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POP MUSIC REVIEW / Duncan Strauss : A Revamped Atlantic Starr Turns in a Lackluster Show

December 14, 1987|Duncan Strauss

Within the last three years, Atlantic Starr has trimmed some members from its lineup, added singer Barbara Weathers, expanded its musical base and--probably as a result--spent much more time in the upper regions of the charts. Fine.

Less fine, though, is that the quintet apparently has also mastered the art of pop prestidigitation: Its show Friday at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim was certainly a case of what you get is not what you see.

The initial tip-off came when the roadies were setting up. It seemed strange that an outfit responsible for such dance-floor romps as "Freak-A-Ristic" and "You Belong With Me" would have no drum kit--just Joseph Phillips' small assortment of congas, timbales and other percussion instruments.

But that was nothing compared to how strange it was to hear crisp, steady drumming that didn't remotely resemble the sound of congas or timbales--and didn't stop when Phillips was clapping. Likewise, keyboard sounds, particularly some synthesized string sweetening, occasionally poured out of the P.A. when Jonathan Lewis' hands were nowhere near his keyboard.

Finally, after performing its No. 1 hit, "Always," the quintet exited the stage, leaving behind only the guitar and bass-playing side men. Yet the musical accompaniment remained nice and full, including keyboards and drums. Neat trick, eh?

So most of the show was live, but some was obviously Memorex. It's no nicer to hoodwink an audience than it is to fool Mother Nature. But if the group was going to resort to technological trickery, it might have been smart to include some of the visual variety because this is one bland band. It runs smoothly, but several quarts low on charisma.

Weathers projects a winning personality and suggests there may be a dynamic chanteuse--maybe even a Whitneyesque powerhouse--beneath the often-subdued surface. But she appears to be a bit reined in by founding members David Lewis and Wayne Lewis, who, as lead vocalists, have always been in the spotlight and apparently want to keep it that way.

It's understandable that, after a decade or so, the core of the band would want to maintain the status quo. But you know the old saying, guys: Go with your strength. And Barbara Weathers is it.

Atlantic Starr's general lack of dynamics probably seemed even more glaring after the funky, spunky opening set by Levert. Backed by a crack seven-piece band, the singing trio--Gerald and Sean Levert (sons of O'Jays lead vocalist Eddie) and Marc Cooper--ran the gamut from smoldering ballads to spirited dance tunes, punctuated throughout with snazzy choreography.

Most notable in the dance tune category was an encore rendition of their smash single "Casanova," which saw the group joined on stage by Santa Claus. The bearded one not only tossed out fistfuls of candy canes, but demonstrated a few steps of what must be the North Pole Boogie.

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