POP REVIEW : L.A. Music Awards Misses the Mark : Awards: The show has a lack of feeling for the city's musical character and diversity. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers take 3 awards, GNR wins 2.

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Phew!

We can all breathe a sigh of relief: Cher did not win the artist of the year award at the first (and possibly annual) L.A. Music Awards, presented at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Wednesday. It was embarrassing enough that she was nominated. Nothing against her as an entertainer, but could anyone really consider her the artistic pace-setter of L.A. music?

For that matter, can Natalie Cole--who did win the top award--be considered the definitive L.A. music figure of a year that saw high-impact (and much more L.A.-identified) efforts from Jane's Addiction and Ice Cube (who weren't nominated) or Guns N' Roses and N.W.A. (who were both nominated for group of the year)?

The show was produced by people from Boston and New York who put on similar events in those cities, and their lack of feeling for Los Angeles' musical character was evident. Not that it would have been easy even for locals. The fragmented sprawl of Los Angeles--musically and otherwise--makes it virtually impossible to identify, let alone honor, overall representative acts.

Still, in the end, the list of winners--voted by a combination of fans and industry figures--didn't make for a bad L.A. overview. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (who, like about half the winners, were not present) led the way with three awards (for best group, male rock vocalist and album).

Guns N' Roses won for best rock band and best hard-rock album, while N.W.A took best rap group. Double winners, besides GNR, were: Cole (artist and single), Dramarama (modern rock album and band) and Michael Jackson (male pop vocalist and video).

The "alternative" realm seemed the most solid, with Hole, L7 and Mary's Danish among the winners. And--don't laugh--the best unsigned band nod went to the Cowsills, who, based on recent club appearances, probably deserve it.

Amid live performances by, among others, Jeffrey Osborne, Cypress Hill, Dramarama, the Nymphs and the Del Rubio Triplets, an Image Award was given to Jackson Browne, and lifetime achievement awards went to Frank Zappa and Brian Wilson. The latter's erratic performance of "California Girls" and the new, autobiographical "Brian" was a fitting conclusion to an erratic and sometimes amateurishly presented event.

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