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At theaters and arenas, the season is busier than ever for pop

By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 09/12/99

Just a few years ago, the pop world was alarmed that so many more shows were being booked in the summer than the fall. Some operators of year-round, indoor arenas even wondered if they might go out of business since they were losing so many acts to the summer sheds and tents.

Those fears have subsided - and it's a credit to the music industry that it woke up in time to forge a better balance between the seasons. Summer is still the apex of the year, when 50 percent of the major shows are booked, but the fall is no longer a ghost-town aftermath when what little action there is takes place in the clubs.

Look for many theaters and arenas to be busy this autumn - from the FleetCenter to the Orpheum, the Berklee Performance Center, the Somerville Theatre, and the Tsongas Arena.

"We've noticed a lot of acts have a significant interest in touring this fall," says Dave Marsden of the SFX-owned Don Law Co. "Last fall was active - and this fall looks even more so."

The FleetCenter already has the Backstreet Boys for two sellouts, Sept. 21 and 22, followed by "Titanic" diva Celine Dion on Sept. 24 and the one and only Sir Elton John on Oct. 12. Bette Midler (top seats cost $100 - the most expensive of the fall) is coming Oct. 8, while John Mellencamp is due in December, although the date hasn't been announced yet. (The Fleet would also love to have another Phish date, but Phish will play the Providence Civic Center only this fall.)

The Worcester Centrum is coming back strong and has Lenny Kravitz, Smashmouth, and Buckcherry tonight; the double dinosaur bill of ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd Oct. 9; and the fall's most decibel-heavy evening with the Family Values tour on Sept. 28. Last year, Korn headlined the inaugural Values package, but this year Limp Bizkit (Korn buddies and participants last year) will do the moshing honors with Filter, DMX, Crystal Method, and the Springfield-based Staind.

Another surge will hit the Orpheum. Raspy-voiced rebel Tom Waits has three dates Sept. 19-21. The honey-voiced duo of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris arrives Oct. 1 in a season highlight. They've never toured together before.

Additional acts headed to the Orpheum are Meat Loaf (on a "VH1 Storytellers" tour, so expect the Meat to talk as well as sing). And, spread over the next couple of months, but not all announced yet, are Sting (for two nights in November), Counting Crows, the Gregg Allman Band, Elvis Costello, Boston's Guster, and a double bill of Richard Thompson and Lucinda Williams.

Kid Rock and Creed

The Tsongas Arena in Lowell - a pocket version of the Centrum - has a youth-market flavor with Kid Rock (if you haven't heard his hit, "Cowboy," then you must have spent the last month out of the country) and the Boston-bred Powerman 5000 on Oct. 27. The Tsongas also has youth faves Creed (its Oct. 2 show is already sold out with Our Lady Peace and Oleander) but gives adults something to ponder with the Indigo Girls on Oct. 6.

Most of these shows are booked by the ever-present Cambridge-based Don Law Co., which is now owned by corporate goliath SFX Entertainment. But a new wrinkle will be the incursion of some independent promoters into Boston. Woodstock '99 promoter John Scher (of the New York-based Metropolitan Entertainment) is one such independent.

Scher recently brought Whitney Houston to the Wang Theatre and has R&B star Maxwell there Tuesday. In addition, his company has Sarah Brightman at the Wang Oct. 8 and 9 and is promoting the Backstreet Boys' dates at the FleetCenter. (Billboard recently ran a cover piece on 11 independent promoters around the country who have formed IPO - the Independent Promoters Organization - to compete with SFX.)

Another trend to watch is what happens at the newly rebuilt Avalon club, which has expanded from 1,500 to 1,800 capacity. Expect a flood of shows there. A few are already booked - the Chemical Brothers on Tuesday, Cheap Trick and Guided by Voices on Thursday, Sisters of Mercy Sept. 27, Gov't Mule and Chris Whitley Oct. 1, Underworld Oct. 6, Les Nubians Oct. 8, Robbie Williams Oct. 12, Squeeze Oct. 20, the Resurrection tour (with the Mission, Gene Loves Jezebel and Mike Peters) Oct. 16.

Also picking up steam is the Berklee Performance Center, which had a quiet summer. Coming are gospel star Yolana Adams Oct. 23, country-rocker Clint Black Oct. 24 (a rare in-town show booked by Music Circus Productions, which books the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset), folk sensation Natalie MacMaster Nov. 13, and hippie survivor Arlo Guthrie Nov. 19.

Not far from Berklee is the Copley Theatre, which offers a folk-rock special with Loudon Wainwright III and Jesse Winchester Oct. 16, and the velvet-voiced Maire Brennan (known for her work with Clannad) Oct. 22.

Once again, the Somerville Theatre has a spirited lineup. Maceo Parker, the sax man who built his rep touring with James Brown, is there Wednesday and Thursday. Underrated local singer-songwriter Catie Curtis performs Friday. Other dates: Sept. 19, Billy Bragg/Freedy Johnston; Sept. 23, Bruce Cockburn and the Bobs guest during a taping of the Colorado-based radio show "E Town"; Sept. 24, Patty Larkin, Mary Lou Lord, and Jennifer Kimball play a Respond benefit to help women's shelters; and Sept. 27-28, new Irish star Sinead Lohan.

Somerville stars

Also at the Somerville Theater: Oct. 21, Bluegrass Sessions with Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, and Sam Bush; Oct. 23, Ellis Paul and John Wesley Harding; Oct. 28, String Cheese Incident; Nov. 12, Knots and Crosses; Nov. 13, Greg Brown; Nov. 20, Songstreet's Great Women's Voices with Jess Klein, Rose Polenzani, Erin McKeown, Beth Amsel, Kris Delmhorst, and Faith Soloway; and Nov. 21, Moxy Fruvous.

While most autumn shows swing indoors, there are still some notable outdoor shows left on the horizon. B.B. King's Blues Festival is Tuesday at BankBoston Pavilion. The free, pro-pot Freedom Rally at Boston Common on Saturday has Babaloo, the Sheila Divine, Sam Black Church, and others. The next day, WAAF's Locobazooka at Green Hill Park in Worcester has Verbena, Machinehead, Static-X, and other brain-frying acts.

Radio station MIX 98.5 is going all out with its free "MIXFest," starting at City Plaza Oct. 9 with Duran Duran, Vonda Shepard, NRBQ, Jude, Train, Jeremy Toback, Thisway, Ellis Paul, and Dido. Then, MIXFest moves the next afternoon to Foxboro Stadium for the first time with Melissa Etheridge, the Pretenders, Natalie Merchant, Blondie, Sugar Ray, Susan Tedeschi, Luscious Jackson, Fastball, and Sixpence None the Richer. A second stage at the stadium will feature Kendall Payne, Entrain, Merrie Amsterberg, and Angry Salad.

One customary summer venue that now goes well into the fall (thanks to reconstruction) is the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. It has Wayne Newton Oct. 11 and the entertaining Royalty of Doo-Wop program Nov. 15 with the Diamonds, Frankie Ford, Billy Guy's Coasters, and Harvey Robbins's Royalty All Stars with Billy Davis.

At the club level, the wry Jonathan Richman - local rocker turned Hollywood star as the street minstrel in "There's Something About Mary" - plays three nights at the Middle East in Cambridge Oct. 11-13. The Manic Street Preachers play Wednesday at the Paradise. Rockabilly godfather Link Wray is at the House of Blues tonight (Chuck Berry pianist Jimmy Johnson visits Sept. 24), and the Palladium in Worcester has Naughty by Nature Sept. 25, Percy Hill Oct. 14, Medeski Martin Wood Oct. 23, and Boston's own Tree Nov. 5.


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