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Livewire

Creed
Oleander
CSU Convocation Center
October 10

Depending on your age, Creed is either the coolest band around singing inspirational songs about issues you can relate to or an obvious grunge rip-off. Both opinions have merit, and last Sunday night's sold-out show at the Cleveland State Convocation Center provided plenty of evidence to support each argument.

The majority of the late teens/early 20s crowd appeared to idolize and connect with emotive Creed frontman Scott Stapp, much in the same way Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder was worshiped in the early '90s. Stapp had his audience hanging on every word as he belted out his disillusioned lyrics in a baritone voice, which, ironically, sounded exactly like Vedder. His stage persona isn't that far removed from the Seattle singer's, either. The occasional head turn or hand gesture, performed with a good deal of drama, even recalled Vedder's stage mannerisms. Obviously, Pearl Jam has deeply influenced Creed. It's too bad the Florida band, which recently released Human Clay, its second album (the follow-up to its enormously successful debut, 1997's My Own Prison), can't step out from its shadow.

While power chords and angry guitars fueled anthems such as "Torn," "My Own Prison," and "Say I," about midway through the set, Creed's predictable arrangements began to run together. And yes, the melodies resembled another band's style -- the tepid hard rock attack made Creed sound more like a gentler Metallica.

Yeah, grunge is dead, but Creed is making sure the pilot light doesn't go out completely. If you were too young to have experienced Lollapalooza, Creed (which is often confused as a Christian rock act -- it's not) allows you to rejoice in your misery and helps you get through another day. But you're likely to find more innovation with Korn or Limp Bizkit -- and that's not saying much.

Openers Oleander started the evening off with a surprisingly well-polished show. Its catchy, rollercoaster-guitar-ride set was filled with friendly melodies and appealing vocals. Sure, the Sacramento group's bar-band sound is nothing new, but its rockin' delivery begged forgiveness. Canadian rockers Our Lady Peace put a lot of energy into their set, but ultimately the show suffered from redundancy. Lead singer Raine Maida -- who used too many "oooh-eeeee-ahhhs" -- sounded like a nasal Adam Sandler. However, "Lying Awake" jumped out of the set as a groovy guitar gem. -- John Benson

Bill Frisell
Wexner Center, Columbus
October 9

When guitarist Bill Frisell's Nashville won Downbeat's album of the year, Frisell pointed out that experiments in country-jazz hardly originated with him. A Stetson-topped Sonny Rollins had already ventured Way Out West, and the Jimmy Giuffre 3 had long since made jazz safe for back porches. True enough. But the specific nature of Frisell's fusion -- the sound that has more or less permeated his last few albums -- is a whole other beast.

Long involved with the downtown experimental/jazz set, the shy, bespectacled Frisell harbored not a thought of deconstruction on his last few albums. Aside from the brooding recording Quartet, Frisell has wholeheartedly and unironically embraced country and folk forms. Warm slide guitar, easy tempos, and bright, catchy themes glow alongside Frisell's own gently warped guitar style and permeate a sound that is folkish first. The jazz influences only sneak in the back door, hidden in complex chords and oblique lines. It's hardly the work of a jazz man on vacation.

The approach has its weaknesses. Sometimes lost in hazy polyphony, the songs often lack focus and solid core. Not so in concert. Largely, Frisell has his new drummer, Brian Blade, to thank. Blade, who has lent his kit services to the likes of Josh Redman and Bob Dylan, obviously gets off on the crossover, and he added to the proceedings mightily. Never disrespecting the space and mood so important to Frisell's music, Blade still managed to inject it with a jazzier propulsion; he wasn't afraid of tumult when the moment called for it.

Buoyed on the new beat, Frisell and ensemble added spikier and even humorous moments to music that tends toward the contemplative and peripatetic. On "Keep Your Eyes Open," from Nashville, what started as a straight rendition slid effortlessly into a Hawaiian slack-guitar vibe before morphing again into a sunburnt early '60s rock instrumental. Later, on a fleshed-out and fiery version of Gone, Just Like a Train's "Blues for Los Angeles," Frisell spared not one sensitive ear. -- Aaron Steinberg

Ratt
Agora
October 6

The Ratt 'n' roll machine has been at it for over fifteen years and, let's be honest, hasn't matured much. Where other bands have evolved to explore different hard rock formulas, Stephen Pearcy and company seem to be forever stuck in the Reagan era of flashy rock.

Playing to a packed crowd in the Agora Ballroom, Ratt gave its leather-clad, bandanna-wearing thirtysomething fans the tunes that shaped their youth in pretty much the same fashion in which they were recorded. High-pitched guitar solos and saucy vocals were par for the evening. Not surprisingly, there was very little difference/growth in sound or style between material from Ratt's 1984 album Out of the Cellar and its most recent self-titled release. Sure, Ratt has never been concerned with musical development, but its stunted growth has become downright irritating. True fans didn't care, as they raised their fists, banged their heads, and enjoyed their arena rock band in the most intimate of venues; for those with low expectations, Ratt delivered the goods.

A solo by guitarist Warren Demartini summed up the band's conservative musical approach: While playing an unexpectedly compassionate, brooding bluesy solo, he suddenly looked as if he realized he had strayed too far from the safe confines of a high-flying, finger-dazzling solo, and returned to his trite bread-and-butter histrionics. "Slip of the Lip," "Way Cool Jr.," and "Round and Round" were delivered exactly like their studio renditions. Is it asking too much to hear a song reworked, putting it in a different light? Apparently so. -- Benson

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