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Folk singer Bruce Cockburn performed Saturday in Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College. Turning Virtue, with David Kane, played alternative sounds Saturday in the Tralf. Steve Owen brought his brand of alternative country to a late Friday show in Mohawk Place.

Rockwell Hall:
Bruce Cockburn
Poetic singer, songwriter and sometime activist Bruce Cockburn performed with precision and passion during a two-set, nearly three-hour concert in Buffalo State College's Rockwell Hall Saturday.

It's a shame his audience didn't respond with the same enthusiasm. While Cockburn's laid-back music was the perfect chance to sit back and relax, his impeccable performance deserved more than polite clapping between songs.

Cockburn's minimalistic show was devoid of flash and fanciness. Instead, the black-clad guitarist, his bassist and percussionist put the songs center stage, concentrating on material from Cockburn's mellow, jazz-tinged 23rd release, "The Charity of Night."

The award-winning songwriter's storytelling came alive on stage with images painted through vivid lyrics. "Sunset is an angel weeping," he sang on the gentle acoustic number "Pacing the Cage." The softly passionate "Live on My Mind" was filled with an aching tenderness through lines like, "You blow me a kiss that blurs my vision."

Cockburn treated the audience to the first concert performance of "Embers of Eden."

"It's been reported on the Internet that the song exists. But I've been accused of fabricating it, because we hadn't played it for anyone before," the amiable musician joked before singing the slow, sensuous number.

After "Get Up Jonah," a song he performs with Ani DiFranco on his new CD, Cockburn paid tribute to the Buffalo musician. "I can never sing the last verse of that song without hearing Ani's voice. You've got someone from here you can be proud of," he said.

Cockburn laughingly thanked the crowd for staying to hear his second set after a lengthy 30-minute intermission.

-- Toni Ruberto
Mohawk Place:
Steve Owen,
Scott Carpenter and
the Real McCoys
His songs are soaked with tales of gin. His guitar lines reek of bluegrass licks, and his attire is as rugged as a country hick's. But for Steve Owen, an unclimbable corral exists around Nashville.

"The stuff I do is too strange for Nashville," the Illinois native and San Francisco resident said before a show Friday in Mohawk Place.

Strange? Actually, Owen's narrative songs are a throwback to the rugged storytellers of older country: Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard. Like a slow-moving train, his biographical tunes relax and amuse as they present back-road views of America. But riding next to the pop and flash engines of today's country music, he putters low on steam.

Regardless, amid the quaintness of Mohawk Place, Owen was powerful. Performing selections from his two releases, he revealed the purity of a stripped-down song. Whether singing with a Midwestern twang or narrating with a rhythmic slang, the self-taught musician made every verse distinguishable and every word decipherable. Lyrics such as "I made a face in the mirror and it froze" and the performer's self-announced themes of "drinking, driving and death" kept the small crowd listening and laughing.

Narration turned to incitation when Scott Carpenter and the Real McCoys took the stage. Possibly the most energetic performer in Western New York, Carpenter led his band through an enlightening set of fast tunes. Although the Chuck Berry-paced rockers kept the audience dancing, Carpenter was at his best during the slower, more emotional tunes. "My Old Farm," a song not yet on a recording, was intriguing, and the new song "Temperamental" was as pleadingly delightful as a Tom Petty standard.

Priming, perhaps, for their upcoming two-month Southern and Midwestern tour, Carpenter and his band out-energized many of their fans, vigorously playing beyond the night's high point.

-- Michele Ramstetter
Tralfamadore Cafe:
Turning Virtue,
Kinsman Cage
Something old, something new, something borrowed something blue. A wedding? No, a double bill of rock music provided by Turning Virtue and Kinsman Cage Saturday in the Tralf.

Maybe those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. But this weekend, two local bands used the past as a stepping stone to shape their musical future.

In musical styles, Turning Virtue and Kinsman Cage were almost polar opposites. TV used video images married to long guitar solos, apocalyptic lyrics and speed to deliver their vision of the updated past. Swagger mixed with attitude.

Kinsman Cage, on the other hand, used Donald Kinsman's personal lyrics, Cage's moody effects box guitar and tight harmonies to create mental images about alien abduction, phone sex and love. Craft combined with reserve. Think Beatle harmonies married to Adrian Belew's guitar playing.

Kinsman Cage appealed to heady needs of the audience. TV went for the throat.

Notable moments in KC's set included Kinsman's introspective vocal on the Luddite-tinged "On Line."

Lyrics suggested an uneasy relationship with both technology and love. "Hook me up, I want to be on line. I don't want to be left behind."

A Bowie-ish "Satellite," labeled "Alien Probe Song" on Kinsman Cage's new CD, "Fabulust," echoed a paranoia about modern technology. "There's a satellite shining in my room tonight, watching every move I make."

Turning Virtue, on the other hand, embraced technology as a tool of communication and entertainment. Video clips featuring band members David K, Kevin Stefanski, Louis Lamonte and D.P.A. interacting with a chop-sockey film and a "60 Minutes" segment evoked "Spinal Tap's" merciless satire.

TV is like a four-man power trio. Cryptic lyrics take a backseat to their slash and trash guitar heavy music. Both guitarists rip off extended solos with consummate ease. They bring a new vitality and style to the bedrock form.

Doubts about technology and society also pervade TV's progressive-like music.

"Inciting a Thought," "One Revolution" and the spacey "Tide" captured the group's infatuation with sound as a compositional element, while "When You Weren't Here" was a noteworthy exception.

Ultimately, both bands ably combined the past and present to suggest the vitality and craftsmanship that the future holds for local music.

-- Jim Santella

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