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OVER THE WEEKEND

Savage Garden, an Australian duo plus backup band, played the grandstand at the Erie County Fair Friday night.

ERIE COUNTY FAIR:
Savage Garden
This year's Erie County Fair was as bizarre as carnivals can get. With rides more spectacular than those at our favorite amusement parks, lights as bright as a mini Times Square and attractions crammed tighter than the workers' faces, the annual celebration was an entertainment giant.

How, then, could Savage Garden, two music makers from Australia, compete?

Defying the morbid nature of its name, which was inspired by the vampire novels of Anne Rice, the twosome and their touring band began the fairground concert Friday with the easy-listening "Tears of Pearls," one of the many pop-rock dance tunes from their only release. There were no pyrotechnics, no screeching guitars, no intense instrumentation, no manic moves. But there was one attraction that made the show the most dazzling event at the fair -- singer Darren Hayes.

Back up Backstreet Boys. Good-bye to yesterday's Georges (Boy George, George Michael). A new teen idol has emerged, and he's loving every minute of it.

Whether he was striking a muscular pose on a rear stage platform or reaching out to the crowd, Hayes knew how to delight his shrieking female fans. While his song writing partner and instrumentalist, Daniel Jones, remained in the background, the 26-year-old singer hammed up the foreground, enticing with his sweet, smooth vocals and humoring with his rare but charming heavily-accented comments.

The hits were scattered nicely throughout the set: "To the Moon and Back" helped open the show, the duet's most popular tune, "I Want You," ended it, and "Truly Madly Deeply" was saved for the encore. The highlight among these was, of course, the cherry-cola-drinking, verbal-verse-racing "I Want You," which was lengthened and energized.

Hayes' knack of mixing the tunes of others into his own was an asset. From the Spice Girls to the Four Tops, the unexpected verses brought unpredictability and excitement into what could have been a mere live replay of the duet's debut.

-- Michele Ramstetter

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