Saturday, October 25, 2014

CMJ Music Marathon 2014

Hundreds of music artists performed at many venues in Manhattan as part of the CMJ Music Marathon 2014 on October 21-25. These are a few of the highlights.

Eddie & the Hot Rods at the Bowery Electric
Eddie and the Hot Rods formed in 1975 in Essex, England, and came up in the burgeoning punk scene, although the band was more of a pop and rock and roll band. The band split up in 1981, but has reformed several times, with singer Barrie Masters as the only constant member. Masters still sounds great, and the band's traditional rock and roll sound was timeless.

Daddy Long Legs at the Bowery Electric
Formed in St. Louis, Missouri, and now based in Brooklyn, New York, Daddy Long Legs belted speedy, primal-sounding blues harmonica and guitar licks like the three musicians were deep in the Delta.

The Bloodshots at the Bowery Electric
Formed in 2012, the Bloodshots is a three-piece rockabilly band based in Brooklyn, New York. Little Lesley steals the show singing like a sassy country singer and slapping her big bass.

Christian McNeill & Sea Monsters at the Bowery Electric
Christian McNeill & Sea Monsters has made a name for itself as a music collective in Boston, Massachusetts. The band featured strong, soulful singing backed by a funk-jazz groove and blaring horns.

Caveman at the Bowery Hotel
From Brooklyn, New York, Caveman performed a dreamy wash of synth-and-percussion-based songs, often to a dance beat.

Byzantine at the Studio at Webster Hall
Byzantine is a heavy metal band from Charleston, West Virginia that formed in 2000, split in 2008, and reunited in 2010. Byzantine performed technical, aggressive and melodic metal that was refreshing in that it avoided excesses and stereotypes and instead just simply rocked.

Ryn Weaver at the Bowery Hotel
Born and raised in southern California, Ryn Weaver is a New York transplant whose soprano vocals injected feminine angst into light three-minute pop songs.

Rene Lopez at the Slipper Room
One of the pleasant surprises of CMJ was discovering New York musician Rene Lopez and his Latin soul band. Complete with horn and violin, the band's full electro-funk sound prompted lots of hip swaying.

The KickDrums at Arlene's Grocery
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, now based in Brooklyn, New York, Alex Fitts is The KickDrums. He records as a one man band but performs live with additional musicians. He fused electronic with indie rock and trip-hop.

Popstrangers at the Mercury Lounge
From Auckland, New Zealand, now based out of London, England, Popstrangers combined light pop singing with a jangly guitar sound and booming rhythm section.

Dirty Lungs at the Lit Lounge
Based out of Birmingham, Alabama, the garage rock quartet known as the Dirty Lungs included tasty influences from surf rock and 1960s psychedelic music.

Little Daylight at the Studio at Webster Hall
Little Daylight formed in 2012 and is based in Brooklyn, New York. The band played a set of electro pop songs with danceable hooks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Live at the Gramercy Theatre

Chris Shinn
The rock band that came to be known as Live initially formed for a middle-school talent show in York, Pennsylvania. The quartet remained together throughout high school, playing new wave covers under various band names. Under the new name Live, the band recorded a debut album, 1991's Mental Jewelry. Live achieved worldwide success with 1994's Throwing Copper album, which sold eight million copies in the United States and more than 20 million albums worldwide. Live's original lead singer Ed Kowalczyk left the band in 2009. The band returned from a nearly three-year hiatus in 2012, with Chris Shinn, formerly of Unified Theory, as the new lead singer. Live is composed presently of Shinn and three original members, guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer  and drummer Chad Gracey. The band's first album featuring Shinn, The Turn, will be released on October 28, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Live came on stage dressed in black but looking like they were hit with a bag of white flour. The band introduced four new songs, but the remaining 12 songs were all from the 1990s. Live rebooted its mega hits, including "Lightning Crashes", "I Alone", "All Over You", and "Lakini's Juice," all of which were pillars of the nineties. The songs fused sometimes spiritual lyrics with heart-tugging melodies and rocking arrangements. This is another decade, however, and except for their nostalgic value, the songs sounded tame, dated and entirely too predictable. New vocalist Chris Shinn was a good singer and show man, but even the new songs were formulaic with obvious build-ups and safe bridges and choruses. Live's last three albums with Kowalczyk bombed perhaps because the audience tired of corporate-sounding hard rock, and the new line-up failed to further these boundaries.

Visit Live at www.freaks4live.com.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Unearth at the Studio at Webster Hall

Trevor Phipps
Metalcore band Unearth formed in 1998 in Winthrop, Massachusetts. The band tried to recruit vocalist Trevor Phipps while he recovered from appendicitis, but he was reluctant to join. However, when Phipps showed up to a jam session for one of guitarist Ken Susi's side bands, Unearth was practicing instead. Phipps agreed to join after hearing the song "Shattered by the Sun." The band's sixth album, Watchers of Rule, is due for release on October 28, 2014. The band is presently comprised of Phipps, guitarists Buz McGrath and Ken Susi, bassist John “Slo” Maggard and drummer Nick Pierce.

Headlining the Studio at Webster Hall tonight, Unearth gave its fans a relentless hour of pure headbanging metalcore. The core of the fist-pumping music was rooted in harsh growling vocals, neck-breaking guitar riffs and fast drums, powered occasionally by either harmonic guitar lines or burly breakdowns for an aggression-filled combination of death metal and thrash metal. Unearth provided a non-stop barrage of hammers to the skull.

Spin Doctors at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Chris Barron
A New York based band called Trucking Company changed personnel and then its name to Spin Doctors in 1988. Spin Doctors began playing jam band clubs like New York's Wetlands Preserve and hit commercially in 1992 and 1993 with "Two Princes" and "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong." Several personnel changes began in 1994. In 1999, singer Chris Barron lost his voice to a rare acute form of vocal cord paralysis that severely affected his ability to talk, let alone sing. He was told he had a 50 per cent chance of ever talking or singing normally again.  Spin Doctors soon disbanded. Barron's voice returned in early 2000, and he began performing with his band Chris Barron & the Give Daddy Five. The original line-up of Spin Doctors reunited for the first time since 1994 to play at the closing week of Wetlands Preserve in 2001. Odd shows followed in 2002 through 2005. Spin Doctors played one-off live shows in the U and Europe in 2008 and celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its debut album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, with a United Kingdom and United States tour in 2011. The band released its sixth studio album, If the River Was Whiskey, in 2013. The current personnel is the classic early line-up of vocalist Chris Barron, guitarist Eric Schenkman, bassist Mark White and drummer Aaron Comess.

Spin Doctors easily brought a party atmosphere to B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill tonight. The band performed old favorites, newer songs and deep cuts. The show opened with "What Time Is It?" and "Traction Blues" before revving the crowd with "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong." Most of the set was funky and upbeat with a taste of southern rock guitar. Surprises included seldom-performed songs like Prey to Bears" and the first full version of "Hey Dick" since 1993. (A more recent attempt in 1994 was foiled when Barron forgot the lyrics and the band aborted the song.) The band played well and Barron spoke frequently with the audience between songs, but the real attraction was more than the music -- the attraction was that Spin Doctors puts on a fun show.

Visit Spin Doctors at www.spindoctors.com.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Amon Amarth at the Best Buy Theater

Johan Hegg
Amon Amarth is a melodic death metal band from Tumba, Sweden, founded in 1992. The band took its name from a volcano in J. R. R. Tolkien′s science fiction novels. Amon Amarth's lyrics largely re-imagine Norse mythology and history, resulting in the band often being branded as playing "Viking metal." The ensemble comprises vocalist Johan Hegg, guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg, bassist Ted Lundström and drummer Fredrik Andersson. Amon Amarth has released nine studio albums; the most recent, Deceiver of the Gods, was released in June 2013.

Headlining the Best Buy Theater tonight on the Deceiver of the Gods tour, Amon Amarth's stage set included the prow of a Viking longship, complete with smoking dragon head and beaming red eyes, jutting from center stage. The backdrop, a scale drawing of the band's most recent album cover, depicted Ragnarök, the last battle between the Æsir gods and Loki, accompanied by the army of the dead. Amid flashing lights, fog, and cheers, Amon Amarth took the stage and opened with "War of the Gods" from the 2011 Surtur Rising album. Johan Hegg, the band's large, long-haired, log-bearded bellower, was an imposing, hulking front man. By the end of the second song, "Runes to My Memory" from an earlier album, Hegg was singing from inside the bow of the ship as the colored lights on the fog added a mysterious flavor. Throughout the set, Amon Amarth played a haze of epic-sounding thrash aggression with decimating force, while songs were held together with melodic guitar leads, contrasting Hegg's growling roar. After 22 years as a band, Amon Amarth still delivered crushingly brutal metallic fury.

Visit Amon Amarth at www.amonamarth.com.

Sabaton at the Best Buy Theater

Joakim Brodén
Melodic heavy metal band Sabaton formed in 1999 in Falun, Sweden. The band is best known for lyrical themes based on historical battles, including World War II's Battle of Kursk, Warsaw Uprising and Battle of Midway; the Winter War; the Thirty Years' War; the Great Northern War. In 2012, four members left the band and formed another, Civil War, while vocalist Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström continued with new members Chris Rörland and Thobbe Englund on guitars and backing vocals. Drummer Hannes van Dahl joined last year. The band's seventh and most recent album, Heroes, was released on May 27, 2014, and switched focus from battles to celebrated individuals or single units, including America's iconic WWII veteran/actor Audie Murphy and the Polish soldier/concentration camp resistance leader Witold Pilecki.

Coming on stage at the Best Buy Theater to the recorded sound of "The March To War," the five members of Sabaton wore similar camouflage pants and black shirts. Charismatic front man Brodén wore a sleeveless faux-armor-plated shirt, mirrored aviator sunglasses and a close cropped Mohawk haircut. (The rest of the front line was comprised of avid hair spinners.) The band played seering metal, and Brodén sang gruffly, backed by bombastic gang vocals on the choruses. He seemed to smile for the whole set, enjoying the rabid response from the cheering audience. Beginning a career retrospective with "Ghost Division," the band played power metal tightly and smoothly. As he did when Sabaton opened for Iced Earth at the same venue in April, Brodén poked fun at the band's wardrobe, referencing the Village People and getting the metal heads singing along to a few bars of "YMCA." Later he jokingly claimed that Sabaton was as Viking as the evening's headliner, Amon Amarth, before charging into another story song of war and valor. In a cluttered field of sound-alike look-alike metal bands, Sabaton curated a unique and memorable performance.

Visit Sabaton at www.sabaton.net.

Friday, October 17, 2014

J Mascis at the Bowery Ballroom

J Mascis (born Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr.) in 1982 formed and played guitar in the hardcore punk band Deep Wound while attending high school in western Massachusetts. Deep Wound broke up in mid-1984 and, as Mascis' interest in music had expanded, he formed a very short-lived band called Mogo which, according to Mascis, was designed to play "ear-bleeding country." By late 1984, Mascis formed an alternative rock trio Dinosaur, later renamed Dinosaur, Jr., with bassist Lou Barlow, who had played in the previous two bands, and drummer Emmett Patrick Murphy, or "Murph." The line-up changed several times, the band split and reunited, and Mascis recorded solo albums and played in other side bands over the years. His most recent solo album, the acoustic Tied to a Star, was released on August 26.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Mascis performed solo, seated on a stool, singing in his trademark creaky voice, switching between acoustic guitars and stepping on an array of foot pedals for distortions, effects and loops. This avenue showcased a very different Mascis. Contrasting the roaring, blasting rock guitarist of Dinosaur, Jr., this solo artist was a country-ish front-porch picking Mascis. Beginning with "Listen to Me," a song from an earlier solo acoustic album, the evening's catalogue continued in mixed order with five songs from Mascis' new solo album, seven acoustic renderings of songs originally recorded by Dinosaur, Jr., one song originally recorded by one of Mascis' side projects, J Mascus + Fog, and two cover songs, Mazzy Star's "Fade into You" and the Cure's "Just Like Heaven." The net result was the presentation of a less-than-celebrated facet of the renowned guitarist and songwriter. Indeed, he is a wizard at the six string guitar, even a hollow body Martin. He is expert at manipulating unimaginable sounds from these guitars through electronic gimmickry. His folky approach revealed a more subtle interpretation of his lyrics. Even his somewhat rigid position on a stool brought more focus to his intentions. Talented? Extremely. Able to sustain audience interest? Questionable. Mascis did not command full audience attention through his hour-long set. The audience listened and applauded generously, but this was a bar, not a concert hall, and there was an enormous volume of conversations going on in the room. Mascis' acoustic set was a commendable diversion for fans only. It is safe to guess that his audience would have roared if he had strapped on an electric guitar and brought out a band after the acoustic set.

Visit J Mascis at www.jmascis.com.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Royal Blood at Webster Hall's Marlin Room

Mike Kerr
Royal Blood began as a duo in Australia in 2012, with bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Matt Swan. Kerr returned to his native England in 2013 and reformed the concept with a childhood friend, drummer Ben Thatcher. The reunited musicians had one day's rehearsal and performed its first concert for friends in Brighton two days after Kerr's return to England. Royal Blood began releasing singles by the end of the year and created an instant buzz in British rock circles. A self-titled album released in August 2014 became the fastest-selling British rock debut album in three years in the United Kingdom.

Word of mouth from England helped sell out in advance Royal Blood's headlining concert tonight at Webster Hall's Marlin Room. The two musicians came onto a mostly bare stage without any calculated music and lights fanfare and began its opening song, "Hole." Immediately the duo became an enthralling curiosity. How was it that the bass sounded so much like a guitar? As Thatcher attacked his drums with steady, furious beats, Kerr launched each of the 12 songs of the night with a unique riff, sometimes leading to power chords and extended leads, all sounding like they came from a guitar. Forging Jack White-styled modern garage rock and classic blues rock, Royal Blood played its entire album plus two additional songs in an energetic 50 minutes. Kerr's smooth singing contrasted engagingly with his crunching, guttural bass grooves. On the faster songs, he hopped to the rhythms and charged to the Thatcher's drum kit across the stage. He hardly spoke a few words or even looked out to the audience, focusing on what he was doing with his bass and microphone. Thatcher, ironically, came out from behind the drum kit to rally an audience cry. Waving as they walked offstage after the closing mid-tempo "Out of the Black" (and no encore), the two members of Royal Blood summarily offered little showmanship in order to maximize its impressively innovative minimalistic music.

Visit Royal Blood at www.royalbloodband.com.

Blues Magoos at the Bowery Electric

Geoff Daking, Peppy Castro, Ralph Scala
The band that would become known as Blues Magoos formed as the Trenchcoats in 1964 in the Bronx, New York. The Trenchcoats performed regularly in Greenwich Village coffee houses and by 1966 changed its name to fit in with the then-current psychedelic trend, first to the Bloos Magoos and soon afterwards to Blues Magoos. The band had a hit song in 1966 with "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet," but for the most part disappeared a few years later. Blues Magoos released its first album in more than 40 years, Psychedelic Resurrection, on October 14, 2014. Blues Magoos presently consists of two original members, Peppy Castro (born Emil Thielhelm) on vocals and rhythm guitar and Ralph Scala on vocals and keyboards, one near-original member, Geoff Daking, on drums, and new members Mike Ciliberto on lead guitar and Peter Stuart Kohlman on bass.

Gene Cornish of the Rascals introduced Blues Magoos at a record release party tonight the Bowery Electric. Other 1960s musicians were in the audience, including Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge and Jay Black of Jay & the Americans. Castro joked about how the band was back after taking a 47-year break. Although individually each member matured into other types of music over the years, on this occasion they were back to playing songs from the 1960s. Most of the songs were from their early albums (and many re-recorded for the new album), including "Rush Hour", "Pipe Dream", "There's a Chance We Can Make it", "(We Ain't Got) Nothing Yet" and "Tobacco Road." The set also included two 1960s covers, the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard" and Them's "Gloria." Castro told 50-year-old anecdotes and sang well; Scala did not sing as well, but played the familiar organ runs nicely. Did this bluesy garage rock stand the test of time? Probably not, but it was fun to revisit the days of black lights and lava lamps without actually having to get all that stuff.

Monday, October 13, 2014

JEFF the Brotherhood at Santos Party House

Jake Orrall
Brothers Jake Orrall (guitar) and Jamin Orrall (drums) are the sons of singer/songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall and have been playing music together since they were children growing up in Nashville, Tennessee. They became a duo called JEFF (later JEFF the Brotherhood) in 2001, while still in high school. JEFF the Brotherhood has released seven studio albums; the most recent, Hypnotic Nights, was released in 2012. JEFF the Brotherhood on September 30 released a Dig the Classics EP featuring covers of songs by Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Beck, Teenage Fanclub and others.

JEFF the Brotherhood returned to Santos Party House tonight, this time as a quartet with an added bassist and guitarist, and Jake played a six-string rather than his usual three-string guitar. The added musicians did not help to define the music, however. Alongside an overactive fog machine and constantly roving back lights, JEFF the Brotherhood played a loud, pounding, grungy, garage-punk, with Jake focusing more on guitar noise than on vocals. When the music slowed for a moment, the fuzz and reverb on the guitar sounded like psychedelic stoner rock. Highlights included the raucous guitar jams propelled by extremely hard slamming beats on "You Got The Look", "Heavy Krishna", "Sixpack", "Mellow Out," and "Ripper" leading into a cover of Rush's "Working Man."

Visit Jeff the Brotherhood at www.jeffthebrotherhood.com.