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Published: Tuesday, 5/9/2006

Zoo signs big names to perform in Toledo

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Simpson Simpson
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One of pop music's most venerable stars and a newcomer who has reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 with her first two releases will headline this year's Toledo Zoo Summer Concert Series.

Paul Simon, whose new release "Surprise" hits stores today, will play at the zoo Sunday, July 2, while Ashlee Simpson appears at the amphitheater on Tuesday, July 25, with Australian pop stars The Veronicas as her opening act.

The series - which is rounded out by alt-rockers Guster on Aug. 8 and a Pink Floyd laser show on Aug. 11 - represents some of the most significant star power on the Toledo concert scene in recent memory.

This year's zoo series is a departure from previous years because the three acts all are either in their prime or touring behind new releases, compared with previous years that had more of an "oldies" sheen.

Dan Kemer, vice president of marketing and booking with the series promoter Live Nation, said the freshness of the acts is a function of the current concert market and the increased popularity of the zoo's 4,500-seat amphitheater as a venue.

"It's cyclical, what's out there, who's available, and who's touring," he said. "[The zoo] really has gotten a reputation as a very cool stop for summer tours. The nice thing about it is the industry knows we only do four or five stops a year and so we can be choosy."

Ray Waddell, Billboard magazine's senior editor/touring, said markets like Toledo could receive more of the major acts like Mr. Simon in the near future as they look for cities that are receptive to their music.

"It's a tertiary market, and surprisingly bands are finding this to be fertile ground after they've played major markets year after year," he said.

A good showing at the box office could mean promoters like Live Nation will bring bigger acts to the area, Mr. Waddell said.

"If they do one and it's successful - they're one of the most powerful [promoters] in the world - so they could bring in more," he said.

Mr. Simon's new release will be his tenth studio album in 31 years and first since 2000. It's already receiving critical praise for the sort of adventurous musical explorations - this time with producer Brian Eno (U2, David Bowie, Talking Heads) - that have marked his work since the Grammy-winning "Graceland" in 1986.

While he's perhaps best known for his seminal work in the '60s with Art Garfunkel ("Bridge Over Troubled Water," "The Sound of Silence," "The Boxer"), Mr. Simon's career has always been marked by a creative restlessness that has seen him explore Brazilian and African music, in addition to scoring a Broadway musical.

He's scheduled to appear on Good Morning America on Friday and Saturday Night Live this weekend. Tickets for his Toledo Zoo show are $89.50, $75, and $55.

SNL was, of course, the scene of an embarrassing lip-syncing meltdown that could've wrecked Ms. Simpson's career.

In October, 2004, the then-19-year-old sister of Jessica Simpson was scheduled to sing on the live show. But as her band launched into the song, a prerecorded version of Ms. Simpson singing a different tune began playing, leaving her standing on the stage with not much else to do but a few awkward dance moves before exiting.

The incident had virtually no effect on her popularity and she returned with "I Am Me" in October last year, climbing to the top of the Billboard charts with its confessional lyrics and penchant for hooky pop tunes. It followed her first disc, "Autobiography," which also went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Mr. Waddell predicted that Ms. Simpson would do well in Toledo, but he cautioned that CD sales and hits don't always translate into sold-out shows.

The Veronicas are twins from Australia who write most of their own songs, a mix of pop and rock that has drawn comparison to Avril Lavigne and Hilary Duff.

Tickets for Ashlee Simpson are $42.50 and $32.50.

Guster is a Boston trio that draws critical raves for its combination of pop-based songs with nonmainstream arrangements. While touring constantly, it has made five discs since 1995, including the new one, "Ganging Up on the Sun," which is due to be released June 20.

Opening for Guster will be singer/songwriter Ray Lamontagne, who has been compared to Tim Buckley or Van Morrison. Tickets for Guster are $30.50 and $25.50.

The series closes out with the Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular, a laser show set to the music of the group Pink Floyd. Tickets are $26.50 and $20 in advance, and $28 and $22 the day of the show

The Toledo Zoo Concert Series is presented by Live Nation, The Blade, and Fox Toledo.

Toledo Zoo members can take advantage of a presale offer for tickets between 10 a.m. Thursday and 5 p.m. May 17. For information on the presale, go to www.toledozoo.org.

Tickets go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. May 20 and are available through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com, by calling 419-474-1333, or at the Sports Arena box office.

Contact Rod Lockwood at:

rlockwood@theblade.com

or 419-724-6159.



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