There's something slightly incongruous about a band still touring behind an album called "Emergency" that's 2 years old. But if Kool & The Gang disagree with Webster's definition that an emergency "demands immediate action"--like a new record--the group's concert Saturday at the Pacific Amphitheatre showed that flashiness can help overcome staleness.
The New Jersey-based band wasted no time establishing that its performance would be big on dazzling displays: The show opened with a lighting rig disguised as a spaceship (or was it vice-versa?) descending to the stage floor and dropping off a glowing alien creature. Not established was just what this Spielbergian spectacle had to do with the rest of the show.
Indeed, everything else about the evening had a specific purpose and was planned to the last detail--even if it didn't always seem that way initially. Toward the end of one ballad, for instance, lead vocalist James (J.T.) Taylor told the crowd that "Johnny Carson would appreciate that I'm looking for Joanna." What sounded like a non-sequitur worthy of Groucho Marx turned out to be a slick segue into the Gang's 1983 hit "Joanna."
The fact that Kool & The Gang operated as an efficient, well-oiled R&B machine was both pro and con. On the plus side, the outfit offered plenty of snappy choreography and switched musical gears--particularly during a medley of their 1970s hits--with impressive precision.