You have to give Kitaro credit. He at least surprises. At a time when some New Age programs seem to provide little more than the best cure for insomnia since Sominex, the Japanese composer/keyboardist/drummer's program at the Wiltern Theater on Saturday night kept his audience awake.
And if anyone did make the mistake of drifting off before the evening was over, Kitaro provided ample punishment for the culprit in his encore piece. Charging up to the stage's highest riser--which contained three massive drums--he began to bang on the huge drumhead, throwing his entire compact body into the effort and producing a rumbling temblor so gut-shaking that it had this listener apprehensive that Kitaro just might provoke the Big One.
The balance of the program was less sensational. Seated at a cluster of keyboards, dressed entirely in white, his six accompanying musicians spread around the stage on risers, Kitaro devoted much of the evening to selections from his new album "The Light of the Spirit" (Geffin Records).
More traditionally melodic than some New Age music, Kitaro's pieces sometimes have a kind of ersatz Spanish quality, with very declamatory phrasing and simple flamenco harmonies. Like Vangelis, Kitaro produces music that is loaded with evocative theatrics, but that repeats its patterns from piece to piece and that, once past the externals, simply lacks musical substance.
As lovely as some of his melodies were and as impressive as the presentation (with its intensely dramatic lighting) was, his program left one, too often, with the feeling of having seen a ballet without dancers and a play without a story.