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Trite but tender, Blunt thrills Orpheum crowd

Before British singing sensation James Blunt had even uttered one note at the Orpheum Saturday night, one felt oneself surrendering to an embrace. Not his, mind you, but the enfolding arms and unconditional adoration of the sold-out house. Even serviceably strummed midtempo ballads such as ''Billy" and ''Tears and Rain" were met with the ecstatic shrieks of mostly female recognition once reserved for soldiers returning home from war, or an Enrique Iglesias sighting.

Backed by a bland four-piece band on only the sixth date of his first US tour, Blunt was a congenial presence who played to, and stumped for, every seat in the house -- even nodding to local rock geography with an encore reading of the Pixies' ''Where Is My Mind?," a watered-down version that proved a far better idea in theory than deed. The appeal was clear amid the screams: Blunt was the cute but attainable guy with an acoustic guitar and a falsetto, a dreamy heartbreaker who'd make an ideal, considerate boyfriend even Mom (or especially Mom) could love.

Still, it's nearly impossible to reconcile this degree of adulation with the pleasant yet slight-voiced singer whose album ''Back to Bedlam," an earnestly romantic collection of quivering love songs, has become a cause celebre for the same Adult Contemporary crowd that made Damien Rice a star. But stardom often has less to do with logic or talent than with deft marketing or some ineffable zeitgeist.

Clearly, Blunt's broad sentimentality has struck a major chord. There were enough lyrics about hearts and souls touched, broken, and abandoned to rival a high school diary. (An exception was ''No Bravery," a tune reportedly drawn from Blunt's stint as a Royal Air Force soldier who saw combat in Kosovo.) The cumulative effect actually worked against the intended effect of these strung-together cliches, stripping the material of any real weight or emotional depth.

But to the swooning all-ages crowd (who gave Blunt a standing ovation midway through his 75-minute set), the primary-color melodies and pedestrian language that carried selections such as ''Goodbye My Lover" and the trembling encore closer, ''You're Beautiful," made their points quickly, in bold letters, and without messy complication. For gushing romantics young and old, that was more than enough.

Openers The Boy Least Likely To are accruing some Cute Boy Band buzz of their own. The jousting duo of Jof Owen and Pete Hobbs (yes, they did the scripted ''Eye of the Tiger" joke), augmented by a five-piece backing band, delivered a too-precious set of twee-pop ditties that made the Monkees sound like Led Zeppelin by comparison.

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