WITH THE RECENT release of some two dozen staffers from its payroll, Capitol Records has shifted its attention to its talent roster, a move long anticipated by industry pundits and one that’s been feared, no doubt, by many of the label’s acts.

After former Geffen Records A&R veep Gary Gersh’s ascension July 1 to president of the Thorn-EMI-owned label, speculation began — both within and outside of Capitol’s Vine Street offices — that a major overhaul of Capitol’s bulging artist roll wasinevitable.

Among the names reportedly erased from the label’s ledger are acts long associated with the company: Southland hard-rock outfit Great White, whose most recent “Psycho City” album has been a sales and radio disappointment; Billy Squier, whose commercial success has steadily declined since a 1981 hit album, and the Smithereens, a college-music band whose inclusion on the pinkslip list is probably the biggest surprise.

Others said to have been given the executioner’s ax include Television, a long-dormant alternative-rock act that recently issued its third record after a 14-year hiatus; new R&B/rock group Subject To Change; L.A. cult faves Thelonious Monster and singer/songwriter Graham Parker, who’s a veteran of no less than four major labels.

Company officials would neither confirm nor deny the roster shifts.

Despite rumor, glam-rock band Poison has, at least for the time being, been spared the chopping block. During glam’s ’80s revival, Poison regularly sold in excess of 2 million copies of its albums, but the band’s latest Capitol release “Flesh and Blood,’ barely passed gold, leading to speculation that it’s being shown the door. Similar rumors still fly regarding, among others, rapper Young MC.

In keeping with Gersh’s out with the old, in with the new attitude, the prez has reportedly instructed company staffers to concentrate on breaking young, cutting-edge acts like Blind Melon, a band whose new album is taking giant steps up the Billboard pop sales chart, and much-hyped Brit rock act RadioHead.

A NEW VENUE, more focus and fewer delegates marked the just-concluded 14th edition of the New Music Seminar in New York. Although the event — once the most important gathering of alternative music artists and exex — may not have totally succeeded in its efforts to rejuvenate itself, the hits far outweighed the misses. And any complaints from delegates were surely no worse than in years past.

More than 6,000 delegates registered for this year’s show, slightly down from last year.

The surprise appearance of Nirvana in a show at Roseland Ballroom was the highlight of the live music portion of the event. The band, making its first public appearance in support of the band’s upcoming second DGC album, “In Utero, ” became the hottest ticket of the four-day New Music Nights series.

The convention officially kicked off Wednesday, with the presentation of the annual Joel Weber Awards for Excellence in Music and Business. East/West Records chairwoman Sylvia Rhone broke down in tears several times during her acceptance speech, winning a sympathetic ovation from the crowd. “I’m just one of many who love the music,” Rhone said. “I feel blessed to be given this opportunity.”

Rhone added that East/West Records was “trying to create an oasis where what counts is not race or gender or sexual preference.”

Fellow Weber Award recipient Alan McGee, prez of England’s Creation Records, was more succinct, offering a simple “Thanks a lot.”

Former French Minister of Culture Jack Lang, Public Enemy leader Chuck D and singer Boy George offered keynote speeches reflecting the broad spectrum of the delegates.

ANOTHER WARNING shot is about to be fired across the bow of record distributor CEMA, this time by Hastings Books & Records, the second largest retailer to offer used CD’s. The 102-store Amarillo, Texas-based chain is contemplating filing its own suit, taking its cue from Wherehouse, the Southern California-based retailer that announced its suit last week.

Following a high-level strategy session held late Thursday, the retailer is considering a “lawsuit or other remedies including alternative sources for product,” according to a source at the company.

“They are dancing with some serious anti-trust and restraint of trade issues, ” said John Marmaduke, spokesman for the chain. Marmaduke confirmed Thursday the meeting was taking place, but was out of the country Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Aside from the sale ban and the refusal by CEMA to provide cooperative advertising finds, Hastings is objecting to the distributor’s decision to cut off all of its stores, despite the used product being carried in only four.

Representatives for CEMA did not return phone calls seeking comment.

L.A. SEEN: Gender-bending is all the rage these days, and musicians have always been on the cutting edge. Dance diva RuPaul, who has taken to calling “her”self Supermodel of the World, recently appeared at Hollywood’s Palace Theater for a show put on by trendy drag-chic clubs Flirt and Dragstrip 66 and Spunk magazine. RuPaul, for those of you who don’t know, is a seven-foot-plus African-American transvestite who scored big on MTV and with the dance crowd.

He took the stage in silver sequin hotpants, towering platform shoes (were they really needed?) and a white halter-top, from which his falsies kept coming unmoored. The crowd, including Ali MacGraw and members of local L.A. band the Johnny Depp Clones (featuring three transvestite backup singers) went berserk. Opening the show were the Bally Sisters, two — you guessed it — drag queens who did a hysterical lip-synch to kitschy 1950s sister acts, as well as Heart’s “Crazy on You.”

Meanwhile, across town, Phranc, the self-proclaimed “All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger,” put on her one-woman show at Highways in Santa Monica, called “Hot August Phranc.” The hilarious and musically right-on set featured Phranc as a bell-bottomed, sideburned Neil Diamond impersonator. Her renditions of such Diamond hits as “Sweet Caroline” and “Desiree” delighted the audience. Phranc will take her act to New York in August.

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