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CROW, HIP GIVE FANS SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

Another Roadside Attraction featured eight Canadian bands (and one from from New Zealand), ranging from the virtually unknown Van Allen Belt to the multimillion-selling Sheryl Crow.

But, as expected, the thousands of concertgoers who flooded into Darien Lake yesterday had come to see the Tragically Hip.

Van Allen Belt opened the show a little after 1:30 p.m. The band left its samplers at home and concentrated on playing guitar-based art rock.

Though Ron Sexsmith's gentle ballads would seem too intimate for such a large venue, the singer-songwriter more than held his own. During his eight-song set, Sexsmith made no attempt to beef up his fragile voice -- he simply let it carry forward, tremulous notes and all. The result was a winning set of sweet, warmly delivered pop songs.

The surprise of the day was the Mutton Birds, a New Zealand band whose commanding, atmospheric pop won over an audience of what must have been mostly first-time listeners.

The mood set by the Mutton Birds' thoughtful songs got swept aside by the aggressive punk-rock of Change of Heart.

Los Lobos, one of the first bands to bring the traditional genres of jazz, R & B and Latin music into alternative rock, earned the audience's respect with a set of soulful tunes.

The band's most identifiable front man, David Hidalgo, led the way as it played extended, multi-instrumental jams woven into its songs.

Though the members of Wilco are perhaps half the age of those in Los Lobos, the young Midwesterners also have broken boundaries between traditional and alternative music. Wilco is often called an "insurgent country" band, but the group came across more as a '70s Southern rock band.

Ashley MacIsaac provided the most unpredictable set. The Canadian fiddler played manic Irish jigs almost non-stop, save for a traditional ballad or two. With his five-piece band, MacIsaac introduced the crowd to his oddball brand of Irish funk-rock fusion.

MacIsaac seems to delight in confounding expectations, even those of his fans. He traded in his usual kilt for a pair of loose-fitting pants and refused to give into requests to play his best-known single, "Sleepy Maggie."

Sheryl Crow opened her show with, "If It Makes You Happy."

In her cowboy hat and sunglasses, Crow performed a slightly countrified version of "Leaving Las Vegas," followed by "The Change Will Do You Good."

Crow makes a far more believable mainstream pop-rock singer than an alternative siren. Her hit single, "Winding Road," along with her duet with Sexsmith on Badfinger's "No Matter What," proved to be the highlight of her show.

Though the crowd loved Crow, it went predictably insane when the Tragically Hip took the stage. Singer Gordon Downie launched immediately into his ramblings when the band opened with "Springtime in Vienna."

Downie's wacky movements and free-associative rants mark him as a unique front man. The crowd sang with every song, though it seems unlikely that fans of the Hip have the faintest idea what Downie is talking about. That didn't stop any of them from standing on their seats and screaming their lungs out during the band's 90-minute set.

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