Pop Beat: Whatsa Matta, Tomata?
   Well, back to the old drawing board.
   One of the most anticipated L.A. rock shows in some time turned into a fiasco Thursday at the Whisky, where the premiere of the Screamers' ''Palace of Variety" became the most disastrous showbiz opening since "Heaven's Gate."
    The anticipation was understandable. The Screamers were a pioneering group in the first days of Los Angeles punk, and the band's rich, jittery, keyboard-based ''techno-punk'' was an intriguing departure from the pogo music of its contemporaries.
    But the real attraction was singer Tomata DuPlenty, an antic, rubber-faced elf whose convulsive movements and unmowed lawn of hair made it appear that he was attached to a live wire.
   For the last two years, the most frequent question on the local scene has been, ''What are the Sceamers up to?" The band-which performed infrequently to begin with-disappeared, retreating to a studio to formulate a multimedia extravaganza. Conventional rock band would transmute into a stage/video/music presentation.
    If Thursday night was the end result

of two year's work, something's wrong. If your art rests on technolgy, technical difficulties beget aristic problems.
   At 9 p.m., the scheduled starting time, the group could be heard in- side the closed club running through a sound check as the line of customers wound around the corner. Once inside, the crowd listened to the complete works-or so it seemed-of Stevie Wonder, Ron Wood and Nils Lofgren over the sound system.
    Some time after 10, an announcement was made that technical difficulties had caused a delay, but that the show should start within half an hour. No such luck. It was after 11 p.m. before the Screamers' long-awaited videos finally graced the new screen at the Whisky.
    The audience had remained re- markably patient, hanging in through the long delay with little restiveness. (A good thing this wasn't New York City, where an audience recently tore apart Public Image's video screen when they didn't like the band's approach.) But the simple attrition of the long wait had drained much of the enthusiasm and anticipation. The Screamers-and director-writer

Rene Daalder-would have been wise to cancel instead of trying to pass a dismembered show as a living thing.
    The crowd's lukewarm response to the series of video vignettes can be attributed to the audience's weariness, but some credit must go to the tapes themselves, unimagin- ative pieces featuring a pasty-faced punkette named Sheela singing about being a "Jazz Vampire'' and wandering crumbling urban land- scapes; a "Dr. Caligari"-style caba- ret dance sequence; blonde vocalist Penelope Houston (formerly with San Francisco's Avengers) dressed for a '50s high school dance cavort- ing on a platform and lamenting in a messy, post-banquet kitchen.
    Only one clip-not coincidentally, the one in which DuPlenty popped up-held enough vivid energy, hu- mor and flashy technique to get a strong response from the audience. But instead of leading into the ''Palace of Variety" show, these tapes were followed by another long delay.
    Just when it seemed that the curtain tain must finally come down and the refund window open up, DuPlenty-his electro-shock hairdo now

relaxed in a normal, All-American-boy cut -- emerged at the top of the small staircase set on the stage. The performance he gave was apparently an abridged one. The show as delivered had no real end: such hardware as TV monitors and a portal rimmed with stage lights went unused.
    DuPlenty was under visible strain as he made his doomed attempt to salvage the evening - it would have taken a transcendent performanced to renew the audience's involvement. DuPlenty couldn't give that, but it's a credit to his dignity, charisma and the respect he has among L.A. music fans that the crowd heard him out.
    Unfortunately, the material he was called on to deliver would probably have fallen flat even under the best of cirumstances. Accompanied by prosaic video illustration, DuPlenty ran through a vague musical treatise on the American Spirit, singing (to pre-recorded tapes) about such matters as the work ethic and the school of heard knocks.
    Whether the show's tone and themes would be more coherent in a smoothly run presentation is impossible to say. "Palace of Variety" is booked through tonight. Let's hope that the necessary improvements don't take another two years.