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Pop Reviews : A Capable Watley Slick, Entertaining at Wiltern

June 12, 1989|CHRIS WILLMAN

Mostly through the avenue of music video, Jody Watley has already proven herself one of the most watchable women in pop--thanks not only to her model-like physique, cheekbones that won't quit and those lips/those eyes, but also to real singing and, especially, dancing talents.

In her local headlining debut Saturday at the Wiltern Theatre, Watley showed that it's not just camera angles and editing techniques propping up her popularity: She's been as blessedly created for the concert stage as she was made-for-MTV.

Opening in a red halter and bell bottoms (to be replaced in later costume changes with more lacy things) and adorned in swinging crosses, Watley looked a little like a skinny Madonna at first. As a hoofer, Watley easily comes out on top of that competition; Madonna would kill to move with such relentless ease, for the way all of Watley's jerky, high-energy, go-go flair never betrays her innate grace. Two terrific female dancer/singers added immensely to the sharply and wittily choreographed fun.

Like Donna Summer, Watley the singer is at her sexiest in the low range that she too rarely dips into (as in "Still a Thrill," her best single to date). There's a sameness to much of her pop-funk material, but her unassuming presence, if not necessarily her voice, redeems much of it. She's as sexy as they come, but never raunchy, and her winning smile and her penchant for offsetting those model-ish poses with daringly gangly moves make her a little less aloof, even as you dare not take your eyes from her charismatic visage.

Still, there was a slight hollowness to the victory. For all the songs she sings about "commitment," Watley falls shy of making the biggest commitment of all to her audience: self-revelation.

Superior as she is to most in her genre, Watley is beginning to seem a little less special as vivacious upstarts like Nenah Cherry and Gail Ann Dorsey appear on the scene. To paraphrase a line from Cherry's current hit, you end up asking, "What is she like , anyway?"

That you leave Watley's slick, consistently entertaining show without feeling that you really know one way or another is a drag, and whether she can eventually transform the watchable into the personable may well determine her professional longevity.

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