A Cool Kenny Rogers Heats Up Amphitheatre

How's this for irony? A decade ago, when Kenny Rogers was the hottest male recording star in pop and country, he tended to walk through his concerts, exerting little energy or commitment. But now that Rogers' recording career has turned cold, he seems much more involved on stage. The veteran's concert Saturday at the Universal Amphitheatre--part of a three-night engagement--was fresh and consistently entertaining.

Rogers, who played in a pop/jazz group before hitting it big in the '60s with the First Edition, returned to that idiom for several songs, including a spare, subtle "The Christmas Song"--one of several holiday standards with which he closed the show. Rogers' pliable voice is well-suited to light jazz; it's a direction he should pursue. In the absence of new hits, Rogers included his versions of other performers' songs, scoring with Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," but coming up short on "You Are So Beautiful," where he lacked Joe Cocker's edgy intensity. Rogers' dry, self-deprecating wit added greatly to his audience rapport.

The Oak Ridge Boys' opening-act performance was just like a five-and-dime store: Noisy and kind of junky, but somehow cozy and reassuring. The quartet's anthems about Populist, middle-American concerns would seem hopelessly corny if they didn't seem completely sincere.

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