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POP MUSIC REVIEW : What's Rock Got to Do With It? : Tina Turner's dynamic evening celebrating her musical legacy is far more effective as theater than as a concert.

September 17, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

DEVORE — Now that Broadway is agog over "Tommy," why not "Tina"?

Picture the ads:

* "You've seen her story in the movies, now see her live."

* "Tina throws another knockout punch."

* "She's got so much energy on stage that she makes Liza look lazy."

* "The hardest working (wo)man in show business since James Brown."

Turner's concert on Wednesday at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion--part of a tour that continues with five shows starting Sunday at the Greek Theatre--even seemed like a test run of a Broadway show called "Tina."

Forget about plot and dialogue: Just put Turner on stage and the story of her survival and struggle tells itself in the energy and heart she puts into her performance.

In the nearly two-hour, nonstop affair, she had the crowd on its feet cheering for one show-stopping number after another, from the wide-screen bravado of "We Don't Need Another Hero" to the sultry sting of "Better Be Good to Me."

Turner, indeed, is the give-'em-your-all Liza of the rock generation--but with more influence from James Brown than Judy Garland.

Things opened Wednesday on a theatrical note with a staircase descending from the back of the stage rigging, with Turner soon escalating down it (the woman never just walks ).

During the encore, she is lifted--million-dollar legs and all--high above the stage in a crane where she sings to the crowd, not unlike Evita on the balcony.

The problem, ultimately, was that the evening was far more effective as a sweeping piece of theater than as a concert. That's because at this point in her long career, Turner concentrates on reproducing her art rather than extending it.

This tendency to celebrate one's legacy is increasingly common among veteran pop superstars--a list that includes everyone from Michael Jackson to David Bowie to Rod Stewart.

At these artists' shows, there is usually plenty of razzle, but little sense of revelation; plenty of dazzle, but little emotional discovery.

Turner certainly connected emotionally, but it was on a grand, larger-than-life scale that left little room for the moments of creative breakthrough that once made her one of the most captivating figures in rock. Even the once striking "What's Love Got to Do With It" has been turned into a cutesy sing-along.

Compounding things, her seven-piece band played with a flamethrower force that further drained the intimacy and nuance out of the worthiest of her material. Without more attention to musical discovery, Turner is destined to go on portraying Tina, the living legend.

One consolation: No one is ever going to play the role better.

Surprisingly, Chris Isaak, the opening act, also seemed content to celebrate his legacy--even though he really doesn't have one. It's been almost a decade now since Isaak arrived on the scene with a promising blend of the lonely, exotic sounds of such country-rock influences as Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, but the music seems distressingly gimmicky because he hasn't moved forward in any meaningful way.

Wearing a suit with silver reflectors that made him look like a human disco ball, Isaak added to the annoyance with the cornball, audience-friendly manner of a TV infomercial host.

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