Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lucius at the Rose Bar

In 2005, while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig bonded over a love of old-school soul, David Bowie and the Beatles. Wolfe and Laessig started writing songs together, composing lyrics that explored their empathetic sense of otherness. The two supported each other by singing in unison, noting that they were drawn to doubled vocals on recordings. Wolfe and Laessig first performed their songs as Lucius in Boston area music clubs in 2007, accompanied by a cast of rotating musicians. After graduation, Wolfe and Laessig moved to Brooklyn, New York, into a Victorian home and former music school that included a 60-year-old recording studio. With access to residual recording equipment and instruments, including a grand Steinway piano from 1921, they attracted the other members of the current group, multi-instrumentalists Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri, all of whom had attended Berklee years before. Lucius' third album, Good Grief, will be released on March 11, 2016.

Performing tonight at the Rose Bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel, Wolfe and Laessig dressed identically (even to the hairdos!) and sang synchronously, two voices as one, on original stories spun from the same perspective. Wolfe and Laessig accompanied themselves on synthesizers, keyboards and percussion, but the riveting feature of their performance was their harmonic vocal kinship, which often lilted and resonated classically as the two voices mirrored each other. Whether rooted in a vintage country music flavored crooner or a 1960s girl-group-styled pop ditty, the singers' dual vocals were as mesmerizing as their retro smocks and their futuro leggings. Meanwhile, the three male musicians, dressed in matching suits, alternated between guitars and percussion and propelled the sound for a full and hearty band setting. Much of the set was powered by punchy dance beats, but it was the few country-flavored songs that were most impressive. Look for Lucius to generate a big buzz both in indie music and indie fashion.

Visit Lucius at www.ilovelucius.com.

Marshall Crenshaw at City Winery

Marshall Crenshaw was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in the suburb of Berkley, began playing guitar at age 10, and led a band through his high school years. He later played John Lennon in the musical Beatlemania, first as an understudy in New York in 1978, then in the West Coast company, and finally in a national touring company in 1980. Crenshaw began performing his original songs in New York City music clubs and in 1982 had a top 40 hit with the Buddy Holly-esque "Someday, Someway." Crenshaw appeared in the films La Bamba (in which he portrayed Holly) and Peggy Sue Got Married. Crenshaw has written for movie soundtracks and other songs have been covered by Bette Midler, Kelly Willis, Robert Gordon, Ronnie Spector, Marti Jones, Lou Ann Barton, America and the Gin Blossoms, with whom Crenshaw co-wrote the Top 10 single "Til I Hear It From You." In 1994, he published a book, Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock 'n' Roll in the Movies. Since 2011, Crenshaw has hosted The Bottomless Pit radio show  on a local college radio station, playing his massive collection of recorded music. His most recent projects include working on Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s HBO series Vinyl. After 10 albums, Crenshaw now frequently releases EPS to his subscribers.

Born in 1953, Marshall Crenshaw grew up listening to 1950s rock and roll and fell into the British Invasion pop resurgence and classic soul in the 1960s. At City Winery tonight, he was backed by the opening act, the country rocking Bottle Rockets, but for the most part he remained true to his rockabilly and pop roots. For much of the set, Crenshaw channeled Holly convincingly, but also offered more, between pop hooks featuring repetitive choruses and singer-songwriter ballads with folk roots or country spines. His compositions also often showed his wry humor, such as in "Cynical Girl" and "You're My Favorite Waste of Time." Marshall sang well and his music was pleasant, but his most compelling charm was the unassuming honesty that permeated his rock and roll performance.

Visit Marshall Crenshaw at www.marshallcrenshaw.com.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Murder City Devils at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Spencer Moody
The Murder City Devils formed in 1996 as a garage rock band in Seattle, Washington. Vocalist Spencer Moody, guitarists Dann Gallucci and Nate Manny, bassist Derek Fudesco, and drummer Coady Willis came together out of the remains of local bands Area 51, the Death Wish Kids, and the Hookers. Murder City Devils split after three albums and one EP in 2001 but reformed in 2006 with its original line-up. The band's fourth and most recent studio album is 2014's eight-song The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again.

Headlining at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Murder City Devils proved its music was for special tastes. Moody appeared to be somewhere a spoken word artist and a slam poet. He barely sang. Mostly he coarsely shouted lyrics into his microphone while the band blasted fast, primal chords behind him. The pummeling set was raw, aggressive and harsh on the ears. It was as pleasant as listening to a jackhammer, and almost as abrasive. Call this music extreme wordcore. Presently the audience for this kind of assault is minimal. Caution: this music could scratch your face off.

Visit the Murder City Devils at www.themurdercitydevils.com.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Epica at Irving Plaza

Simone Simons
After seven years in Dutch progressive/symphonic metal After Forever, rhythm guitarist Mark Jansen in 2002 formed a similar band, originally called Sahara Dust. Both bands were led by a smooth female singer whom he contrasted by adding death-metal growls. Sahara Dust initially assembled a choir (made up of two men and four women) and a string orchestra (three violins, two violas, two cellos and an upright bass) to play along with the core band. Sahara Dust soon became Epica, inspired by Kamelot’s album of the same name. Epica presently consists of lead vocalist Simone Simons, guitarists Isaac Delahaye and Mark Jansen, keyboardist  Coen Janssen, bassist Rob van der Loo and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek. The band's seventh and most recent album is 1994's The Quantum Enigma.

Last year, after launching a North American tour with Eluveitie, Epica cancelled remaining dates so that Simons could fly back to the Netherlands to tend to a family emergency. Epica began a 2016 tour tonight with a headlining show at Irving Plaza. Entering to a pre-recorded orchestral "Originem," the musicians took their positions and opened with two live songs from the most recent album. While the males spun their long hair, Simons made sure hers did not get in her face as she soared into high operatic ranges. When Jansen came forth for his death growls, Simons retreated and joined in the hair spinning. Simons' melodic singing matched the band's power metal elements while her retreats signaled the band to move into more symphonic metal interludes. The songs were complex compositions, and the multiple crescendos in the orchestration aided the soft and hard transitions. Halfway through the set, Jansen invited fans to vote between "Storm the Sorrow" and "The Last Crusade," then played both. Simons cautioned the stream of crowd surfers early on ("I'm a mother, so I worry about everybody"), and at the end of the set asked that they halt so that the fans in the front could enjoy the final song. Epica performed a 100-minute set that included one to four songs from six of the band's albums; Epica’s non-metal 2005 album The Score – An Epic Journey, the soundtrack for a Dutch movie, was not represented. Epica's performance demonstrated that progressive metal and melodic, symphonic power metal can breathe harmoniously.

Visit Epica at www.epica.nl.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Scott Stapp at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Vocalist Scott Stapp (born Anthony Scott Flippen) was born in Orlando, Florida, and befriended guitarist Mark Tremonti at school. They formed Naked Toddler in 1993 in Tallahassee, Florida; bouncing off the religious inclination of Stapp's lyrics, the band was renamed Creed by 1995. Creed sold more than 50 million albums, but disagreements between Tremonti and Stapp ended Creed in 2004; the band reunited in 2009 for a fourth album and split again in 2013. Stapp released solo albums in 2005 and 2013. Although already sensationalized in tabloids, Stapp documented his history of substance abuse, suicidal ideation and bipolar meltdowns in his 2012 memoir and on VH1’s Couples Therapy with Dr. Jenn  reality television show in 1995.

Headlining at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall, Stapp was often in strong voice as he recalled the Creed catalogue that awarded him a career. The set was a spin-off of Creed's last tour and Stapp's 2014 tour, except that this time around Stapp was backed by lead guitarist Yiannis Papadopoulos, rhythm guitarist Ben Flanders, bassist Sammy Hudson, and drummer Dango Empire. The circumstances, with the audience pressed up against the stage and reaching out to touch him, made for an unusually personal experience. He responded by being more chatty between songs. He acknowledged the warmth of the fans, and spoke of his tumultuous past as he introduced "Slow Suicide" and "Justify." Stapp later spoke about how his recovery to better health included getting outside of himself, manifested by his commitment to adopting a village in the Philippines; from the stage he distributed packages with information about sponsoring a child in that village. Throughout the concert, Stapp and his band's performance was meticulous and nearly flawless, rocking hard with spiritually stimulating songs . The question remains, however, as to when Stapp will be able to live beyond the shadow of Creed's catalogue and establish his own musical identity.

Visit Scott Stapp at www.scottstapp.com.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Asleep at the Wheel at City Winery

Ray Benson
Ray Benson, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, formed western swing band Asleep at the Wheel in 1970 in Paw Paw, West Virginia. The band soon moved to East Oakland, California, then to Austin, Texas, which has been the band's home base since 1973. With an ever-changing roster, Asleep at the Wheel has more than 80 alumni. Asleep at the Wheel has recorded more than 20 studio albums, the most recent being Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, released on March 3, 2015.

At City Winery tonight, Asleep at the Wheel performed a western swing set that resounded eerily from another era. Benson and company continued striving to revive music that is perhaps too roots-based for the general country music market and too country for the mainstream market. When the music leaned towards big band swing, a fiddle or pedal steel replaced the traditional sound of the clarinet to countrify the sound, and when the band rocked, the musical chops harbored a latent skeleton of honky tonk. Benson crooned especially well on the softer, jazzier songs, but his deep voice also gave a wave to the bouncy boogie woogie songs. Toe-tappers from start to finish, the songs reveled in a celebration of the richness of Americana music.

Visit Asleep at the Wheel at www.asleepatthewheel.com.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Moon Hooch at the Mercury Lounge

Saxophonist Mike Wilbur was raised in Massachusetts, drummer James Muschler in Ohio and saxophonist Wenzl McGowen grew up in several European countries. The three musicians met while attending the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. There, the Brooklyn-based trio became Moon Hooch and began playing dance-oriented percussion- and saxophone-based music on subway platforms. The frequent impromptu raves grew so wild that the local police precinct ultimately banned the band from playing underground in hipster Williamsburg. Moon Hooch's second album, This Is Cave Music, was released in 2014.

The Mercury Lounge offered a proper stage and sound system tonight, and so Moon Hooch went legit. Between songs, the musicians played brief free-jazz interludes, but for most of the concert they played uptempo party music. Like a fine jazz band, the three musicians weaved a tapestry of minimalistic music that was lively and energetic. Muschler played muscular, complex rhythms, McGowen often anchored a thick bass line on baritone sax or contrabass clarinet, and Wilbur jammed trance-inducing melodies on tenor sax. The majority of the set was instrumental, but Wilbur sporadically sang and rapped. The horn players also manipulated distortion occasionally by synthesizing the saxes or by adding found objects to the bells of their instruments. The performance was as fascinating to watch as to hear.

Visit Moon Hooch at www.moonhooch.com.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

St. Paul & the Broken Bones at the Bowery Ballroom

Paul Janeway
As a boy, Paul Janeway, a native of the small town of Chelsea, Alabama, was immersed in his local church. He played guitar and sang background vocals in the church while planning on becoming a preacher. His vision changed in his early 20s when he began attending open mic nights in music clubs in Birmingham, Alabama. He briefly joined a band that played Led Zeppelin covers, and in the mid-2000s sang in the alternative soul outfit The Secret Dangers. In 2012, Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips attempted one last project before quitting music and focusing on other careers. As the two began working around Janeway's voice, they realized they were forming a soul outfit and assembled local musicians to support that. After two EPs, St. Paul & the Broken Bones' debut album, Half the City, was released in 2014. The band is comprised of Janeway, Phillips, guitarist Browan Lollar, drummer Andrew Lee, keyboardist Al Gamble, trumpeter Allen Branstetter and trombonist Ben Griner.

Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, St. Paul & the Broken Bones opened with an instrumental jam that showcased the rhythm and blues direction that the concert would take. Janeway then appeared from the wings, looking unlike a rock star in black-framed glasses, business suit, open-collared shirt -- and stacked-heel multi-color shoes! Upon reaching for the microphone, however, the showman was revealed and he immediately dominated the stage. Janeway approached his vocals with the passionate fire of a dynamic gospel singer. Reviving the 1960s soul sounds of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, Janeway and the musicians sparkled with electrifying power. The set consisted of 11 original songs and four covers: Van Morrison's "I've Been Working," David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," Tom Waits' "Make It Rain" and the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." Some of the songs rocked hard, but Janeway's vocals remained faithful to his heartfelt, soul-filled delivery. This kind of performance has a broad potential appeal; given the platform, St. Paul & the Broken Bones' performance could never go unnoticed.

Visit St. Paul & the Broken Bones at www.stpaulandthebrokenbones.com.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ozomatli at the Highline Ballroom

Raul Pacheco
In 1995, the members of what would become Ozomatli met while attempting to form a workers union in Los Angeles, California. Though they were not able to win recognition, they were given an abandoned building for one month. The building became a cultural arts center, and within it Ozomatli was born. The band originally was called Todos Somos Marcos, but soon became Ozomatli, named after a character on the Aztec calendar. Ozomatli won three Latin Grammy awards and released its seventh album, Place in the Sun, in 2014. The group also is known for advocating for farm-workers' rights and immigration reform. The current musicians in Ozomatli are guitarist Raúl Pacheco, trumpeter Asdrubal Sierra, saxophonist Ulises Bella, bassist Wil-Dog Abers, drummer Wally Valdez, and percussionists Jiro Yamaguchi and Justin 'El Niño' Porée. A new album featuring tributes to Latin music greats will be released in 2016.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, Ozomatli symbolized a multicultural Los Angeles, featuring white, Latino, and Asian members. Ozomatli jammed a dynamic party mix of rock, Latin, hip hop, jazz, funk, and reggae, and on this night also included video footage and dancers into the set. The richness of the set was not only its diversity, but also its rather unique emphasis on Latin rhythms including salsa and cumbia, entities not often incorporated into rock music. As the set progressed, the accent of the lively music alternated between horns, percussion and vocals, as grooves locked in and flowed fluidly. The concert ended with the musicians and dancers walking into the center of the audience playing percussion and horns. The musicians and dancers then started a conga line that weaved through the dance floor. The show was as visually stimulating as it was aurally pleasing.

Visit Ozomatli at www.ozomatli.com.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nile at the Gramercy Theatre

Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade
Guitarist/vocalist Karl Sanders launched a thrash metal band named Morriah in 1983. Morriah recorded a demo and opened for several touring metal bands. The band fired the lead vocalist in 1993 and the remaining musicians formed Nile, a technical death metal band based out of Greenville, South Carolina. The new band's music and lyrics were inspired by ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern mythology, mysticism, history, religion, and ancient art, as well as H.P. Lovecraft's horror novels. After frequent line-up upheavals, the present Nile consists of Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade on vocals and guitars, Brad Parris on vocals and bass, and George Kollias on drums. Nile's eighth and most recent album, What Should Not Be Unearthed, was released on August 28, 2015.

Nile appeared onstage at the Gramercy Theatre tonight as a pre-recorded "Ushabti Reanimator" played through the speakers, introducing a symphonic sound that would have suited a film about ancient Egypt. Once the band positioned itself, however, it ripped into speedy, crunching, growling metal. With Kollias playing double bass drums, a hair-spinning Parris hitting the bass strings both on down and up strokes, and two guitarists alternating hyper-driven licks, NIle's approach was strictly brutal and merciless. Complex cadences varied within songs, such that identifying a melody was often challenging, and the musical assault often was too fast and furious for a human brain to follow. Hard-to-decipher growls and howls seemed to call out to ancient deities. To enhance the Egyptian motif, pre-recorded Middle Eastern styled singing and gongs played between and during some of the songs, as well as pieces of cinematic, symphonic works. This was extreme metal with an ancient twist.

Visit Nile at www.nile-catacombs.net.