Eric Ulreich and Laurie Hudicek

At first glance, a program of electric guitar and piano looks enticing. Even more promising is such a bill made up entirely of classical fare and labeled "contemporary." This was the challenge posed by guitarist Eric Ulreich and pianist Laurie Hudicek at the Levine School of Music on Thursday. But high expectation remained only that, with few exceptions. Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Tierkreis" ("Zodiac"), an intriguing mesh of percussive tunefulness, worked best. The musical "constellations" were evoked, alternately or together, by Hudicek on the Steinway's plucked strings and a toy piano with Ulreich's electronic jazz glimmerings.

But, instead of providing a charge, the rest of the concert -- music by Elgar, Shostakovich, Barber, Pheloung and Satie -- merely blew a fuse. In Ulreich's guitar arrangement of Elgar's Cello Concerto, Op. 85, his instrument overwhelmed the chordal majesty of Hudicek's concert grand, while altogether lacking the cello's ever-unfolding panorama of sonorities. Equally wan was a plodding version of Shostakovich's Sonata for Cello and Piano. And positively fatal was an arrangement of Barber's Adagio, Op. 11, for string quartet; here the intrusive washes of strummed piano strings (never the keyboard) robbed this audience favorite of its harmonic depth, its sonic acid reflux raucously intruding on the twangy guitar melody.

-- Cecelia Porter


It's never quite clear whether Ween is a real band that should be taken seriously or just an elaborate practical joke that has lasted an amazing 20 years. Maybe it's both. Dean and Gene Ween, aka Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, are too creative and entertaining to be considered just pretenders, but they're also almost too silly, too ironic, too odd to be for real.

At a packed 9:30 club Thursday night, Deano and Geno and the three members of their band played a marathon show that was as much sendup as showcase. Putting a unique stamp on almost every music style, Ween entertained with foul-mouthed country ditties, goofy glam-rock anthems, slow motion, mush-mouthed raps, futuristic funk and far-out psychedelic odysseys. They got creepy with "Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)," trippy with "Transdermal Celebration," and just plain dopey with, well, lots of songs.

Although most of Ween's experimental forays work well enough, some songs, like "Albino Sunburned Girl," are so long and ponderous that they could be interesting only to those ingesting copious amounts of hallucinatory drugs or alcohol. Better moments occurred during an acoustic set that included the pretty and nostalgic "Joppa Road" and "Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain," yet another lovingly titled Ween classic.

At this point, it's unlikely that the New Hope, Pa., band will ever reach an audience wider than its current cult following. But like fans of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," their audience is a loyal bunch that relishes the band's weird sensibility. That stalwart support will be enough to keep this off-kilter combo in business for at least another 20 years.

-- Joe Heim

Thad Cockrell

Of all the singer-songwriters who have shoved off and sailed toward the alt-country promised land in the wake of Ryan Adams, Thad Cockrell may be the most unlikely. The son of a Baptist minister and graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Cockrell studied at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and still holds open the option of commanding the pulpit one day. But his current passion is for reveling in updated honky-tonk, which he did without hesitation at Iota on Thursday night, ripping through a ragged but lively set that was driven by Cockrell's magnetic vocals.

Over the course of two albums produced by fellow North Carolinian Chris Stamey, Cockrell has displayed a penchant for writing classic heartbreakin' weepers -- "putting the hurt back into country" is his unofficial motto -- but for most of the night, the chatty environs of Iota didn't lend themselves particularly well to slow songs. Better were crisp tunes such as "She Ain't No You" and the new "Girl From Maryville," which fit country pluck into pop structures in much the same vein as the Jayhawks in their prime.

And if Cockrell hasn't followed the typical musician path, his appearance is just as surprising: He is a squat block of a man, much more college wrestling team (to which he belonged) than Hank Williams. Still, Cockrell's voice wiped away any doubts. When he returned for an encore with his acoustic guitar and eschewed the microphone, his country arrangement of the Temptations' "My Girl" caught the entire club off guard -- for the first time all night, reverent silence greeted his soaring vocal.

-- Patrick Foster