POP MUSIC REVIEWS : They Still Haven't Given Barry White Up

Strings soared, three background singers lilting "nevuh-nevuh-nevuh-nevuh" and '70s soul legend Barry White lumbered onto the Universal Amphitheatre stage Sunday dressed in a shiny copper suit, rumbling a welcome in his famous subsonic bass, crooning "Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up." Women swooned. Two songs later, he strolled the perimeter of the Universal pit, not missing a beat, as women lunged to kiss him.

What goes around comes around, and White's laid-back swirling string thing is definitely around these days, influencing everybody from English soulster Lisa Stansfield all the way down to rap act Compton's Most Wanted.

You've heard of hi-energy dance music? Barry White's specialty is lo-energy dance music--his economy of movement on stage makes Luther Vandross look like Milli Vanilli--and he still sings as if he's afraid of waking up the next-door neighbors. If he were any cooler, he'd be on a slab. If he crooned the word "Looo-oove" any more often . . . well, he'd still be Barry White. Over an orchestral vamp, he brought a young couple onto the stage and quizzed them about love like a soulful Bob Eubanks; he introduced his conductor and his mom and his good friend Don Cornelius; he reminisced about the '70s ("That was a very good time"). His basso molto profundo was so awesome that he could have read the phone book and gotten an ovation. And when he grabbed a baton and mounted the podium, the crowd--knowing his biggest hit, "Love's Theme," was coming--rose to its feet as one.

It still sounds a lot like disco, though.

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