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POP MUSIC REVIEW : AS A SINGER NOW, DIVINE ISN’T QUITE AS DIVINE

As the creator of such unforgettable film portrayals as the tragic murderess Dawn Davenport in “Female Trouble,” the victimized suburban housewife Francine Fishpaw in “Polyester” and the gold-crazed dance-hall girl Rosie Velez in “Lust in the Dust,” Divine has assured himself a unique slice of perverse cinematic immortality.

As a disco singer, though, Divine falls a little short--and when Divine falls, you hear it.

The massive artiste--who ceases to become plain old Glenn Milstead when he dons his female attire--performed at the Palace on Sunday, spotlighting the lesser-known musical side of his oeuvre. His records do well in Europe, but are available here only as imports. Still, Divine’s cult stature guaranteed a healthy turnout for Sunday’s 40-minute set. (You were expecting Bruce Springsteen?)

Singing to pre-recorded tapes augmented by two keyboardists and an electronic drummer, pop music’s answer to football’s Refrigerator revealed a voice that made Wendy O. Williams sound like Julie Andrews and a frame that made, say, Simon Le Bon look like Twiggy.

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Digesting the sight of his 300 pounds encased in a green, sequined jumpsuit festooned with portholes, and, later, squeezed into a coral-peach minidress, one imagined Divine being lured onto the stage by recordings of feeding whales. When he violently shook his shoulders, dread of the overdue earthquake took hold. As the electro-rock sound maintained its insistent attack, you wished it were merely mindless, as opposed to malevolent, disco.

The evening still could have been fun on the deranged, freak-show level that Divine knows so well, but the fright-wigged chanteuse was content to play the coarse, raunchy red-hot mama, a nightmarish Mae West catering to the crowd’s eagerness to whoop it up.

At the peaks of his strange career, Divine became a true icon to excess, a grotesque hero of Rabelaisian proportions. But at the Palace, he didn’t approach the gross-out nirvana he attained in such films as “Pink Flamingos,” nor did he muster any of the depth of character he’s increasingly displayed on screen. And if he’s doing this for the fun of playing in front of an audience, you’d think he’d be a little more spirited and spontaneous. As it was, he went through his routines a bit automatically.

Now that he’s about to make his move into “straight” acting (he plays a male role in Alan Rudolph’s upcoming “Trouble in Mind”), maybe Divine just wants to assure his underground following that he can still wallow in the sleaze. Nice gesture, slim show.

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