LRB IS DOING IT THE HARDER-ROCK WAY

LRB, as the Little River Band is now known, is trying to toughen up its sound--to move from smart, sassy pop to harder-edged rock. Unfortunately, the new sound is as anonymous as the new name: In a dubious bid to "stay contemporary," the group is sacrificing the very elements that made it special and endearing.

LRB's new direction was evident from the start Saturday night at the Pacific Amphitheatre. The sextet performed lots of new songs and even attempted to roughen up some of the oldies. That attempt proved disastrous on "Reminiscing," where they turned a graceful, evocative ballad into a bloated melodrama. Part of the problem was that lead singer John Farnham, a throaty belter in the Steve Perry mold, can't seem to tone down the power on ballads. The amphitheater was less than half-filled for the show, so when the group said, "We'll be back next year," one couldn't help thinking they were trying to convince themselves.

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