Friday, July 15, 2016

Michael Franti & Spearhead at the PlayStation Theater

Michael Franti
Michael Franti was born in Oakland, California, but began his journey into music by writing poetry while attending college in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a bass at a pawn shop and started creating music inspired by the hip hop, punk, and reggae that was being played on the campus radio station. He formed the Beatnigs in 1986, and released an album and an EP before the band split in 1990. The following year Franti formed the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, expanding his vision of social commentary set to a fusion of industrial music and hip hop until that band split in 1993. Franti formed Spearhead in 1994, leaning initially on funk and soul sounds and later on hip hop and reggae. The band was renamed Michael Franti & Spearhead in 1999. The San Francisco-based band presently consists of Franti on vocals and guitar, guitarist Jay Bowman, keyboardist Mike Blankenship, bassist Carl Young, and drummer Manas Itiene. Michael Franti & Spearhead's ninth and most recent album, SoulRocker, was released on June 3, 2016.

Headlining at the PlayStation Theater tonight, Michael Franti probably spent as much time on the stage as he did in the audience. By the beginning of his third song, the barefoot Franti was already singing, strolling, high-fiving and hugging fearlessly through the audience, finding his way to a small platform and microphone stand in the center of the room. His delivery was all about connecting with his fans, and repeatedly taking his time through the audience was more than a token gesture. Franti sang songs from his four most recent albums (eight songs from his most recent album) and eschewed his first five albums entirely. His vocal range was truncated, and he sounded off-key on many songs, but the positive energy he projected made it easy for his fans to forgive these trespasses. Many of his newer songs embraced electronic dance music, and fans responded by jumping to the rhythms with him. There were serious moments as well, some of which featured him playing solo on acoustic guitar. During a quieter period, the chatty Franti alluded to recent dark national events, encouraging his listeners to positivity over despair. Perhaps that aspect of who Franti is, the social activist, cool dad, and all-around upbeat guy, in the end was even more endearing than his musical performance.

Visit Michael Franti & Spearhead at www.michaelfranti.com.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ray Wylie Hubbard at Hill Country Barbecue + Market

Ray Wylie Hubbard was born in Soper, Oklahoma, but moved as a youth with his family to Dallas, Texas. There he learned to play guitar, eventually forming a folk group with fellow aspiring musician Michael Martin Murphey. During his college years, Hubbard formed a trio named Three Faces West and spent the summers playing in Red River, New Mexico. Upon the breakup of Three Faces West, Hubbard toured the Southwestern coffeehouse circuit as a solo artist, then formed another short-lived group, Texas Fever. During his time in New Mexico, Hubbard wrote "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," which Jerry Jeff Walker recorded and turned into an outlaw anthem in 1973. Hubbard gained cult status within progressive country circles, and assembled the also short-lived cowpunk blues band Ray Wylie Hubbard & the Cowboy Twinkies. Hubbard rode the post-Nashville progressive outlaw country wave of the 1970s and beyond as a respected name but with minimal album sales. Currently based in Wimberly, Texas, Hubbard released his 16th album, The Ruffian’s Misfortune, on April 7, 2015.

If it sounds like Texas, it deserves to headline at Hill Country Barbecue + Market. The 69-year-old Hubbard came to the venue tonight with his 23-year-old guitar playing son, Lucas Hubbard, and drummer Kyle Snider. Perhaps Hubbard was promoting his memoirs, A Life ... Well, Lived, published on November 5, 2015; the trio played a two-hour set, but quite a lot of the time was spent on Hubbard chatting a humorous spin on his career. Hubbard delivered the timing and pitch of a professional comedian on these anecdotes. His lyrics similarly often exhibited his wit, but also the moving, introspective life of a lonesome cowboy on the road. The set was grounded on country music, but many of the songs were straight-forward blues. The set was kept jumping by his vast catalogue of rowdy barroom honky-tonk songs, however. The elder Hubbard impressed on slide guitar, but the younger Hubbard was even more impressive with a subtle yet sharp picking style. If everything is bigger in Texas, then New York needs to make more room for this elder statesman of outlaw music.

Visit Ray Wylie Hubbard at www.raywylie.com.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Sick of It All at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Lou Koller
Sick of It All formed in 1986 as a hardcore punk band in Queens, New York. The following year, the band built a local following by performing the  Sunday afternoon matinee series at CBGB's. The band's current lineup consists of brothers Lou Koller on vocals and Pete Koller on lead guitar, Craig Setari on bass, and Armand Majidi on drums. Sick of It All's 11th and most recent album is 2014's Last Act of Defiance.

Sick of It All's 30th anniversary tour packed Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, reviving the New York hardcore punk that thrived three decades ago less than 10 city blocks south at CBGB's. Eighteen of the set's 23 songs were from the 1990s. Lou Koller shouted throaty anthemic rants as the three-piece band clobbered beats with aggression. This hardcore music was not about speed as much as it was about hanging anvils to angry, rallying chants. The evening was particularly celebratory because it was a homecoming, with Sick of It All headlining perhaps its largest local venue. Black balloons were released from the ceiling as the concert drew to a close with "Step Down" and "Built to Last," during which time the stage was filled with well wishers and Pete Koller played guitar while riding on the shoulders of Jimmy Gestapo of Murphy's Law. The original New York hardcore scene morphed into several sub-genres, but tonight its pioneering veterans were feted as local heroes.

Visit Sick of It All at www.sickofitall.com.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The World/Inferno Friendship Society at the Bowery Ballroom

Jack Terricloth
In 1994, the band Sticks and Stones ended in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Seeking a fresh start in music, the band's front man, Pietro Ventantonio, moved to Brooklyn, New York. Renamed Jack Terricloth, in 1996 he started the World/Inferno Friendship Society, a punk band that would integrate sounds of contrapuntal fugue, swing, cabaret, tango, waltz, New Orleans funeral march and just about everything else. Terricloth has been the only constant during the collective's 20-year history. The World/Inferno Friendship Society's sixth and most recent album is 2014's This Packed Funeral.

As with very World/Inferno Friendship Society concert, tonight's performance at the Bowery Ballroom began with the band's percussionists pounding on drums like a marching band, at first slowly, and then faster, igniting more enthusiastic revelry among the fans, until Terricloth strolled onstage, bottle of wine in hand. Under dim red and blue stage lights, Terricloth was a sight from a noir vaudevillian nightmare, with pale white skin and thinning hair against a dark suit, cufflinks jutting from his sleeves and spats peeking from his pant legs and white shoes. He came to entertain, but also to be entertained by his rabid fans pushing for space to pogo by the edge of the stage. This anarchy was lightened with comedy, with the band performing complex genre-defying rockers with titles such as "Let's Steal Everything", "I Wouldn't Want to Live in a World without Grudges", "Addicted to Bad Ideas" and the closing "Zen and the Art of Breaking Everything in This Room." Terricloth frequently knelt at the edge of the stage to touch fans while crooning in a talky manner into an old-fashioned microphone. Terricloth was more ringmaster than vocalist, and turned the concert into a raving punky party.

Visit the World/Inferno Friendship Society at www.worldinferno.com.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bobby Rydell & the City Rhythm Orchestra at Damrosch Park

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an eight year old Robert Ridarelli won a talent contest on a local television series and gained a spot on the cast. He changed his name to Bobby Rydell and later sang in several bands in the Philadelphia area. "Kissin' Time," his first single, charted in 1959, and before long he was a million-selling teen idol. He had 34 Top 40 hits, including "Wild One" and "Volare" in 1960, and he co-starred in the movie musical Bye Bye Birdie in 1963. The British Invasion in 1964 revolutionized the pop world, however, ending Rydell's string of hits and relegating him forevermore to the supper club circuit. An autobiography, Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol on the Rocks, hit bookstores on May 4, 2016.

Bobby Rydell tonight headlined one of Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swings, performing his old hits plus standards from the Great American Songbook with the City Rhythm Orchestra. Couples of all ages danced as the now 74-year-old sang hits like "Sway" and covered songs by Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin. Despite a bout with alcoholism in his youth and more recent liver and kidney transplants, Rydell looked handsome and belted his songs with a rich, soaring voice. Despite heart surgery and a hip replacement, the stylish, dapper singer glided across the stage, working the audience much like he did 50 years ago. After all these years, Rydell's signature song, "Volare," had the baby boomers singing, dancing and even swooning. More than 50 years after his heyday, Rydell is still a class act.

Rydell will participate in an "In Conversation" session with Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis at the 92Y on July 27. He will sing accompanied by a grand piano, and will sign copies of his book.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Soul Asylum at Irving Plaza

Dave Pirner
Alternative rock band Soul Asylum formed as Loud Fast Rules in 1981 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As Soul Asylum, the band recorded five albums that met with little commercial success. In 1992, Soul Asylum released Grave Dancers Union, featuring their Grammy Award–winning single "Runaway Train," and the album went triple-platinum. Soul Asylum also scored platinum with the album Let Your Dim Light Shine three years later, but never again achieved the success of 1992. The group went on hiatus in 1998; sole remaining original member Dave Pirner reassembled the band in 2004. Soul Asylum presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner, guitarist Ryan Murphy, bassist Winston Roye and drummer Michael Bland. Soul Asylum's 11th and most recent album, Change of Fortune, was released on March 18, 2016.

Opening for the English Beat tonight at Irving Plaza, Soul Asylum was one of the few 1990s bands that still sounded relevant. The set was not designed to be a full retrospective; no songs were played from Soul Asylum's first four albums. Half of the set was born from the band's platinum period, with a sprinkling of later songs and four songs from the current album. Soul Asylum spaced its better known hits about four songs apart, beginning with the opening "Somebody to Shove," then spiking the set with searing versions of "Misery", "Black Gold" and "Runaway Train." Sometimes the choruses leaned a bit towards cutesy pop, but the band never forgot that it was primarily a rocking guitar band. The alternative rock era may have winded down, but Soul Asylum has not yet relinquished the sonic attack.

Visit Soul Asylum at www.soulasylum.com.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pere Ubu at the Bowery Ballroom

David Thomas
Protopunk garage rock band Rocket from the Tombs, based in Cleveland, Ohio, split in 1975 after only a year together. The various members then formed the Dead Boys, the Saucers, and Pere Ubu. Only Pere Ubu remains, and vocalist David Thomas has been the sole constant of the "avant-garage" band. Pere Ubu briefly disbanded in 1979, reforming later that same year. The group disbanded again in 1982, while Thomas worked on a solo career, but he again retooled Pere Ubu in 1987. The band's 16th and most recent album is 2014's Carnival of Souls. Pere Ubu presently consists of Thomas, new guitarist Gary Siperko, synthesizer player Robert Wheeler, bassist Michele Temple, and drummer Steve Mehlman.

Tonight's concert at the Bowery Ballroom was billed as Pere Ubu: Coed Jail! Songs from 1975-1982. This meant that the newer generation of musicians was going to perform many of the band's earliest songs. Indeed, Thomas sat on his stool for the entire set, singing and speaking with his eyes closed, and sipping red wine and sharing anecdotes between songs, while the musicians recreated music composed before their engagement in Pere Ubu. The set began with "Heart of Darkness," one of the band's oldest songs, launching a 23-song retrospective of Pere Ubu’s first five albums and the singles before the albums. Thomas spoke, sang, yelped, and howled, while the band played Pere Ubu's obtuse art-punk rock, demonstrating how this propulsive music was a precursor to grunge and yet peculiarly different. The concert was not so much a representation of Thomas' present vision as it was a rear-view mirror to what was once Pere Ubu.

Visit Pere Ubu at www.ubuprojex.com.

Edison at Pianos

Vocalist/guitarist Sarah Slaton, originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2008 relocated to Denver, Colorado, and soon began performing her original songs locally as a solo artist. In 2012 she became the opening act for Brave Song Circle, which included drummer/vocalist/trumpeter/mandolinist Dustin Morris. Morris was originally from Dallas, Texas, but had relocated to Denver in 2009 and also was performing locally. By the end of the tour, Morris was playing backup in Slaton's set. They became a duo named Edison in 2014. In 2015, former Lumineers guitarist Maxwell Hughes (of Fort Collins, Colorado) performed as a solo artist on dates with Edison on the road to South by Southwest; he too joined Edison. Edison released the Ghost EP in 2015; a debut album, Familiar Spirit, is scheduled for release on September 16, 2016.

In the midst of a four-Wednesday residency at Pianos, Edison brought a soft and sweet to a stage that is often booming with loud rock. The songs themselves sounded simple, with clear lyrics and whispering accompaniment, but the arrangements were subtly progressive, with Hughes finger picking adeptly and Morris switching from kettle drums to trumpet to mandolin and back. Many of the lyrics vividly navigated through painful life passages, but always with the encouraging spirit of growth and self-empowerment. The most compelling attraction, however, was how the sparse arrangements allowed emotions to fill the empty spaces. This unique approach to indie folk makes Edison a keen band on the rise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Flag at the Gramercy Theatre

Keith Morris
 Guitarist Greg Ginn formed Panic, soon to be renamed Black Flag, as a punk rock band in 1976 in Hermosa Beach, California. Ginn was the band leader, primary songwriter and sole constant member through Black Flag's three EPs, six albums and ever-changing personnel until the band dissolved in 1986, just when it seemed like the band was finally about to break into the mainstream market. Ginn revamped the brand briefly in 2003 with a new lineup, and then again in 2013-2014 for another album, What The.... Meanwhile, despite legal action by Ginn, four of the 20-odd ex-members, none of whom were in Black Flag at the time of its initial split, formed a new group, Flag, that would relive the music of their former band. Flag consists of original Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris (1976–79) and bassist Chuck Dukowski (1977–83), with later drummer Bill Stevenson (1981, 1982, 1983–85) and guitarist/vocalist Dez Cadena (1980–83, 2003), plus guitarist Stephen Egerton, who was recruited for Flag from the Descendents. Flag has performed live since 2013 but has not recorded.

To Flag's credit, the bulk of the set list at the Gramercy Theatre tonight was comprised of the band's early Morris-Dubrowski  and Dubrowski-Cadena years, only once going as far as Dukowski's "My War" from 1984. That said, the set list remained firmly entrenched in Black Flag's hardcore punk era, even though the band's more experimental later years were more popular. Morris sang 18 songs, including "Don't Care", which he originally sang with Circle Jerks after leaving Black Flag, and Dubrowski's "You Bet We’ve Got Something Against You!," afterwards asking Dubrowski if the song really was written about him. Cadena, who is reportedly battling cancer, sang five songs from 1981. In the end, any Black Flag reunion without Greg Ginn and vocalist Henry Rollins is not going to look like the Black Flag known to most punk fans, but this version of Flag did a more than fair job of paying tribute to the early sounds and legacy of one of the most pivotal punk bands of all time.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Adicts at the Gramercy Theatre

Monkey
As punk rock was coming out of its embryo in 1975, a group of young punk rockers formed a band called Afterbirth & the Pinz in Ipswich, England. As the characters began to identify their musical compass, they became the Adicts  – vocalist Keith "Monkey" Warren, bassist Mel Ellis, guitarist Pete Dee Davison, and Pete's brother, drummer Michael "Kid Dee" Davison. Mel's brother, guitarist John "Scruff" Ellis, soon joined the band. Contrary to the trend, however, by 1978 the band members wore white clothing instead of black, adopting a Clockwork Orange-styled "droog" appearance, and Monkey wore joker white-face makeup and garish suits. While the band has taken hiatus at least twice, the band maintains its original line-up 40 years later. The Adicts' ninth and most recent studio album is 2012's All the Young Droogs.

An Adicts concert is usually like an explosion at a party store with a punk rock soundtrack. Tonight, however, the Adicts performed at the Gramercy Theatre after a Canadian tour en route back to England tomorrow. Many of the band's props were not featured tonight; there were no confetti cannons, stuffed animals or avalanche of supersized beach balls, for instance. The band proved itself mightily in the absence of many gimmicks. This was hard, bombastic punk rock with cheeky lyrics and gang harmonies, simultaneously generating in the audience both lighthearted anthemic singalongs and fierce moshing. The set was largely comprised of the band's better known songs from the 1980s, plus two more recent songs and two songs not yet recorded. From the opening "Joker in the Pack" to the closing campy covers of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone" and Brenda Lee's "Bring Me Sunshine," a rock and roll show could not have been more fun.

Visit the Adicts at www.adicts.us.