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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Fizzle Instead of Sizzle : Rocker Lita Ford Tones Down Act in Coach House Show

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In her latest video, “Shot of Poison,” Lita Ford and her midriff seek to wiggle into the fantasies and pockets of as many adolescents as possible.

No surprise there. But Ford toned her act down Monday night at the Coach House. No crawling or writhing, no embarrassing vamping, hardly any midriff on display at all. Ford’s tights were missing a strategic patch of fabric in back, but she supplied the requisite provocativeness without pandering too blatantly.

When it came to her music, though, Ford wasn’t nearly blatant enough.

Ford, who got her start playing guitar as a teen-age glam rocker with the Runaways, has a voice that reflects her roots: It’s suited to basic, raunchy numbers in which personality counts more than technique.

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She sounded best when she kept things simple and tough, on songs such as “Larger Than Life,” a show-opening ode to hard rocking and fast living, and “Rock Candy,” a heavy, sexy, slowly pounding Montrose oldie that she sang as her encore.

But most of the 14 songs in Ford’s 70-minute set forsook this earthy, bare-nails approach for a more mannered, inflated pop-metal sound. She kept trying to play silly, Gothic-fantasy roles that a gale-force singer like Ann Wilson of Heart might pull off by blowing past the nonsense and cliches with sheer lung power. Instead, Ford’s thin voice wandered off pitch and grew shouty as she tried to extend herself for such overheated fare as “Black Widow,” “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Shot of Poison,” “Holy Man” and “Close My Eyes Forever.” Saturation dosages of echo couldn’t mask her shortcomings.

Several of the seven songs drawn from Ford’s forthcoming album, “Dangerous Curves,” emphasized sugared hooks on sing-along choruses. If hard, lean, raucous guitars had dominated, Ford would have been in her element. Instead, she often was saddled with fizzy, puffed-up arrangements. Synthesizer player David Ezrin was far too prominent a presence, his beeps and buzzes and stentorian whooshing and blaring thickening the sound without adding muscle. During her own guitar solos, Ford neglected guts, grit and immediacy in favor of soaring, heraldic, note-shredding sallies that sounded like a thousand other solos.

Ford might excel at rock that resides, figuratively speaking, in the gutter or the garage. But she seems bent on riding to the penthouse, and is obviously willing to follow the formulas most likely to take her there.

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Tuff, which opened 30 minutes after the scheduled show time, differed from multitudes of sound-alike Hollywood metal bands with major label deals only in its unusual ineptitude and its ability to (justifiably) make fun of itself. Singer Steve Rachelle tried affecting a rasp to lend some dimension to vocals as featureless as a Kansas landscape, and wound up sounding more affected than raspy.

Rachelle, who said he moonlights as a stand-up comic, was better at between-songs patter and jokes (including a feeble attempt at interesting the audience in a sing-along on “Puff the Magic Dragon”) than he was at musical performance. The band also featured an artless drummer and a guitarist whose whining and squalling were as devoid of personality as Rachelle’s singing.

Like a lot of young hard-rock bands, Tuff has only a glancing acquaintance with the written language needed to express its ideas and feelings with a personal voice. But songs must be written, and bands like Tuff are obviously frightened of the written word. That’s why they stay safely huddled, grazing from the same trough of cliches as the rest of the pack.

“My heart is like an open book, won’t you read between the lines,” quoth Tuff. Anyone who would write a line like that probably doesn’t even know what the problem is--or what the higher possibilities of language are.


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