The newest word in concerts these days is old -- "oldies," that is. With the modern world falling apart, or at least running out of gas, many people are turning to nostalgia. After all, getting lost in the sounds of the past is much more fun than losing your mind while watching the mighty news, isn't it?

"This song is about the '50s, when times were simple, the air was clean and attitudes were honest," said Arlene Smith, who, along with her group. The Chantels, is playing the Howard Theatre [last night and tonight]. The show, which also features Sonny Till and the Orioles, Earl Lewis and the Channels, Sam Hawkins and Reese Palmer and the Marquees, was a do-wopper's delight. Cool harmonies and hot choregraphy abounded, as the singers recreated their hit songs from the early days of rock and soul music.

The Marquees sanh "Wyatt Earp" complete with whoops, hollers, whinnies and whines, and Sam Hawkins crooned the classic "king of Fools" to a crowd of adoring fans. Earl Lewis and the Channels brought the audience to its feet with a cappella vocals. When Arlene Smith sang, a group of fawning males gathered at the stage waiting for a touch, only to be herded away by smiling rent-a-cops. Sonny Til had everyone clapping and dancing to his versions of several R&B standards.

If the performers were enjoyable, the Howard was an absoulte delight. The theatre, which presented many of these oldies when they were newies, has been partially renovated and the acoustics are excellent. All the place needs is a decent sound system to gto go with its remarkable ambience.

If the oldies were sometimes freaky and if the stage shows lacked their former smoothness, it hadrly mattered to the crowd. Whether sliding up the aisles to the jumpy beats or hitting off-key notes while singing along with the performers, everyone seemed to enjoy himself. There's nothing like the good old days, especially in the present.