Tuesday, June 16, 2015

G.B.H. at the Gramercy Theatre

Colin Abrahall
Among the pioneers of the British street punk movement called "UK82," G.B.H. formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England. The initials originated from "grievous bodily harm," a term used in British courts. Upon learning that there was a metal band by that name, the punk band changed its name to Charged G.B.H. When the metal band split in 1984, the punk band resumed using the shorter name G.B.H. The band's most recent album is 2010's Perfume and Piss. The band currently features two original members, vocalist Colin Abrahall and guitarist Colin "Jock" Blyth, nearly-original bassist Ross Lomas and long-time drummer Scott Preece.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, G.B.H. changed the set somewhat from last year's tour, but with no new material in five years, there was not that much to change. Last year the band performed all 15 songs from its 1981 Leather, Bristle, Studs and Acne compilation album; this year the band stopped at nine tracks and then moved into the bonus tracks from 1982's City Baby Attacked By Rats and 1983's City Babys Revenge. Except for three songs from the band's 2010 album, the remaining 21 songs were from GBH's earliest period, from 1981 to 1983. Looking leathered and weathered, spikey blond Abrahall grunted lyrics mocking contemporary culture and politics. Meanwhile, the power trio behind him remained faithful to its original UK82 purist punk sound. Songs were wrapped in simple loud and fast three-chord power punches that induced moshing and crowd surfing. With very little talk or breathing space between short, no-frills songs, the pounding proved relentless. The one surprise was guitarist Shawn Smash of opening act Total Chaos joining the G.B.H. on "Cadillac One," playing a more Chuck Berry-styled guitar lead. Otherwise, this was punk for purists.

Visit G.B.H. at www.gbhuk.com.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Otep at the Studio at Webster Hall

Otep Shamaya
Otep Shamaya has said that her first name originated from her mother's interest in Egyptian history; it is also an anagram for the word "poet." Shamaya grew up in Los Angeles, California, and formed the nu metal band Otep (also written as OTEP or OT3P) in 2000. The band's first big break came after only a few gigs when Sharon Osbourne caught the band's live performance and invited Otep to perform at Ozzfest. Otep has released six albums, the most recent being 2013's Hydra. In addition to Shamaya on vocals, Otep presently consists of guitarist Aristotle Mihalopoulos, bassist Corey Wolford and drummer Justin Kier.

At the Studio at Webster Hall tonight, Otep performed a fierce and primal set of hard, blasting nu metal with significant doses of alternative metal, goth metal, industrial metal and death metal. Shamaya was a performance artist with a mysterious aura, partly due to her red-and-white-colored contact lenses and the surrounding decapitated doll heads and blood-dripped masks. Appearing strong, fearless, defiant and dominant, Shamaya roared, growled, grunted, purred, rapped and sang aggressively while the power trio behind her split eardrums with music as raw and heavy as a cement mixing truck. The masked, bare-chested, gladiator-looking guitarist played precise, searing leads and crunching chords while the rhythm section pounded out fist-pumping tribal rhythms. Shamaya's magnetic personality and chilling shrieks consistently drew the audience back into a dark recess where unsettling madness reigns. Otep showed it has the potential to outdo Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie in the arena of horror art rock.

Visit Otep at www.otepsaves.me.

The Heartless Bastards at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Ericka Wennerstrom
Erika Wennerstrom was born in Dayton, Ohio, but at age 18 she relocated to nearby Cincinnati, picked up a guitar, began writing songs, and started performing at open-mike nights. She sang in a local garage rock band called Shesus in 2012, but left in 2013 to form a new band, taking the name The Heartless Bastards from an incorrect answer on a multiple-choice trivia game. (The question was "What is the name of Tom Petty's backing band?") With vocalist/guitarist Wennerstrom as the only constant member, the band presently includes guitarist Mark Nathan, bassist Jesse Ebaugh and drummer Dave Colvin. The Heartless Bastards' fifth album, Restless Ones, will be released tomorrow.

Wennerstrom is now based in Austin, Texas, and it showed at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight. Once more of a garage rock band, the Heartless Bastards demonstrated how much its sound has matured. The band maintained an alternative roots rock core with an occasional taste of Texas-styled outlaw country. Far from a full-tilt twang, these southern elements simply informed the banging rock on songs like "The Gates of Dawn" and "Only for You." Wennerstrom crooned in a somewhat gnarled manner to simple, swaying melodies and easily predictable chord shifts. Later, when Nathan began distorting his guitar sounds, inducing feedback, one could easily forget the Americana influence. The Heartless Bastards drew from rock and roots traditions, and came close to stamping its own signature uniqueness; a little more cutting edge freshness could place the band in the big leagues.

Visit the Heartless Bastards at www.theheartlessbastards.com.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Everlast at the Bowery Ballroom

Ice-T welcomed Erik Schrody into his Rhyme Syndicate Cartel in the late 1980s and released Schrody's first album as Everlast in 1990. Born in Valley Stream, New York, the Irish-American rapper did not gain national attention until he formed the rap group House of Pain and hat a hit with "Jump Around" in 1992. After three albums, Everlast left in 1996 for a solo career. He suffered a massive cardiac arrest stemming from a congenital defect, resulting in heart bypass surgery and an artificial valve implant. After recovery, recorded his second solo album—eight years after his first; Everlast reinvented himself with the multi-platinum-selling Whitey Ford Sings the Blues in 1998, which combined a largely acoustic base with folk, blues, rap and soul. In 1999, Everlast performed on Santana's Grammy-winning "Put Your Lights On," and later joined La Coka Nostra (2006-2012), but his solo career floundered through five more solo albums. Everlast's seventh and most recent solo album, The Life Acoustic, was released in 2013. He is now based in Los Angeles, California.

At a rare seated concert at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Everlast was accompanied simply by his acoustic guitar and a keyboardist. The two stools on stage were reserved not for the two musicians to set, but one for Everlast's hard liquor and the other for his bottled water. Singing in a gravelly Tom Waits-styled rasp, Everlast tackled an acoustic set that was inspired by elements of folk, blues, and country. Despite his hip-hop roots, a mellower Everlast performed a lengthy block of deeply emotional ballads. On his older songs, while he faintly maintained the cadence of hip hop, parts that had once been rapped were now sung. The audience's acceptance of this transition to the new Everlast became pronounced when he received encouraging applause for his sweet take on Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Nevertheless, although House of Pain seems to be long in his past in favor of this softer acoustic approach, by the end of the set Everlast was still able to get his fans to "Jump Around."

Visit Everlast at www.martyr-inc.com.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Andra Day at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village

Singer/songwriter Andra Day began perfecting her powerful voice in the vocal track at the prestigious San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. Although trained in classical music, she worked in some rhythm & blues, rock, jazz, doo-wop, and blues. Stevie Wonder’s wife stumbled across one of her performances and shared it with Wonder, who referred her to a producer. Day’s jazzy, soulful interpretations of Muse's "Uprising" and Eminem's "Lose Yourself" were so successful on YouTube that Ellen DeGeneres offered to help Day gain recognition. Day's debut album will be released later this year.

Andra Day had the attention of the audience even before she sang a note at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel tonight. Her exaggerated mascara, bright lipstick, black sheer and velvet dress with silver chain accessories would catch double-takes anywhere. Once she began singing, however, nothing else mattered. The thin woman with a big sultry voice invoked Amy Winehouse, Rhiannon and Lauryn Hill, threw in some Nina Simone/Billie Holiday-styled jazz and even some reggae and hip hop inflections, and the results were riveting. The soft musical backup and the finely-crafted melodic pop songs, mostly about the complexity of love, perfectly fit her rich, classy voice. Given the right break, Andra Day will become a superstar vocalist.

Visit Andra Day at www.andraday.com.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Maccabees at le Poisson Rouge

Orlando Weeks
Prior to forming the indie-rocking Maccabees in 2004 in London, England, vocalist Orlando Weeks was a public-school-educated art student interested in naturalist broadcasts . He connected with left-handed guitarist Felix White while playing soccer together on their school's common. They recruited Felix's 16-year-old brother, Hugo White, also an guitarist. Rupert Jarvis was an automotive engineering student hoping to become a race car driver; he was recruited on bass because he could play Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" on guitar. The musicians selected their band name by browsing the Bible and picking out a random word; the original Maccabees were a second-century Judean army whose victory started the tradition of Chanukah. Drummer Sam Doyle joined the band in 2008. The band's fourth album, Marks To Prove It, will be released on July 31, 2015.

The Maccabees earned a large following in Great Britain, and success is promising on American shores. Currently on tour opening for Mumford & Sons, the band squeezed in a headlining engagement tonight at le Poisson Rouge, a much smaller venue than the tour allows. The Maccabees played a kinetic set of original songs whose key features were soft vocals backed by a vibrating wall of sound created by jangly indie guitars, wistful keyboards and often driving rhythms. Beginning with the title track from the second album, tonight's set included 12 songs from the band's first three albums as well as four new songs from the forthcoming album. Curiously forfeiting the dynamics of musical peaks and valleys, the music fell somewhere between Coldplay's soft center and Arcade Fire's thunderous delivery. It will be interesting to see if this blend of sounds will find an audience in the states.

Visit the Maccabees at www.themaccabees.co.uk.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Luigi & the Wise Guys at Otto's Shrunken Head

Frankie Rage & Luigi Scorcia
Back in the late 1970s, Brooklyn native Luigi Scorcia hit the New York club scene, frequently collaborating with Johnny Thunders, with both of them playing in each other's bands. Scorcia formed Luigi & the Wise Guys as a punky rock and roll band in 1978, with Scorcia's tough Italian-American attitude powering his lead guitar work. He recruited a Puerto Rican singer from the Bronx, Frankie Rage, who brought soul and even a taste of doo-wop to the mix. Luigi & the Wise Guys played Max's Kansas City and all the local dives until its breakup in 1980. Scorcia then pursued an acting career, appearing in We Own the Night (2007), Couples (2008) and 2 Days in New York (2012), and Rage underwent treatment for cancer.

After 35 years apart, Luigi & the Wise Guys reformed with bassist Lewis Mazzio from Queens and drummer Niki Fuse from New Jersey to perform in the Max's Kansas City 50th Anniversary shows at the Bowery Electric. The band then performed a second set a few nights later at Otto's Shrunken Head. Performing the Heartbreakers-sounding "Johnny Ace," the Ramones-sounding "Hot Piece of Merchandize" and the mellower "Born Loser" among other vintage tracks, the quartet returned to straight-up rock and roll form. Scorcia propelled the set with stinging guitar leads and riffs, but more importantly Rage demonstrated vivid proof of his victory over a life-threatening disease with strong vocals and stage presence. We do not know if Luigi & the Wise Guys will return to the local stages, but these performances revisited a classic page from the history of New York club rock.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Max's Kansas City 50th Anniversary at the Bowery Electric

Max's Kansas City was a primary New York hot spot for live music from 1965 to 1981. Located at 213 Park Avenue South, just off of Union Square, the street floor was a restaurant that catered to a business crowd in the day and an art crowd at night. The upstairs room featured live music.

Logistically, the upstairs room was awkward. The kitchen for the downstairs restaurant was situated in the side center of the upstairs room. Not only was it sometimes noisy there, but the kitchen significantly blocked the sight lines to the stage. Music fans wanted a table near the front, because there were perhaps only 50 good seats; as the seating area narrowed alongside the kitchen, the sight lines became poorer and poorer until you could see no more. Often it was better to stand in the aisle outside the kitchen.

Until the mid-1970s, artists usually were booked for a full week, Tuesdays through Saturdays, performing two sets each night. The historic shows were countless; Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band opening for comedian Martin Mull; Bob Marley & the Wailers later opening for Springsteen; Gram Parsons shortly before his death introducing a then-unknown Emmylou Harris in his band.

Concerts in general became more popular, and the much larger Bottom Line's opening in 1974 started to draw all the major acts. Max's then featured local glitter rock and glam bands like the New York Dolls, and Wayne County became the house disc jockey. Peter Crowley was hired to book bands at Max's, and he helped usher in the punk rock era with the Patti Smith Group, the Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Television, Suicide, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Dictators, the Cramps, Mink DeVille, the Misfits, the Fleshtones, the B-52's, Suicide, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, the Runaways, the Damned and Sid Vicious. In 1977, David Bowie introduced Devo there as "the band of the future."

Bad Brains and the Beastie Boys performed at the closing night at Max's in November 1981. The building then became a delicatessen.

The Bowery Electric celebrated Max's Kansas City's 50th Anniversary on June 4-7 with concerts booked by Peter Crowley. These four nights featured some of the surviving artists from the early punk rock years as well as newer artists that continue to live the spirit of that era. The photographs below represent only a few of the more than 25 acts who performed.

Jahn Xavier & the Bowerytones
Miss Guy of the Toilet Boys
Frankie Rage of Luigi & the Wise Guys
Joe Sztabnik & Cynthia Ross of New York Junk
Bill Popp
Sonny Vincent of the Testors
Walter Lure of the Waldos
Puma Perl
Ricky Byrd
Arthur Stevenson of Sea Monster
Preston Morris III & Kenny Gordon of Pure Hell

Modern Life Is War at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Jeffrey Eaton
Modern Life Is War formed in 2002 in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was applauded for taking hardcore punk music into a more progressive direction. MLIW often slowed down the music but maintained intensity while also avoiding standard song structures and including socio-political lyrics. The band released three albums in six years but after personnel changes split in 2008. The original band reunited in 2012 for a new album and tour. MLIW consists of vocalist Jeffrey Eaton, guitarists John Paul Eich and Matt Hoffman, bassist Chris Honeck and drummer Tyler Oleson. Modern Life is War released a remastered 10th anniversary version of its 2005 album Witness on June 2, 2015, and performed the album in its entirety on a nine-date North American tour.

Fans gathered at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall to hear Modern Life Is War perform Witness in its entirety, and that is pretty much all they got. MLIW performed the nine tracks plus four additional tracks and called it a night. With screamo vocals and screaming instruments, MLIW captured the youthful rage, despair and ennui of small town life, in the end simply encouraging the fans to simply be themselves and rise. The fans responded to the soundtrack to this message with heavy moshing and stage diving. After the album's nine tracks, the band performed two songs from the debut album and two songs from the later two albums, with a mention that the band is working on new music. Modern Life Is War gave new life to its watershed album, but with a set that lasted less than an hour and no encore, perhaps left its fans hungry for more.

Visit Modern Life Is War at www.modernlifeiswarofficial.com.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Refused at the Bowery Ballroom

Dennis Lyxzen
When Dennis Lyxzén was a teen-ager in Umeå, Sweden, his classmates were listening to pop and heavy metal. Lyxzén, however, listened to hardcore punk, particularly from New York bands. Eventually he had to convince a few metal heads to share his vision and form a hardcore band. Today, Lyxzén sings in several bands in Sweden, including the hardcore AC4 and the more new wave INVSN (a.k.a. Invasionen). In America, his best known band is the recently reunited Refused, a band that morphed pop, punk and screamo. Refused formed in 1991 and released three albums before disbanding in 1998. The band reunited in 2012 for a world tour, then split again and recently reunited again for a 2015 album and tour. Refused will release its fourth studio album (and the first in 17 years), Freedom, on June 30, 2015. The band presently is composed of Lyxzén, guitarist Kristofer Steen, bassist Magnus Flagge and original drummer David Sandström.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Refused professed that it was a living, active band by starting the concert with a song from the forthcoming album. Like the rest of the set, the song featured strong, coarse guitar lines and raging screamo vocals. The second song was the title track of the band's best-known album, 1998's The Shape of Punk to Come; of the evening's 15 songs, nine would come from that album. Angry, aggressive and intense, the volatile dynamic never softened, even with detours to off-kilter beats and ambient sounds. While  Lyxzén worked the audience visually, Steen work the sound aurally, with guitar progressions that frequently squealed louder than Lyxzén's vocals. Refused did not come back to life for a nostalgia or throwback show; on the contrary, the band returned more dangerous than ever.

Refused will return to a New York stage on August 5 opening for Faith No More at Madison Square Garden. In the meantime, visit Refused at www.officialrefused.com.