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The Temptations brought the legendary Motown sound to a late Saturday show in Impaxx. On Friday, Toronto rockers Slik Toxik performed during a late show in Blind Mellons, while drummer Billy Cobham played The Marquee at the Tralf.

The Temptations
Face it, 30 years and 50 albums after their first hit, The Temptations are no mere singing group, they're a veritable institution.

Group members come and go -- and come back, as in the case of Otis Williams -- and back-upmusicians change from year to year, but the ensemble's signature choreography and vocal mix remain the same.

The audience in Impaxx Saturday night certainly didn't seem to mind that only one of the five men billed as The Temptations actually had sung on the group's early records.

That might come as a shock, given the public outcry over Milli Vanilli a few years back. For years, acts with only the slightest of connections to their classic namesakes have hit the concert circuit trying to cash in on the gullibility of unsuspecting fans.

But the quintet onstage in Cheektowaga, whether they were "genuine" Temptations or merely Irresistible Urges, proved from the very first notes of "The Way You Do the Things You Do" that they were worthy of the name.

Four men in matching orange suits and a fifth in black swiveled, pivoted and glided through a dynamic -- if slightly skimpy -- collection of time-honored songs. Audience members -- though a bit older than your average mosh-pit denizens -- displayed some fancy footwork of their own.

The evening was drenched in history.

"In 1971, the Temptations had their first platinum record," a group member announced, before easing into the lovely "Just My Imagination." This and several other "factoids," always delivered in the third person, had a disconcerting ring, as if we were watching a lecture-demonstration.

And it was a little off-putting to hear the group cover Rod Stewart's "The Motown Song," which is, after all, a tribute to themselves. But for the most part they resisted the temptation (if you will pardon the pun) to wallow in such easy nostalgia or to trot out perfect duplications of the records.

Instead, they offered a sweaty, impassioned, undeniably live show that made fine use of a horn section drawn from local talent. When the group began Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," I cringed, fearing a lounge act retread of the Whitney Houston version. What emerged instead was an ingenious rethinking of the song, incorporating what sounded like ad-libbed quotes from a dozen soul classics.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of founder Melvin Franklin, who died earlier this year.

Franklin's replacement, Ray Davis, is a 25-year veteran of George Clinton's prefunk band, Parliament, and with his new colleagues he honored the past without surrendering to it.

-- Ronald Ehmke
Marquee at the Tralf:
Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham is a drum shaman.

On Friday night in the Marquee at the Tralf, he gave a master class in precision drumming, pure as the blink of an eye.

Local musicians filed expectantly into the club, anxious to hear and absorb his musical magic.

Cobham's supremacy as a drummer is peerless: eight albums with Miles Davis, fusion experiments with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and side-man credits with everyone from Sheila E to Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Peter Gabriel.

Listening to his "International Jazz Quartet," made up of keyboard player and ex-Alan Holdsworth drummer Gary Husband, guitarist Peter Wolpl and bassist Kai Ekhart, it was impossible to be blase about their musicianship.

The music had titles like "Panama," "In the Pocket" and "Eggshells Still on My Head" but it could just as well have been titled "Bippity," "Bobbity" and "Boo."

Take "Panama," for instance. Imagine John Coltrane's "sheets of sound" tempered by an ethereal Miles Davis melody. Add sampled sounds from Husband's keyboard, a supple bass line by Ekhart and Cobham's impeccably precise rolls and deceptively fluid and complex fill-ins and you have a layered sound that defies categorizing.

Cobham's music contains elements of jazz, funk and rock. but it is so highly refined that the resulting spirits are as potent as high octane.

The five-song first set lasted more than an hour. The improvised music was technically demanding for both musician and listener. Stripped of catchy hooks and jackhammer rhythms, it was like Cobham's drum wizardry -- potent, pure and mesmerizing.

-- Jim Santella
Blind Mellons:
Slik Toxik
Nicholas Walsh knows the glories of success. As singer of the Toronto band Slik Toxik, he has stood at stage edge while young girls reached out to him and he has stood among his band mates when they were awarded the 1993 Juno for Hard Rock Album of the Year.

Things change fast in the music industry. Despite its successful debut, the band was dropped from EMI/Capitol, with the explanation that its style was outdated. So members fired their management, reassessed their sound, toned down their glam-rock look, added a new bassist and signed with a small Canadian label.

The reorganized version of Slik Toxik came to Blind Mellons Friday night. Prior to the show, Walsh mingled through the midsized crowd. Unlike prior years, when a female procession followed his every step, he stood alone.

"Our new album isn't available down here yet, and it's been a while since we've been in the limelight," Walsh explained.

Surely he must miss the attention?

"Of course I do. I want it all to start again," he said.

The band began with two songs from its new release before jumping into "Cheap Nicotine." The current hit, "Dive," showcased a darker sound that uses more dynamics and varying tempos. Walsh curiously looked for the crowd's reaction during the band's biggest hit, "Helluvatime."

A fast-paced new tune, "Cherry Bomb," featured dual vocals, while "Voodoo" included an invigorating double-bass drum finale. The three-song encore included "White Lies -- Black Truth" and a song dedicated to Kurt Cobain.

Since headline act Lee Arron canceled, local band Jive Injection, scheduled to close the show, became the openers.

Most impressive was "Broken Toys," which featured sustained vocals by Jody Velletta, and "Flower Bed," which highlighted drummer Jeff Schaller. The hillbilly theme "Jed" added a comic break to the set, while a new tune, "Dozer," featured the band's two guitarists.

-- Michele Ramstetter

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