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Pop Music Reviews : Cocker Wins Hearts in Wiltern Concert

November 26, 1987|CONNIE JOHNSON

While a sold-out house waited for Joe Cocker to take the stage Monday night at the Wiltern Theatre, a tape of the Blues Brothers' old records was playing--an appropriate choice, given the late John Belushi's penchant for doing raging, wild-man-of-rock impressions of Cocker on "Saturday Night Live."

When Cocker did appear, he looked fit as a fiddle--rather like one of rock music's elder statesmen. The only wild thing about him was the print of his leopard-skin jacket. Following a turbulent personal and musical history, Cocker scored the biggest hit of his career in 1982 when he recorded "Up Where We Belong," the theme to the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." And while he hasn't had a major hit since, at least he projects a different image these days: polished and professional.

Cocker's voice did sound nearly shot for the early part of the evening, a condition he blamed on a concert the night before in San Francisco, where, he grumbled, "I guess I overdid it." But that was more than compensated by a ferocious, rattle-the-rafters nine-piece band (including horn section) and three female backup singers.

Cocker burned his way through a raucous version of Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," then turned tender on "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress." Toward the end of his hour-plus set he seemed to catch his second wind, his voice coming across in wild-man-of-rock fashion on "Shelter Me" and the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends."

There were several high points to the evening, but the nicest might have been the one in which the audience sang along, helping Cocker out with the high notes on "You Are So Beautiful." Who would have thought you could get sentimental at a Joe Cocker concert?

While Cocker was mostly terrific, Minnesota-born rock musician Peter Himmelman plowed his way through an opening set that mostly fell flat due to a muddy sound mix that rendered most of his lyrics unintelligible. One rock jam, "Burning Shame," came across reasonably OK, but little else worked as well.

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