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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Bolton Sings an Eclectic Mix

September 26, 1996|STEVE HOCHMAN

In case you hadn't heard, Michael Bolton is studying opera. It makes sense--that's the one style in which he won't sound as if he's over-singing.

Opera Man, who is planning to record an album of his favorite arias next year, showed off his new interest during his concert Tuesday at the Greek Theatre with an aria from "Pagliacci." And he sang it pretty much the way he sings everything, relying on the sheer force of his strangled roar rather than providing much in the way of shading or nuance.

Give him credit for reaching, anyway. But this foray opens up another territory in which he invites comparison to performers with superior experience, talent and taste.

His rabid fans applauded wildly, but surely they must recognize that he's no Placido Domingo--just as they must know that when he sang "Dock of the Bay" Tuesday he was no Otis Redding, or on "Georgia" he was no Ray Charles, or on the encores of "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "Lean on Me" he was no Percy Sledge or Bill Withers, respectively.

Even on his own material, he lacked grace and perspective. Such titles as "Can I Touch You . . . There?" and "Soul Provider" read like puns or spoofs--Meat Loaf or Spinal Tap territory. Yet Bolton treated them with monolithic seriousness.

Admittedly, this was not Bolton on his best night, as he was suffering not only from the lingering virus that caused him to cancel his Monday Greek concert, but also from a wrenched back. He was obviously in misery, refraining from much movement (his band compensated with cornball antics and choreography) and trimming two numbers from the set list.

Even with those constraints, he went all out for his fans with an energetic, friendly show. But true R&B aficionados--not to mention opera buffs--demand more.

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