The Fine Young Cannibals, a British band formed by two ex-members of the English Beat, made their American debut last night before a sellout audience at the 9:30 club. The group's music carried an irresistible rhythmic kick. The set opened with "Don't Ask Me to Choose," which rode a propulsive bass line lifted right out of any number of Supremes or Four Tops hits. In fact, it was David Steele's pumping bass lines and Andy Cox's choppy guitar that gave so much of the group's material the kinetic drive of '60s soul music.

The band wasn't all happy grooves, though, and its material benefited from the contrast between danceability and Roland Gift's anguished delivery. Gift's clipped vocals, a rich and intriguing blend of gospel, blues and reggae mannerisms, were especially dramatic on the melancholy "Blue" and the Brazilian-flavored "Funny How Love Is." On "Johnny Come Home," Gift had a way of agonizing over the song's lyrics that created an emotional poignance missing in most pop bands.

The band threw in a few surprises, too, including a neat jazzy arrangement of the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love?" Perhaps the evening's highlight came near the show's end when the band launched into a charged version of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" that left the delighted audience screaming for more.