POP MUSIC REVIEW : Sisters Need Some Pointers on Changing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Change obviously counts with the Pointer Sisters.

Well, at least changing clothes does. The veteran pop-R&B; vocal trio from Oakland thought it so important to switch costumes midway through their show Saturday night at the Celebrity Theatre that they left a 10-minute hole in the proceedings while they trotted off to the dressing room.

As for the music, familiarity, not change, was the order of the evening. The Pointers ran through a selection of unaltered hits in an 80-minute set that was energetic and vocally strong but devoted only to surface pleasures. The Pointers were there to be lively, proficient troupers, not artists shooting to probe their material for emotional impact.

Things weren't very lively, though, while the Pointers adjourned for their mid-concert make-over. Their nondescript band noodled away the 10-minute lull from a stage-side pit, playing dull, fusion-style funk relieved briefly by a nice salsa percussion solo. The many fans who went out for popcorn or took a restroom break had the right idea. So much for putting on a concert that keeps the fans rapt in their seats.

Of course, if you found yourself standing on a round platform surrounded by 2,500 people while dressed like the female lead in a sword and sorcery movie, you might consider scurrying off to find something a little less odd to wear. June Pointer wore a scaly, rhinestone-studded, ribbon-festooned, bluish creation; Ruth wore green angel's wings at her elbows, and Anita was a purple peacock in a dress that fanned out behind.

Round two of the fashion show found the sisters with a more understated, modern look that would have carried most pop acts through an entire show without any problem.

The Pointers must consider the costume change essential to the Las Vegas-style show they put on. It would have been more rewarding if they had put as much focus on burrowing deeper into their songs.

It wasn't a bad selection--11 Pointer Sisters hits (the most recent was "Hot Together," from 1986), augmented by an old Weather Girls tune, "It's Raining Men," and an up-tempo Gospel workout that, like everything else, emphasized energy over feeling. At least the hits received full treatment: only "Yes We Can Can" and "How Long" were folded into a medley, and that made some sense because they are cut from an identical chunky New Orleans R&B; pattern. If you're going to sit through a show that emphasizes stylish singing over emotional substance, the Pointers' catalogue is a far better bet than, say, Whitney Houston's.

Much of what the Pointers sang dealt with sexual anticipation and sexual heat. But songs such as "I'm So Excited" and "Dare Me" left out the sexiness and settled for a generalized exuberance that had little to do with the libido.

The show also omitted facets of the group's repertoire that might have interrupted the breezy flow. There were no ballads, and no songs dating back to the Pointers' first, early '70s incarnation as a jazz harmony act.

Given their "that's entertainment" ethic, there was no chance that the Pointers would try to fit in songs like "Billy Said Yes" (about a drug fatality) or "You Knocked the Love (Right Outta My Heart)" (about domestic violence), socially aware departures from their norm that cropped up on the trio's most recent album, "Right Rhythm."

The closest the show came to a change of pace was Anita's reading of the mid-tempo hits, "Fire" and "Slow Hand," neither of which came across with enough sensuality to make them interesting.

June, the youngest sister, was the liveliest, and the one with the most adventurous and personality-filled voice. She brought some raspy, soul-style urgency to "Dare Me" and "Happiness," and her high kicks during the final song, "Jump (for My Love)" suggested that she may have missed a calling as a Rockette or a punter in the National Football League. Eldest sister Ruth had trouble pushing her deep voice through the instrumental interference during "Automatic" and "Neutron Dance."

June announced at one point that "this is an old-fashioned, nothin'-but-singin' show." It did showcase impressive group singing, but a good old-fashioned show wouldn't have made a bigger deal out of costumes than emotions.

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