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OVER THE WEEKEND

Leon Russell brought his rock and rhythm and blues to a late Friday show in the Tralfamadore Cafe. The Kings played classic rock stylings Saturday in Rock 'n' Roll Heaven. Wuss offered power punk and pop sounds late Saturday in Nietzsche's.
Tralfamadore Cafe:
Leon Russell

Some memories are better left in storage.

Friday in the Tralfamadore Cafe, 1970s piano rocker Leon Russell unpacked his former self before a small, anxious crowd. But the rock 'n' roll road can be brutal; his suitcase was badly damaged.

Relying heavily on a cane, Russell hobbled to his seat at the electric piano. Hiding his detachment behind his hermit-styled white hair and beard, he stiffly placed his hands on the keys. Crowd expectation soared when the former member of Joe Cocker's band opened with "Delta Lady." But the enthusiasm soon fell flat.

Squeaky and lethargic, Russell's sounds mimicked the strong, gravely voice of his past. Adding to this -- whether because of faulty equipment or an inexperienced sound engineer -- the band's output was as confined as a transistor radio's.

Using horn-section samples, Russell and his band -- guitarist Ryan Kirwan, bassist Jack Wessell and drummer Teddy Jack, whom Russell introduced as his son -- dispassionately played obscure tunes. With descending octaves and repeated fifths, Russell performed basic versions of the songs of rock's respected pianist Bruce Hornsby, as well as the Bob Dylan classic "Hard Rain."

Devoted fans again let enthusiasm soar when the 56-year-old performer, who once brought a Memorial Auditorium crowd to its feet, sang his signature hit "Tight Rope" followed by "This Masquerade." But, again, what should have been pleasingly sentimental soon grew sadly detrimental.

Fortunately, history made a comeback during "A Song for You." Leading into the tune with royal chords, Russell comfortably allowed his emotions to override the limits of his body and the tatters of his voice.

Opening the show was local musician Tom Stahl. With a side-mouthed garble and plenty of pep, the acoustic performer lamented of simpler times and dreams "not yet begun." Stahl unveiled songs from his upcoming release and, after the show, revealed plans to perform with a band.

-- Michele Ramstetter
Rock 'n' Roll Heaven:
The Kings
Seventeen years have passed since the Ontario band the Kings made a splash on the new wave scene with the hit single "Switchin' to Glide," yet the group's music still carries a freshness, thanks to today's fashionable retro-pop scene.

The now five-piece band happily rocked through a lively double-set in the newly reopened Rock 'n' Roll Heaven. The tacky purple and green color scheme of the Cheektowaga club, perhaps best-known as Blind Mellons, has been replaced by a darker black, white and red look more appropriate for a rock bar.

Opening with "Unstoppable," the title track off the quintet's 1993 release, the Kings exuded the amiable personality of your favorite party band. Bassist/lead vocalist David Diamond and vocalist Joshua Broadbent led the way with cheerful demeanors and energetic performances. Mr. Zero, whose neighborly appearance negates his imposing name, played away on guitar outside of the spotlight.

As the night progressed, the group became livelier in a perky Meg Ryan sort of way, even as it started a second set close to 2 a.m. The music was just as perky. The older material especially sounded as if it would fit in on the radio today. "Don't Let Me Know," from 1981, had a full-bodied infectious pop-rock flair. "I Know So" -- with its snappy bass line, cowbell and tambourine -- was old-time rock 'n' roll.

The 1993 single "Lesson to Learn" had a nice mellow rock sound, and "Now I've Got You" had the sweetness of the '60s bubble-gum pop. "As If I Cared" and "I Got the Lovin' " carried the same peppy rock style.

The Kings first set ended with the effervescent "Switchin' to Glide," a song the group clearly reveled in performing.

The five-piece Buffalo band King Kasa opened the show with a 45-minute set of rock songs that covered a wide range of groups including Bush, Tonic, 311 and Stabbing Westward.

-- Toni Ruberto
Nietzsche's:
Wuss
While watching the local rock group Wuss practically self-destruct on stage Saturday in Nietzsche's, a bunch of Mary Chapin Carpenter's lyrics went zooming through my mind.

"Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug."

It just wasn't the group's night. But, you had to admire the damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead attitude. The young band simply was in over its head.

The band has a punky appeal that relied upon lead singer John DeStefano's manic lyrics, drummer Jayme Kelly's crisp beat and Aaron Castle's bone-simple lead-guitar playing.

So, what went wrong? Who knows? Blame it on technical problems, cosmic forces, overconfidence, jitters or just an off-night. Probably a little of each.

The group's recently released, eight-song, self-titled compact disc is certainly pleasant enough, almost catchy. But that wasn't the band that showed up Saturday.

Ex-Crunchy Frog singer DeStefano displayed a flexible voice that he twisted into a squeezed croak or smoothed out when shifting into ballad mode.

He had the moves and attitude of a lead singer but was hesitant jumping into the lyrics -- frequently playing catchup -- a dangerous position to be in with a band that can play at the speed of light.

"That's Life" -- no, not the Sinatra song -- was one of the few numbers that seemed to hold together and show the band's potential.

Existential lyrics, "I don't ask for much, I get much less but that's life" were pumped up by DeStefano tossing dollar bills into the crowd in ironic counterpoint.

"Four Letter Word" showed potential, and "Last Last Call" with its driving beat should prove to be a crowd favorite when Wuss gets its stuff together. All in all, the band just needs more seasoning.

Earlier in the night, Randall, a young band, made its debut, followed by veteran Peter Grey and the Hidden Agenda, who delivered a musical set that featured Neil Young-like vocals powered by a Peter Townshend guitar style.

-- Jim Santella

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