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Read my Lips <br> Local summer concerts are already proving to be a good buy

In July, U2 will plunder its way into Toronto.

There will be no Buffalo date on the band's current stadium tour, it appears. Ralph Wilson Stadium aside, there's no venue in the area that could accommodate the megatons of equipment necessary to stage the band's "360 Tour" -- a futuristic behemoth of light and sound presenting the Irish rock band in the round.

So, if you're interested in seeing U2, you'll have to go to Toronto. Oh, and there's the small matter of paying for your ticket, too. Earlier this week, I went through the initial steps of purchasing one. "Best available" led me to a general admission ticket placing me in the 100 section, which means standing room, on the floor. For this privilege, I was asked to cough up $252 (Canadian), plus a $13.25 surcharge. That brought my single standing-room stub to a curt, imposing $262.25.

For one ticket.

Following this financial logic through, it seems reasonable to assume that, if you want to travel from Buffalo to the U2 show and bring along a friend, spouse or incredibly wealthy stranger; stay the night; buy a beer or two; eat something; and maybe even take home a commemorative T-shirt, you're looking at dropping a cool grand.

I don't know about you, but I love U2, am deeply into its "No Line On the Horizon" album, and was hoping to catch the band on its tour behind that album. I would gladly pay a reasonable sum to see Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry performing without all the ridiculous bells and whistles the group has become a slave to. Throw up a few lights, invest the rest of the money into a killer sound system, and maybe then, playing arenas wouldn't be cost-prohibitive. The whole "360 Tour" thing is cool at first glance, but becomes far less so when you realize that you, the fan, are expected to foot the bill for the multimedia albatross.

Enough is enough. This has all gone past the point of absurdity.

Happily, it appears that you will be able to stay right here in Western New York this summer, where you'll have the opportunity to catch bands at least as good as U2 for a fraction of the cost.

Though only a handful of summer shows have been announced, this year is already shaping up to be the strongest, most diverse, and most reasonably priced of any in recent memory. Scan this:

*Tickets for the Flaming Lips' July 22 show at Artpark's Mainstage Theatre go on sale at 10 a.m. today. They range in price from $37.50 to $42.50 for amphitheater seats, and $25 for the lawn.

*On July 8, the same venue is presenting Furthur, the band led by Grateful Dead founding members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. That group's recent gig inside Shea's Performing Arts Center was a mind-melter, and strongly suggested that, with more gigs under its belt, the Furthur gang will be in top form by midsummer. Attending the show will only set you back $39.50.

*The biggest buzz of them all is quite likely the one surrounding the announcement of Pearl Jam's show inside HSBC Arena on May 10. Tickets, which go on sale at noon Saturday, are priced at a reasonable $69.50.

The quick math shows that one could catch the Flaming Lips, Furthur and Pearl Jam for less than the cost of a single U2 Toronto ticket. With your (theoretical) leftover cash, you might grab a ducat for Les Claypool and the Avett Brothers' June 2 show, also at Artpark ($37.50 reserved, $27.50 lawn, on sale today); progressive buzz-band Porcupine Tree at the Town Ballroom on May 4 ($22); or former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor at the Tralf on May 11 ($28).

The variety of shows already announced for Artpark -- even before the unveiling of its free concert series -- is the biggest surprise of the approaching concert season. Perhaps the success of last summer's four-night run with the Tragically Hip -- produced by Fun Time Presents -- set the precedent for the Artpark folks working with a variety of outside promoters, as well as the venue's own in-house staff.

"The success of our Tuesday in the Park Series has brought a new focus on Artpark as a destination for concerts and other forms of entertainment, and the local promoters are beginning to recognize the merits of using Artpark for ticketed concerts that will attract an audience of 4,000 plus, but won't fill up Darien Lake or HSBC Arena," says Artpark President George Osborne.

This year, Artpark is teaming up with Fun Time once again, (for the Les Claypool/Avett Brothers bill) as well as Live Nation (Furthur). The Flaming Lips show is an "Artpark Presents" bill.

The healthy competition among promoters yields a bounty of choice for concertgoers, who hold the power to vote with their wallets. Personally, I'd hate to waste my vote on a single overpriced, overblown affair when the same money could buy me half a dozen nights I'll never forget.