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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Milli Vanilli--Play-Acting in the Orange County Sun

There’s nothing like vanquishing evil to start a show. And so pop phenomenon Milli Vanilli’s set on Saturday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre began with a pair of hooded ninja warriors taking the stage, brandishing swords at the audience in a vaguely menacing manner--only to be confronted by the two Millis, Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan, both men of the sword, it turns out, as well.

The Millis chased the ninjas up the ramp at stage rear. Time for a little old-fashioned fight choreography? Not really. Swords were raised, and then, without the slightest sign of a struggle, the black-clad warriors fell to the ground, cringing, and quickly disappeared from sight, while Fab and Rob assumed the heroes’ stance. Even by play-acting standards, it seemed like an awfully easy victory for the dynamic duo.

Too easy.

Milli Vanilli has overtaken the pop charts in just the same kind of fashion--quick and bloodless--and doubters are still trying to figure out what they did to achieve this overnight sensation: A No. 1 hit with their first single, “Girl You Know It’s True,” followed by three more chart-toppers, all despite the derision of avid naysayers who claim the duo lacks any real talent. To serious rock fans, this achievement seems to have just been too easy, like a fixed fight.

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But it’s not like those thousands of screaming girls at Irvine were paid off. It helps to cast Milli’s bubble-gum act, like their exotic good looks, in the proper light, and it’s not just brooding handsomeness that comes into focus.

Fresh from that not-so-wearying battle conquest, Pilatus and Morvan launched right into “Girl You Know It’s True,” the kind of dance-pop confection that’s not deceptively simple, just simple--with a chorus so basic it’s not far removed from a children’s rhyme, and a chiming sort of synthesizer riff that sounds almost like a kiddie xylophone. The duo’s much-loved dancing, as well, brought back playground associations. Bouncing back and forth from one foot to the other, they looked like nothing so much as hopscotchers.

Ah, sweet innocence. But hold on. Lest the show remain G-rated for long, by the second number the boys were down in the push-up position, doing some fervent hip-thrusting in the most time-honored Prince tradition.

Can you say music for those tender transitional years , boys and girls? We knew you could.

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The 75-minute Irvine show--also scheduled for the Universal Amphitheatre on Sunday and tonight--offered plenty of cute, if not precise, moves from the lads. Footwork aside, they projected an overwhelming blankness, which may be due in part to their unfamiliarity with the language of their lyrics and their audience. (Pilatus, the primary singer, is German, and Morvan, the rapper, is French; both addressed the crowd in heavily accented English.)

What passed for chemistry between these two, meanwhile, was repeatedly running at each other from opposite ends of the stage and slapping hands. Their steps may be somewhat in sync, but they look much friendlier toward the audience than to each other.

Speaking of sync. . . .

At least one state has proposed legislation that would mandate warning signs outside concerts that use recorded music. If such a law were on the books in California right now and the size of the warning were relative to the amount of tapes used, the sign outside Irvine Meadows would have been a billboard visible from the San Diego Freeway.

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It wasn’t just Vanilli; at least some of their backup band’s instrumentation was live, though every vocal moment sounded suspiciously perfect and studio-treated. But opening act Bardeux, a simpy female dance-pop duo, appeared to be miming every note, vocal and instrumental; and even middle-billed rapper Young M.C. looked to be lip-syncing on two out of his six numbers.

All this was a subject of debate among the youthful audience, but it didn’t seem to diminish the crowd’s enjoyment an iota. Ah, innocence.


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