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The Dave Holland Quintet
Diamondback Brewery
December 3

A good bassist rarely wants for work. A great bassist, just about never. Since signing up for the Miles Davis internship of a lifetime at age 21 and playing on such influential records as Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way, Dave Holland's bass lines have accompanied jazz musicians as varied as Kenny Barron, Anthony Braxton, Uri Caine, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Wheeler, Evan Parker, and Sam Rivers.

Holland may traffic in rarefied company, but his musical contributions are hardly limited to sideman work. He has released a substantial number of albums as a leader--most recently Points of View on the German label ECM. When he appeared upstairs at the Diamondback Brewery Thursday night, the backbone of the Points quintet--Billy Kilson on drums and Steve Nelson on vibes--accompanied him. Rounding out the quintet were Chris Potter on tenor saxophone and Antonio Hart on soprano and alto.

Especially with Nelson's vibes and Robin Eubank's impressionistic trombone contributions, Points sounds distant, measured, arctic--even when the quintet cooks. At certain moments, it conjures--only vaguely--a vibe-anchored album like Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch. Holland's outing, however, takes a much less percussive, angular route. In concert, the reworked quintet used this icy sound as a reference point, returning to it only occasionally. With the addition of Potter and Hart came quicker pacing, screechy solos, Mingus-esque polyphony, much less space, and a lot more heat.

On Points, the music often hinges on Holland and the vibes of Nelson. Live, it was immediately apparent Thursday, the axis of the band shifts to Holland and the wonderfully empathic Kilson. The drummer didn't even hint at falling out of step with Holland, even considering the bassist's penchant for quickly changing tempos and moods. Kilson's playing ranged from terrific roars, funked-out rhythms, and soft, barely audible rolls. He shadowed Holland's every movement, accent for accent.

On "Mr. B," the Ray Brown tribute from Points, Holland floated in and out of a steady pulse as Nelson played a notable against-the-beat solo. "Clairescence," a musical portrait of Holland's wife, alternated passages of intense heat with the sparse chills characteristic of the album. Holland took an extended solo, one of several all night, loaded with double stops, slurs, strums, and dance rhythms.

The group really stretched out on "How's Never," a tune left over from Holland's days with the Gateway Trio. A simple theme statement left the song wide open for multiple solos and section work. Potter's solo began with plenty of space which, as the solo progressed, he filled in with intensity and bluesy hollers, evoking saxophone honks from the swing and jump era. The other musicians then faded out, allowing Potter's solo to melt into a duet with Holland--a beautiful bass/tenor sidle, with Potter jumping octaves.

With the ballad "In Your Arms" came the only decidedly cool moment all evening. Quickly bringing back the heat, the quintet closed with the swirling Herbie Hancock dedication from Points, "Herbaceous." Past the harried opening, followed by a group statement of the theme, Hart contributed his first really compelling solo all night. Kilson added another great solo after that, beginning so softly that in the din of the applause, it seemed as though the quintet had stopped playing entirely.

Not often does a jazzman the stature of Holland show his face in Cleveland. Through the applause and cheering, Holland expressed his hope to return soon. For the sake of those who missed both sets, let's hope so.

--Aaron Steinberg

'N Sync
Britney Spears
Sweetbox
Cleveland State Convocation Center
December 4

Snap, crackle, and pop! It was appropriate that the fanatical prepubescent females in attendance at the 'N Sync show Saturday night were surrounded by cotton candy vendors, because that is exactly what they got. Sure, it's been done before (New Kids on the Block, New Edition, Menudo), but on this particular evening the flavors of the month were Lance, JC, Joey, Chris, and Justin (are their last names that important?).

'N Sync gave the screaming audience what it wanted: puppy love ballads delivered by cute boys. Yes, the quintet could have sung a polka tribute to Frankie Yankovic and it wouldn't have mattered, but the Orlando-based band didn't disappoint. From their first appearance on stage as starship troopers (complete with Star Wars music) to their farewell waves, the girls gave their pinups a barrage of teddy bears, camera flashes, and high-pitched screaming.

Timidly, I raise my hand as being the only 29-year-old male in a 1,000-mile radius to have seen both the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync this year. Compared to the Backstreet, 'N Sync appears to have more talent. While a five-piece backing band may have shared the stage, its purpose was to provide the singers plenty of room to show off their talents.

The majority of 'N Sync's songs, which all sounded remotely similar, dealt with love--losing it, finding it, enjoying it. "You Got It," "I Drive Myself Crazy," and "Here We Go" were met with ear-piercing screams. While these songs are all romance-driven, 'N Sync also played more sexually overt tunes such as "Giddy Up." The loudest cries came whenever the boys gyrated their hips. We're talking about an audience with an average age of eleven years old. Sort of scary. Hearing an all-vocal rendition of the theme song from Sanford and Son was a highlight for this reviewer, yet the Buffy the Vampire Slayer-looking girls in my section were clueless when it came to the classic television show. 'N Sync also briefly covered Wyclef and Will Smith. The audience knew those tunes.

One adoring fan held up a sign that read: "SWF, 18, Looking For Justin!" Okay, Justin is 17, but the rest of the band better have had IDs checked before any backstage shenanigans began.

Sweetbox led off the sugarcoated evening. With two male dancers providing a street-like atmosphere, the fruitful voice of Tina Harris was the main attraction. Obviously, the crowd didn't have a problem with Harris singing over prerecorded music. Using a rap/R&B platter, Sweetbox's music fit right in with the theme of the evening: love.

Debbie Gibson wannabe Britney Spears gave the audience her bubbly song and dance. The highly choreographed movements of her four supporting dancers were the saving grace of this pretentious singer's show. The thought of Spears robbing a convenient store in about five years doesn't seem out of reach.

--John Benson

Kiss
Econoline Crush
Gund Arena
December 6

So, you saw Kiss the other night?
Yeah. It was pretty good.
Pretty good. That's all?

It wasn't much different than the last tour, except a reunited Kiss is no longer a novelty. Gene levitated and spat blood and fire. Ace played a horrid solo before letting his Les Paul sail thankfully to the ceiling. Paul shook his ass and reminisced about playing Cleveland back in the day. Lights, confetti, flash pots, boom, boom.

What'd they open with?
"Psycho Circus." I did get a little chill when Paul sang, "Here I am/Here we are." Not much more needs to be said. It would be the night's only subtle moment.

How was the 3-D?
Cool, in a Kiss sort of way.
What do you mean?

You appreciate the effort, but when it comes to Kiss, effort is usually synonymous with cheesy.

Any big surprises?
No, though I didn't expect to hear "Into the Void," the quintessentially Ace song on Psycho Circus. We Ace fans were also treated to "Shock Me" and "Cold Gin" but no "New York Groove." The rest of the set was heavy on the anthems from Destroyer and the first album.

You sound disappointed.
One of the things that bothers me about Kiss shows is how the band neglects its hardcore fans.

Are you nuts? Kiss has always appreciated the loyalty of its fans.
To a point. But as someone who has seen the band seven times...
Wait. Seven times?

... Yeah, got a problem with that? What I'm saying is, I'd like to see Kiss play more obscure material live. Instead of "Calling Dr. Love," how about "Mr. Speed"? Instead of "Firehouse," how about "Only You"?

"Only You"?
It's on The Elder, the failed concept album with the doorknocker on the cover. Some of us are suckers for that post-Love Gun, pre-Bon Jovi period. I'm not saying they should play Unmasked straight through, but one or two Kiss cult classics--sorry, kult klassics--would be better than Paul's assurances that Cleveland rocks harder than Columbus. This price of spectacle is spontaneity, and at this attraction, even the tongue flips are choreographed.

Did they play "Beth"?
Sadly, yes. And they let Peter have a drum solo. Good lord, I'd rather listen to the garbage disposal chew on a spoon.

Did you buy any merchandise?
Hell no. I bought Crazy Nights. That's the last time I let Kiss mug me.
Who opened?

Econoline Crush. Glossy grunge. Not bad, as opening bands go. The singer, who sounded like Billy Idol, slipped on a Browns jersey midway through the set. The ultimate pander.

Who did you go with?
A woman who had never seen Kiss before. She said Paul was like Harvey Fierstein crossed with Rocky Horror-era Tim Curry. Yikes! You gotta love Paul. For most of the '80s he had to drag Gene and the rent-a-shredders on his sweaty back. Now he's getting paid.

Gonna see them next time?
Will there be a next time? I suppose there will be--Kiss doesn't do anything unless it can beat it into the ground. Yeah, I'll be there. I don't pump my fists or flash devil horns anymore. I just nod and smile, thinking my childhood wasn't a total waste.

--David Martin

Trans Am
Grog Shop
December 6

The Washington D.C. trio Trans Am refused to take itself too seriously at Sunday's Grog Shop gig. For starters, Trans Am's playfulness ensured that its post-punk, set at cruise-control pace, avoided the trappings of repetition. The guitar created a sparkling-clean atmosphere for the rhythm section to desecrate. The bass chugged relentlessly, while the drums unpredictably interchanged from basic timekeeping to aggressive acrobatics.

Many of Trans Am's songs were headed down predictable paths. The band, though, had a knack for exploring simple note sequences with varied volume and distortion. Imagine a car rolling down a hill, building momentum, only to eventually crash and quit. That's how several of Trans Am's tunes ended--in a glorious pileup of damaged melodies.

Trans Am's passion for assorted electronics (noise, hip-hop, techno) wasn't as prevalent live. Nonetheless, the set contained more than just linear rock instrumentals. One track in particular, packed with video-game bleeps and a thudding dance beat, proved Trans Am's skills with other genres.

Trans Am sneak-previewed material from its forthcoming album, as well. These new songs mark the debut of vocals; yes, that's right, V-O-C-A-L-S. They also signify one of the most remarkable fusions of electronic and punk aesthetics since Brainiac's "Electro-Shock for President." Covered in bold bass playing, surreal synthesizers, real drums, and robotic singing, the sound was retrospective and progressive at the same time.

Besides a horribly drawn-out take on indie rock introspection, Trans Am played an intelligent rock set without a dash of pretentiousness, taking the excesses of '70s rock and slapping them silly.

--Ryan Smith

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