POP REVIEW : PLAN WORKS, SO ALABAMA KEEPS RECIPE
If energetic exercise guru Richard Simmons could sing with a drawl, he just might become a country-music powerhouse--after all, Alabama keeps winning Entertainer of the Year awards with little more than a few leg kicks, enthusiastic jumps and winsome smiles from lead singer Randy Owen.
But the group has obviously gleaned one thing from all the music industry accolades and commercial success: If it works, don’t fix it. So even though the quartet’s latest tour, which came to the Pacific Amphitheatre on Sunday, is billed as “Fans Tour ’86,” the 75-minute show unfolded almost identically to Tour ’85 and Tour ’84 and Tour ’83.
The Alabama concert formula is now set in concrete: lots of clap and stomp-along upbeat numbers with a cappella breaks to showcase the three-part harmonies and an occasional ballad thrown in to vary the pace. Owen’s banter consists largely of shouting, “Are you feelin’ good?” while the other three Alabamans stay rooted in the background displaying as much personality and excitement as their microphone stands.
But as long as the group’s repetitive songs keep repeating their way to the top of the country charts, it’s apparent that the only changes in future performances will be the addition of their latest hit, in this case the recent No. 1 single “She and I.”
If anything, Sunday’s show before more than 14,000 fans was even more superficial than usual because the foursome--supplemented by an additional keyboard player--tossed off many of its slick hits in abridged renditions and medleys. Yes, that’s one way to make sure that every fan gets to hear his or her favorite song, but it’s a calculated approach better left to those infamous late night TV commercials for Slim Whitman’s Greatest Hits.
The only real surprise was some feedback early in the show and an uneven sound mix that had Teddy Gentry’s bass overpowering the other instruments, negating the one virtue of most of Alabama’s recordings: meticulous arrangements and production. It was somehow reassuring, though, to know that all ghosts haven’t been programmed out of the Alabama machinery yet.
The one-hour opening set by the Charlie Daniels Band, in contrast, at least had the energy of music born of the barroom, not demographic surveys. By the simple fact of attrition, Daniels is one of the few active members of the 1970s Southern rock camp that also included the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
His biggest advantage over so many bland country pop acts is a four-man band that cracked and jumped, swung and rocked in all the right places, making it easy to ignore the leader’s occasional Rambo-ish politicizing.
But even that tendency for one-dimensional sloganeering was substantially pared down from past shows and Daniels instead stuck to his entertaining Southern yarns and rollicking instrumental workouts. His vocal limitations became apparent only on the closing gospel medley of “Amazing Grace” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” on which he should have featured keyboard player Taz DiGregorio’s gritty vocals over his own lightweight singing.