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LETTERS FROM CLEO REVELS IN THE ALMIGHTY POP SOUND

So you say you're tired of grunge, thrash and garage bands ripping the wax out of your ears, and you're not ready to trade your Divinyls records for a complete collection of Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Don't know what to do until the inevitable comeback of roots rock? Maybe you don't have to do a thing. Try a little psychosis-free Letters From Cleo, a group of pop-meisters who toss angst to the wind and revel in the almighty pop sound.

The Boston-area band zoomed into town Wednesday night, taking a night off from opening for Everclear, and rocked the crowd of Gen-Xers who forced the Beantown popsters to return to the Tralf stage twice for a 30-minute encore.

So you don't believe they were that good? Hey, you weren't there. Maybe you should ask the bright-eyed folks who bipped, bopped and boinged to the group's infectious punk pop music. Yes, you can mosh to a pop band.

The band even has a pop-rock diva with a voice to melt butter and scorch metal. Vocalist Kay Hanley's pipes are alternately quirky and flawless, yet the slight singer still projects enough attitude to intimidate Joe Pesci. Hanley may look like a redheaded saint, but her lyrics and vocal prowess identify her as one devilishly clever songwriter. Letters to Cleo does what it does very well. It plays straight-ahead, no-nonsense power pop that echoes punk.

Vocalist Hanley and guitarist Greg McKenna formed the band in 1990 after serving a brief tenure with a Boston-area ska band. Putting ska behind them, they branched off into hook-filled pop songs. Thanks to "Melrose Place," "Here and Now" became a monster hit for them.

Hanley started the night with a sly comment about the lounge-type seating, delivered with enough acid to etch her initials in the Hope Diamond: "Can you guys rock in a seated position?"

She delved deep into her heart to deliver edgy, thought-provoking narratives of self-identity and relationships. For instance, she opened with "Find You Dead" and its death wish, "I like to think ahead till they find you dead/Skipping out on God is bad."

Hanley described herself as "a happy person with somewhat dark tastes in music: Nine Inch Nails, the Cure, Portishead and Bauhaus."

She and her band mates have been favorably compared to Juliana Hatfield and the Lemonheads as well as the Posies, but there is something unique about the singer and band that put them a cut above their influences.

At times, the band needed to rearrange some of its songs to accommodate a live performance. The acoustic and skeletal original version of "Step Back," for instance, was replaced by a full-band, electric version of the song.

These changes made the songs no less effective. Actually, the differences kept the audience from falling into a lull of expectancy as well as displaying the band's ability to perform live.

Michael Einstein and Greg McKenna added big, full-bodied guitar sounds that came off best when they made a sly slide into a minor key, as on "Big Star," or raved up to almost metallic intensity, as they did throughout their set.

Review Letters From Cleo Power pop group from Boston. Wednesday night in the Tralfamadore cafe, Theater Place.

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