Friday, August 10, 2018

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band at Damrosch Park Bandshell

Hailing from the South Bronx, Bobby Sanabria attended Boston's Berklee College of Music from 1975 to 1979, obtaining a Bachelor of Music degree and receiving the Faculty Association Award for his work as an instrumentalist. Returning to New York City, he played drums for dozens of well known artists, formed his own Latin jazz orchestra,  and received numerous awards. In 2006, Sanabria was inducted into the Bronx Walk of Fame, having a street permanently named after him in recognition for his contributions to music and the arts. He is the leader of the Quarteto Aché, Sexteto Ibiano, Ascensión, and Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band. The latter's most recent album, West Side Story Reimagined, released on July 4, 2018, honors the 60th anniversary of West Side Story with a contemporary Latin jazz reworking of the score; partial proceeds from the sale of the double CD set will benefit the Jazz Foundation of America’s Puerto Relief Fund to aid Bobby’s ancestral homeland after the devastation by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

As part of the annual summer Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors festival, Sanabria and his 20-piece orchestra assembled on the Damrosch Park Bandshell to reinterpret West Side Story live. This would be an ambitious project. The original 1957 Broadway musical and its subsequent 1961 film version, inspired by William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, uniquely fused big band jazz, Latin rhythms, lyric opera, modern dance, and a controversial storyline about racial tensions and gang life in 1950s New York City. Perhaps accepting that no new take could ever parallel the original production, Sanabria's adventurous interpretation was not meant to replace the original, but rather to see where modern Latin jazz arrangements and extended instrumental breaks could expand on the jazz explorations of the memorable score. The concert in large part was aided not by a script, vocals, choreography and drama, but by a slide show featuring both vintage and modern photographs of the Puerto Rican immigrant experience, with the visual aids progressively guiding and stimulating new sensations. Sanabria's horns-and-percussion teamwork often recalled the familiar, while other movements seemed to have little correlation. The result was a lively, upbeat concert that was rich in innovation and celebrated the historical creativity of Puerto Rican salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz. Sanabria and company did a splendid job with this escapade, but it inherently begged for the vocals and dancing of the classic West Side Story.

Visit Bobby Sanabria at www.bobbysanabria.com.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Jason Mraz at SummerStage at Rumsey Playfield

Jason Mraz was a member of the cheerleading squad, school chorus, and drama club while attending high school in Mechanicsville, Virginia. He starred as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and as Snoopy in a play about the Peanuts characters. After high school, Mraz briefly attended drama school in New York City and university in Farmville, Virginia, but in 1999 settled in San Diego, California. Mraz entered the music community as a roadie for the band Elgin Park and also performed weekly in a coffeehouse. Success hit with his second album in 2005. Mraz has sold over seven million albums and won two Grammy Awards, two Teen Choice Awards, a People's Choice Award and the Hal David Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. His sixth and most recent studio album, Know. -- a play on the previous album's title, Yes!  -- was released on August 10, 2018.

Following a three-month run as Dr. Pomatter in the Broadway musical Waitress this past February, Jason Mraz assembled his five-man/five-woman jumpsuit-clad band for a concert tour and returned to New York City tonight to perform at SummerStage at Rumsey Playfield. The name of the show was Good Vibes, and indeed this is what he transmitted to the audience, a feel-good experience brimming with a positive, uplifting spirit. Whether playing with the entire ensemble or scaling down to a few musicians on a handful of songs, an inherent cheerfulness was infectious and buoyed each song to higher ground, even when songs were drawn out extensively ("I'm Yours" was almost 10 minutes long). The breezy music had many influences, from soft pop to hip hop and reggae, and the musicians often were given opportunities to shine in the spotlight, but the centerpiece always remained the highly animated Mraz and his winning, genial personality. Mraz's charisma made the concert a perfect event for a hot summer evening.

Visit Jason Mraz at www.jasonmraz.com.

Setlist:
  1. Love Someone
  2. Might As Well Dance
  3. Living in the Moment
  4. Curbside Prophet / The Remedy (I Won't Worry)
  5. Unlonely
  6. New York, New York
  7. Lucky
  8. Make It Mine
  9. I Take The Music
  10. Sleeping to Dream
  11. Browntown (Raining Jane cover)
  12. Love Is Still the Answer
  13. Unfold
  14. 93 Million Miles
  15. I Won't Give Up
  16. Cafe Gratitude Happy Birthday Song
  17. Have It All
  18. Makin' It Up
  19. I'm Yours

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Paul McDonald at Mercury Lounge

Born in Auburn, Alabama, and raised 200 miles away in Huntsville, Paul McDonald played high school varsity football and was in the school's play, The Wizard of Oz. Starting in 2005, he sang with Hightide Blues. In 2010, the band members moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and launched a campaign to let their fans choose a new name for the band. The band was renamed The Grand Magnolias and released a self-titled album. About the same time, McDonald competed in American Idol's 10th season, in which he placed eighth, and toured in the 2011 American Idols Live Tour. McDonald married actress Nikki Reed, the two recorded an album together. In 2015, after a divorce and the break-up of his former band, McDonald left his life in Los Angeles, California, and relocated to East Nashville, Tennessee. McDonald's debut solo album, Modern Hearts, was released on June 1, 2018.

Paul McDonald's debut album has layers of production in order to create a big, booming sound, but at Mercury Lounge tonight, opening for RIVVRS, McDonald performed his living room show, with just a silken voice and an acoustic guitar. As such, his high timber gave a prominently vulnerable texture to his cadre of soulful lyrics touching on emotional pain and redemption. McDonald was on the mend as he wrote these simmering songs, and tonight's naked interpretations underlined his search for renewed spiritual strength and solace. The songs embraced this quest, moving meditatively beyond sorrow and solitude to personal healing and hopefulness. This was the sweetness of McDonald's set; he captured universal sentiments and turned them into uplifting and invigorating anthems.

Visit Paul McDonald at www.thepaulmcdonald.com.

Wild Rivers at Mercury Lounge

Khalid Yassein started writing songs on an acoustic guitar at age 11, but this private hobby was for his own enjoyment, not for the public. While studying biology at college in Kingston, Canada, Yassein worked briefly as an ophthalmic technician, a student researcher, a camp counsellor, and a Special Olympics swimming coach. From 2012 to 2015, he also performed with fellow student Devan Glover as an acoustic duo called Devan & Khalid. A debut EP garnered national radio airplay and the duo was named Toronto's Best New Artist in the 2015 CBC Searchlight contest. Further recording led to an expansion of ranks in 2015, adding drummer Ben Labenski and bassist/guitarist Andrew Oliver, both from Oakville, Canada, as the ensemble became the indie-folk quartet Wild Rivers. Wild Rivers followed a 2016 debut album with an EP, Eighty-Eight, released on June 22, 2018.

Wild Rivers has been categorized as folk music, but at Mercury Lounge tonight the band's music was probably closer to the contemporary singer/songwriter or Americana genres than the Woody Guthrie folk era. The songs featured strong pop melodies, soft acoustic arrangements and warm vibes, but the killer touch was the vocal braiding by Yassein and Glover. Their crisscrossing harmonies shimmered vibrantly, such that even the downer lyrics of "Call It a Night," which described an unraveling relationship, sounded joyous. For the encore, the band unplugged and sang the dream-chasing lyrics to "Howlin'" from the center of the room. Wild Rivers has described its music as "folk 'n' roll 'n' country soul" and tonight this seemed to be a valid-enough description.

Visit Wild Rivers at www.wildriversmusic.com.

Setlist:
  1. Do Right
  2. A Week Ago
  3. Call It a Night
  4. Already Gone
  5. Mayday
  6. Paul Simon
  7. You Can Side
  8. Moving Target
  9. Speak Too Soon
  10. Wandering Child
  11. I Won't Be Back
  12. Heart Attack
Encore:
  1. Howling

Friday, August 3, 2018

Cyanotic at Stimulate

Sean Payne started the industrial rock concept he called Cyanotic in 2002 in Chicago, Illinois, with the intention of fusing traditional industrial beats and vocals with drum n bass, sampling and heavy metal. He describes Cyanotic as an angry robot outfit, and his lyrics contain many tongue-in-cheek references to transhumanism, the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase. Cyanotic's fourth and most recent album, Tech Noir, was released on September 27, 2017.

Event promoter Xris SMack! books Stimulate, the most cutting edge parties for the New York area's goth, darkwave and industrial communities. This month's Stimulate headlined Cyanotic, comprised of Payne on vocals with the two members of Relic, Jordan Davis on keyboards and synthesizers and Dan Dickerscheid on drums, plus Jenny Anne Payne on synthesizers and programming. The three musicians matched Payne's dark, coarse vocals with layers of aggressive electronic waves and fierce, crushing beats. The sonic assault was all aggression, borrowing the bold intensity of heavy metal to a grating, danceable rhythm that sounded more machine-like than human. Humans danced at the front of the stage, but in the future it may be all robots grooving to Cyanotic's live performances.

Visit Cyanotic at www.cyanotic.com.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Against Me! at House of Vans, Brooklyn

Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, and moved frequently between military bases due to her father's military career. Living in Italy when she was eight years old, Grace bought her first guitar from a mail order catalog with money saved from mowing lawns. Grace initially took guitar lessons from an army officer's wife, but ended up teaching herself how to play. When she was 12 years old, Grace's parents divorced, and Grace moved with her mother and brother to Naples, Florida. Grace played in numerous bands throughout her adolescence. Moving at age 18 to Gainesville, Florida, she began performing as Against Me!, either alone on an acoustic guitar or with a friend drumming on pickle buckets. Within a few years, Against Me! officially became a punk quartet. Against Me! presently consists of Grace, guitarist James Bowman, bassist Andrew Seward and drummer Atom Willard. In 2012, Grace publicly came out as a transgender woman, a transition that was explored on the band's 2014 album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The band's seventh and most recent album, Shape Shift with Me, was released in 2016. Since 2013, Grace has lived in Chicago, Illinois.

With no new Against Me! album to promote tonight at the House of Vans' House Parties series, the band performed a retrospective featuring two to five songs from each of its seven albums. Launching with "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" and "White Crosses," Against Me! immediately established its true colors as an angry, anarchistic punk band. The band's high-momentum punk slammed hard with hardly a pause. Every high-octane song was a massive adrenaline rush, with only a very few songs played at a toe-tapping pace. Gripping vocals, thrashing guitars, and anthemic choruses were tempered by melodic phrasing that generated shout-alongs, fist-pumping, moshing and crowd surfing from the audience. If anyone was looking for a modern punk rock experience, this was it.

Visit Against Me! at www.againstme.net.

Setlist:
  1. I Was a Teenage Anarchist
  2. White Crosses
  3. Crash
  4. Don't Lose Touch
  5. New Wave
  6. Piss and Vinegar
  7. I Still Love You Julie
  8. Reinventing Axl Rose
  9. Turn Those Clapping Hands into Angry Balled Fists
  10. T.S.R. (This Shit Rules)
  11. Cliché Guevara
  12. From Her Lips to God's Ears (The Energizer)
  13. Haunting, Haunted, Haunts
  14. Pretty Girls (The Mover)
  15. Miami
  16. Joy
  17. Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  18. Walking Is Still Honest
  19. Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
  20. True Trans Soul Rebel
Encore:
  1. Going to Georgia (The Mountain Goats cover)
  2. Two Coffins
  3. Up the Cuts
  4. Black Me Out
  5. We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Locos por Juana at Bryant Park

Locos por Juana formed as a bilingual Latin band in 2000 in Miami, Florida. Vocalist Itawe Correa and drummer Javier Delgado were born in Colombia, guitarist Mark Kondrat is a Miami native of Colombian descent and bassist David Pransky is from Cabot, Vermont. Since its origins, the band's mission has been to compose and perform original music blending Latin music and reggae with rock, funk and hip-hop. Locos por Juana's fifth and most recent album is 2016's Caribe.

Locos por Juana performed a free outdoor after-work concert this early evening as part of the Carnegie Hall Citywide Series at Bryant Park. For 45 minutes, the trees surrounding the stage seemed to turn into palm, citrus and mango trees as the band conjured a tropical fiesta of music and dance. The hybrid of sounds grew out of an Afro-Caribbean spine, but covered a wide range of rhythms including salsa, cumbia, reggae and ska and peppered them with splashes of rock guitar and hip-hop raps. The additional percussionist, keyboardist and two trombone players boosted the flavors. Multicultural and cosmopolitan, this uncommon mix sparked participation from an ethnically diverse audience, as listeners increasingly drew closer to the stage and danced to Locos por Juana's exuberant polyrhythmic swing.

Visit Locos por Juana at www.locosporjuana.com.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Panorama New York City 2018, Day 3 at Randall's Island Park

Although there was no significant rain on Sunday, the field became muddier and messier during the course of the day, perhaps because of the melting ice from all the vendors.

Whereas the bill for the first two days was largely pop fare, Day 3 featured many alt rock and indie bands. Many in the audience came wearing Greta Van Fleet t-shirts only to see Panorama staff walking around the field holding placards with new set times that clearly omitted the hard rock band's performance; drummer Daniel Wagner had injured his fingers and the band cancelled its performance.

The Downtown Boys started the day with a political punk set that saw vocalist Victoria Ruiz lower herself into the audience, climb over a railing, and sing a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" with audience members. The Downtown Boys was among the bands that participated in signings at the Rough Trade tent.

Shannon and the Clams was the second act, and somewhere towards the end of the set, audience members were inspired to form a conga line. Vocalist Shannon Shaw commended one audience member for dancing the Macarena.

Rex Orange County did an acoustic cover of Alicia Keys' "No One" during his set. Later, he paused for a few minutes during "Corduroy Dreams" to ask for assistance from the festival paramedics for someone in the audience.

David Byrne appeared on a very lean stage that had only a card table and folding chair. He sat, holding an oversized model of a brain, and singing to backing tracks. After the first song, 11 musicians, singers and dancers appeared on stage wearing gray suits similar to Byrne's. Byrne was barefoot, but his team members wore foot-like covers over their shoes. The entire regiment engaged in constant choreography, some of it marching-band style, throughout the set. The songs from Byrne's days in the Talking Heads generated the loudest responses. He chatted only once with the audience, encouraging everyone to vote in all elections. He introduced his set closer, a cover of Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout," by saying, "She wrote this song in 2015, and she performed it at the Women’s March, and sadly, it is still very relevant today." He updated the lyrics to include additional names of African-Americans killed by police or vigilante violence.

"I’m not much of a crier, but I'm close," said the xx’s Oliver Simon during the final stop of the band's world tour. "The first writing sessions we did for this album were in New York, our first show was here in New York, so it’s perfect to finish it here,” he explained. He dedicated one song to the LGBT community, adding, "I am one of you."

Moodymann's dj set was shortened by 30 minutes after the dj booth temporarily lost power.

Odesza performed a set arrayed with so many dazzling light displays that it was often difficult to see the two members. At one point, Odesza remixed Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" with the addition of a live trumpet player. Vocalist Naomi Wild, who was celebrating her birthday that day, sang on "Higher Ground."

While many artists had high tech stage sets, the Killers had an artistic and rather simple set that included a water tower emblazoned with the words "New York." For the song "For Reasons Unknown," the band asked for a volunteer from the audience to drum, and the youth who was selected did an amazing job.

Nora En Pure, Fleet Foxes, Mount Kimbie, Robert DeLong and Chicano Batman were among the performers who also performed on Day 3.
Downtown Boys
Shannon and the Clams
DJ Haram
Chicano Batman
Rex Orange County
Robert DeLong
Loote
Mount Kimbie
David Byrne
Sur
Fleet Foxes
The xx
Fly by Midnight
Odesza
The Killers

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Panorama New York City 2018, Day 2 at Randall's Island Park

Weather conditions improved significantly at Panorama on Saturday, but much of the field was muddy and mushy, discoloring many white sneakers.

Cardi B was originally one of the scheduled artists, but she cancelled several weeks earlier in expectation of the birth of her child. Lil Wayne was booked as her replacement, but half an hour after his scheduled set time, promoters announced on the large video screens surrounding the stage where he was to appear that his performance was cancelled due to a weather-related flight delay. Many in the massive crowd that awaited him subsequently retreated to the second stage to see St. Vincent rock.

St. Vincent was perhaps the most rocking performance on Saturday. Annie Clark seemed to have a never-ending supply of her signature Ernie Ball guitars in every color -- blue, orange, pink, white, yellow, black -- did she play a different-colored guitar on each song? Clark closed with a partly a cappella version of "New York," injecting seemingly impromptu mentions of East Village locations including St. Mark’s Place and Veselka and pointing out that nothing rhymes with those names.

SZA was recovering from a vocal cord injury and reworked some of her songs to refit her new range. There was more drama, however. She revealed to the audience that she just went through a break-up. It seemed like everyone in the audience said "Aw."

Both Lo Moon and Cloves performed earlier in the day and played a second set later in the early evening at the Bud Light Dive Bar. Lo Moon's second set included an instrumental cover of Peter Bjorn & John's "Young Folks," prompting some in the audience to assist with vocals. Cloves closed with a cover of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You."

DJ Champ warmed the audience for Gucci Mane, but power failures led to silence several times. "We can't be having that with Guwop, now!" Champ told the stage hands, who scurried about trying to remedy the issue. Later, Gucci Mane invited his wife, Keyshia Ka'Oir Davis, onstage for a cameo, and the sound problems returned. Fans called requests, until Mane responded with an a cappella version of his 2009 hit "Lemonade."

Moments before Janet Jackson started singing, the audience heard audio reports discussing racial injustice, white supremacy, and domestic terrorism, while the names of unarmed black men killed by police were posted on the screens next to the stage, concluding with the declaration that “WE WANT JUSTICE." Jackson then sang a deep cut from three decades ago, the appropriate "The Skin Game (Part 1)." Later, she sang "Together Again" while old photographs of a younger Janet with her recently deceased father and photographs of her late brother Michael were posted on the screens. After the song, she spread her arms wide, then pointed to the sky and said, "I miss you -- both of you.” One question, though: how was it possible for Jackson to dance such elaborate routines so heartily continuously through her show and still sing without losing her breath?

Japanese Breakfast, Pvris, Sigrid and Jay Som were among the performers who also performed on Day 2.
DJ Riobamba
Lo Moon
Jay Som
Cloves
Sigrid
Pvris
Japanese Breakfast
City of the Sun
St. Vincent
Floating Points
SZA
Gucci Mane
Janet Jackson

Friday, July 27, 2018

Black Lips aboard the Liberty Belle Riverboat

Cole Alexander and Zumi Rosow
Guitarist Cole Alexander and bassist Jared Swilley were expelled during their senior year in high school in Dunwoody, Georgia; they had developed a reputation for crude antics and after the Columbine Massacre in 1999 the school authorities regarded the duo as a "subculture danger." That same year, they left a local band, Renegades, to form the garage band they would call Black Lips. Now the duo found stages and audiences for their music and their antics. Performances included not only a rough musical pastiche of blues, rock, doo-wop, country, and punk, but also vomiting (Alexander's medical condition), urination, nudity, electric radio-controlled car races, fireworks, a chicken, flaming guitars and other unpredictable events. Black Lips' eighth and most recent album, Satan's Graffiti or God’s Art?, was released on May 5, 2017. The band presently consists of Alexander, Swilley, saxophonist Zumi Rosow, drummer Oakley Munson and new guitarist Jeffrey Clarke.

Perhaps the most shocking event of tonight's concert aboard a Rocks Off! cruise on the Liberty Belle Riverboat was that Black Lips provided no shocking events. Comparatively, it was only a year ago that New York fans saw same-sex kissing, nudity, masturbation and urination during a Black Lips concert. Alexander and Swilley nevertheless led and fostered a calamitous dynamic, playing raucous cowpunk-inflected garage music that rocked the boat more than the post-storm current of the Hudson River. The songs often were led by a vocal melody and then punctuated with guitar and sax lines that occasionally drifted into the atonal zone. Brash and boisterous, these were raw and rowdy rock and roll tunes, stripped of all finesse so that musicians and audience were moved by gritty guitars and a primal pulse. The more toned-down songs at their core resembled 1960s pop tunes, but with little attempt to polish the uproarious boom of each musician's contribution. The intensity and immediacy of this clattering sound was abrasive yet compellingly exciting. The Black Lips set was noisy, clamorous and thoroughly engaging.

Visit Black Lips at www.black-lips.com.