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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Aural Assault and Battery From a Pumped-Up John Tesh

March 03, 1997|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — John Tesh--rock 'n' roller?

The erstwhile host of TV's vapid "Entertainment Tonight" has been pigeon-holed in his subsequent singing career as a new-age musician. In fact, his remarkably popular albums tend to reflect that genre's breezy and sometimes saccharine instrumental textures.

In a loud and aggressive concert Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the flaxen-haired pianist and his six-man band produced more barrages of headache-inducing sounds than music to meditate by. They went on a rampage with pumped-up versions of his songs that were anything but subtle.

"Avalon," the opening number and the title track from his next album, pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show, the second of his two nights at the center. Overstocked with swelling crescendos and ostentatious instrumental frills, the number sank from the sheer weight of its own bloated nature.

It didn't help matters that Tesh had at his disposal the entire Pacific Symphony, which had brought him in as part of its pops-concert series. On the numerous up-tempo numbers, the orchestra either added to the clutter or tended to be overwhelmed by the electric assault of Tesh's band. Afterward, one woman was overheard complaining about how she should have brought along earplugs.

At one point, he even spoke of his fondness for such decibel heavy performers as Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin. (Given his performance, more appropriate rock reference points would have been progressive rockers Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.) Oddly, he then proceeded to play one of the evening's handful of stripped-down piano ballads.

These more subdued songs should have provided respite from the overbearing up-tempo material. Alas, Tesh is not a particularly soulful or moving pianist when left to fly solo on a plaintive slow song. It's too bad, because as a songwriter, he has a gift for concocting the occasional sweet melody.

Though Tesh's show clocked in at barely one hour, he was more giving in working with his own band. Each member was allowed numerous solo spots, which may have been a smart tactic given his own limitations as an instrumentalist. Naturally, these forays tended toward the grandiose and frenetic.

Tesh has been skewered by critics and unmercifully ridiculed by everyone from Leno to Letterman. There's even a World Wide Web site called "The Tesh Files," which exists mainly to mock the musician it calls the "Vanilla Volcano."

It's all a bit excessive. But Tesh also needs to realize that making music this bombastic and melodramatic is no way to achieve a personality make-over.

The Pacific Symphony opened the show with a generally pleasing 40-minute performance. Conducted by the genial and amusing Richard Kaufman, the orchestra performed music from such films as "Back to the Future" and the original "Sabrina," as well as several accessible classical selections.

* TESH TELEVISED

The musical money machine shows up on KCET's pledge drive tonight. F14

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