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The jazz-fusion band Special EFX kicked off the late weekend shows Friday night at the Marquee at the Tralf. Tony O. and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, plus Satan & Adam appeared Friday at the Lafayette Tap Room. On Saturday, blues/rockers the Van Dorens came to the Tap Room while comic Lea Delaria took center stage at the Marquee at the Tralf.

Special EFX
Surrounded by banks of glistening drums, the jazz-fusion team Special EFX gave a unique show to a small but rapt group of fans Friday night .

The core of Special EFX is percussionist George Jinda and guitarist Chieli Minucci. They're wonderful in themselves, but their sound isn't the mellow, New Age musings one might expect.

Musicians performing with the pair included an astounding vocalist in African trappings and a bass player who added a touch of Jefferson Avenue funk. Extra percussionists were also on hand. It took a whole team to man all those cymbals, gourds, shiny drums and tom toms.

The group's sound was an eclectic delight, bordering on world beat and justifying the cast of thousands.

Special effects generated included noises of yesterday (hollow drumbeats and primitive booms) and hints of today's technology (pings, whirs and jingles).

Bravo especially to singer and drummer Philip Hamilton. His solo, exhibiting percussive vocal virtuosity not far from the likes of Bobby McFerrin, drew the loudest cheers of the night, and proved that with sheer creativity, you can conquer the world with a whisper.

-- Mary Kunz
Tony O. and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith
Tony O. and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith will probably carry away some ugly memories of their show Friday night at the Lafayette Tap Room.

First, the Uptown Horns -- hotshot sidemen to acts like the Rolling Stones -- canceled out on accompanying the New York City band on its swing through upstate New York.

Then the group had to play a "sandwich set" around a performance by Satan & Adam, a duo whose sonic and visual intensity had effect similar to a scorched-earth campaign. The audience was left spent, burned out, and most of the crowd went home.

It would be nice to say the band came to the plate with the 0-2 count and belted a home run, but it didn't happen. It's not this group's style to swing for the fences.

What the remaining crowd got was a set of solid, danceable -- if unspectacular -- Chicago blues, with Tony O. firing off some slick, understated leads and Smith laying down a big, fat beat with bassist Steve Vickers.

Veteran Western New York sax player Phil LaMacchia stood out as a stand-in for the horn section -- and took a good deal of the spotlight in the first set.

But there was no real front man to keep the crowd's attention.

While Smith's vocals on a series of standards like "I'm Ready" and "Don't Get Me Talking" were stronger than Tony O.'s, it was difficult for the former Muddy Waters sideman to generate much stage presence from behind the drumset. And on a song like "Caledonia," a Louis Jordan jump tune, the lack of a full horn section really hurt.

One by one, the crowd diminished, leaving just a few people before the stage, dancing to four sidemen playing without a real leader.

-- Elmer Ploetz
Lea Delaria
Under the harsh gaze of Lea Delaria, men giggle uneasily, girls laugh and blush, and women who look tough as truck drivers are reduced to oatmeal.

"If you're queer, this is the time to be queer," the comedian said, setting the tone for her show at the Tralf. "It's hip to be queer, and I'm a BIG dyke."

Delaria goes out of her way to look the part. She's on the short, squat side, she wore a suit, and her shiny close-clipped hair makes her look a tiny bit like Danny DeVito. Untiring, she strides from one side of the stage to another, like a restless grizzly bear.

The audience was overwhelmingly female, and appeared overwhelmingly gay. Delaria had fun strolling among her listeners.

"Look at the little lezzy lovers dressed alike," she crooned to one cutesy couple.

Delaria led everyone in shouting, "I am a lesbian!" as loud as we could. (Yes, I yelled it too. So did the dozen-or-so men in attendance. You couldn't help getting caught up in the spirit of things.)

Clearly, the lesbians enjoyed being in the majority, laughing openly at themselves.

Delaria's humor centered on gay topics, but the pockets of heterosexuals joined in the fun. Their presence didn't faze Delaria. "How did you get that way?" she asked. "You can tell us."

Since this was an adults-only show, the jokes dropped frequently into the alley.

An outrageous routine, for instance, surrounded a latex square that I guess is some kind of safe-sex device. (Delaria stuck it in her pocket like a handkerchief.)

In her gentler moments, Delaria is a terrific bebop jazz singer.

To a canned background, she belted "I Never Knew What Love Was All About Until I Met You" and "Jumping with Symphony Sid." She scats with the best, adjusting her voice in a second from diesel-dyke to baby doll.

She also clowned with the guys. "I'm really glad you men are here," she said, "because when the show's over, we lock the doors and beat the hell out of you."

She laughed, mopping her sweaty brow with the safe-sex device. "It's a dyke thing," she said. "You wouldn't understand."

-- Mary Kunz
The Van Dorens
What a difference a little bit of stage presence makes.

None of the members of this blues-rock trio would likely be considered the technical equal of his counterpart in the Tony O.-Smith contingent.

Yet guitarist-singer Paul Mark, bassist (and former Buffalonian) Jim Morabito and drummer Joe Costello kept the audience shouting to the last.

The main reason is the group has learned its lessons from any number of '80s blues-rockers, starting with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Mark and the Van Dorens played the same kind of stripped-down, minimalist blues that the T-Birds brought back into fashion.

But Mark himself is the entertainer, combining bits of Stevie Ray Vaughan's grimace with George Thorogood's vocal delivery -- and compensating for a limited range.

Hence he can tell a story like his original, "Tonight the Drinks Are on Me," or mug his way through an instrumental (and while he's no Tony O. on guitar, he's no slouch).

There are no purist's pretensions to keep the Van Dorens from slathering on some huge, fuzzy bass, either, or to stop the band from rocking out on Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go" (also a Thorogood favorite).

The only rule seems to be "whatever works." And Saturday night, Mark and the Van Dorens were working.

-- Elmer Ploetz

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