Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mischief Brew at le Poisson Rouge

Erik Petersen
After four years screaming in the Orphans, a punk band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Erik Petersen went solo in June 2000. He confined himself to a basement with an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, a rickety drum kit, and some anarchistic ideologies inspired by the 1960s anti-establishment protest movement. He started performing this new music locally, finally gathering a rhythm section and, as Mischief Brew, performing DIY anarcho-punk music which incorporated elements of American folk, swing and gypsy-influenced punk. The band's most recent album is 2011's The Stone Operation. Mischief Brew is presently comprised of Petersen on vocals, guitar and mandolin, Chris “Doc” Kulp on guitar, Shawn St. Clair on bass, and Christopher Petersen on drums.

Opening for the Subhumans and Sheer Terror tonight at le Poisson Rouge, Mischief Brew seemed to have brought its own following, including many fans who came up on stage to sing along before diving off the stage for some crowd surfing. Petersen projected a struggling working class solidarity, dressed like a laborer and shouting lyrics fit for Occupy Philadelphia. Musically, Mischief Brew often sounded like a street corner busking ensemble or a late night Irish pub jam. Some of the punch in the songs even hinted at the oompah of polka. Filtering these diverse influences through punk energy, Mischief Brew successfully generated a riveting, rousing revelry. Somewhere between the Clash and the Pogues, there is Mischief Brew.

Visit Mischief Brew at www.mischiefbrew.com.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Delbert McClinton at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Delbert McClinton was born in 1940 in Lubbock, Texas, and at age 11 relocated with his family to Fort Worth, Texas. His first band, the Straitjackets, backed Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed at local roadhouses. McClinton in 1962 played harmonica on Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby." Playing in Chanel's band on a British tour with the Beatles, McClinton instructed John Lennon on the finer points of blues harmonica playing. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, McClinton first partnered with fellow Texan Glen Clark, releasing two albums of country/soul music before splitting and McClinton embarked on a solo career. McClinton enjoyed a hit single, "Givin' It Up for Your Love," in 1980, won three Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in March 2011. McClinton's 28th album, Blind, Crippled and Crazy, was released in 2013.

McClinton underwent emergency heart bypass surgery in April but, performing a two-and-a-half hour set only three months later at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill, the 73-year-old singer and harmonica player was in superb form. He said he felt better than ever and jokingly recommended this surgery for everyone in the audience over 65. Now more than three decades after his biggest hit, it hardly mattered what songs he sang; his rich Texas gumbo of hot electric blues, rousing honky-tonk country and smooth blue-eyed soul made every song enjoyable. Even when his yearning timbre seemed to be stretching to hit high notes, this made his drawling melodies sound even more soulful. Then he added more blues effect with his wailing harmonica as the band pumped a swaggering rhythm sprinkled with red Texas dust. Although the tables were pressed close together, audience members often were moved to stand and dance at their seats. McClinton has played more or less the same kind of nascent roots music for 50 years and it still sounded contemporary and celebratory.

Delbert McClinton returns to B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill on November 7. In the meantime, visit McClinton at www.delbert.com.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Veruca Salt at the Bowery Ballroom

Nina Gordon and Louise Post
A mutual friend in Chicago introduced Louise Post and Nina Gordon, and the two singer/guitarists began writing songs and playing music together. A year and a half later, in 1993, Gordon's brother, drummer Jim Shapiro, and bassist Steve Lack filled out the alternative rock quartet Veruca Salt, named after the spoiled rich girl in Roald Dahl's children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The band achieved success with its first two albums. Post and Gordon then had a still-undisclosed dispute in 1998, resulting in Gordon leaving the band to pursue a solo career. Post kept the name of the band, even as further personnel changes left her as the sole original member. Post had a baby in 2012 and Veruca Salt went on hiatus. The catalyst again is unknown to the public, but after 15 years apart, the original band members reunited in 2013, released a 10-inch vinyl disc containing two new songs, "It's Holy" and "The Museum of Broken Relationships," for Record Store Day 2014, and scheduled an album of new collaborations for fall 2014 release.

It was a good sign to the audience when Post and Gordon walked on stage (and similarly left the stage) holding hands at the Bowery Ballroom tonight. It signified that a rift was mended. The original Veruca Salt was all harmonies again. Veruca Salt began its set with "Get Back," the first track from the band's debut American Thighs album, and carried the old sound faithfully through 21 more songs. The band rocked hard, but the nut was not in Post and Gordon's sporadic guitar solos; it was in their engaging vocals and the pleasant melodies. Although the two new songs were performed, Veruca Salt did not move very far from home base. If you liked Veruca Salt in the 1990s, the band tonight was simply picking up where it left off. By the time the band encored with "Shutterbug", "Volcano Girls", "Victrola" and "Earthcrosser," they had pleased the audience with a full back-catalogue of grrrl anthems.

Visit Veruca Salt at www.verucasalt.com.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sarah McLachlan at the Beacon Theater

As a child in Canada, Sarah McLachlan studied voice, classical piano and guitar. When she was a 17-year-old high school student, she fronted a short-lived new wave rock band called The October Game and was offered a recording contract. McLachlan's parents insisted she finish high school and complete one year of studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design before moving to Vancouver and embarking on a new life as a recording artist in 1988. Since then, McLachlan has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, and has won eight Juno and three Grammy Awards. Her first album of new songs in four years, Shine On, was released on May 6, 2014.

At the Beacon Theater tonight, McLachlan performed two sets separated by intermission. While acknowledging that the songs on her new album were close to her heart, she also performed a cross section of songs from her career. Backed by a four-piece band, McLachlan opened with a new song, "Flesh and Blood," but followed quickly with the 1997 Grammy-winning "Building a Mystery." Throughout the evening, she moved from acoustic guitar to piano to electric guitar, sometimes standing before the microphone with no instruments, singing soft, emotional ballads in intimate mezzo-soprano vocal range. On occasion, McLachlan started solo on piano before being accompanied by her band. The charm of her music was that there seemed to be no deliberate attempt at commercialism; her vulnerable lyrics often were built on personal dilemma, the compositions were not structured to emphasize a catchy chorus, and her vocal range was not capitalized by spotlights. This was mature music, made for listening.

McLachlan introduced many songs by sharing events in her life that spawned the lyrics. Twice during the concert, McLachlan randomly fielded written questions from her audience by drawing them out of a top hat, and then invited social media contest winners to join her on a couch in a makeshift living room by the side of the stage. She invited her guests to ask her spontaneous questions and then posed with them for selfies. The evening was so homey that by the end of her two-and-a-half-hour concert, it seemed McLachlan had tucked her audience into bed.

Visit Sarah McLachlan at www.sarahmclachlan.org.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Michael Franti & Spearhead at Pier 97

Michael Franti was born a biracial child in 1966 in Oakland, California. At the University of San Francisco, Franti met a priest who taught him how to tell a story on paper, and soon he was writing poetry. 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. Franti began his music career in 1986 as part of the industrial punk/spoken word band The Beatnigs. His next band, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, wrote politically charged lyrics that railed against the injustices of the world, set to a fusion of industrial music and hip hop. Franti in 1994 formed Spearhead, whose first album drew more from funk and soul music; later albums included more rock, hip hop and reggae elements. Michal Franti & Spearhead's most recent album is 2013's All People. The barefoot 6-foot-6 San Francisco-based singer-songwriter-guitarist is a vegan, an outspoken peace activist and environmentalist, and a philanthropist with links to several charities.

Pier 97 this evening had a festival spirit. The events began with a late afternoon yoga session, during which Franti played acoustic guitar. The concert portion began with several opening acts who shared his world vision. By the time Michael Franti & Spearhead hit the stage, the party was in full swing. Franti sang hope-filled songs about love and peace, leading his band into a light, bouncy pop mix  that blended rock, classic soul, hip hop, funk, reggae, jazz, folk, reggae, dancehall, bossa nova and Afrobeat, vitually anything that had a happy rhythm. Whether sung accompanied by a solo acoustic guitar or the entire band plus guests, the songs encouraged sing-alongs, and Franti extended choruses often to allow the audience to feel and feed the vibe. Franti sang several songs from the audience pit and throughout the show asked for participation through clapping, waving or singing. His pleas for world peace garnered heavy applause. The good-time show seemed to balance two dimensions; it seemed to have deep social meaning and was also an exciting channel of entertainment.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Scale the Summit at the Gramercy Theatre

Two guitarists, Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier, grew up in the same neighborhood in Houston, Texas, and reconnected in 2003 in a record store, discussing a common interest, Between the Buried and Me. The duo in 2005 enrolled in the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, California, mainly hoping to meet new people to join their band. They noticed Pat Skeffington wearing a Between the Buried and Me T-shirt with drumsticks protruding from his backpack, and found a bassist through a classified ad. Levrier coined the name Scale the Summit after seeing a photograph titled "The Summit" in a photography book. Initially, the band played technical metal behind a vocalist, but soon became an instrumental progressive metal band. Scale the Summit self-funded a demo CD, which was distributed at shows in Los Angeles. The band relocated back to Houston and in 2012 recruited Mark Michell as the current drummer. Scale the Summit's fourth and most current album is 2013's The Migration.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the crowd-surfing and moshing ended with Glass Cloud's set; the audience was riveted motionlessly to Scale the Summit's technical metal wizardry. Scale the Summit performed a full set of instrumental music accompanied by a video backdrop that introduced the title of each composition as it began and then looped moving images related to the title. Each member of the front line had extra strings on their instrument; the guitarists played seven strings and the bassist six. The band's soundscapes balanced intricate layers of shredding and melodic atmospheric pieces into a sonic harmony. Chugging "djent" guitar riffs led to clean jazz and classical-inspired movements, blending virtuosity with tastefulness. Letchford liberally peppered his trademark, fleet-fingered “tapping” style on the neck of his unusually-shaped guitar. Although many of the pieces featured complicated jazz-like structures, the progressive quartet seemed to play every song exactly as it was recorded, allowing no room for improvisation. Scale the Summit has reached the heights of Behind the Buried and Me, Animals as Leaders, Cynic and Protest the Hero.

Visit Scale the Summit at www.scalethesummit.com

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hollis Brown at the Drom

College friends Mike Montali  and Jon Bonilla wrote over 50 songs together before starting the band Hollis Brown in 2009 in Queens, New York. The band released a debut EP in 2012, and a debut album, Ride on the Train in 2013. For Record Store Day 2014, the band released the limited edition vinyl-only Gets Loaded, a track-for-track re-imagining of the Velvet Underground's 1970 album Loaded. After a few personnel changes, the band is currently comprised of Montali on vocals, Bonilla on guitar, Adam Bock on keyboards, Dillon Devito on bass and Andrew Zehnal on drums.

At the Drom tonight, Hollis Brown performed original songs as well as the Velvet Underground tracks. The original songs were built around heartfelt lyrics, sweet melodies  and country-styled harmonies to create a rustic and soulful rock sound. The musicians mixed a foundation of classic blues-based rock with southern rock guitar, honky tonk piano and a garage band rhythm section for a sound that felt familiar yet different. The Velvet Underground covers leaned more towards raw garage rock. Halfway through the performance, fellow local rocker Jesse Malin joined Hollis Brown on stage to sing the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane." Throughout the set, however, Hollis Brown showed that mainstream rock is alive and well.

Visit Hollis Brown at www.holiisbrown.com.

Cowboy Mouth at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Fred LeBlanc
Cowboy Mouth's founder, vocalist and drummer, Fred LeBlanc, has said that he was born deaf and with underdeveloped lungs. According to LeBlanc, his parents laid his head on stereo speakers when he was three years old, and baby Fred started to sing before he could talk. He played with local bands after high school in his native New Orleans, Louisiana, until he formed Cowboy Mouth in 1990, combining alternative rock with roots rock influences. Cowboy Mouth has recorded 10 studio albums, the most recent being 2014's Go.

Cowboy Mouth brings a bit of Cajun style and Mardi Gras to all its concerts everywhere. A Cowboy Mouth concert is an interactive experience, in that LeBlanc makes his audience work as hard as he does. At B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill tonight, the music existed for the show. LeBlanc sang well, the four musicians played well, and the high-energy songs were raucously joyful. LeBlanc was a large ringleader and projected an ever larger personality. This personality frequently overwhelmed the music. Even with the opening song, LeBlanc spent an extended time instructing his fans to dance, jump and "lose your mind." Then as the band continued playing a rhythm, LeBlanc descended from his drum riser on the stage and spent perhaps 10 minutes going through the club table by table demanding that the diners stand up. As the performance progressed, the rowdy music was enjoyable, many songs included repetitive hooks for audience shout-alongs, and the audience had fun being part of the spectacle. Nevertheless, LeBlanc's ongoing rants for audience participation were way over the top. Cowboy Mouth would do well to moderate a more manageable balance between quality song performance and party revelry.

Visit Cowboy Mouth at www.cowboymouth.com.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Future of What at the Standard Hotel, East Village

After touring on Die Young, her 2010 solo album in 2011, Blair Gimma desired to collaborate with a band rather than repeat the solo process. She met Sam Axelrod, formerly of Chicago noise band The Narrator and a fan of her solo album, in 2011 at a Thanksgiving party in Brooklyn, New York. Shortly thereafter, the two musicians began to play music together, eventually adding Max Kotelchuck to form Future of What. The band's demo tapes became its debut EP, Moonstruck. Pro Dreams, the trio's debut full-length of romantic pop songs, has reworked versions of the Moonstruck songs plus several more songs.

Performing tonight at the Annie O. music series at the Standard Hotel, East Village, Future of What played a 45-minute set of original synth-pop songs. The music was soft and dreamy, with Gimma singing in pillow-talk the whole time. The band's songs were a wave of bright yet somber sound. The synth beats were slow and light, and unlike most synth music, devoid of blips and effects. The key ingredient that meshed together the performance was its harmonic simplicity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

SomeKindaWonderful at the Studio at Webster Hall

In 2013, a disillusioned Jordy Towers left Los Angeles, California, where he was hoping to make it big as a singer. While visiting family in the small town of Olmstead Falls, Ohio, he met guitarist Matt Gibson and drummer Ben Schigel. Three hours later, they recorded the song "Reverse." Since then, the song generated nearly two million streams on Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud. The Cleveland-based trio added vocalist/percussionist Sarah Dyer and bassist/keyboardist Steve Basil. SomeKindaWonderful released its self-titled debut album on June 23, 2014.

Making its New York debut tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall, SomeKindaWonderful left an impression. Emotive singing with stinging guitar licks and funky bass lines made for a sparse rock and soul groove that propelled a series of radio-crafted pop compositions. One song had a reggae lilt, another felt like it was written in a gospel church, and several were born of Towers' hip hop roots. SomeKindaWonderful defied genres, but ultimately may find a home within the burgeoning neo-soul movement.

Visit SomeKindaWonderful at www.somekindawonderful.com.