Three bands played Marine Midland Arena on Tuesday night, but only one was capable of playing arena rock -- Lenny Kravitz. His performance was a combination of Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, with a little James Brown showmanship thrown in for good measure. His over-the-top performances need the spaciousness of a sports arena.
The four tattooed love boys of the opening act, Buckcherry, were all attitude, with not enough talent to make an echo in a phone booth.
Smash Mouth, on the other hand, had too much style, sweet pop melodies and clever lyrics to be wasted in a space with the sonic qualities of an airplane hanger.
The band benefited from lead singer Steve Harwell's CaptainBeefheart voice, enhanced by the goofiest lyrics this side of a Daffy Duck monologue. Rent, borrow or steal your nephew's copy of "Astro Lounge" and sandwich it between repeated listenings of the Clash and the Police.
Back to Kravitz. His psychedelic guitar licks boomeranged off Cindy Blackman's mondo funk drumming like a sampled Parliament riff caught in an endless spin cycle.
He needs the pure volume and thundering response of an arena-size audience for his responsorial singing to be truly effective. Opening with "Love Is a Fantasy," Kravitz, dressed in what looked like an old fuzzy Sonny Bono vest, ignited a groove that lifted the audience out of their seats more quickly than a hotfoot.
Some performers talk at an audience; Kravitz played preacher to his choir of rock and funk acolytes. High-pitched whoops from teen-age girls, pubescent boys and a good sprinkling of adults made material like "Live" perfect for exhorting the audience to shimmy like a snake in a basket.
Blackman's potent and powerful drumming was the linchpin that had material like "Mama Said" and "Rock and Roll Is Dead" highballing down the tracks like a runaway locomotive. But don't call her a girl drummer. She outplays 90 percent of the rock drummers out there, be they male, female or gorilla. She's a rock-steady musician with impeccable time.
Perhaps "Let Love Rule" best summed up Kravitz's showmanship, guitar playing, audience magic and social dedication. He posed several questions to the audience, starting with "Do you believe in love?" He then asked, "Do you believe we should all love each other as brothers and sisters?" He concluded with "It's about unity, isn't it?"
Not only did he coax his audience to sing the chorus, when they didn't sing loudly enough, he challenged them by demanding, "Do I have to come out there and make you sing?" The audience screamed yes, and he spent thenext five minutes wandering the floor, leading his congregation in affirmations of "Let Love Rule."
Is Kravitz derivative? Certainly. Is he innovative? Not likely. Does he know how to make an audience move and feel good? Like few others. His encore of "American Woman" nailed that notion to the wall.