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OVER THE WEEKEND

Mike Welch played blues guitar Saturday in the Lafayette Tap Room.
The Toasters offered ska sounds Saturday in the Showplace Theatre.

Lafayette Tap Room:
Mike Welch

Since the days of Mozart, music listeners have reveled over child prodigies. Like attractions in a circus freak show, children who perform like adults never fail to amaze us.

Welcome to the ring, Mike Welch.

At age 10, the Lexington, Mass., native became a rabid blues fan and a serious guitarist. At age 13, he joined the opening ceremonies for the Cambridge, Mass., House of Blues, standing half-pint beside such notables as Dan Aykroyd and Junior Wells. Amazing. Freakish.

But the glamour of youth always gets old; all child entertainers must grow up. Performing before a near-full crowd Saturday in the Lafayette Tap Room, little Mike Welch no longer appeared little. Sporting an adult-like mustache and goatee, the 19-year-old didn't give the audience gazers, many who stretched their necks to see the oddity, much to gawk at.

Likewise for the music. Surrounded by studio musicians Brad Hallen on bass and Warren Grant on drums, as well as his high school buddy Jack Hamilton on organ, Welch proved he can play adequate tunes. But they weren't blues tunes, and they definitely weren't worthy of the national attention he has been receiving.

Catering to his love for loud and fast pop-rock, Welch performed songs from his three Tone-Cool Records releases. When he did play a blues number, the aunt-and-uncle-aged audience cheered. But they've heard it all before.

Welch is a byproduct of the true blues players. Too young to have developed his own sense of style, the musical babe merely duplicates what was done before. Talented? Yes. Entertaining? For about three minutes.

Ah, for the love of youth.

-- Michele Ramstetter

Showplace Theatre:
The Toasters

The Toasters claim to be pioneers of ska music in the United States, and they can surely back it up. The band was out to prove its point in front of a wild Showplace Theatre crowd Saturday night.

Rob "Bucket" Hingley declared the band's excitement about the warm Buffalo weather, before diving into the horn-and-synthesizer-based track, "Devil and a .45." Hingley, nicknamed Buck, is credited with bringing ska to the country from England.

The Toasters have a delightful sound and incredible energy. "Running Right Through the World" had vocalist Jack Ruby Jr. leaping up and down. Ruby's energy would continue throughout the performance.

The guys playfully grooved to a ska version of "Low Rider," which set off a medley of loose, groovy tracks. The crowd loved every minute, dancing and hopping with the beat.

The Toasters showed us its reggae side, as Buck declared that "ska and reggae music go hand in hand." The band eased its way through the track, conjuring up warm, tropical thoughts.

Quickly, the group got serious. They rocked on "Two Tone Army," a track declaring their racial stance. The audience was into the positive cut, and sang the chorus. "If you listen to ska music, you are all the same color to me," Hingley said.

The music never stopped, and neither did Ruby. He was a ball in motion, playing a 100-mph air guitar and performing a lightning-fast jog-in-place. Ruby's passion for the music led the show, while others in the band joined along.

Buck expressed his love for the New York City subway, before playing "Underground Town." Later, Ruby would invite fans on stage to display their dancing skills. With a mix of strong vocals and audience participation, the Toasters were a big hit.

-- Jeremy Nickerson

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