TV REVIEW : Relief Telethon: A Charming Concert, Yet Not So Charming on TV

No pun intended, but the Bay Area's Earthquake Relief Concert telethon Sunday was a bit shaky. Not that the 12 1/2-hour show, aired on public television stations throughout California (L.A.'s KCET Channel 28 carried the final 4 1/2 hours), was without charms: The low-key, very low-flash tone of the show--hastily arranged by rock impresario Bill Graham--was a refreshing change from the windy spectacles that televised pop-for-causes events have been in recent years.

The more than 50 notable Northern California figures who appeared--including Neil Young, John Fogerty, Steve Miller and Crosby, Stills & Nash--dispensed with speeches and let their music and (most importantly) presence do the talking. The telethon was anchored by Bay Area television personalities at the studios of public station KQED, with all the show-biz glitz of your average public-TV fund drive.

By the only criteria that really matters, the event was a success: The show raised its goal of $1 million in pledges with Graham promising to match the take.

But the same things that made the relief telethon a relief from other telethons made it less than scintillating television. The performances, from San Francisco's Cow Palace and Oakland's Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center (a Watsonville concert ended before KCET picked up the proceedings at 8 p.m.), were often joined in progress and abandoned just as suddenly.

And the climax-that-should-have-been--with a pointedly ornery acoustic set from Young leading into an all-star jam finale--fizzled. The telecast of Young's set was interrupted for a pitch from the hosts and a tape of a song performed earlier by Bonnie Raitt, and Steve Miller (whose crowd-pleasing set had been aired in its entirety) hogged the spotlight during the half-hour concluding jam session of blues and rock oldies.

Musical highlight: New Orleans' angelic-voiced Aaron Neville's always-soulful rendition of "The Mickey Mouse Club" theme. Yes, soulful .

Non-musical highlight: A surprise appearance by a gracious Bob (Mr. Rock 'n' Roll) Hope, who was greeted by good-natured hoots from the Cow Palace crowd. Too bad he didn't stick around for the jam session.

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