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Old Crows Unplugged

Arriving in Felton on the Monday of Memorial Day Weekend, the town seemed quiet. No traffic, no streetlights, and the only solitary beacon of light was the NEW LEAF sign beckoning toward a store long since shuttered. Only by the cancerous glow of errant smokers could you see DON QUIXOTE'S entrance. Despite the near total blackout, the show inside was still going on.

By the light of a single COLMAN LANTERN the OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW took the stage and proceeded to give one of the finest, most intimate and thoroughly entertaining concerts ever witnessed in these parts. Glowing faintly in the candlelight, a mass of seething and sweaty bodies gyrated in the half light as the band threw out some of the finest country offerings this side of the Continental Divide.

KETCH SECOR and WILLIE WILSON's vocals were impressively strong despite the lack of amplification, and did an admirable job keeping the crowd quiet enough to hear the stunning harmonica and banjo work.

This group's history of unplugged busking truly came in handy as they navigated broken strings, instrument changes and set breaks without the benefit of 20th-century amenities. They stayed in the best of spirits throughout the unexpectedly unplugged evening and delivered a stunning show. It was such a special atmosphere, that when one misguided soul took the stage to ask if anyone had a generator to turn the lights back on, they were shouted down and ushered politely offstage.

Amelia Wasn't Lost at Sea

The first time a group hits the road, it's difficult to get people into the seats, especially if the music is hard to categorize. One brave soul who took a gamble on seeing AMELIA at the CAYUGA VAULT asked the singer, TEISHA HELGERSON, what kind of music they played, to which guitarist SCOTT WEDDLE replied, "We don't know. If you do, could you tell us?"

Amelia paints with a wide brush. In a single set they covered folk music from ECUADOR, PINK FLOYD's Meddle-era classic, "FEARLESS," and some '60s BUBBLEGUM POP. All these offerings were peppered by slinky slide guitar, some melodica and the stunning stage presence of a group on its way to many more major engagements. (Say that fast 10 times.)

Despite their guitarist's confusion over the lack of alcoholic beverages and the people who get rowdy when they drink them (the band had played Nevada the night before), the group rocked the Vault as if it were a honky-tonk, throwing out raw and rocky slide work and single-coil telecaster licks that would make Elvis' guitarist, SCOTTY MOORE, proud.

Amelia also features the bass work of one MICHAEL PAPILLO, who used to play around these parts in PICK UP STICKS before leaving Santa Cruz for Portland and the bass chair in THREE LEG TORSO. He's still pretty impressive, though Amelia didn't cover a single MARVIN GAYE tune.

Bad Plus Kaufman

ETHAN IVERSON is not an android. Though accused last week of robotlike behavior by BAD PLUS drummer DAVID KING, Iverson is clearly not circuitry enhanced. If one had to draw an analogy to late 1970s television, Iverson is much more ANDY KAUFMAN than the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN himself, LEE MAJORS.

Almost all of Iverson's stage announcements were total lies. Delivered in an oddly pinched voice reminiscent of LATKA GRAVAS, they were damn near DADAIST. This man isn't just a groundbreaking musician, he also studies performance art in his spare time. At least no miming was involved.

THE BAD PLUS breathe as a group, and their longstanding association has created one of the most powerful trios ever to hit the scene. Their loose approach that equally honors "out as out can be" jazz and two-chord rock is the perfect antidote to the pretentiousness and egoism that surrounds most jazz music. Capable of playing both APHEX TWIN and weird tunes in 13 (felt like 3 1/4) with equal ease, these three musicians deserve all the hype that's been flung their way.

Peter Koht

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From the June 8-15, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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