At the opening of one of the Association's two shows Saturday night, band member Larry Ramos joked to the crowd, "We're glad you decided to come here instead of the Def Leppard concert up the street."

Though they aren't nearly as big a draw as the heavy metal group that played the Salt Palace this past weekend, the Association proved that they can still attract a loyal and enthusiastic crowd in Salt Lake City.And nearly 20 years after their hits faded from the charts, America's premiere soft-rock and ballad band showed they can still engineer those intriguing vocal harmonies to which members of the Woodstock/Pepsi generation slow danced and fell in love.

An estimated 1,500 fans converged on the floor and lined the balcony near of the Galleria's main stage for each show. They included adults in their 20s and 30s, and pre-teenagers who haven't yet grown too sophisticated to enjoy the music their parents like.

They came ready to be entertained and the band obliged, playing their standards, "Windy," "Never My Love," "Everything That Touches You" and the classic "Cherish."

The vocals were true to the original sound, thanks largely to Russ Giguere, whose distinctive lead voice is recognizable from such recordings as "Windy," "Cherish," (on which Ramos added a double lead vocal at the concert) and on "Enter the Young," the tune with which the band opened the legendary Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967.

Giguere's lead was well-supported by the precise - occasionally baroque-style - background harmonies of the other five members, all of whom sing as well as play instruments. (Giguere has no instrument but played air guitar.)

Even the sound engineer, Ramos' brother, Dell, "the phantom voice of the Association," added to the performance by singing into a microphone attached to his mixing console.

An outstanding lead solo was rendered by Jules Alexander on "Along Comes Mary" (which was recorded, Ramos kiddingly said, while the group was under the influence of steroids).

The band showed its versatility with a long medley of rock standards including the old Rare Earth tune, "Get Ready," the Temptations' "My Girl," and Huey Lewis' "The Heart of Rock and Roll." Ramos' crystal-clear tenor voice was well showcased on "Heard It Through the Grapevine" and the Beach Boys tune "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

If there was cause for disappointment, it was the absence of the varied instrumentation included on most Association hits. But keyboard player Paul Holland did a good job of faking, particularly with synthesized flute on "Windy" and orchestra bells on "Cherish."

Band members must have sensed the natives were friendly. Their stage banter at both shows was spontaneous and natural. Alexander joked about blowing 20 bucks on Galleria video games. He mentioned that Ramos, one of the original members of the New Christy Minstrels, just became the band's first grandfather.

Their showmanship was as good as their banter. The audience demanded an encore and the band obliged with a reprise of "Windy," and finished it with Giguere, Ramos and Alexander doing can-can kicks.