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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Scorpions Sting by Control

Times Staff Writer

Early in Scorpions’ set Wednesday night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a young man wearing a Guns N’ Roses T-shirt looked as if he were having a heart attack.

He was staggering around in front of the aisle near an exit, clutching his heart and gasping for breath. A panicked usher, noticing his condition, tried to steady him.

He looked at her and screamed above the din, “It’s the music. These guys are so good, they’re ripping at my heart . . . they’re ripping it out!”

An overstatement, perhaps.

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But the veteran West German band, which returns to the Sports Arena tonight after a day off, was--judging from the frenzied response--ripping at hearts all over the sold-out Sports Arena.

Long ago, this veteran quintet, which has been active in the hard-rock/metal scene since the mid-'70s, figured out how to work an audience.

It all looks spontaneous and heart-felt, but if you’ve seen Scorpions before, you’ve seen all the moves. Originality is not one of its assets, but audience manipulation is.

Scorpions knows what buttons to push to reach the hearts of that vulnerable audience. Songs like “Walking on the Edge” and “Believe in Love” offer what sound like lofty, insightful messages. It’s really low-brow schmaltz but, swathed in crunching metal music, it does, to that audience, feel right.

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If you’re not too demanding, that kind of show is quite palatable. It’s slick and flashy and well-calculated to sweep you away. Just don’t probe too deeply beneath the surface. If you’re not in the mood to think or in the market for insights, Scorpions is your band.

Scorpions scores high on what some metal-watchers call the “LY” scale--that is, the Lose Yourself scale. If you like loud, unchallenging metal, it’s easy to lose yourself in the thunder and glitz of this band.

Singer Klaus Meine is the driving force behind the stage show. He’s a convincing screamer. Audiences sense his screaming isn’t a slick con job but emotional bursts coming from the core of his being. That probably isn’t the case, but at least the audience thinks it is.

The music--played by guitarists Rudolph Schenker and Matthias Jabs, bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell--sounded fairly mechanical but was extremely effective. The point was to create shrieking, thunderous music, which they did very well.

The stage setup looked like the high-tech interior of a spaceship, with drummer Rarebell elevated on a stand high above it all. The way his drumming reverberated through the arena, it sounded as if he was using sledgehammers instead of drumsticks.

Assorted ramps allowed the other members to race up and down and around the stage. Apparently they think all that motion creates excitement. The ominous, wondrously intricate lighting, which often flashed in tempo with the music, was often, as they say, mind-blowing.

On the recent Monsters of Rock tour, Scorpions had the misfortune to be on the bill with adventurous, provocative Metallica--the Ferrari of metal. By comparison, Scorpions is a battered old Volkswagen.

The future of metal is not with Scorpions, or bands like it. It’s preserving the metal status quo--simple form and banal lyrics--not forging ahead. If you’re into speed-metal, the musicians seem like middle-of-the road grandpas. But, as they proved Wednesday night, they’re not ready for the metal scrap heap just yet.

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Winger, a pretty-boy, hard-rock quartet in the Bon Jovi mold, opened the show, which will play the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre Saturday. Most people weren’t paying attention. The band, now raw and underdeveloped, did show some potential. The musicianship is certainly there. What this faceless band really needs is a personality.


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