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A Few Bright Lights at New Concert Site

July 07, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County Edition.

The concerts at the Orange County Fair are moving to a larger venue this year, from the 6,000-capacity Arlington Theatre to the mammoth Pacific Amphitheatre, though that isn't necessarily going to make getting a seat any easier.

The Pacific can seat 18,765, but the fair will only be employing the 8,500 fixed seats. The lawn area will be closed, fair representatives say, to avoid the noise problems that led to the demise last year of the Pacific as a commercial concert site.

Also, two shows a night were being held at the Arlington, but each act will only be giving a single performance at the Pacific, meaning there will be 3,500 fewer seats.

Wisely, the fair has, in its concert lineup, given people little inducement to want to fill those seats on most nights. With a couple of stellar exceptions, the 17-show schedule (see Page 11) features the fair's usual uninspiring musical corn dogs and cotton candy, acts that the county's small concert nightclubs would only book on a slow week, if at all.

There have been some standouts in recent years, such as the Everly Brothers and Merle Haggard, and this year is no exception. Amid the pleasant but mummified likes of Loverboy, Jan and Dean and the Kentucky Headhunters, rapper Queen Latifah will appear Sunday and New Orleans' Neville Brothers on July 15.

Latifah is a familiar face in many American homes because of her starring role in the Fox TV series "Living Single," but that mainstream standing in no way dilutes the strength of her music. Her machine-gun articulation and relentless rhythms, backed up by the intent of her words, could go head-to-head with those of any gangsta rapper,

She was born Dana Owens in Newark, N.J. A Muslim friend gave her the name Latifah, which she says stands for "delicate and sensitive," qualities that aren't at the forefront of her often angry work.

But there are no adolescent bullet-splatter fly-girl fantasies here. Rather, the anger in her rhymes on songs like "U.N.I.T.Y.," "Nature of a Sista' " and "Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here" is aimed at sexism and the limitations society--and other rappers--place on women. Although she also addresses lighter and romantic themes and never fails to deliver the beat, her current "Black Reign" album doesn't shy away from grappling with weightier material, such as the death of her brother in "Winki's Theme."

In the Neville Brothers, the fair is bringing in the heart and soul of New Orleans, which is no small thing. Beginning in the mid-'50s with keyboardist brother Art's "Mardi Gras Mambo," the Nevilles have been a shaping force in Crescent City music for four decades. Saxophonist Charles Neville brings decades of jazz and R&B chops to the band and vocalist and percussionist Cyril a world beat sensibility.

The best known of the four brothers is Aaron, who had one of the most memorable ballads in soul music with the 1966 hit "Tell It Like It Is." Combined, the Nevilles and their four (no-relation) band-mates are a national treasure, a musical history lesson, a roiling dance party and a celebration of life. Over infectious grooves, the brothers weave sinuous cross-rhythms, gorgeous vocal harmonies, socially conscious themes and practically every American music style that has held a backbeat. There is a new concert album, "Live on Planet Earth," worth checking out, but their best, and one of the richest albums in years, is their 1990 "Brother's Keeper."

The Nevilles have been a staple for years at other regional fairs, such as Seattle's Bumbershoot Fest, which this Labor Day weekend will also be presenting Bonnie Raitt, John Hiatt, Buddy Guy, Richard Thompson, Penn & Teller, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Ben Harper and a host of other vital, creative acts. It doesn't, however, have a petting zoo.

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