April may have been the cruelest month for T. S. Eliot, but in the concert business, January is usually the month promoters most dread.

That certainly seems the case this year. As the Baltimore area heads into 1991, the concert schedule looks mighty barren. At the moment, there are no pop concert tickets on sale at the Baltimore Arena, Painters Mill, the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall or the Lyric.

Pickings are pretty slim even at the Capital Centre, where the only events scheduled are two shows by Z.Z. Top, on Jan. 13 and 14, and a Jan. 24 performance by the Keith Sweat/Bell Biv DeVoe/Johnny Gill package that played the Arena New Year's Eve.

"The first quarter is going to be a little slow," says Don Wehner, head of Upfront Promotions. "I see a continuation of club activity, but the concert business, as of right now, is going to be a little slow for the major shows."

That's not to say there's nothing on the horizon at all, though. Concerts by Paul Simon and INXS have been announced for the Capital Centre in March; shows by Vanilla Ice and Hank Williams Jr. are in the works at the Baltimore Arena; and tours by Sting, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, a reunited Yes and even Guns N' Roses are being talked about.

At the same time, smaller halls in the area can look forward to possible performances by the Replacements, Hall & Oates, Deee-Lite, Dwight Yoakam, Jane's Addiction, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, Morrissey and Winger.

Trouble is, nobody at this point knows where or when -- or even if -- any of these shows will happen.

"The Neville Brothers are going out, Deee-Lite is going out, the Cocteau Twins are going out, Living Colour is going out," says Mike Jaworek of Chesapeake Concerts. "But will these appear in Baltimore? Who knows?"

Like most local promoters, Jaworek admits that for the moment, he's waiting on answers from booking agents. "If you said to me, 'What's confirmed?' Well . . . I've gotten no response on Deee-Lite yet, so I don't know. And I hate to say I'm looking at this or that, because then we all look like saps if the tour gets scotched."

Here's the rundown on those concerts that local promoters had confirmed at press time:

Paul Simon's "Rhythm of the Saints" tour will play the Capital Centre on March 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets will go on sale to American Express Gold Card holders on Jan. 13, and to the general public Jan. 21.

Don't worry about the Amex deal siphoning off all the good seats, though. Mike Evans, executive director of Music Centre Productions, emphasizes that "American Express simply has an allotment of tickets. The first person in line on the 21st will not get a better or worse ticket than the first person in line on the 13th."

Also confirmed is a March 1 date by Australian rock group INXS, slated for the Capital Centre. No word yet on when tickets go on sale.

On the club level, look for Nine Inch Nails at Hammerjacks Jan. 19, with Tommy Conwell on the 26th, the all-girl Precious Metal Feb. 2 and Johnny Winter Feb. 8. And there is talk of hard rock heartthrobs Winger playing the club in March, although nothing has been finalized.

At Max's on Broadway, expect 'Til Tuesday tomorrow, leftist art rockers Yo La Tengo on the 11th, the Ocean Blue the 18th, Leon Russell likely for the 24th, and two nights with the Feelies, Jan. 30 and 31. Don Dixon and Marti Jones are solid for Feb. 3 and 4, and Social Distortion are likely for later that month.

Nearly confirmed: The Bulgarian State Radio Women's Choir -- the ensemble responsible for the haunting "Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares" -- will likely play Painters Mill Theater, either March 31 or April 1. Rap star Vanilla Ice is tentatively booked for a March 31 show at the Baltimore Arena, and an April 6 date at the Arena is being negotiated for second-generation country star Hank Williams Jr.

Why are things so slow right now? One factor is the economy. "Production costs are at an astronomical level," says Wehner. "Gasoline, hotels, everything has just gone right through the roof. Money is tight, and the tours are being very selective of where they're playing."

"We've got a market that is in real serious shape," agrees Hammerjacks promoter Bud Becker. That's one reason why smaller halls may end up being busier than their larger brethren. "It's not what they're avoiding [the larger halls]," he says. "They're using some common sense and saying, 'This is what we can comfortably fill.' "

Still, that might end up working to Baltimore's advantage. Evans, who books shows for both the Capital Centre and the Patriot Centre in addition to the Baltimore Arena, explains: "The Patriot Centre has always been my home base, what I would look at first. But this fall, with the success that we're having with the country things we've thrown into Baltimore, all of a sudden we're more active in Baltimore. It's a great place to do business.

"We can do both markets. Last year, doing Milli Vanilli in both markets a week apart didn't hurt either market. So now, as we're putting offers in, if I put an offer in for the Patriot Centre, if I can find a route-able date, I'll put it in for Baltimore. There have probably been more offers put in for the Baltimore Arena than there ever have been."

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