Wednesday, March 18, 2015

All Sons & Daughters at the Gramercy Theatre

Sandra McCracken (left) and Leslie Anne Jordan
All Sons & Daughters this year joined the ranks of many Christian recording artists who moved beyond the congregation walls and into traditional rock concert halls. While many of these artists reach out to larger audiences by obscuring their spiritual beliefs, All Sons & Daughters did the opposite at the Gramercy Theatre tonight. Led by are vocalist/pianist David Alan Leonard and guitarist/vocalist Leslie Anne Jordan, both worship leaders at their church in Franklin, Tennessee, All Sons & Daughters performed unpolished acoustic and folk rock music as smooth as a whisper while singing praise and worship lyrics. Separately and harmoniously, their outstanding vocals were big, passionate and engaging, with light arrangements and sparse backup helping to accentuate the lyrics projected on a large screen behind the band. Leonard and Jordan's pastor, Jamie George, came onstage to speak words of encouragement and to promote Feed One, an initiative to combat world hunger, and guest artist Sandra McCracken also performed beautifully both alone and as part of the ensemble. Amidst bars and rock concert lighting, the evening was not a full-on church service, but was effectively a deeper experience than that provided by the usual entertainment at the venue.

Visit All Sons & Daughters at www.allsonsanddaughters.com.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Pop Group at the Bowery Ballroom

Mark Stewart
Disenchanted with the increasing conservatism of the punk movement in 1977, five teenagers formed the post-punk Pop Group in Bristol, England. Determined not to copy the trimmed-down garage punk sound of the time, the Pop Group drew on an eclectic range of influences from free jazz, funk, dub and avant-garde experimentalism, with socially conscious, politically-charged lyrics and literary influences. The Pop Group released two studio albums before disbanding in 1981. In 2010, three founding members, vocalist Mark Stewart, guitarist Gareth Sager, and drummer Bruce Smith, regrouped with later bassist Dan Catsis and added second guitarist Alexi Shrimpton. The Pop Group released its first studio album in 35 years, Citizen Zombie, on February 23, 2015.

At the Pop Group's comeback appearance at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the set list was divided fairly evenly between old and new songs. Faithful to the band's original sound, the Pop Group performed lengthy songs which spun on funk/dub beats and somewhat noisy guitar riffs while Stewart shouted, grunted and shrieked. The band opened with its two strongest songs, "We Are All Prostitutes," and the new "Citizen Zombie." The sound often went from propulsive funk grooves to aggressive free jazz. The experimental nature of the compositions was often engaging but often abrasive to the ears. The Pop Group offered an interesting soundtrack to our chaotic times, but the band's anarchic sound will have to win over new fans one at a time.

Visit Pop Group at www.thepopgroup.net.

Monday, March 16, 2015

James Bay at the Bowery Ballroom

James Bay’s obsession with guitars began at home in Hitchin, England, around the age of 11. He found an old guitar with rusty strings that his father had buried in a cupboard for 15 years. He and his dad visited a local guitar shop to spruce up the instrument. Copying what he heard on his father's old records, the pre-teen taught himself to play by ear. He started playing in bands with his brothers and friends, but decided at 16 to go solo. A talented and accomplished painter and drawer, he had long planned to study fine art, but at age 18, Bay relocated to the seaside city of Brighton to study guitar. He began busking and playing open mics five nights a week in the town’s many small music venues. After Brighton, the next professional move was to London, where he built a solid reputation. Following three EPs in 2013 and 2014, Bay's debut album, Chaos and the Calm, will be released on March 24, 2015.

Previewing an upcoming sold-out tour with a warm-up performance at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, James Bay proved to be a promising artist. He is a singer-songwriter at heart, but wails like a gospel singer and plays a mean guitar. It does not hurt that he has the chiseled features of a model and dresses like a rock star, complete with long hair peeking out around the ears under a wide-brimmed wool hat. Backed by a small band, he projected a low-key charisma through his warmth and humility as he sang sensitive folk-styled lyrics that explored the discovery of a young man's journey through love and loss. He performed 11 of the 15 tracks from his new album, two songs from his most recent EP, and a surprising rendition of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You." This cover seemed to sum up Bay's aspirations. While some of the songs were rocking anthems with intentionally catchy choruses, like "Hold Back the River," Bay's trajectory seemed primarily rooted in bittersweet heartache-drenched soul-pop radio ballads. A highlight was "Scars," a song he wrote after a lover abandoned him. Overall, Bay had the strong, achy vocals to power his moving lyrics, making him a artist to watch in 2015.

James Bay will perform at Irving Plaza on April 29. In the meantime, visit him at www.jamesbay.com. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

moe. at the Best Buy Theater

moe. formed in 1989 originally as Five Guys named Moe, named after a Louis Jordan song, for a Halloween party at the University at Buffalo. By the following year, moe. had evolved into a popular bar band around Buffalo, New York. The band's first album, Fatboy, in 1992 established moe. as a favorite of the 1990s jam band and improvisational rock scene. With popularity growing, the musicians recorded Headseed in 1994, officially quitting their day jobs and relocating to the more fertile music scene around Albany, New York. Gaining national attention, moe. won five of Relix magazine's Jammy Awards from 2001 to 2008. moe. presently consists of Al Schnier (guitar, vocals, keyboard), Chuck Garvey (guitar, vocals), Rob Derhak (bass, vocals), Vinnie Amico (drums), and Jim Loughlin (percussion). The band's 11th and most recent studio album, No Guts, No Glory!, was released on May 27, 2014.

moe. brought its 25th anniversary to New York with one night at le Poisson Rouge and two consecutive nights at the Best Buy Theater, performing an entirely different set each night. The music ranged from easy-flowing Grateful Dead-style jams to more intricate rhythms on jazz-infused intonations and basic riffs on harder rocking interludes. Energetic drive and innovative vitality generated a synergy among the musicians that sparked 15-minute songs with fresh, airy sounds rather than hammering a groove. All five musicians had their moments in the spotlight, but the center of gravity was grounded in the technical abilities of the two guitarists. Schnier and Garvey consistently provided the fireworks with fluid and mesmerizing leads for nearly three hours. Brief lyrical interjections were more like breaks in the extended guitar solos than compositional frameworks. Closing the final night, moe. was joined on stage by the Conehead Buddha horn section (Shannon Lynch on saxophone, Terry Lynch on trumpet, Shaun Bazylewicz on trombone) for three songs, "Not Coming Down", "Threw It All Away" and "Dr. Graffenberg." Grounded in innovative musicianship and dynamic energy, moe. demonstrated that it may be the preeminent progressive jam band on the music scene today.

Visit moe. at www.moe.org.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hubby Jenkins at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Hubby Jenkins took his passion for old-time music to the streets and subways of the city as a busker. Through research into his Southern roots, he discovered and learned to play early country, blues, jazz, ragtime and African-American string music on acoustic guitar, banjo and other instruments. He found compatriots in his mission to revive this music when he joined the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2011.

Tonight at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village, Hubby Jenkins shared his deep love and vast knowledge of old-time American music through performance and dialogue. In spoken word and song, he followed the thread of African American history that wove itself through music in the 1920s and 1930s. Singing with eyes closed, masterfully finger-picking an acoustic guitar or banjo, Jenkins' passion gave flame to his authentic and soulful interpretations of traditional American music. He was joined by several musician friends, including Carolina Chocolate Drops cellist Malcolm Parson. After an hour, the audience left having heard seldom-heard roots music and having learned much about how music figured in the lives of African Americans nearly a century ago.

Visit Hubby Jenkins at www.hubbyjenkins.com.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Liza Colby Sound at the Bowery Electric

Liza Colby
Liza Colby grew up in a musical family in Avon, Connecticut. Her parents perform as the Colbys. Her father, John Colby, is a Grammy and Emmy Award winning producer and composer of hundreds of television and film scores and was the music director and band leader for the late Clarence Clemons. Her mother, Beverly Rohlehr, sang in several jazz bands and was the only woman ever to sing in the acapella group the Persuasions. Liza originally studied to become a corporate event planner, but then decided she needed to try music. She relocated to New York City, began singing hooks on rap tracks, and finally joined forces with comic Denis Leary's band, the Enablers: guitarist Adam Roth, his brother, drummer Charles "C.P." Roth, and bassist Alec Morton. They became the Liza Colby Sound in 2009. The band's second and most recent EP is 2013's Live.

In one of her frequent engagements at the Bowery Electric tonight, the Liza Colby Sound combined the soulful dynamics of Tina Turner with the rock intensity of the Who. Wearing nothing but a black leotard-style one piece, golden high heel shoes and jewelry, the very lean Colby accentuated her sex appeal, several times squatting wide-kneed to the ground while holding her microphone at her crotch. While this commanded eyeful attention, her commanding mega-watt vocals penetrated the ears and the heart. Performing a dozen original songs, Colby and her classic-rock-sounding band generated both fist pumping from the males and butt shaking from the females in the audience.

The Liza Colby Sound returns to the Bowery Electric on April 30, opening for the Bluebonnets. In the meantime, visit the Liza Colby Sound at www.thelizacolbysound.com.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hollywood Undead at the Gramercy Theatre

Rap-rockers Hollywood Undead originated in 2005 in Los Angeles, California, when Jorel "J-Dog" Decker and former member Aron "Deuce" Erlichman posted a song entitled "The Kids" on an online social network. To create a band around the song, they gathered friends, including George "Johnny 3 Tears" Ragan, Jordon "Charlie Scene" Terrell, Dylan "Funny Man" Alvarez, and Matthew "Da Kurlzz" St. Claire; Daniel "Danny" Murillo was added later. The band has sold over 2 million records in the United States, and about 3 million records worldwide. The group's fourth studio album, Day of the Dead, will be released on March 31, 2015.

In the darkness at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, as the audience chanted "undead" in unison, blue lights shone on a backdrop showing a bird in flight carrying a grenade. The six band members (plus touring member Tyler Mahurin on drums and percussion) appeared on stage wearing new masks, most still based on the common hockey goaltender design. Hollywood Undead launched into a new song, "Usual Suspects," followed with the more familiar "Undead", "Tendencies" and "Been to Hell" before removing the masks. As the band members rotated between instruments and weaved in and out of the songs as rappers, singers and screamers, there was constant movement on the stage. The supporting music behind the singers and rappers was hard and heavy, as hip hop married alternative rock and nu metal. Midway through the set, Hollywood Undead performed a mash-up that began with a brief cover of the Beastie Boys' "Intergalatic" and included a taste of Snoop Dogg’s "Gin and Juice" mixed in with the crew's original songs. Keeping the fans engaged and enthused by constantly whipping up the energy level in the room, Hollywood Undead entertained well using a refined formula for metal-infused hip hop.

Visit Hollywood Undead at www.hollywoodundead.com.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dropkick Murphys at Irving Plaza

Dropkick Murphys formed as a Celtic punk band in 1996 in Quincy, Massachusetts. The Boston-based band, named after professional wrestler John "Dropkick" Murphy, first began playing in the basement of a friend's barbershop. Starting as a punk rock band, the band members found that their Irish music roots influenced the way they sounded and eventually embraced and enhanced that element. Dropkick Murphys gained a reputation for its raucous live shows, especially around St. Patrick's Day. The band also became known for its socio-political activism, particularly regarding labor unions, and for its philanthropy around American war casualties. The band's eighth and most recent studio album, Signed and Sealed in Blood, was released in 2013. The band presently consists of sole remaining original member Ken Casey on bass and vocals, vocalist Al Barr, guitarist James Lynch, multi-instrumentalists Jeff DaRosa and Tim Brennan, drummer Mat Kelly, and Scruffy Wallace on bagpipes and tin whistle.

Bringing the U.S. leg of the Celtic Punk Invasion Tour to Irving Plaza, Dropkick Murphys sounded exactly as one would expect. The approximately 90-minute set was equal parts punk and Celtic-rooted music, about as blended as a lumpy Irish porridge. As a recording of the Irish ballad "The Foggy Dew" played  over the venue speakers, the audience saw the silhouettes of musicians in Irish caps taking their positions. The band opened with 2013’s "Out of our Heads" and tore through four high-energy songs in less than 10 minutes, initiating waves of both beer toasting and crowd surfing in the audience. This was the start of a loud and brash 28-song 19-year retrospective, during which the energy increased in tandem with the audience's blood alcohol level. About halfway through the set, Casey and Barr invited the audience to call out requests. In addition, a list of cover songs was projected on a screen, and fans standing in the front were invited to through a dart to a dartboard to determine which cover song the band would perform; tonight it fell on AC/DC's "T.N.T." The set closed with a rowdy sing-along of "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," and after an audience chant of "Let's go, Murphys," the band returned and invited audience members to climb on stage for the three encore songs, closing with a cover of Sham 69's "If the Kids Are United." It would be hard to believe that anyone did not have a blast with Dropkick Murphys.

Visit Dropkick Murphys at www.dropkickmurphys.com.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Red Baraat at the Bowery Ballroom

Sunny Jain, born in Rochester, New York, grew up listening to his parents' Indian classical music, devotional songs and 1960s Bollywood music. Jain learned to play the dhol, the double-headed dance drum of northern India often heard in Bollywood musicals. Forming the Sunny Jain Collective in 2002, Jain was designated a Jazz Ambassador by the U.S. Department of State and the Kennedy Center, for which he toured West Africa. Jain received the Arts International Award in both 2003 and 2005 to enable touring India with his jazz group. In 2004, Jain played dhol in the first Indian Broadway show, Bombay Dreams, and made his film debut playing dhol in the 2008 movie The Accidental Husband. Jain has performed at the request of the White House, Peter Gabriel, and the Olympic Games. When he formed Red Baraat in 2008, he designed a big band rooted in Punjabi percussion and the Indian brass band tradition. The Brooklyn-based band's third and most recent studio album, Gaadi of Truth, was released on January 20, 2015.

Red Baraat sparked a lively rhythm and dance party at the Bowery Ballroom tonight. Nine musicians jammed on that stage: five horn players, three percussionists, and one guitarist. Red Baraat harmonized the ancient sounds of Jain's cultural heritage with modern electronic sounds to create a mix of Bhangra, Latin, world, jazz, funk, hip-hop and go-go music. Their high-energy beats-and-brass world music even included traces of trance-inducing South Asian Qawwali and South American cumbia. Pushing the dohl and the sousaphone through electronic effects led to exciting new turns in the midst of the core indigenous sounds. The fiery, propulsive dance-friendly blend provoked the multi-national audience to shake hips while waving swaying hands to the sky. Brooklyn has never had a stronger party band.

Visit Red Baraat at www.redbaraat.com.

Gang of Four at Irving Plaza

Andy Gill
(with John "Gaoler" Sterry in the background)
The rock band known as Gang of Four formed in 1977 in Leeds, England, during the punk era. The politically-charged quartet took its name from a newspaper account of four Chinese Cultural Revolution leaders ousted in 1976 after Mao Tse-Tung's death. The band played hard, funky rock with angry messages about social ills, and so road the coattails of the British punk rock movement. The once-angry, politically-charged quartet was a buzz band until it had a minor dance-pop hit with "I Love a Man In a Uniform" in 1983, for which its core audience abandoned the group. The band split in 1983. A new version of Gang of Four was revived in 1987 and split again in 1997. The original lineup reformed in 2004, but currently the sole remaining original member is guitarist Andy Gill. He is joined currently by vocalist John "Gaoler" Sterry, bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Jonny Finnegan. Gang of Four released its ninth album, What Happens Next, on February 24, 2015.

Gang of Four performed its first New York concert in 20 years tonight at Irving Plaza. While eight of the 16 songs in the set tonight were from Gang of Four's first two albums, the songs' youthful aggression was gone and the overall sound was more like the band's industrial-tinged electro-pop albums of the 1990s. Sterry was a fair singer, Gill played engaging syncopated and jagged guitar licks and the rhythm section held down a stripped-down funk and dub backbone. This spare-sounding mix of punk rock, funk and dub, with its emphasis on the social and political ills of society, was performed well, but it lacked bite and urgency. Perhaps part of the lull in dynamics was credibility; the new vocalist must have been a toddler when most of the songs were written. Gill's searing bursts of frayed metallic guitar kept the show energized, however. With only two new songs in the set, the show was more a retrospective than an entry into the new world.

Visit the Gang of Four at www.gangoffour.co.uk.