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Sugarcubes Are Winningly Weird

Promising Icelandic rock group improves on past without watering down its quirky style. MUSIC: REVIEW

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IT'S not just because they come from Iceland that the Sugarcubes are an unusual rock band. They're also a refreshing example of a musical group that started out with a strong identity based on a quirky, off-center style, and have continued to develop themselves in the American market on a major record label (Elektra), without becoming watered down or selling out to marketing pressures. Some credit must go to Elektra for taking a risk and signing the Sugarcubes - a band definitely outside of the rock mainstream. The group's recent performance at the Beacon Theater here showed just how much they've grown since this reviewer last saw them at the World, a smaller Manhattan venue, two years ago. They've settled down, smoothed out, matured, and extended their very personal style without altering it, after more than two years of international touring.

The Sugarcubes are Bjork Gudmundsdottir, lead vocalist; Einar Orn, trumpeter and vocalist; Margret Ornolfsdottir on keyboards; Sigtryggur Baldursson on drums and percussion; Thor Eldon on guitar; and Bragi Olafsson on bass guitar.

The show opened with Bjork and Einar playing the harmonica duet that leads into the hard-rocking ``Traitor.'' The diminutive Bjork, dressed in a short, twirly yellow dress, tights, and work boots, commanded the stage with her trademark cross between little-girl voice and savage, primordial yelps.

Einar, wearing a Mack-Truck sweatshirt with flames on the sleeves, played alter ego to Bjork, with his weird, theatrical ``spoken'' vocals weaving in and out of her sung ones. Einar's role has become much more prominent in the band, with good results.

Much of the music at the concert came from the Sugarcubes' second album, ``Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week!'' - including the delicious ditty ``Eat the Menu,'' the frenetic ``Dream TV,'' the regal and powerful ``Regina,'' and the catchy ``Tidal Wave.'' Unlike many second albums, ``Here Today'' is, in many ways, superior to the Sugarcubes' successful debut album, ``Life's Too Good.'' The new album shows their ability to reach in risky directions without losing their grip.

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