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A DIFFERENCE OF NIGHT AND DAY : Cool Takes on a New Meaning for Singer as Danger Signs Noted in Recordings, Concert

December 07, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

Good luck to Morris Day in the movies because his Time may be running out in the pop world. Nothing is colder than yesterday's cool and there was a definite chill in the air Thursday night at the Universal Amphitheatre.

Danger Sign No. 1. Day's first solo album, "Color of Success," leaped into the Top 40 two months ago, thanks to momentum left from his high-strutting days with the Prince-spawned band, The Time, and the Prince-designed film, "Purple Rain." But the album turned out to be a pale series of spinoffs of Prince's sound. Excitement waned. The LP dropped 10 positions last week to No. 47.

Danger Sign No. 2. Day's single, "The Oak Tree," scored on the black music charts, but stalled badly on the pop charts--even though its brand of Prince-derived funk is working these days for lots of other artists, including Ready for the World.

Danger Sign No. 3. Thursday's concert. Day connected at times with the short-of-capacity, party-ready audience, but it was mostly on his old dance-crazy Time hits like "Jungle Love" and "The Bird." On the new songs, he seemed to be running on empty.

Weak material is a problem for any performer, but it's especially damaging to someone like Day, whose appeal with The Time was based as much on his cool as the music.

Day was so cool in The Time that he'd comb his hair on stage while a valet held a mirror for him. It was a wonderful update of the spoiled playboy stance of Jackie Gleason's Reggie Van Gleason character--and it translated marvelously to film in "Purple Rain." No doubt about it, Mr. Cool was hot. Bye-bye Prince and The Time.

On Thursday, Day still tried to present himself as the guy who is on such a roll that he could walk up to any woman and boast, "I think I want to know you . . ./Girl, I'm going to show you." The concert was mounted with pizazz (high-tech staging and flashing lights) and his wardrobe will certainly qualify for a heavy tax deduction.

Day even reinforced the playboy image by bringing on stage a shapely woman (alas, it was Vanity, another former Prince ally) to share some wine with him before teasingly disappearing into the wings with her as the band played sexy, suggestive music.

And fans certainly were ready to be part of his kingdom. They didn't spend intermission buying popcorn and Cokes. They studied each other's clothes. There were more topcoats and scarfs than you could find on Rodeo Drive.

Unfortunately for Day, the key to making cool work is staying several steps ahead of the rest of us--you have to be either so enormously talented that you don't have to play by the rules, or, even better, so--well, cool--that you don't even need talent to make everything fall into place.

Without fresh music or ideas, however, you're old news. And this show was far from fresh. Day's dancing was one-dimensional--mostly recycled steps from "Purple Rain." In fact, he didn't show growth in any area. The most troubling problem may be a lack of strong, spontaneous instincts about what to do on stage. Day was even upstaged by his opening act Thursday: the Fat Boys.

That New York trio relies as much on attitude as Day does, but it has a disarming, underdog spirit that makes you look past the routineness of its hip-hop songs (sung to pre-recorded backing tapes) and join in the fun. You've heard about artists who sing from the heart? These guys sing from the stomach. They are big enough to make a scale cower and their whole show celebrates the joys of food.

Darren Robinson, the fattest of the three Fat Boys, adds to the novelty of the evening with his "human beat box" routine--reproducing electronic drum sounds with his voice. The limited exposure of the opening spot probably suits the Fat Boys best, but they turned out to be the really cool ones Thursday.

LIVE ACTION: Aerosmith will be at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Jan. 31. Tickets go on sale Sunday. . . . The Residents will be at the Palace on Dec. 26. . . . The Blasters' Phil Alvin will guest with jazzman Sun Ra on Friday at the Lingerie.

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