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Five shows in five days: The summer concert season heats up

Five nights. Five shows. Five radically different concert experiences. Just another week in the Buffalo summer concert season.

I had no time to catch my breath, but in truth, I didn’t get to take in even half of what was on offer. The week of June 8, I was on vacation, and therefore did not write a review of the epic, twin-set sold-out Rush show at First Niagara Center on June 10, but that was when this blur of concert activity officially kicked off for me. That Rush show would prove difficult, and so far, it remains the gig to beat for the summer. My first day back from vacation found me reviewing the Smashing Pumpkins mostly acoustic performance June 15 in the Riviera Theatre.

On June 16, I had a tough decision to make – would I venture out to Lewiston for Widespread Panic’s much-anticipated return engagement at Artpark, or would I stay inside for Phish bassist Mike Gordon and his band’s show at the Town Ballroom?

I’m a lover of Phish, and since that band’s summer tour is not coming to Western New York I opted for Gordon’s gig, and I’m glad I did. The bassist/vocalist was joined by Scott Murawski (guitar), Craig Myers (percussion), Robert Walter(keyboards) and John Kimock (drums). Kimock is the son of revered guitarist Steve Kimock, and this summer’s tour marks his debut as a member of Gordon’s band. Man, did the kid ever make his mark – he locked in with the band-leading bassist as if he’d been doing so for decades, and whether tackling a Talking Heads-inspired reading of Robert Palmer’s “Looking For Clues,” a wide variety of Gordon solo material, or the Phish classics “Meat” and “Sugar Shack,” Kimock brought vitality to the ensemble.

Gordon took some time out during the show to share some love with Buffalo, saying how much fun he’d had during his stay in our city – which included a stop at Allentown Music, as evidenced by a Gordon tweet displaying him sampling some basses at the store. Gordon also mentioned Buffalo’s Mordaunt family, which includes sisters Julia, Kelly and Mallory, all of whom were in attendance at the show. Kelly manages the Record Theatre University Plaza store where Gordon has performed in-store shows in the past; Julia oversees merchandise design for Phish and Phish-related offshoots, and is part of the band’s small staff headquartered in Burlington, Vt. Very cool.

On June 17, I went from musical feast to relative famine, making it out to the beautiful Artpark for a show that lacked much beauty of its own. We were treated to a rote run-through by Three Days Grace. The band was tight, but that’s the best that can be said of it.

June 18 marked my first official stop at Canalside, for another show that proved to be a bit disappointing, in the form of a ’90s package tour headlined by Everclear and supported by Fuel and American Hi-Fi. I wanted to like the show, but this proved difficult.

However, I had no difficulty falling for Al Di Meola and his band’s set at the Bear’s Den, Seneca Niagara Casino, on June 19. Di Meola dubbed his current tour “Elegant Gypsy & More,” a reference to his seminal late ’70s jazz fusion masterpiece. Joined by a top-flight ensemble of jazz and world music musicians – Philippe Saisse on keyboards, Gumbi Ortiz on percussion, Joel Taylor on drums and Arman Sabal Lecco on bass guitar. – Di Meola turned in a jaw-dropping performance balancing peerless virtuosity against incisive compositions and dynamic arrangements.

The show was a bit shorter than the average on Di Meola’s current tour, but Di Meola referred to a curfew at the Bear’s Den that prevented him from presenting his full program. Regardless, the full house was treated to blazing renditions of the Latin-jazz masterpieces “Senor Mouse,” “Chasing the Voodoo,” “Race With the Devil On A Spanish Highway,” “Egyptian Danza” and the new “Adour,” from Di Meola’s new “Elysium” album. A transcendent, if a touch too short, show.