It was a relatively thin crowd that turned out for the Fat Boys Friday night at the Greek Theatre.
Despite the group's current hit single ("Wipeout") and a supporting lineup of rap upstarts (Salt-N-Pepa, Dana Dane and Ice-T), it still wasn't a strong enough lure to fill more than three-fourths of the 6,000-seat Greek. (The same bill also played the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on Saturday).
If rap fans stayed away due to fears of gang violence, they would have been surprised by the concert's tame atmosphere. There wasn't even the customary security check of purses and bags for cameras, much less firearms.
The Fat Boys attracted a crowd of mostly black teen-agers given to polite partying. Many of them even looked like the group, with their roly-poly physiques, ultra-casual gym wear and rock-this-house dance moves. Some of the fans generated much more genuine enthusiasm than the group itself, which often conveyed a going-through-the-motions attitude.
There's a lot of flab that could have been trimmed from the trio's hourlong set. They performed the pro-condom "Protect Yourself," but their hearts didn't seem in it and the number drew a less-than-enthralled response from the audience.
More effective were their versions of hits by other artists, including the Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man," James Brown's "Sex Machine" and the Surfaris' "Wipeout." And no, the Beach Boys--who appear on the "Wipeout" single--didn't join them on stage, though the Hula Hoops, Frisbees and beach balls that the Fat Boys flung into the audience did compensate in keeping the party moving.
To say that Salt-N-Pepa is one of the best female rap groups around doesn't say much, since they don't have much competition in that category--and competition is one of the main things that fuels rap's energy. This New York-based trio envisions itself as a rival of artists like Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J, and while the group does show potential on rugged rap exercises like "I'll Take Your Man," it still has a lot of rough edges that need polishing.
The girls had to strip down to leotards and sweat pants to really warm up the male contingent in the crowd. Displaying more personality than many of their male compatriots on the rap scene, Salt-N-Pepa did rely on an excessive amount of pelvic thrusts to drive home their message--a message contradicted on numbers like their current hit "Tramp," in which they bray, "You ain't treating me like no prostitute!" Somebody should confer with these girls about sending out double signals.
If it can do something about its tendency to show off more vigor than vision, Salt-N-Pepa might be ready to challenge groups like Run-D.M.C. one day. But that's going to take more imagination, and fewer bumps and grinds.