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Going From Good to Badd


IRVINE — The "KIIS and Unite IV" benefit concert at Irvine Meadows brought out the best and worst in the participants Saturday. Kool & the Gang, the Tony Rich Project and others made their 15- to 20-minute appearances frustratingly brief, while a stunningly weak "performance" by Cher seemed to last an eternity.

Kool & the Gang played smooth R&B pop, including their late-'70s and early-'80s hits "Ladies Night" and "Celebration." The material was often lightweight but always uplifting and pleasant. The group reached its energetic peak when bassist Robert "Kool" Bell finally took center stage for a quick take on their early-'70s funk of "Jungle Boogie."

The Spin Doctors were tight and focused, and not the meandering mess they have been in past appearances. If the band's groove rock seemed out of place amid the night's heavy R&B sounds, singer Chris Barron bridged the gap by leading the band through a rocked-up version of the disco classic "That's the Way (I Like It)" by K.C. & the Sunshine Band.

Now clean-shaven, Barron shuffled and skipped across the stage to the rolling organ sounds of Ivan Neville and charged guitar work of new member Anthony Krizan, bringing new energy to their breakthrough hit "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong."

Cher spent only about 10 minutes on stage, but that was plenty. Before becoming an Academy Award-winning actress, she enjoyed a few pop and novelty hits in the '60s and '70s. But now she has even less to say musically--and seems to have a music career in 1996 only because her fame means she can.

Pacing the stage energetically in jeans and high heels, the singer-actress once actually tumbled to the stage. Far worse, Cher chose to lip-sync through her two-song set (which included a track from her new "It's a Man's World" album).

Afterward, KIIS-FM disc jockey Rick Dees asked the crowd, with unintentional candor: "Wasn't that unbelievable?" Later in the evening, a check for $105,070 was presented by KIIS-FM to Cities in Schools, the national program that tries to help kids stay in school.

Between acts, KIIS-FM on-air personalities kept the crowd pumped up, but were too often most interested in promoting the station and themselves, as when they announced that Cher and Dees had just arrived . . . by helicopter!

Next to Cher, Sophie B. Hawkins came off as something like Janis Joplin, leading her band through a performance that seemed to feed off the large Irvine crowd. Hawkins (whose live show was recently reviewed by The Times) gave the most dramatic and spontaneous performance of the evening.

Color Me Badd brought silky whisper harmonies, tuneless moaning and prerecorded music to its 1991 Top 10 hit "I Wanna Sex You Up." The group also played a song that at least provided the night's most inanely memorable song title: "Sexual Capacity."

The lack of live musical backing was reasonable in the case of La Bouche's brand of Eurodisco, which at least brought a high energy level to Irvine Meadows. Less could be said for the Detroit vocal trio SWV (Sisters With Voices), which quickly fell into a tedious brand of hip-hop.

The Tony Rich Project performed slinky R&B, energized with sharp electric guitar flourishes. Playing music from the new "Words" album, singer Rich was an alternately seething and cool presence, occasionally approaching the vocal richness of Marvin Gaye.

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