Crayon Death came up from Pittsburgh to play rock Saturday night in the Showplace Theatre. The same night, Maurice John Vaughn tried on the blues in the Lafayette Tap Room, and that afternoon Kevin So, an Asian-American blues guitarist from Boston, dropped in to play at New World Record on Elmwood Avenue. Sunday, the veteran group Supertramp rocked out at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.
Mixing a hip-hop beat into metal usually lightens the output and may sound like a good idea. But that did not work for the Pittsburgh-based band Crayon Death.
The plan relied upon the band's two vocalists: Dave Hummel took center stage with his rambling talk lyrics while Scott Fisher from Buffalo stood behind on the drum platform and detonated his thrashing screams. To this, the band's two guitarists, bassist and drummer added an angry beat, infused with changing tempos.
But the main melodic instruments -- Hummel's voice and the two guitars -- were buried in the over-amplified mix, resulting in a mismatched confrontation and a battlefield of noise.
The main culprit seemed to be Fisher. Before the show, band members described his role as "flavored screaming."
These implied tasteful shouts quickly became an annoying distraction as Fisher desperately screeched his way through each song with no apparent strategy. Rather than buttress the hip-hop intended lines of Hummel, he nuked them.
The band of former Art Institute of Pittsburgh students did have some winning tactics.
In "Missionaries" -- one of several Catholic-questioning tunes written by Hummel -- an off-beat drum introduction bounced perfectly off Hummel's lines, and in "Catholic Boy" the band's driving beat was resuscitated by blunt riffs.
Psychotic Prophit, from Angola, performed an energetic set of tunes that were highlighted by the double-bass drumming of AWOL Puppet veteran Jeff Leone and the melodic vocals of Ron Russell.
Guitarist Jim Prime frequently broke from his power chord bombardment to add impressive phrasings, bringing to the band the image of a smoother Pantera.
Symptom Haywire and Kan-Trip both featured bassist Jay Wojiechowski.
In the hair-swinging band Symptom Haywire, Wojiechowski -- who first entered the rock player scene with a six-string -- matched the chords of the band's guitarist. In Kan-Trip, however, he ventured further into the slap style world of a four-stringer.
-- Michele Ramstetter
Lafayette Tap Room:
Maurice John Vaughn
The blues, like nature, abhors a vacuum. With or without the aid of amplification, expensive instruments or arena-size crowds, the simplicity of the music coupled with its emotionality re-enforce the simple elegance that gets even the most reluctant toes to tap.
Chicago blues man Maurice John Vaughn struck sparks in the air, combining old and new, borrowed and blue notes to weave a blanket of party time music.
Not to be confused with the late Texas blues maven Stevie Ray Vaughn or his brother, Jimmie, Maurice John Vaughn combines the styles of Howling Wolf, B.B. King and Muddy Waters with a touch of Jimi Hendrix.
A B. B. King single guitar line approach characterized his original "So Many Fish in the Sea." But B. J. Emory's growling trombone fleshed out the gut-barrel combination of horn, guitar and voice.
Vaughn's voice is flexible but not distinctive. His strength is his effortless singing and playing.
Jimmy Reed's 1960s classic "Anyway You Want Me" stuck close to the original except when Vaughn juiced up the interludes with overtones of "Honky Tonk," the rhythm-and-blues standard.
"Cross-cut Saw" and "Garbage Man" by Phil Guy, Buddy's brother, warmed the crowd up, and the social comments of "Computer Blues" finally got them in the pocket.
"People need a hand, not a handout" was the message of "Computer Blues," which lamented the loss of jobs to the device.
-- Jim Santella
New World Record:
Kevin So has a gentle soul. It's in his words, in his mannerisms, in the way his body smoothly sways with his music. The Boston singer-songwriter shared his touching stories throughout a weekend of performances marking his first Buffalo visit.
He opened with "Ole Man Driver," a down-home blues number about family life off his new extended play work "Blackout Road."
It was one of only a few songs, including the forceful blues of "Don't Take My Soul," where So displayed the full richness of his vocals.
Instead, he kept his set low key with a selection of soft folk music that keyed on the lilting, fragile qualities of his voice -- a style befitting his tender words. "You breathe me life," he tells his love in "Home," a song from his full-length album "Pendulum."
He closed his 11-song set with "Save Me a Seat," a song written by a friend in memory of Bill Monroe, the man considered the father of bluegrass music.
As he finished the song and took off his guitar, So immediately was approached by a listener. "That was beautiful," So was told. So it was.
-- Toni Ruberto
Darien Lake Arts Center:
Now halfway through its "Some Things Never Change" world tour, clearly some things have changed with Supertramp, a 1970s band that regrouped this year with four new members and a smoother, R & B sound mixed with jazz and pop. Supertramp emphasized musicianship, switching instruments, vocals, and exchanging improvisational solos during its hour and a half set.
Opening with with new songs, including "It's a Hard World" and "You Win, I Lose," Supertramp immediately drew the audience into the performance.
Halfway through the show, a Supertramp veteran, saxophonist and woodwind player John Helliwell commented on the audiences' song preference.
"So, before we play some more songs from the '70s, try this one, 'Live to Love You,' " he said.
The crowd reacted with disinterested politeness, and in stark contrast, "Cannonball," a hit from 1985, brought most people dancing to their feet. This strong reaction seemed to shock the band; singer Rick Davies, usually intent on his singing and playing, slipped a glance at the dancing crowd and broke into a grin. Supertramp continued with classics "Ain't Nobody But Me," "Rudy," "Take the Long Way Home," "From Now On," "The Logical Song" and "Bloody Well Right."
The homogeneity of Supertramp's audience seemed proof of the music's relatively small niche. Despite the release of a new album, the new Supertramp's performance had a feeling of a reunion, rather than a rebirth. But for whatever reasons thousands of people came to hear Supertramp, Helliwell and the other musicians clearly appreciated the support.
"You should have seen our other audiences," John Helliwell said. "They've not a patch on you lot."
-- Anastasia Kudrez