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Rock extravaganza can't get away from dominance of cheese

The lights dimmed, and as the crowd exploded in rapturous anticipation, Supernova singer Lukas Rossi appeared on a video screen at the rear of the stage.

"What happens at Supernova stays at Supernova," he deadpanned. Anyone coming to Saturday's Rockstar Supernova extravaganza worried that the show might in fact be a little bit cheesy could now relax. It was most definitely going to be cheesy.

The Rockstar Supernova tour arrived in Buffalo with much fanfare but seemed to be performing to a house largely of Canadians who made the journey south to see the televised rock talent show come to life.

"Do we have any Canadians in the house?" asked opener Dilana Robichaux, the Rockstar also-ran, who opened the show with the strongest set of the evening. The roar from what appeared to be a full house was deafening and suggested that at least half of Shea's was filled with our neighbors to the north. This was fitting, as headliner Supernova's lead singer, the contestant who claimed the TV show's grand prize, is Torontonian Rossi, a man who appears to command a large, loyal and mostly female fan base.

Dilana opened the proceedings with an inspired set of acoustic numbers -- not by choice, apparently, as the singer lamented the absence of her band early on in her set. Still, joined only by band member Christian McAlhaney on acoustic guitar, the diminutive singer gave it all she had and ultimately proved to be the finest musician of the whole darn bunch. Opening with a full-throated take on Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" -- there's that cheese factor I warned you of -- the fully "gothed-out" singer proved that she has both powerful pipes and an unfailing sense of drama. She also sings consistently in tune and passionately, making her a bit of a rarity in the music game-show sweepstakes.

A torrid techno-blues christened "Holiday" followed, the first of three original tunes Robichaux would preview from her forthcoming debut CD. "You're My Drug" reveled in punk-pop, and despite the absence of a full band, Robichaux and McAlhaney, with the aid of a drum machine, made it rock. An irony-free take on the Police classic "Roxanne" seemed senseless but was well sung.

Robichaux has abundant onstage charisma and an incredibly powerful voice. She should dissociate herself from the whole Rockstar Supernova scene posthaste and begin forging her own artistic path.

Toby Rand is another Rockstar also-ran, and he brought his band of Australian brethren -- appearing beneath the moniker Juke Kartel -- to an appreciative Shea's audience. The band played it like it meant it, especially the drummer, who gave much more than the music asked throughout the set. What it played, however, was a collection of overtly cliched arena-metal and modern rock anthems. A metal cover of the Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" was both strange and terrible, and original material like the heartfelt but still stiff "Robby's Song" wasn't much better. The crowd appeared to love Rand, however.

Headliner Supernova -- Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, former Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and, filling in for the injured former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, former Black Crowes four-stringer Johnny Colt (that's a lot of "formers"), with contest winner Fossi out front -- arrived like Thor's hammer, slamming the crowd with its raw power. The sound was gorgeously loud and crystal-clear. Sadly, that's the best thing that can be said about the band's set, which traded in more tired tropes than the band's song "Be Yourself (and Five Other Cliches)" might have suggested.

There was power here, particularly from the always flamboyant, driving and imaginative Lee, one of modern metal's finer drummers. But tunes like "It's On," "Leave the Lights On" and "It's All Love" wallow in worn-out, annoyingly obvious stylistic flourishes and frustratingly stock arrangements. Rossi, with his dramatic blend of Peter Murphy-esque goth-punk posturing and third-rate Marilyn Manson-isms, circa "Mechanical Animals," was energetic but not particularly strong vocally. An insipid desecration of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" was both ill-advised and . . . wait for it . . . cheesy.

In all, a well-paced, exciting and flamboyant presentation, but ultimately, a fortune cookie with no message inside.


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