Times Staff Writer

Even the silver lining of rock stardom has its dark cloud, particularly when an act shines as brightly as Culture Club did in 1983, with its remarkable string of hit singles and massive media exposure given to its colorful leader Boy George.

As Michael Jackson, Prince and others who have skyrocketed into the pop stratosphere can attest, what goes up must come down, and the British band returned to earth last year when the hits subsided and many fans turned their attention to newer sensations such as Madonna.

So the challenge for Boy George and company on their first U.S. tour in two years was to show whether they could overcome the backlash to rise again.

On Saturday, in the first of two nights at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Culture Club rebounded admirably for the most part.


Although George has shed his famous braids and now sports a three-inch crew cut, he hasn’t abandoned his unorthodox fashion sense. Appearing in a layered outfit that could only be described as new-wave Pinky Lee, he doffed several outer layers as the evening progressed and introduced new ensembles at various points in the show.

Boy George also remains an ingratiating, charismatic performer who has become an even more confident, expressive front man. Yet his generally restrained character prevents him from being called a dynamic showman.

Some of those missing sparks, however, were supplied by backup singers Jocelyn Brown and Wendell Morrison, Jr. Morrison showcased a magnificent baritone and elastic falsetto when he took the lead on Jackie Wilson’s "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” while Brown commanded center stage for her solo spot on the sassy “Somebody Else’s Guy.” A three-man horn section supplemented the basic quartet and the two singers to give extra punch to Culture Club’s R&B-flavored; pop.

Although many performance aspects of the show were improved, Culture Club has yet to reassert its prowess in one area--the songwriting department. This was apparent in that only three numbers in the 20-song set were from the group’s recent “Waking Up With the House on Fire” album, while eight were from 1983’s “Colour by Numbers” LP.


Of four new songs introduced, the only standout was the ‘60s-soul-style “God Thank You Woman.” The other three suffered from the same problem as much of the material on the last album: a lack of the melodic hooks and infectious production touches that characterized the group’s early hits.

The crowd of 12,000 wasn’t as wildly hysterical as the screaming throngs that cheered George’s every turn two summers ago, yet most responded enthusiastically and remained on their feet through the performance.

During the final encore of “Crime Time,” George fittingly draped a pair of boxing gloves around his neck--on the basis of the show, Culture Club deserves a victory, even if it is by split decision.

Second-billed Zot worked from an unusual musical palette of swelling synthesizer lines, funky bass rhythms and hard-rock power chords over which Randy Wayne added Bowie-esque vocals. At this stage, however, the Orange County-based band hasn’t focused those diverse elements into a coherent whole.

Culture Club’s tour continues tonight at San Diego State University and Tuesday and Wednesday with sold-out shows at the Universal Amphitheatre.