Eschewing shred-solos, flailing drum fills, and bass noodling for this virtuosic economy of movement, Opeth gave themselves over to the black magic of their rippling compositions. On "Deliverance," the title track of their latest masterwork, the speed-metal chord-crunch, insect-whine lead, and jerking rhythms immediately resolved into a sort of crushed velvet; each part mutating simultaneously. Akerfeldt came croaking in ("Floating on mist/Crept up the caverns of my brain/Received no warning"). Then entered ye olde, folksy guitars, moist, mossy, lyrical, and Akerfeldt coursing through them, icy and clear. The gently psychedelic, hymn-like "The Drapery Falls" seesawed more predictably, from troubadour ballad to gothic upward-spiraling six-string and vox, into Lopez's double-barreled cannons, lilting ribbons of guitar, Akerfeldt aroar. Darting in sync, like Swedish fish, Opeth schooled even the most metal among us. —Nick Catucci

Sporty Spice

"Did you see these?" Don Seigal, would-be teenpop impresario, is holding out a set of tiny plastic cheerleaders. "We had them made in China. There's going to be one for each of the girls." "The girls"—the Pep Rally Girls, a "Hot New All-Girl Cheerleading Pop Group"—are still just a twinkle in the eye of Don and his partner, Swedish former pop star-songwriter Katarina Sundqvist (Popsie anyone?), and a shadowy host of potential investors. But Thursday, January 16, will go down as the moment where it all came together: the final New York audition, which is also the taping of the pilot of The Making of the Pep Rally Girls, being shopped to UPN and the WB.

The press release called for ages 15 through 23, which means the two dozen girls here range from Westchester County eighth-graders in authentic cheerleading uniforms to a platinum-and-pancake Atlantic City model in a fetishy blood-red number with full pantyvision. The true nymphets, alas, seem more likely to appeal to both Don, with his "Spice Girls-meet-cheerleading" vision, and Seventeen magazine, on hand to record the moment.

"The world has demonized cheerleading. This is all about going for your dreams!" says the fiftyish Don with an ingratiating smile. "The girls write these cheers. They've been passed down from girl to girl for years. It's teenage girls' rap! It's pure and it's all hook." In the klieg-lit audition room, one of Kat's Popsie singles is blaring, girlish voices over a generic techno beat: "You maybe think I'm easy, but without respect, no score/I like to move, I like to tease, if you watch me, you want more." In the corner, three or four called-back hopefuls run through a hip-hop dance routine that's a tired set of come-ons: shoulder shakes, hip checks, and booty rolls. Only a single straddle jump shows a gymnastic influence. "Cheerleading is about being happy, being crazy," says Angela, an almond-eyed teenager in a Westlake Middle School jersey who likes Ja Rule and Justin Timberlake. If it's also about embodying a sleazy American Beauty fantasy, she's come to the right place. —Anya Kamenetz

The Greatest Love of All

Based upon the rather quiet success of her second album, Voyage to India, alt-soul princess India Arie sold out Radio City Music Hall to predominantly young black female fans, who clearly identify with her unshakable sense of self-worth. Dressed in a floor-length white outfit to which her designer mom affixed a golden Sanskrit "Om," gracious headliner Arie shared her stage with the emergent "chutney fusion" rapper K-os and fellow Grammy nominees Floetry—two British trip-hop sisters embraced by the progressive Philly/Atlanta r&b scene.

Particularly delightful was K-os's brief set with acoustic guitar, tablas, and congas. This skeletal backup evoked the varied musical atmospheres from vintage Pal Joey house loops to Indian ragas. K-os (né Kevin Brereton), a Canadian from Trinidad whose stage name means "Knowledge of Self," sings and raps conscious lyrics of eclectic provenance like a young, politicized Kabir. His masculine blend of chant and melody formed the perfect counterpart to Floetry, where "floecist" Natalie Stewart rhymed against Marsha Ambrosius's vocal riffs. Their jazzy ad libs owe much to the Meshell Ndégeocello school of hip-hop, although the clash of tightly traded lead vocals and overwrought vamps worked against them.

Arie and her band zipped through a repertoire that included classic originals like "Video" and "Brown Skin," and a gospel-folk version of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors." Her hat-tip to Sade on "Sweetest Taboo" borrowed textures from "Shaft" and "Evil Ways." Girls shouted for "Ready for Love" but still sang along to recent tracks like "Can I Walk With You" (which Arie sang with her mom) and the exuberantly sassy "Little Things" which convincingly contends that being surrounded by a loving family beats a roomful of Grammys any day. —Carol Cooper

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