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Lighten up, hippies 

The Chesterfield Kings have obviously learned at the feet of the rock 'n' roll masters, as they proved once again to about 500 fans at Water Street Music Hall two Saturdays ago. The show was loud and loose as always, with Paul Morabito laying down some fantastic guitar. They're finally letting the boy shine. And I just love when Prevost honks on the harp.

Co-headlining the Christmas extravaganza were Pittsburgh's Get Hip gurus, The Cynics. Nobody does fast, tight, borderline violent garage rock better than they do. I can remember about 10 years ago hearing the Cynics do a version of Johnny Thunders' "Born To Lose." It was wintertime and I was heading north on Chestnut attempting to pull a U-turn. Well, the song got me so razzed I overshot the curb and blew out two tires, permanently damaging the rims. The Cynics consistently recreate that thrill every time I see them.

And though guitarist Greg Kostelich moves even less than The A-Bones' Marcus The Carcass, the energy was intense and spilled continually into the audience. Singer Mike Kastelic (Cindy Crawford's fave) whipped himself into a frenzy amidst the gone crowd and go-going girls.

The highlight of the show --- besides the aforementioned bouncin' babes --- had to be the psychedelic liquid projection light show provided by Dick "The Dancing Record" Storms. It seems Storms learned at the feet of the masters as well. Back in 1967, in San Francisco, when he was a roadie for Quicksilver Messenger Service (and never used drugs as far as his teenage daughter knows), he learned the mineral oil, food coloring, and water projection trick they called "The Black Shit Puppy Farm" while hanging around the Straight Theatre on Haight Street.

The Rainy Day Saints, St. Phillip's Escalator (definitely the band to watch in '05), and Boston's The Charms were the ones to get the jingle ball at the Water Street show --- but I didn't catch them. Ani Difranco detained me.

As always, Difranco sold the hell out of the Auditorium Theatre. Show opener Dan Bern apparently found a way to out-liberal the liberals. I mean, you'd think this was a pretty left-leaning crowd, what with the dreadlocks, Birkenstocks, and anti-animal cruelty videos everywhere, but Bern earned himself a few boos when he described World War III as "everybody against America," referring to himself as a possible insurgent. Lighten up, hippies.

I was particularly keen on seeing Difranco since her new CD, Knuckle Down --- which I really liked with the first spin --- was produced by Joe Henry, an illusive genius who has floored me with his production, guitar playing, and songwriting on albums like The Reverend Solomon Burke's Have A Little Faith In Me and his own stuff like Tiny Voices. Unfortunately, she showed up with just an upright bass player in tow. Hey, stripped-down is nice, but it would've been cool to hear the new stuff fleshed out ala Henry.

I actually enjoyed most of the KISS 98.5 Kissmas Bash at Buffalo's HSBC Arena this past Friday. Approximately 13,000 13-year-old girls and their moms screamed their heads off for Seven Day Faith, Skye Sweetnam, Gavin DeGraw, A Simple Plan, Vanessa Carlton, Benji & Joel from Good Charlotte, Jo Jo (who I missed missed), Avril Lavigne, and Switchfoot.

It's easy to tease this new wave of would-be punkers, but Good Charlotte's Benji and Joel came across cooler and rawer in their acoustic format than with the pop goo that gunks up their records.

Avril Lavigne has a lot of potential as well. She's writing her own stuff and playing her own guitar --- and that's a lot for a young lady these days. Just remember, when you get ready to slag her efforts, you weren't always as cool as you are now.

Skye Sweetnam was a tarted-up pederast's dream bounding around like a teenage boy toy. It was fluffy pop with a dangerous body image message, especially if you've got kids.

Gavin DeGraw is gonna go places. The boy's got the chops, the voice, and an "aw shucks" way about him that just melts a girl's heart. And the boy proved he's got soul when he threw out a little Sam Cooke and The Staple Singers --- all stuff that maybe even the young moms in the crowd hadn't heard.

Vanessa Carlton played sweet and solo on the piano and will no doubt spawn a wave of girls wearing frilly gowns and Doc Martens to their proms this year.

A Simple Plan sounded like every other happy-whiny band I've heard lately. So did Seven Day Faith, whose singer looked like he works out more than he practices his singing. C'mon man, gimme some edge.

San Diego's Switchfoot delivered that edge. And though the kids dig them, this is a pretty advanced, epic form of rock 'n' roll that fits perfectly in big arenas. Cell phones (the new lighters) were held high during the band's five-song set --- half of which singer Jon Foreman sang with his fly down.

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