Innocence Mission
at the Chameleon Club,
Lancaster, Pa. (21 April 1995)

It's been 2 1/2 years since the Innocence Mission gave a hometown concert.

Their fans have not forgotten them.

The local quartet, which made a national name for itself before vanishing into a few years of creative seclusion, made a reappearance Friday at the Chameleon Club. For them and for many of the 400-plus crowd, it was a long-overdue "welcome back" party.

The audience, after hoppin'-boppin' to The Frogs earlier in the evening, settled back for some rock in a smoother, mellower vein.

They got what they came for, from the first notes of the popular "Surreal" on through a warm, crisp collection of old and new tunes.

"We're really glad to be playing at home again," vocalist Karen Peris said shortly into the show.

The crowd roared its approval. Karen looked like she might die of embarrassment.

The Innocence Mission has carved a niche for collective shyness almost as much as has for its music. Its members on Friday sometimes seemed unsure what they were doing on stage or why all those people were looking at them.

To everyone else, it was perfectly clear.

Karen, who supplements singing with keyboards and a guitar far too big for her hands, is the obvious center of attention. Her voice -- clear, calm and sweet -- soared through the crowd and over the rest of the band with delicate strength.

She greeted the audience's enthusiastic applause with bashful nods of appreciation and a Christmas morning kind of grin.

Sharing the stage and Karen's shyness is a trio of excellent musicians who play both energetic rock and subtle ballads with a potency that doesn't overpower Karen's waifish voice.

Guitarist Don Peris, Karen's husband, and bass guitarist Mike Bitts clung to the sides of the stage, trading grins as they played and trying hard, it seemed, to avoid meeting the audience's eyes. Drummer Steve Brown maintained a steady rhythm in the back.

All four kept smiling, happily wrapped up in the music.

Born as Masquerade in 1982, shortly after the foursome graduated from Lancaster Catholic High School, the Innocence Mission launched its national success story in 1989 with its first A&M album release. The self-titled freshman effort was followed in 1991 by Umbrella.

Although not platinum sellers, the albums and a national tour with Don Henley earned them a loyal following. A lot of people, perhaps tired of the anger, angst and lifeless bubblegum pervading the modern rock scene, were hooked by Karen's emotional lyrics and the band's gentle approach.

After a four-year hiatus, the band hopes to rekindle its fame with a third album, Glow, which is due out in June. An EP sample from the new album was available at the Chameleon Friday; the full album will be unveiled at another Chameleon gig on June 15.

The performance Friday was a rhapsody of music, including familiar tunes like "Curious," "Paper Dolls" and "You Chase the Light" to just-released numbers like "That Was Another Country," "Happy, The End" and "Our Harry."

Obviously the fans have been getting their money's worth from the older albums. Packed close to the stage, they welcomed each old song with enthusiasm, like an old and treasured friend, often mouthing each word along with Karen. During new tunes they leaned close, absorbing the lyrics with rapt attention so they can sing next time.

"They've developed quite a following in spite of their bashfulness," Chameleon owner Rich Ruoff said during the show. "It's become their trademark."

by Tom Knapp