It's refreshing to walk into a concert hall and have no idea what to expect. The promotional blurb for 2 Foot Yard's performance Saturday at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center described the trio vaguely as "exploring the boundaries between art song and pop song," but didn't say how.

Carla Kihlstedt (violin, vocals), Marika Hughes (cello, vocals) and Shahzad Ismaily (percussion, guitar) all have scholarly musical backgrounds, though their performance rarely crossed the art song line. Kihlstedt fronts the band, her vocal style reminiscent of Annie Haslam of the '70s band Renaissance, Laurie Anderson and Meredith Monk, though not quite rising to the consummate artistry of those alternative-music luminaries.

In songs about everything from octopuses to orgasms, all three displayed extraordinary talent. The most effective moments were when Hughes added her sweet voice to Kihlstedt's clear soprano, though that did not happen nearly often enough. The particularly lovely "One Day" featured the two in harmony with a sparse cello accompaniment and trite lines ("I found an empty year, and chased it as it ran in fear"). Proving their versatility, a song about mutant chickens, "Animal 29," featured Kihlstedt and Hughes in wordless vocal counterpoint, then evolved into a modern classical jam before dissolving into a hard-rock tune pierced by Ismaily's emphatic drumming.

The classical qualities of the violin and cello created an unusual melange with electric guitar and drum set, while making the band difficult to categorize. The enigma and versatility of the 2 Foot Yard were refreshing, but the delightfully quirky songs were too often watered down by banal lyrics.

-- Gail Wein