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Simply Red Brings A Bit Of Class To The Wiltern

October 12, 1987|CHRIS WILLMAN

Another night on the rock town in Los Angeles, with a couple of trendy English bands lustily appropriating American style, the headlining group complete with a singing leftist with an asymmetrical haircut. No, certainly nothing out of the ordinary about any of that. . . .

Except, perhaps, that almost everyone in attendance at the sold-out 2,300-seat Wiltern Theatre on Saturday looked to be at least--in the parlance of the new TV season--"thirtysomething," and that is unusual. If the makers of that new fall series really want to be on top of true-yup tastes, they'd do well to include on their sound track the music of Simply Red, the headlining English soul-pop combo.

No doubt about it, Simply Red is a "class" act that attracts a "class" crowd--classy enough to make a class-conscious rock fan suspicious.

Lest one disparage the group's American success as a purely modern post-prep phenomenon, though, it might be smart to think back on a possible antecedent of a decade ago: Boz Scaggs, who--like Simply Red's Mick Hucknall--was a white fellow dressing up black music in dapper clothes and actually doing it with a remarkable degree of integrity and authority.

Hucknall shares Scaggs' affinity for a nice suit as well as his taste for soul music, though what tops his baggy-trousers-and-blue-kerchief look--a great shock of curly red hair, concentrated mostly to the (what else?) left side--isn't quite so GQ-like.

And he cut quite a dandy figure indeed, opening the set alone in front of the curtain with a bluesy "I Guess I'll Drown in My Own Tears," joined shortly by trumpeter Tim Kellett, whose playful staccato riff led into a curtain-opening, full-band "Come to My Aid," one of many hard-hitting, full-blown R&B numbers.

Hucknall may have an admitted reputation for arrogance off stage, but it comes off as charming confidence on stage--good moves without too much overt sex appeal, good singing without too much overt showboating.

His high-pitched and defiant voice incarnates both the masculine and the feminine, like most great soul singers. And he'll go for the sly note--at one point quietly begging not to be made to suffeeeeeeer --before he goes for the crowd-pleasing growling and wailing.

The seven-piece band, too, was in top shape, achieving a hint of abandon not quite arrived at on record. A two-man horn section is not unusual for a rock band these days, but the smart interplay of this one (sax solo played against trumpet riff, or vice versa) is rare to find. And the type of nimble-fingered funk riffs offered up by guitarist Sylvan haven't been heard much in these parts lately, and are welcome back anytime.

There were few false notes, though one was the uninspired encore choice of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," which has been covered a few thousand too many times to have much impact anymore.

Better that Hucknall would have encored with another of the new songs he's co-written with '60s soul veteran Lamont Dozier (which are playfully credited on album to "Hucknall-Dozier-Hucknall") than that needless nod to the past.

Interesting point of note: While Simply Red's second album, "Men and Women," was one of this year's major commercial disappointments, the group's first night at the Wiltern sold out quite quickly, and a Sunday show was added. Say what you will about these ah- dults , but they do seem to have more loyalty than the record-buying kids and baby-sitters they left back home.

Opening the show was the group called Danny Wilson, an outfit with a severe Steely Dan complex on record and a horn-augmented sophisto-pop approach in concert that was quite complementary to the headliner's.

But despite Danny Wilson's having had a recent "adult contemporary" hit of considerable merit called "Mary's Prayer," most of the adults in attendance elected to stay in the lobby during the opening set.

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