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The Counting Crows performed late Friday in the Agri-Center on the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg. Tea Party played its brand of alternative rock Friday night in the Ogden Street Concert Hall, while MTV personality Bill Bellamy brought his stand-up comedy to Alumni Arena on the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst.

The Counting Crows
We really did miss out.

After three cancellations, the Counting Crows finally appeased its Western New York fans by performing Friday in the Agri-Center on the Erie County Fairgrounds. But we still missed out.

Much has changed since the band's 1993 mega-hit, "Mr. Jones." Most importantly, singer Adam Duritz has grown tired of performing and identifying with the song. So after waiting four years, our first live hearing of the Counting Crows featured an acoustic and completely altered version of the band's breakthrough hit.

"If you play a song in a different way, it makes people listen to it as if it's the first time they heard it," Duritz explained to the crowd, which filled about a third of the oversized venue.

The change in tune, although disappointing, was soon forgiven, as the dreadlocked singer carpeted the cavernous hall with an exclusive intimacy. Like the tavern patron to the bartender, Duritz unabashedly shared his desperate-voiced, somewhat delirious ramblings. As oddly appealing as a down-and-out drunk, he needed little to hold our attention. Whether standing on the monitor speaker with his arms out, sitting on top of the grand piano, leaning toward the crowd or hammering his fists in the air, the photogenic performer became the only focal point of the six-member band.

Rare for concert performances, Duritz and company played "Angels of the Silences" twice. The high-energy song followed the opening tune "Recovering the Satellites" and was replayed in a slower mode during an acoustic break.

But even this two-fold tune could not compete with the performance of "Round Here." Using all facets of vocal oration, Duritz casually and expressively told the song's tale, adding whatever lyrics came to mind and relating them to the present moment. As he mentioned a parking lot, he motioned toward the expansive lot beyond the walls, and when lamenting about the desperate character of the song, he assumed we knew exactly who he was talking about.

Duritz's natural style also was evident at the piano. Although the band's keyboardist is obviously more experienced on the ivories, the tunes played by Duritz were more expressive, more noticeable and more sincere. Duritz tinkered with the upper register in "Mercury," used sporadic, vocal-framing chords in "Raining in Baltimore" and captured the crowd with basic but powerful chords in "A Long December."

National act Dog's Eye View opened the show. Plagued by the venue's reverberating sound, the band was best heard during its acoustic tunes. The 1995 hit "Everything Falls Apart" was burdened by sharp vocals, cutting guitar lines and stabbing drum beats. But the band's newest single, "Homecoming Parade," was an impressive, dramatic work.

-- Michele Ramstetter
Ogden Street Concert Hall:
The Tea Party
The brooding, intense rock of the Tea Party engulfed the packed Ogden Street Concert Hall on Friday night with a hypnotic barrage of exotic rhythms and dark sensuality.

Only hours earlier, the band had a crowd of about 400 fans pouring out on the Elmwood Avenue sidewalk in front of New World Record during an acoustic in-store performance.

The Canadian power trio reveled in the sold-out crowd's boisterous response at Ogden Street, but it was clearly unexpected and enough to seemingly humble the usually self-assured front man Jeff Martin.

"We did not expect this tonight," he said, thanking the Buffalo audience for being one of the first in the country to embrace the band.

Much of the group's draw is owed to Martin, the darkly handsome singer-guitarist who uses his uncanny resemblance to Jim Morrison, both physically and vocally, to his advantage. With only his voice, Martin had the crowd at his command. He worked his rich, sexy vocals into heart-wrenching, guttural screams that seduced some, agitated others. Martin's raw sexuality and percussionist Jeff Burrows' fierce rhythms had couples embracing with eyes closed only feet from a large mosh pit.

"Are you guys waiting for us?" Martin asked over the slow, rich Middle Eastern sounds launching the rhythmic bursts of "The Bazaar," off 1995's double-platinum "The Edges of Twilight." He talked often, introducing most of the songs with the stories they told.

The group's lavish soundscapes created visions of exotic lands, from the tales of war and death in "Save Me" to the consuming love of "Fire in the Head."

Songs off the band's new album, "Transmission," took the show into a dark, primal world laced with the pain of industrial music. The lyrical beauty of "Psychopomp" gave way to the song's anguish, while the electronica of "Release" acted as a trance-inducing groove. The too-short hit "Temptation" was rightfully lengthened in concert.

The band stripped down the rock heaviness of "Sister Awake" for a lovely, acoustic-based interpretation of the song's lavish Middle Eastern stylings. They performed an all-out rock version of the song during the encore.

The rock quartet Fuel opened the show with a set that evolved from melodic rock into the aggressive sound of punk and Helmet-styled grinding guitars.

-- Toni Ruberto
UB Alumni Arena:
Bill Bellamy
Snap! Crackle! Pop! No, it's not a breakfast cereal. It's the crisp delivery and rhythm of comedy. Comedy lives on timing. Good comics are as snappy as a rim shot, and Bill Bellamy's observational humor is sharp without being abrasive.

Bellamy, the host of "MTV JAMS," the network's daily show featuring the best videos from hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues artists, charmed a "Family & Homecoming Weekend" crowd of parents and students Saturday night in Alumni Arena on the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst.

Bill's real-life-based humor touched on student life, parental guidance, children's games, peer pressure and wintertime in Buffalo. "Whoa! You guys must have to wear bear suits to class."

Citing Bill Cosby as his idol, Bellamy believes that "it's possible to make people laugh and think at the same time without being heavy-handed."

With nary a blue reference or four-letter word, Bellamy won the audience over with his natural humor that, like Cosby's, is playful and filled with child-like innocence.

He sided with the plight of student's economic woes, recalling how expensive buying books was when he was in college. "One book would cost $300. I said give me half a book."

He chastised parents who raise their children by the book, believing they should try to reason with them. "Talking will not do it! You gotta beat their butt."

"You guys are lucky," he told the homecoming crowd of parents and students. "Your parents will be leaving for home tomorrow. My parents went to school with me the whole four years."

Commenting on his childhood in his native Newark, N.J.: "My neighborhood was so bad, I used to walk my dog on the front porch."

With a gesture, sound-effect or funny voice, Bellamy was able to create a comic landscape out of the detritus of everyday life. His recollections about playing dodge ball or cops and robbers when he was a child were honest and humorous.

Bellamy got his start in comedy doing stand-up in such popular New York City clubs as Sweetwaters, where he made his debut in 1988; the Comic Strip; Catch a Rising Star; and the Improv, as well as Funny Bones in Philadelphia and the Comedy Store in Los Angeles.

He has been featured on HBO's "Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam," a showcase for young black comics with rap impresario Russell Simmons as host, and headlined the 1992 "Def Comedy Jam National Tour," which hit 60 cities nationwide.

Although Def Jam's film, "How to Be a Player" received little critical acclaim, Bellamy was singled out for praise.

Watching and listening to him makes you feel good. He has charisma and presence, as well as a natural talent that appeals to a broad-based audience. He's definitely destined to be "a player."

-- Jim Santella

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