Kirk Franklin
CeCe Winans
Trin-I-Tee 5:7
CSU Convocation Center
January 21

While the life-sized Kirk Franklin spent more than ample amounts of time on stage, several times during the show, he gave up the stage to his alter egos: two giant Kirk heads projected like benevolent twin Wizards of Oz on the screens hanging from either side of the stage.

The Kirk heads introduced gospel cohort CeCe Winans, placing her music directly in line with the great gospel singers--starting with Mahalia Jackson. Winans proved to be more musically talented and traditionally rooted than the headliner; nevertheless, with techno-tainment savvy and an inviting personality, the three faces of Kirk stole the evening.

Franklin's music was simple and often blunt. His real triumph was the combination of his music with his ebullient, instantly likable personality. At moments, a more-is-better mentality overrode Franklin's better judgment, and a few songs degenerated into confusion. But for the most part, Franklin's stage show was tight and focused--a variety of music, dancing, and preaching. Everything centered around his simple message for the crowd: that he's been where they are, that he knows they deserve better, and that he knows that Jesus loves everyone, jeans, earrings, and all. The crowd--more so than at any concert I've ever witnessed--embraced Franklin, his message, and even each other, literally.

The ultimate in MTV-era showmen, Franklin added layer upon layer of visual and sound, inflating his own image until it filled the Convocation Center. He was always the center of attention, always on screen. Yet, for all the time he spent in view, Franklin performed little music on his own. He sang on an opening number and played piano for Winans on a tune, but for the most part, the Family, his choir, carried every song. Franklin spent his time onstage dancing, announcing, and ministering, his energy seemingly limitless. He shouted at the crowd, cracked jokes, changed clothes. The stage, decked out with revolving parts, shiny steel, and trap doors, provided the perfect setting for his slick gospel. He managed to appear monolithic and just a regular guy for Jesus.

Winans sang with a rich voice over sometimes-syrupy keyboards and wah-wah-pedaled guitars. Beneath her soaring, God-praising vocals could be discerned the contemporary sounds of updated gospel, music with some sense of place, time, and fashion. Trin-I-Tee 5:7 played R&B-influenced gospel similar to Winans's, but the music wasn't as compelling.

Winans, like Franklin, took time to preach to the crowd between songs. Her ecumenical approach (flowers, smiling children, sunrises) was no match for Franklin's easy messages (Jesus will accept you, no matter what), dancing, and quick-cut imagery. He proved that when it comes to bringing Jesus to today's audience, a gospel Puff Daddy will outdraw Mahalia Jackson any day of the week.

--Aaron Steinberg

Jim Rome
CSU Convocation Center
January 23

More than 10,000 people assembled at CSU to experience the live interview show/comedy skit/pep rally/Vegas revue that is a Jim Rome tour stop. Rome, the host of a syndicated sports talk show whose slogan is "Have a take, don't suck," entered the arena to rabid applause. The seats were filled with what appeared to be a cross between Stones fans and professional wrestling enthusiasts.

Cleveland, Rome explained, got a tour stop over Omaha, Nebraska (a.k.a. Bugaha), because he heard an Omaha news story involving--to put it delicately--humans having relations with partners not of their species. That set off a riff on bestiality. The stand-up portion of the show served generous helpings of rival-baiting for cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, including a reset of a news report claiming that the latter city leads the nation in STDs.

Rome's first guest was Vikings head coach Rollie Massimino, whose throaty attempts at duplicating Rome's volleyball delivery were sincere but unintentionally hilarious. Indians manager Mike Hargrove wisely didn't attempt to mimic the host. Cleveland sports celebrities--Jaret Wright, Sandy Alomar Jr., Richie Sexson, Brian Anderson, Mike Fratello, Bobby Sura, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Danny Ferry, and Mitchell Butler--were out in full.

Rome's penchant for popping off about current events is part of his appeal, and he entertained the crowd with accounts of lawsuits filed against him by accused Olympic bomber Richard Jewell and the son of sportscaster Harry Carey. Nothing was funnier than the story of Axl Rose who, after eight years of his group's "Welcome to the Jungle" serving as the show's theme song, said that Rome was "too abrasive."

Hooters girls contributed to the 75-minute show's circus atmosphere. If there was any complaint--not that you would have heard one from the stands--it was that the tour stop was tame in comparison to the radio show. It's one thing to be the pimp-in-the-box, but it's another thing to pander before adoring fans.

In clone lingo, you came, we gave you love, it's all good, and yes, you're blowin' up. But compared to Rome's radio program, with all due respect, it is what it is. Out.

--Bill Gibb

Rusty Pelican
Peabody's DownUnder
January 24

Hip-hop fans in Cleveland can't seem to catch a break. The recent Method Man/Redman show was canceled, and after keeping fans waiting for hours Sunday night, Pharcyde dropped a few hits and a few new tracks from an upcoming EP and then dropped out of sight. As for Rusty Pelican, the opener, I don't know what happened to them.

Everything was cool at first. A DJ spun records; people danced, drank, hung out. By the stage, a circle opened up, and the b-boys and girls bopped and froze on the dance floor. The Illstyle Rockers from Akron were out freaking moves. People started to get restless however, and by 11:30 there was still no sign of the Pharcyde.

The circle broke up and splintered into small groups of kids kicking rhymes and freestyles. Some started rushing the stage, rhyming with no mic. One kid hopped onstage, ripped into a verse, then dove off into the crowd unexpectedly (I dropped my beer).

Imani from the Pharcyde finally came out and announced that the group would be on in fifteen minutes. 12:10, and still no show. One man said he drove from Pittsburgh; another had been at the club since 8:30. The crowd was sick of waiting, bitching loud shouts of "We want the Pharcyde!"

Finally, at a little after 12:30, the Pharcyde hit the stage and apologized for keeping the crowd waiting "a hella long time." Imani and crew opened with "Bullshit" then played a song from the unreleased EP and "Drop." Booty Brown tried to explain why the band was so late, saying, "It's that girl outside running the door's fault." He said they were going to cancel, but saw the love from the crowd and decided to perform, albeit briefly.

"Pack the Pipe" got the blunt smokers and weedheads (in other words, everybody) amped. They called for five ladies in the crowd to sing the next song and got three times as many (and one guy), before hitting the crowd-pleaser "Passin' Me By." Brown apologized again, but said he couldn't let his crew go out like that. Poof, the house lights went up and roadies started tearing down gear. The audience was mad. They wanted their money and started chanting "Bullshit!"

After the show, Brown told some members of the audience the reason for the drama was a mix-up with the promoter about money. The Pharcyde does have to get paid, but Sunday's episode wouldn't have been the first time a band got screwed by a promoter over money--and that's got nothing to do with the fans.

--Michael David

Vanilla Ice
Fall In Union
Plastic Army Guys
Flying Machine
January 24

Vanilla Ice is back (again), riding (again) whatever rap-associated trend happens to be pulling the most mall-rat dollars. A few years ago, it was an album of Cypress Hill-influenced blunt rap. This time it's rap metal in the Korn/Limp Bizkit vein. A pattern emerges, which may or may not prompt a name change in the future. My suggestion: MC Locust.

In any case, the man who kept the name Vanilla Ice hit the stage with a new band, a new sound, and a fighting mood. Still undeniably a living rift in the continuum of culture consciousness, he set out to prove that he always had it, and that he still has it, even though it sounds different, or something like that. Really, the show wasn't that bad.

A fair portion of the concert was given over to his new sound, featured on his latest effort, Hard to Swallow. On songs like "S.N.A.F.U." the Ice Man Band copped the Limp Bizkit sound pretty well. "A.D.D." was more of the same, plus a little extra attention to guitars, in what amounted to a straight-up, faceless rock intro. The thrashy sound did help cover Vanilla's often stiff delivery.

Then there were the priceless awkward moments only Vanilla could offer. "How many people out here like to get high?" he asked the crowd, and through the whoops and hollers, Vanilla segued into one of his more moronic pot paeans. Midway through the show, the music took a turn for the didactic when Vanilla broke out the Old Skool. Still battling the ridicule, Vanilla apparently felt the need to prove just how down with rap he was. But even at moments like that, the show never really ceased to be uncomplicated fun.

Predictably, the event pinnacled with Vanilla's updated rendition of "Ice, Ice, Baby," now thrashed-out and retitled "Too Cold." The "Under Pressure" bass line was all it took to send the entire crowd into a fist-pumping, sing-along frenzy. So, these are your new fans, Vanilla?

Depending on your taste, the opening acts were a jaunt to headbanger heaven or an exercise in poor planning and merciless torture. Though there were subtle differences between them, all four bands fell squarely into the early Metallica/NYC hardcore/angry-boy-band mold. They all--to varying degrees--employed singers devoted to that seemingly ubiquitous, rap-influenced "Hail, Satan!" vocal delivery. Stacked together, they made the Ice Man sound practically symphonic.

Cleveland's Biastfear differentiated itself with what sounded like electronica-influenced drum work. Their singer had an interesting voice, and at moments, the group sounded like some of the more interesting NYC hardcore bands like Quicksand.

The dirge-paced metal of Plastic Army Guys hardly sparkled. Pass.
Fall in Union seemed to take itself a bit too seriously as it fused neo-metal with judicious sprinklings of '80s hard-rock guitar excess. Situation alleviated with a closing cover of the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)."

The only band actually from New York, Skarhead, spent nearly as much time dedicating its music to various sections of the audience as it did playing. ("This one goes out to our boys in Ohio." "This one goes out to all the straightedgers." This one to all the guys who like to party.") Opening with a refreshingly Bad Brains-derived opener, the band quickly descended into unremarkable, NYC hardcore pounding. Note: If sheer volume of blood on the floor is an accurate measure of crowd appeal, Skarhead beat them all.