shibboleth of the genre -- "Boogie 'til you puke" -- implies that rock and roll is grueling, nasty work, the appropriate response to which is physical revulsion. In some cases, of course, this holds absolutely true.
Pat Travers is somewhat of a heretic in this regard. He plays competent guitar at the required decibel level and he offers the obligatory novenas to Hendrix, Clapton and the Who. But what gives him the edge on his colleagues is that the guy is having a good time!
Travers is the only rock guitarist I know of with the spunk to admit that he took up keyboards because being merely an axe-wielder got boring, adding that "There are just so many hot-shot guitarists around, the average fan couldn't distinguish between me and 75 others." Ted Nugent apparently reached this same epiphany once, but his reaction was to distinguish himself by loosing Excedrin-strength screams on his audience until they cried uncle or succumbed.
On "Radio Active," Travers reaffirms his perception of rock as secular entertainment, and of himself as Regular Guy. If he doesn't sport quite the technical ability of Robin Trower, neither does he require us to genuflect self-indulgently at Hendrix's crypt until our knees develop carbuncles.
Best cut on the album is "My Life Is on the Line," a mid-tempo cruiser that's been getting healthy airplay. Travers has a clear, steady voice and prefers singing actual melody lines to blowing the lyrics out his nose a la AC/DC. The production work here (indeed, throughout the album) lends an almost live quality to Mars Cowling's bass and Sandy Gennaro's percussion.
"(I Just Wanna) Live It My Way" is a fine, Claptonesque affair that offers cliches like "I am the singer/and life's the song" with no apologies. Travers appreciates the importance of keeping it simple, especially when it's aimed at folks who like to briskly exterminate a few excess brain cells even as they listen. Same sensibility applies to second track, second side, a Keith-Emerson-meets-Pete-Townshend instrumental Travers was thoughtful enough to name "Untitled."
The one real howler on "Radio Active" is "Feelin' in Love," an absurd attempt at regae that would make Big Youth feel Boonewhite just listening. In general, though, the album glides along, free of the mope-rock banana peels that have tripped up better-known acts of late.
The Who and Clapton keep playing the blues as if they've been sent to their rooms without their Hostess snack cakes; Pat Travers plays as though he's on a joy-ride in Dad's gas-guzzler, and leave the consequences to tomorrow. On "Radio Active," he doesn't want you to toss your cookies -- just your hips.