Last night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion all eyes -- and, for once, all ears -- were on Cher. That is, Black Rose, Cher's brave new venture into the world of hard rock. It was not an auspicious beginning, but a promising one instead.

The idea of Cher as a rocker must seem laughable to the genre's current queens such as Pat Banatar, Ellen Foley and Carolyn Mas. And 15 years of Las Vegas esthetics won't be easily overcome. But Cher worked at it hard last night, stirring up an honest sweat and pushing that lived-in, masculine voice of hers to previously unchartered edges. She is obviously enervated by this opportunity to be rough. She is just not quite ready.

That this was Black Rose's first public appearance was apparent in the horrendously muddied mix and the lack of conviction on the all-new material's delivery. The vocals were frequently unintelligible, while the songs from the surprisingly tough-sounding debut album lacked any distinct character. It seemed as if Black Rose, led by guitarist Les Dudek, was trying to overpower the small audience of 2,500 and not give them a chance to judge. The inevitable encore wasn't earned, but one expects it will be soon.

The Vegas mannerisms that have survived -- Cher's holding or bending notes that are begging to bust loose, polite body English when rock's tough street slang is called for -- are less annoying than amusing. One has to admire Cher both for pursuing a new energy and the manner in which she has done so. She is never introduced and does her level best to share the spotlight. But the band should understand that Cher has a rare charisma. The group should work around it and try to make music that is Cher-ishable.

Daryl Hall and John Oates, who have appeared here recently, headlined the program.