Kicking off its latest American tour at the sold-out Ontario Theatre last night, Bow Wow Wow made no bones about its strengths: It was drummer Dave Barbarosa's Big Burundi Beat all the way, with Mohawk-coiffed Annabella Lwin coasting along on wings of rhythm. At times, guitarist Matthew Ashman and bassist Lee Gorman (the band has been called Cockney Bantus) consciously compounded the vaguely Third World rhythms with heavily brushed rock chords, but the night's inexorable energy swirled from Barbarosa.

Even though her vocals were often overwhelmed by an unrelenting sound system, Lwin was a delight, her sensual bravado barely contained in exuberant yelps and an animated stage demeanor crossing Debbie Harry, Charo and Belinda Carlisle. Pitch was something she only occasionally approached, but then again she probably couldn't hear herself.

Lwin threw herself around the stage with unflagging energy, pushing the audience with semi-sloganeering cheerleading that puts a poseur like Toni Basil to shame; a rousing "C30-C60-C90-GO" was enough to make one wish he'd been secretly taping the show.

The most effective songs were those that were all edge and no center, like "Go Wild in the Country," "Golly Golly," "Louis Quatorze" and the band's biggest American hit, "I Want Candy." The latter's success is easy to understand--it's basic Bo Diddley declaimed by an insouciant nymphet. Best of all, though, were the near-wordless excursions like the orgasmic "Sexy Eiffel Tower" or an encore that stopped and started like a trainee driver. Then the rolling bass, caustic guitar, galloping drums and savage vocal energies combined to steamroll their way through the Ontario.