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The Tralfamadore Cafe was host Friday night to Canadian alternative favorites 54-40. The Cassatt String Quartet regaled an audience Friday with Beethoven in Slee Hall on the North Campus of the University at Buffalo.

Tralfamadore Cafe:


If the catchy, Vancouver-based band 54-40 was an automobile, it would soon qualify for "classic" status. It would even be tempting to call them the Dinosaurs of Alternative, were it not for the fact they rock so hard.

That point was reinforced when the band kicked off its Friday night set at the packed Tralf with the energetic "Baby Ran," from its 1986 release, "The Green Album." With the heavy riff of "Unbend" from last year's "Casual Viewin' " CD in the second song pulsing through Brad Merritt's bass rig, the mostly 30-something crowd was locked in. The band, led by charismatic front man and principal songwriter Neil Osborne, served up over two hours of melodic, driving-power pop. There was the upbeat jangling guitars of the dreamy "Sunday Girl," the upbeat tempo of "Radio Luv Song" and the audience sing-along, "Ocean Pearl." "Crossing A Canyon" was another crowd favorite.

Phil Comparelli played great, stripped down riffs on the lead guitar, keyboards and, of all things, trumpet. The jazzy sounds complimented guest vocalist Coco Love Alcorn's ethereal delivery as she joined 54-40 to wind things up.

The daughter of Canadian jazz crooner John Alcorn also fronted the opening band, Paloma.

Who were the rest of Paloma? No other than 54-40, which seemed to be lost on the crowd, probably because the band's unfamiliar and slick, urbane, techno-lounge music seemed to sail right over the heads of the fans who were there simply to rock. You would have had to have been paying attention to notice the guys in the group -- and it seemed many in the audience, as is often the case with opening acts, weren't.

54-40 showed it still has the heart of an unpretentious garage band by romping through a raucous version of BTO's "Takin' Care of Business."

-- Michael Quigley

Slee Hall:

Cassatt String Quartet

Some of Beethoven's string quartets, their ideas and their execution, make demands upon their players that go beyond a mere ability to play the notes or an approximation thereof. In some ways the same could be said for string quartets by any number of composers whose later works approach the sublime; the difference here is that this is Ludwig van Beethoven, a writer who provided benchmarks for so many different formats.

In a nutshell, this is why so many professional string quartets have a go at this material, studying the emotional history of it, ascertaining how to approach entrances, and questioning what tempos are appropriate when. It is almost a rite of passage that proves whether an ensemble is or has the potential to join the elite of their generation.

That is also why the Slee Beethoven Cycle is structured the way it is, offering a string quartet from each of the composer's "three periods" and enabling audiences to get a sense of historical perspective.

With that in mind, the Cassatt members were fully capable of reading the map, they didn't quite reach the destination. Admittedly, the goal was on a pretty formidable peak but their performances of the sixth of Beethoven's op. 6 quartets and the op. 95 "Serioso" were adequate and boded fairly well. This despite first violinist Muneko Otani's commendably emotional, fervent playing that was coupled with occasional trips into the flats caused by a surcease of control.

The good news is that the group's violist Tawnya Popoff and cellist Caroline Stinson, both relatively recent additions, are meshing better with Otani and second violinist Jennifer Leshnower.

-- Garaud MacTaggart

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