IT WAS a year of no big deal on the Buffalo area's rock and pop music scene. What prevailed instead were small deals -- tiny triumphs and incremental changes.
Case in point is the local band that progressed the furthest during 1990 -- the Goo Goo Dolls. They didn't turn into superstars, but everything they did inspired people to hail them as the next big thing, a thrash band with the potential to cross over to the mainstream.
They began in February with a successful series of West Coast showcases for their independent label, Metal Blade, which got them national distribution with a major company, Warner Bros.
Despite the theft of their equipment in Manhattan in April, which delayed sessions for their new album, they bounced back to turn out their best effort yet.
The release of "Hold Me Up" in October put them on the covers of radio industry tip sheets and sent them on their best-yet cross-country tour of clubs and colleges. Spin summoned them to play for the magazine's college week in Missouri and MTV aired their video, shot in Pilot Field.
As for Western New York's biggest group, Jamestown's 10,000 Maniacs, this was mostly a year off. While members of the band pursued individual projects, singer Natalie Merchant found an apartment in Manhattan, toured Europe with a group of other alternative rockers, then oversaw the remixing of the band's first two independent records, released together as "Hope Chest," and the assembly of a collection of home movies and group videos, titled "Time Capsule."
The Maniacs followed that up with a mini-tour of the Northeast, ending with a benefit show in Jamestown's Palace Theater before Thanksgiving. It reunited them with songwriter and guitarist John Lombardo, who left the group in 1986. Lombardo and his new performing partner, cellist and singer Mary Ramsey, went on the road with the Maniacs as openers. Earlier, the duo landed a record contract with Rykodisc and put together an album, due out next year, which includes such notables as former Faces member Ronnie Lane and Augie Meyers of the Sir Douglas Quintet.
Other signings included the death-metal group Cannibal Corpse, first band on Metal Blade's new Death subsidiary with their "Eaten Back to Life" album. They recorded it in Florida in February, did scattered promotional dates and, with sales approaching a respectable (for death-metal) 10,000 units, were assured of a second release.
Signed to EMI's Enigma subsidiary in June was the pop-rock trio Beat Goes Bang, which had been courted by several labels for months. They spent the final weeks of the year recording their debut album in L.A.
Locally based Amherst Records picked up the local group Beat City, which then shuffled its lineup to include guitarist George Puleo from Gamalon. By year's end, the group was turning into a powerhouse, winning a plaque during the 10th annual Buffalo Music Awards as Best Original Band.
Speaking of Gamalon, Amherst assigned the jazz-rock quintet to MCA, which released their long-delayed second album, "Aerial View," in the spring. The band made regular jaunts to jazz clubs around the Northeast.
Amherst, meanwhile, saw a first -- one of its proteges scored a No. 1 record. Glenn Medeiros, the Hawaiian-born singer, shot to the top of the charts during the summer with the help of superstar Bobby Brown on a song called "She Ain't Worth It."
Another record company giving serious attention to Buffalo was the newly organized Eureka label out of Toronto, affiliated with EMI-Capitol. Its founder, producer Joel Wertman, took a financial interest in Trackmaster Audio studio and signed two local bands, Marvelous Sauce and Terry & the Headhunters.
On the concert scene, there also was a dearth of the large and an abundance of the small. Most of the best shows were in the clubs.
The biggest event was the reopening in January of the city's premier showcase nightspot, the Tralfamadore Cafe. Renamed the Marquee at the Tralf, its operation was turned over to Ed Smith, impresario of the summer music center Melody Fair.
Operating three or four nights a week, and closing in the summer, Smith made the club viable financially by upgrading customer service and booking acts that were mostly sure-fire commercially.
Taking the club to higher ground artistically were Hallwalls and the Tralfamadore Jazz Institute, which continues to oversee the facility. In the fall, they inaugurated a Living Jazz Legends series which brought in such greats as Benny Carter and Max Roach.
The Marquee found itself in competition with what was becoming a lively group of clubs. Nietzsche's presented blues and reggae. Marshall's and the Lafayette Tap Room brought in regional and national blues and R & B acts. The Blue Note lured a number of name jazzmen. The Continental and the Cabaret attracted touring alternative rockers.
Offering national acts on a larger scale were the Country Club Skyroom, which alternated between heavy metal and country, and Sinbads, which presented mostly hard rock.
In an adventurous move, Sinbads offered a series of free shows with touring acts during the summer. Most of them, unfortunately, were indifferently attended. An exception was the parody band Dread Zeppelin, which returned in September six weeks after its initial appearance and played to a sellout crowd.
Most adventurous booking by a club owner came in October, when the proprietor of the Late Show in Niagara Falls brought in the controversial Miami rap group 2 Live Crew for two nights at the height of its censorship problems.
Despite the hoopla, it was a non-event. Barely 100 paid customers showed up the first night. The second show was canceled.
At the colleges, budget restrictions and cautious booking policies kept campuses relatively quiet. Buffalo State skipped its fall festival, though it presented Iggy Pop, the Jungle Brothers and the Mighty Lemondrops. UB did Los Lobos in the spring and Joe Walsh and Queen Latifah in the fall. Niagara University hosted Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians in December.
As for the city's larger stages, there was little activity. Barely half a dozen rock shows played Shea's Buffalo, and fewer still went to Kleinhans Music Hall.
Memorial Auditorium was similarly quiet. In fact, it was closed for the summer for remodeling, which included installation of a long-awaited air conditioning system. A successful M.C. Hammer concert in October and a pair of sellout Billy Joel shows in December gave hope that more might follow.
Aside from Billy Joel, the biggest shows this year were outdoors, notably the July sellout of Rich Stadium by the Grateful Dead with Crosby, Stills & Nash as openers. The Bisons staged four music and baseball double-headers in Pilot Field, one of them the annual visit by the Beach Boys.
Melody Fair presented more than 50 shows between May and September, scoring sellouts with Diana Ross and Willie Nelson, among others. Attendance was below 1989 levels at Artpark and Chautauqua Institution, which presented more than a dozen pop and jazz concerts apiece.
Rock fans looked mainly to Darien Lake Theme Park's Lakeside Amphitheater, which hosted the B-52's and Melissa Etheridge, among others.
Irish singer Sinead O'Connor created a stir in August, appearing at Darien Lake a few days after her controversial refusal to have the national anthem played before her concert in New Jersey.