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Boom Boom Satellites
The Odeon
September 1

Electronic music has enough faceless anti-superstars; the adoring public can't adore you when you're cowering behind a giant synthesizer. A cool breath of fresh air, then, to see Mr. Richard Melville Hall (Mr. Moby to you) saunter onto the Odeon stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar floating between the star and his sizable adoring audience. A recorded gospel singer wailed, Moby's guitar flailed, his three-piece backup band travailed, and much euphoria was had by all.

Electronic music also has enough acts content to sound like themselves, album to album, song to song. On this point as well, Moby played the anomaly. Consider the instrumentation alone: Backed by bass, drums, and a buff, shirtless bongo dude, the star hopped between acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, extra bongos . . . hell, even tambourine. As a vocalist, his range can only accommodate a few notes, but his musical skills, particularly during the drumming sequences, easily compensated.

And the earth shifted. The early, cool gospel vibe dissolved into a thrashing cover of the James Bond theme, with punishing "wicca-wicca" guitar figures and drum riser catapults. Moments later the madness segued seamlessly into the shimmering techno vibe of tracks from his debut, Everything Is Wrong. "Natural Blues," another gospel-singer-dominated selection from this year's Play, brought back the eerie disquieting vibe, which the hip-hop-laced "Bodyrock" promptly demolished.

And, most importantly, an earnest face brought all these elements together, the music surging through his body like electricity. We empathized with the guy, with his cue-ball head and his T-shirt with little Hershey Kisses and the word "kissable" at the bottom. And of course, his beloved electric guitar, named "Dinky." The band bounded offstage after the first set and hopped back on about 45 seconds later, with Moby explaining, "I get too excited. I just really like playing music." More disco-oriented euphoria ensued, and when lighting difficulties derailed the rest of his planned encore, he opted instead for a classic rock medley: "Free Bird," "Stairway to Heaven" (lead vocals by the roadie), "Walk This Way," and a touch of Black Sabbath. All bases covered, all styles explored, all expectations exceeded.

Pay attention, distinguished gentlemen of the Boom Boom Satellites, ye with the agreeable three-piece guitar/drums/giant synthesizer combo that laid down a cool sonic groove and essentially rode it for (yawn) 45 minutes. Certainly not abominable, but far too straightforward an appetizer for such a buffet. Consider buying a new guitar . . . a Dinky, perhaps. — Rob Harvilla

The Cranberries
Collective Soul
September 2

Not a bad concert or a waste of time, which is about the best you can say about it. Ms. Dolores O'Riordan twirled and marched about the stage — herky-jerky, like robo-woman malfunctioned — while her fellow bandmates stood stock still, feet firmly placed on their gaffer tape X's, evenly spaced across a stage that looked like an indoor rapelling wall for short people.

The Cranberries played selections culled from all of their albums, which did highlight the earlier, catchy business like "Linger" and "Dreams," radio hits so persuasive that they bore into your head like those brain-eating slugs from Star Trek II. As the evening progressed, it was apparent that the Cranberries' songwriting skills have slowly eroded over time. Much of the more recent material was pale and weak-melodied in comparison. Perfect examples were two tunes from the encore, "You and Me" and "Just My Imagination." The Cranberries saved those tunes for the requisite acoustic 'n' stool session (thank you, MTV), opening the encore. The familiar Cranberries characteristics were still there: the hop-skip march cadence drumming, simple guitar chord strumming, and O'Riordan's odd pitch bendings and Irish yodelisms.

But without a hook, a buoyant melody, the tunes lacked focus, lumped around, and began to sound like all the others, no matter how many intervals O'Riordan skipped.

Nonetheless, it was still a refreshing set after the faceless rock onslaught of Collective Soul. Sounding like Rush but without the fancy time signatures or histrionic solos, the band hair-whipped its way through a set evenly spaced with hit singles and filled out with more anonymous rock. Of course, "The World I Know" and "Shine" had their airings. The popularity seems to stem from their ability to simultaneously sound like every '70s guitar rock band and yet none of them. — Aaron Steinberg

Cheap Trick
A Taste of Cleveland
September 3

Given the power to deploy an all-star four-piece rock band of his choosing, one friend drafted three-quarters of Cheap Trick. He wanted Tom Petersson's orchestral twelve-string bass, Bun E. Carlos's slender but powerful snare hits, and Robin Zander's golden throat (and hair). That he would leave guitarist Rick Nielsen off his fantasy team is instructive for two reasons: One, Nielsen's half-nerd/half-mad shtick has worn thin. Two, since Nielsen is the band's principal songwriter, Cheap Trick's material has probably fallen short of its musical talents. (That this friend would select three members of Cheap Trick is instructive of a pathology all its own.)

A week after celebrating its 25th anniversary in hometown Rockford, Illinois, Cheap Trick was back on the chitlin circuit at A Taste of Cleveland. They've become quite skilled at these shows over the years. They toss in enough blockbusters to appease the marginally interested rib eaters, while the partisans are satiated with lesser-known hits and obscura. An illustration: Cheap Trick opened with a smash ("I Want You to Want Me") and shortly thereafter played its best-known cover ("Ain't That a Shame"); in between were two beauties from the early years ("Come On, Come On," "Hot Love") and a recent rocker that radio ignored but shouldn't have ("Woke Up With a Monster").

For a band that now trades in the good feelings of summers gone by, Cheap Trick can be difficult. They follow up a costume-jewelry ballad like "Voices" with the brooding "Need Your Love," one of the most terrifying love songs ever written. The high-pitched clang of Nielsen's guitar suggests he tunes his instrument to the sound of silverware crashing in the sink. Their anthems, "Surrender" and "Dream Police," lyrically are as queer as Nielsen's bow tie and five-necked guitar. They like Gary Glitter more than is rational.

As I said, difficult.

But in a really cool way. — David Martin

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