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O.C. Pop Music Review : Much of 'Beat Summer Jam' Wilts in the Sun

August 16, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — At various junctures on Sunday during the "92.3 The Beat Summer Jam," a capacity house at Irvine Meadows was informed by hypesters from sponsoring radio station KKBT-FM that it was witnessing "the hottest," "the phattest" and "the baddest" concert "of all time."

Taken literally, most of that hype was all too believable.

The oppressive heat of the day baked the life out of everybody for nine of the rap/funk/R&B extravaganza's nearly 13 hours, leaving the audience virtually inert to some of the day's better performances. During the draining daylight hours, more people stood in line for lemonade than stood up to dance to such worthy acts as War and Tony Toni Tone.

As for being phat, which in hip-hop parlance means being both splendid and substantial, this bill was merely fat. Not even the most gluttonous music fan wants to see 24 acts in one day--especially when many of them are rap newcomers who may have scored radio hits but utterly lack the live performing experience to go over on a major stage.

And R&B singers who croon to recorded tracks--a staple of Sunday's diet--should be told to head back to the dance clubs until they find the wherewithal for a proper show with actual musicians.

Better yet, if such track-reliant acts as Zhane, Shanice, Jamie Foxx and the Guy alumni association (a solo Aaron Hall and the new group BLACKstreet led by Teddy Riley) want to appear, why not recruit a house band of sharp session pros who can play their music note for note in real time? Isn't that how barnstorming stars used to operate on the legendary Chitlin' Circuit of R&B's formative days? It would have added an element of discovery and surprise to a bill with no impromptu collaborations between acts.

"Summer Jam" was for charity, with proceeds from the donated performances going primarily to Los Angeles area organizations that fight drug abuse or try to provide alternatives to youth gangs (no figures were announced). An argument can be made for including lots of acts who want to a) help, b) stay on the good side of a powerful radio station or c) both of the above.

Still, pared down to the 12 or 15 best acts, playing over eight or nine hours, "Summer Jam" might have been more jammin' than exhaustin'.

Was it really the baddest--as in worst--show "of all time?" If you take away the climate conditions, not really. Nobody was brilliant, but good moments came courtesy of the Isley Brothers, War, Tevin Campbell and Zapp on the R&B side, and Heavy D, Public Enemy and Coolio among the rappers.

Headliner Eazy-E was as bad as bad can be, though--according to Webster's definition, not Michael Jackson's. The usual gripe about gangsta rappers like Eazy-E, the Compton-based co-founder of N.W.A., is that they glorify violence and have brutish attitudes toward women. For the moment, we'll leave those out of the bill of indictment against Eazy-E. He stunk because he was as inept as a headliner on a major festival bill can be.

After not one, not two, but three dull introductory sequences, the star finally arrived and made things even duller by taking his interminable half-hour set at a stroll. Sometimes he strolled right off the stage, at one point leaving it to five white-shirted associates who came on and murmured what seemed to be the first gangsta rap version of a Gregorian chant.

One moment made it almost worthwhile: When the less-than-enticing Eazy-E's main sidekick commanded the women in the house to repeat the words, "I want to f--- you, Eazy," the silence spoke volumes. So did the parade of people who immediately headed for the exits, joining an exodus already well in progress. The place was nearly full when Eazy-E's set began; it was virtually empty when he finished. He concluded with his hit "Real (expletive) G's," a song blasting rival rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. Being there to watch Eazy-E bomb would have been their best revenge.

Some critics of Public Enemy's new album "Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age" have suggested that the much praised band may be over the hill. Rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav seemed bent on establishing that they still have their youthful vigor. They scampered through an almost frolicsome set that was high on energy, if low on the politicized agitation that made Public Enemy famous.

A succession of truncated versions of such oldies as "Fight the Power," "911 Is a Joke" and "Shut 'Em Down" lacked thematic bite as the duo emphasized good-time performance. At one point, they seemed like a couple of kids playing touch football, Chuck feinting back and forth like a pass receiver while Flav tried to shadow him. The new single "Give It Back" was most noteworthy for its old-fashioned Southern soul groove.

Newcomer Coolio gave the day's best rap performance--and benefited from being the first act to play after sundown for a crowd that seemed refreshed at last and eager for danceable beats. He and his large crew bounded about, verging on chaos but keeping the flow of the raps going.

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