Tuesday, September 23, 2014

After the Burial at the Gramercy Theatre

Anthony Notarmaso
Guitarists Trent Hafdahl and Justin Lowe met in high school in Twin Cities, Minnesota. They founded After the Burial in 2004 and posted an ad on a local hardcore message board. Bassist Lerichard "Lee" Foral responded and joined the progressive metal and "djent" band. The band has experienced two vocalist changes and two drummer changes and presently includes vocalist Anthony Notarmaso and drummer Dan Carle. After the Burial's fourth and most recent album, Wolves Within, was released on December 17, 2013.

After the Burial built up a following with its first two albums, but slickened its music for a broader audience with its third album, turning off many of the band's original fans. Perhaps in regret, the band reissued its older music while working on its return-to-basics fourth album. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, After the Burial succeeded in blending tracks from the four albums into one sound. Amid flashing back lights blinding the fans in front, the band launched its set with "A Wolf Amongst Ravens," the closing track from the new album. Between harsh vocal verses, Notarmaso calmly surveyed the audience, as the band played a down-tuned mid-tempo groove leading to a high-end guitar lead. This was brutal metallic djent. An older song, "Cursing Akhenaten," then revived the band's former breakdown-laden percussion-thrashing machine gun style. By the third song, "My Frailty," both the musicians and the audience were bouncing high to the rhythms. There were accessible melodic lines, djenty grooves, searing chugs, patchwork riffs, coarse breakdowns, breakneck guitar solos and gruff vocals. After the Burial were experts in cohesive metalcore and grindcore.

Visit After the Burial at www.aftertheburial.net.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Shovels & Rope at the Bowery Ballroom

Mississippi-born, Tennessee-bred Cary Ann Hearst and Texas-born, Colorado-raised Michael Trent were building solo careers  when they met in 2002 at a gig in Charleston, South Carolina. Hearst and Trent released the album Shovels & Rope in 2008 as a co-bill under their individual names, not intending to form a permanent musical duo. The name of the album came from murder ballads where some characters were hanging and others were burying. The two married in March 2009, but continued to perform and record separately. The couple finally committed to Shovels & Rope as a joint venture in 2012 and released a second collaboration, O' Be Joyful. The Americana Music Honors and Awards in 2013 named Shovels & Rope as Emerging Artist of the Year and named the semi-autobiographical "Birmingham" as song of the Year. Shovels & Rope released its third album, Swimmin' Time, on August 26, 2014.

Shovels & Rope brought a deadly southern charm to the Bowery Ballroom tonight: deadly in that the songs often described perilous times, and charming in that the sweet harmonies made danger sound like fun. The opening song, "Swimmin' Time," with its catchy refrain of "I can see it coming," forecasted a devastating flood or tsunami, for instance, while the two troubadours turned to face each other and looked longingly into each other's eyes. The couple frequently appeared to be lovey-dovey, but the blue collar story narratives were far from romantic. Drawing from solo albums as well as Shovels and Ropes albums, the lyrics were often snapshots of ordinary Americans having extraordinary challenges or experiences. While the two usually sang entire songs together, Hearst's brash and booming Dolly Parton-esque voice dominated, and Trent's harmonies just made the songs sound more interesting. Nathan Koci came out to play trumpet on a few songs, but otherwise Shovels & Rope remained a twosome. Throughout the evening, Hearst and Trent switched places, one person on guitar, the other with a foot on a bass drum pedal, a left hand hitting a snare drum and a right hand playing bass lines on a small keyboard. It was a two-person jamboree of traditional folk duet singing, bluegrass-styled lyrics, country rock melodies, Delta blues guitar licks and a healthy dose of rock and roll attitude, all rough around the edges.
Shovels & Rope had established itself as riveting ambassadors of knee-slapping, foot-stomping, minimalistic acoustic Americana music by the time they were joined on stage by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius for a slowed down version of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

Visit Shovels & Rope at www.shovelsandrope.com.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stiff Little Fingers at Irving Plaza

Jake Burns
As a schoolboy in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jake Burns sang and played guitar in cover band called Highway Star, named after the Deep Purple song. The band switched to punk rock in 1977, at the height of the Troubles in the band's homeland, and renamed itself Stiff Little Fingers after a Vibrators song. Stiff Little Fingers recorded politically-charged songs and became a pivotal punk band, but split acrimoniously in 1982 after six years, four albums and many personnel changes. Burns revived the brand five years later and remains the sole original member, but early bassist Ali McMordie rejoined in 2006. The current band also consists of guitarist Ian McCallum and drummer Steve Grantley. Stiff Little Fingers released its 10th album, No Going Back, on August 11, 2014.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Stiff Little Fingers mixed the punk of its earlier years with the pop of its later years. The band excelled most with its earlier catalogue, however, like "Wasted Life", "Nobody’s Hero", "Barbed Wire Love", "Alternative Ulster" and a 10-minute version of "Johnny Was." The band also fared well with new songs "My Dark Places," a song originating from Burns' personal bout with depression, and "When We Were Young," which leaned in the direction of country music. Burns sang well, was often personable between songs (although he angrily told one constantly-shouting fan to pipe down while he spoke), and generally injected maturity into the 37-year-old band's performance.

Visit Stiff Little Fingers at www.slf.com.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sam Smith at the United Palace Theater

Sam Smith's parents were impressed when they heard their eight-year-old singing along to Whitney Houston’s "My Love Is Your Love" one morning on the drive to school in the rural county of Cambridgeshire, England. They placed their son in formal vocal training with a local jazz singer. Much of the boy's childhood and adolescence thereafter was spent in choir and theater rehearsals and performances. Six managers promised the teen-ager a stardom that did not happen. Smith moved to London at the age of 18, tended bar in Essex, and began writing songs. Smith sang with Disclosure and Naughty Boy, and released an EP in 2013. He scored big with his debut album, In the Lonely Hour, released in May 2014, featuring songs which he recently confessed originated in unrequited love: "a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn’t love me back." The album's third single "Stay with Me" was an international success.

The United Palace Theater opened in 1930 as a movie palace and became Reverend Ike's church in 1969. Its ornate interior design fit well with Sam Smith's class act tonight. The 22-year-old singer appeared on stage in a black suit and a white buttoned-down shirt and sang -- really sang. The approving audience seldom sat in the theater's red velvet-covered seats. Smith opened with the sultry, haunting, piano-driven "Nirvana" from his EP. He followed this with a song he originally sang for Disclosure, "Together." After that came Smith's specialty -- a lengthy series of emotionally-charged heartbreak songs, beginning with the trifecta of "Leave Your Lover", "I'm Not the Only One" and "I've Told You Now." Smith's luscious, soulful voice sounded best on these songs, as he flowed from alto to falsetto with ease. Sitting on a stool, Smith admitted his love of divas before covering Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know," transforming the song from dance tune to an emotive, melancholic pop song. This style was limiting, however, because for all his talent as a singer, the set was largely comprised of sappy songs that sounded like they were born in a pre-rock era. For encores, Smith began with a slow, acoustic version of "Latch," which he originally sang for Disclosure, then segued into "Make It To Me," which he described as a "massive mating call," and "Stay With Me," on which the audience sang back to him. Accompanied by backup singers and a violin quartet, Smith cornered the market on contemporary schmaltz.

Visit Sam Smith at www.samsmithworld.com.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ty Segall at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Ty Segall was raised by the surf in Laguna Beach, California, but settled in San Francisco after college. The gritty psychedelic-punk and garage-rock scene in San Francisco had a profound effect on the music he created with numerous local bands, including the Epsilons, the Traditional Fools and Sic Alps. Although he has contributed to many side projects, Segall was destined to be a prolific solo artist, however, and has released seven wide-spanning solo albums; Manipulator was released on August 26, 2014.
Tonight at the first of two headlining shows at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, Ty Segall and his band (Charles Moonheart on guitar, Mikal Cronin on bass, Emily Rose Epstien on drums) played a spirited rock set that cultivated moshing from the beginning. A metal barricade initially sectioned off a photo pit and kept fans from the stage, but it quickly started to tip in under the pressing crowd. An increasing force of security guards tried to push the barricade erect, but after a few songs, Segall asked the audience to step back so the barricade could be safely removed. From then on, stage diving ruled; even Segall leapt into the crowd three times.
Segall opened with the lo-fi title track of his current album, snarling lyrics and playing crazy guitar leads to the band's heavy-bottom backup. Over the next 80 minutes, Segall performed 13 songs from the 17-track double CD before launching into nine older songs and a cover of Wand's "Fire on the Mountain." Contrary to the increasingly soft takes on his albums, Segall's live set was a high-energy guitar-powered assault. Segall recreated '60s guitar tones, played with reverb and feedback, making his fierce, ballsy fretwork a stomping counterpoint to his soft pop vocals and pop hooks. Segall did this with all the grace of a Laguna Beach surfer.
Visit Ty Segall at www.ty-segall.com.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Accept at the Gramercy Theatre

Mark Tornillo
The origins of heavy metal band Accept can be traced to a band called Band X in 1968 in Solingen, Germany. Numerous personnel changes plagued the band's professional aspirations until Accept performed at one of Germany's first rock festivals in 1976. Accept achieved commercial success with its fifth studio album, 1983's Balls to the Wall, and played an early role in the development of speed and thrash metal in the mid-1980s. Accept split in 1989, regrouped in 1993, split again in 1997, reunited briefly in 2005, and reunited again in 2009 with Mark Tornillo, formerly of New Jersey's T.T. Quick, replacing original vocalist Udo Dirkschneider. Accept presently consists of Tornillo , original members Wolf Hoffmann on lead guitar and Peter Baltes on bass, Herman Frank on rhythm guitar, and Stefan Schwarzmann on drums. This version of Accept released three albums, Blood of the Nations (2010), Stalingrad (2012) and Blind Rage (2014).

The refitted lineup debuted at the Gramercy Theatre in May 2010, Accept's first American concert in 15 years. Accept returned to the scene of the crime tonight for a one-off East Coast warm-up concert in preparation for a fall tour of Europe. The two-hour concert centered mostly on newer songs, but sprinkled in older songs as well. The band opened with "Stampede" from the new album, "Stalingrad" and "Hellfire" from the 2012 album, and "200 Years" from the current album. Only after establishing that the new songs rocked as hard as the vintage breed, the band revisited songs from the 1980s, including "Losers and Winners", "London Leatherboys" and "Starlight." All the while, Tornillo rasped and roared and worked the crowd, and Hoffman likewise played stunning guitar licks while playing up to the audience. Enormous riffs dominated, and repeated catch phrases left no doubt as to the titles of the anthem-like songs. Schwarzmann's familiar double bass drum attack launched "Fast As A Shark," which closed the proper set. For an encore, the now shirtless Tornillo led Accept in a suite of old songs, beginning with "Metal Heart," where cheerleader Hoffmann led an audience choir of "whoa whoas," followed by "Teutonic Terror" and "Balls to the Wall," the last one eliciting yet another singalong. Accept's European warm-up was a successful evening of classic pedal-to-the-metal.

Visit Accept at www.acceptworldwide.com.

Raven at the Gramercy Theatre

John Gallagher & Mark Gallagher
Two brothers, vocalist/bassist John Gallagher and guitarist Mark Gallagher, and drummer Paul Bowden formed Raven in 1974 in Newcastle, England. Rooted in British hard rock and progressive rock, the power trio became part of the burgeoning New Wave of British Heavy Metal and began to develop into what would become speed, thrash and power metal. Raven relocated to New York and had a minor hit with "On and On" in 1985. Virginian Joe Hasselvander (ex-Pentagram) joined the Gallagher brothers as drummer in late 1987, and the revamped trio continued recording and touring until 2001, when a wall collapsed on Mark, crushing his legs. Raven went on hiatus for nearly four years, from 2001 to 2004, while the guitarist rehabilitated. Raven resumed performing in 2004 with Mark in a wheelchair. Raven's 12th and most recent album is 2009's Walk Through Fire.

Raven returned to the New York stage tonight opening for Accept at the Gramercy Theatre. Raven opened with 1983's "Take Control" and continued with a set from the early 1980s, from 1981's "Rock Until You Drop" to 1986's "Speed of the Reflex." John Gallagher spoke extensively to the audience between songs, establishing Raven's credentials as longtime metal heads and engaging the audience to clap or move. He screeched the songs while playing a heavy bottom on his bass. Mark Gallagher filled out the songs with extended leads. Hasselvander kept the thick rhythm even when the Gallagher brothers stopped playing or rubbed their guitar and bass necks together for noise. Together, Raven was a sonic battering ram. With the scarcity of classic metal bands these days, the minor 40-year-old thrash band sounded pretty major.

Visit Raven at www.ravenlunatics.com.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lorde at Pier 97

Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, known by her stage name Lorde, began performing as a child in Auckland, New Zealand. At age 5, she followed her friend into a drama group and discovered a love of singing and acting. She began singing cover songs publicly at age 12, began writing songs at age 14, and performed her original songs publicly at age 15. Lorde chose her stage name because she was fascinated with "royals and aristocracy," but felt the name Lord was too masculine, so she added an "e" to make it more feminine. "Royals," a song from her debut The Love Club EP that mocked the glamorous lifestyle of the rich, became a number one song internationally in 2013 when she was 16 years old. The track won Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year at the 2014 Grammy Awards. Lorde's debut album, Pure Heroine, released in September 2013, strengthened her public appeal. Time in 2013 listed the self-identified feminist among the most influential teenagers in the world, and Forbes in January 2014 placed Lorde on their "30 Under 30" list of young people "who are changing our world."

Earlier in her career, Lorde performed in New York music clubs, but at Pier 97 tonight, it appeared that Lorde's audience has grown increasingly younger, with many pre-teens in attendance. Lorde performed 15 songs, including covers of Kanye West's "Flashing Lights" and Bon Iver's "Heavenly Father." Backed by a synthesizer player and a drummer, the music was sparse, focusing attention on her alto and mezzo-soprano ranges. Beyond the bubble machines and confetti canons (shooting out little drawings of Lorde), there was very little spectacle. From the opening "Glory and Gore" to the closing "A World Alone," put on a low-key performance, singing sweet and sultry songs and responding to the rhythms with twitchy non-choreographed dances. Her floating dream-pop melodies were alluringly mystifying without ever booming beyond the electronic musicscape. Although still a teen-ager, Lorde showed that her art pop was made of mature substance.

Visit Lorde at www.lorde.co.nz.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bob Mould at the Bowery Ballroom

Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Bob Mould was born in 1960 in Malone, New York, but attended college in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he formed Hüsker Dü in 1979. Hüsker Dü was a leading first-wave punk power trio, but broke up acrimoniously in 1988 over members' drug abuse, disputes over songwriting credits and musical direction, and the suicide of the band's manager. Mould launched a solo career in 1989,then formed the loud pop trio Sugar in 1992, releasing two albums before breaking up in 1995, and finally returned to solo projects in 1996. Relocating to New York City in the late 1990s, he took a detour into dance music and electronica, worked as a live dance club disc jockey, appeared in Bear Nation, a movie about gay culture, in 2010, and published his memoirs, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, in 2011. Mould's most recent solo album, Beauty & Ruin, was released on June 3, 2014.

The phrase "hüsker dü" in Danish means "do you remember?" Headlining the first of two nights at the Bowery Ballroom, Mould helped his audience remember much of his musical legacy. Leading yet another trio with bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster (of Superchunk), Mould opened his 23-song set with two nitro-powered Hüsker Dü songs, "Flip Your Wig" and "Hate Paper Doll" and a Sugar song, "Changes." Balding and white-bearded, and wearing black horn-rimmed glasses and a wrinkled button-down shirt, Mould did not look like an indie star, but the 53-year-old did not succumb to tame daddy-rock. He made smart use of his 1987 Lake Placid Blue Fender Stratocaster, ripping into wall-of-noise guitar licks as he darted across the stage, bounced in place and worked up a sweat throughout the set. Mould began his tour of solo songs with "Star Machine" and "The Descent" from the 2012 Silver Age album before introducing "I Don't Know You Anymore" from his current album. Mould overlooked his electronica-dance epoch so that his set consistently rocked hard and loud, with well-crafted melodies and hooks powered by sonic savagery. Finally, after more Hüsker Dü, Sugar and solo songs, Ryan Adams helped end the evening by joining Mould's band as a rhythm guitarist on a four-song encore of Hüsker Dü songs. Mould sang well, smiled a lot and seemed to enjoy himself and much as the audience enjoyed him.

Visit Bob Mould at www.bobmould.com.

Cymbals Eat Guitars at the Bowery Ballroom

Joseph D'Agostino
The year after graduating high school in New Jersey in 2006, guitarist Joseph D'Agostino was making music in Cymbals Eat Guitars. The name of the indie rock band came from a Lou Reed quote describing the sound of the Velvet Underground. Based out of Staten Island, New York, Cymbals Eat Guitars first gained buzz in 2009 with a self-released debut album Why There Are Mountains. Since 2009, Cymbals Eat Guitars consists of D'Agostino, bassist Matthew Whipple, keyboardist Brian Hamilton, and drummer Andrew Dole. Cymbals Eat Guitars released a third album, Lose, on August 26, 2014.

Opening for Bob Mould at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Cymbals Eat Guitars combined a raw garage band sound with shoegaze and emo. A few slow-burn songs hosted a contemplative side of the band, others exhibited angst and loss, but most of the set was rocket-fueled riffing that was intentionally monotonous for climaxing tension-and-release effect, with D'Agostino frequently shouting and distorting his guitar leads with his whammy bar. While some songs sounded more accessible than others, Cymbals Eat Guitars was grounded in experimentation and noise.

Visit Cymbals Eat Guitars at www.cymbalseatguitars.com.