Monday, May 11, 2015

Tremonti at the Highline Ballroom

Mark Tremonti
Mark Tremonti, originally from Detroit, Michigan, as a youth relocated to several states with his family, but it was in a Florida high school that he met vocalist Scott Stapp. They started Naked Toddler in 1993, which became Creed in 1995. Creed's 1997 debut album sold six million copies, and a 1999 follow up sold more than 11 million copies. The band disbanded in 2004, with Stapp starting a solo career and the rest of the band becoming another successful hard rock band, Alter Bridge. Creed reunited in 2009, so Tremonti presently plays guitar in three bands, including Tremonti, a heavy metal band he formed in 2012. The band Tremonti will release its second album, Cauterize, on June 9, 2015.

Tremonti would have had a platinum catalogue to choose from if it wanted to play the older songs live, but at the Highline Ballroom tonight, the show was about distinguishing this band from Creed and Alter Bridge. This band was comprised of Tremonti, guitarist Eric Friedman, drummer Garret Whitlock and bassist Tanner Keegan, filling in for Wolfgang Van Halen, who is on tour with the band Van Halen. After years of in the background of Stapp in Creed and Myles Kennedy in Alter Bridge, Tremonti was now the front man, singing and playing lead guitar in his new band. Perhaps he should continue leaving the singing to others, as his vocals were adequate but had very little range and often seemed forced. His guitar work, however, was masterful. The set was comprised of songs from the band's 2013 debut album, three songs from the forthcoming album and a cover of Big Wreck's "Prayer." Tremonti presented variety, in that some songs were melody-driven with anthemic choruses like they were designed for commercial radio, while others were an incendiary thrash assault meant exclusively for mega-metalheads. The focus always came back to Tremonti's lightning fast licks, enhanced by the band's thrusting, chugging backing. The show's main feature ultimately was that Tremonti's many extended guitar solos were now far heavier and more crunching than in his other bands. The band Tremonti may never win the popular acclaim of Creed and Alter Bridge, but it gives rock fans another place to witness guitar wizardry.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Robert Gordon at the Bowery Electric

Robert Gordon grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, where at the age of nine he heard the Elvis Presley song "Heartbreak Hotel" playing on the radio and decided to become a rock and roll singer. He made his recording debut at age 17 in 1964 with the Confidentials. Gordon moved to New York City in 1970 and in 1974 became the lead singer of a punk rock band, the Tuff Darts. Just as the band was about to sign a record deal in 1976, Gordon went solo and recorded his first love, rockabilly music, collaborating with guitarists Link Wray and later Chris Spedding. Gordon's 12th and most recent album, I'm Coming Home, was released on June 24, 2014.

The 68-year-old Gordon brought a retro set to the Bowery Electric tonight. Much of the repertoire was comprised of songs recorded by other artists in the 1950s and which Gordon has been singing since the 1970s. Even a modern song like Marshall Crenshaw's "Walk Hard" was given the same old-timey treatment that Gordon gave to Jack Scott's "The Way I Walk," Johnny Cash's "Sea of Heartbreak," the Everly Brothers' "So Sad," Johnny Horton's "I'm Coming Home" and Johnny Burnette's "The Fool." Almost 60 years after Gordon first had the dream of singing these songs, he still gave them the Presley-esque baritone, even when he messed up Presley's "Devil in Disguise" mid-song and wound up singing Presley's "Suspicion" instead. Accompanied by a simple but very able guitar-bass-drums trio led by Rob Stoner, Gordon proved he was not a throwback but a classic.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Damnwells at Irving Plaza

Alex Dezen
Vocalist/guitarist Alex Dezen and bassist Ted Hudson met at Bard College in 1996, played in a few bands, and then relocated to Brooklyn, New York. There they met guitarist Dave Chernis and ex-Whiskeytown drummer Steven Terry and formed the alt-country band the Damnwells in 2000. The quartet recorded a debut album in a Manhattan Mini-Storage and in Dezen's bedroom. Chernis and Terry left the band in 2007, and the band continued with other musicians, but the original quartet reunited in 2013 and recorded the Damnwells' fifth album, entitled The Damnwells, released on April 14, 2015.

The Damnwells opened a two-month tour at Irving Plaza tonight with 20 upbeat rockers and slow-simmering country-tinged ballads. Dezen led the music with thoughtful, poetic lyrics and understated passion. His singing was unusually limited, however, seeming to strain even within a narrow vocal range. The effect was a bland delivery. The arrangements clicked, however, providing plenty of hummable hooks somewhere between power pop and roots rock. The concert ended with the mid-tempo "Golden Days," featuring backing vocals from Dezen's sister, gospel singer Cameron Dezen Hammon, and opening acts Ari Hest and Julian Velard. It was all performed in good taste, but with an overarching mildness that begged for greater stand-out uniqueness.

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Vicktor Taiwò at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village

Born in Nigeria, Vicktor Taiwò at a very early age relocated with his mother and two sisters to London, England. As a young adult, he intended a career in photography, but an opportunity to write and record music may have changed the course of his trajectory. Juno, Taiwò’s five-track debut EP, will be released digitally on June 16.

Taiwò made his U.S. debut tonight at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village. Backed by a bassist and a keyboardist, Taiwò’s music was a soft, soulful, dreamy synth pop. The set included songs he already recorded as well as new songs that were still under construction. Taiwò is a young man, but he sang both light and dark tunes about relationships as if he had both enjoyed and suffered a plethora of romantic experiences. Several songs were driven by pulsating rhythms, but he seemed most convincing on the slow jams, as he poured his vocals and his emotions over the audience surrounding  him.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators at Terminal 5

Saul Hudson was born in 1965 in London, England. His mother left the family shortly after his birth to pursue her career as a costume designer, and so the boy initially was raised by his father and paternal grandparents in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He was about five years old when he and his father rejoined his mother in Los Angeles, California. There he was given the nickname "Slash" by a family friend. At age 14, Slash put aside his BMX bicycle in favor of a guitar, and began playing in bands two years later. Eventually he joined Hollywood Rose, which evolved into Guns N' Roses. Guns N' Roses' debut 1987 album sold 18 million copies in the United States, making it the country's all-time best-selling debut album. Slash formed Snakepit in 1994 and officially left Guns N' Roses in 1996. Snakepit folded in 2002 and Slash became a founding member of the supergroup Velvet Revolver. Slash and his current band, billed as Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators, is comprised of Slash, vocalist Myles Kennedy, bassist Todd Kerns and drummer Brent Fitz. The group's second album, World on Fire, was released on September 10, 2014.

At Terminal 5, Slash came on stage looking much like he did with Guns N' Roses, wearing his trademark sneakers, leather pants, sunglasses and top hat. Launching into "You're a Lie" from the band's 2012 debut album, the set quickly became more familiar with the second song, Guns N' Roses' "Nightrain," the first of seven Guns N' Roses songs in the two-hour 20-song set. Kennedy, who also leads heavy metal band Alter Bridge, sang well, and with the band, which included touring guitarist Frank Sidoris, worked the audience and performed a dynamic show. Midway through the set, Kerns sang two songs, "Dr. Alibi," originally sung by Lemmy Kilmister on Slash's 2010 solo album, and Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle." Ultimately, however, the spotlight was all about Slash's masterful guitar work. During "Rocket Queen," Slash played lead guitar for 15 uninterrupted minutes. The lights went dim after Velvet Revolver's "Slither," but Slash and company returned for a Jimi Hendrix-styled "Hey Joe" featuring The Voice contestant Kimberly Nichole, and ending with a high-octane performance of Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City," complete with confetti canons. With powerful vocals, dazzling guitar work and strong songs, this was as good as hard rock gets.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

The Bush Tetras at le Poisson Rouge

Pat Place (left) and Cynthia Sley
Pat Place played guitar in James Chance & the Contortions in New York's No Wave movement in the late 1970s. By 1979, she left and formed the Bush Tetras with vocalist Cynthia Sley, bassist Laura Kennedy and drummer Dee Pop. The Bush Tetras dominated the local club scene and became forerunners of the indie movement, with quirky punky funky tunes like 1981's "Too Many Creeps." By 1983, the four members moved on to other bands but reformed in 1995 for live dates and an album released a year later. Kennedy left in 1997 and was replaced by Julia Murphy in 2005; after a two-decade battle with Hepatitis C-inflicted liver disease, Kennedy died in 2011. Cindy Rickmond replaced Murphy in 2013. The band's third and most recent album, Happy, was recorded in 1997-98 but shelved by the defunct record company; it was finally released in 2012.

The Bush Tetras performed a 35th anniversary concert at le Poisson Rouge tonight and revisited the sound that made the band unique three decades ago. As Place prominently played slicing, jittery guitar riffs in a Tom Verlaine style, Sley created a similar hypnotic monotony with sniping, repetitious half-spoken/half-sung phrases, and the rhythm section kept pace with a similarly sparse and jagged funk rhythm. Place's sometimes dissonant and distortion-filled riffs intensified the mesmerizing chaos. Opening with 1981's "Things That Go Boom in the Night" and 1982's "Cowboys in Africa," the Bush Tetras designed to revive an era long past. The band followed with a deep cut, "You Taste Like the Tropics," originally the b-side of an early single. The set also included a cover of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey," which the band originally recorded in 1983. The band was joined on stage for several songs by Felice Rosser of local band Faith. Bush Tetras ended with 2007's "Voodoo" and 1981's "Too Many Creeps." The band's scrappy funk style has been co-opted by newer bands like Savages, but tonight's performance accentuated that this is where it began.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The London Quireboys at the Bowery Electric

Jonathan "Spike" Gray
At age 17, vocalist Jonathan "Spike" Gray moved from Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England to London in the south and formed a rock and roll band there in 1984. The group originally was named the Choirboys after the 1977 movie, but soon became the Queerboys. The Queerboys built a following, but by 1987 the band's controversial name resulted in the cancellation of too many engagements. The band was booked to perform at the Reading Festival under the obligation that the name would change. The Queerboys became the Quireboys and released a debut album in 1990; in the United States, the band was named the London Quireboys. The Quireboys broke up in 1993 but Spike assembled a new lineup briefly in 1995 and again in 2001. After more than 20 personnel changes, the band presently consists of Spike, guitarists Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin, keyboardist Keith Weir and drummer Phil Martini . The London Quireboys' 12th album, St. Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul, was released on March 30, 2015.

With guyliner around his eyes, a long kerchief covering his head and spilling down his back and stage moves a la Mick Jagger swagger, Spike looked like the leader of a glam band. Ironically, however, the London Quireboys performed an acoustic sit-on-a-stool set tonight at the Bowery Electric. Throughout the unplugged-style performance, Spike sang folky-bluesy songs with a Rod Stewart rasp, backed by two twanging acoustic guitarists and a keyboardist. Together they echoed 1970s British rock and roll outfits like the Faces and Mott the Hoople. The Quireboys performed acoustic honky-tonk renditions of its earlier catalogue, including "Roses and Rings", "Beautiful Curse", "Hates To Please" and "Monte Cassino (Lady Lane)," as well as some newer songs. The set ended with Steve Conte of the New York Dolls and Kyf Brewer of Company of Wolves joining the band onstage for "7 O'clock." Even within the unplugged setting, the London Quireboys rocked -- only it was a bit softer.

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Kamelot at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Tommy Karevik
Thomas Youngblood began playing guitar at age 15 and began playing in bands in 1988 in Tampa, Florida. He founded the progressive/symphonic power metal band Kamelot in 1991. Kamelot released its first album in 1995. Two later mid-period albums reinterpreted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragic play about the legend of Faust, a man who sells his soul to the devil, and the subsequent battle between good and evil. After many personnel changes, the present band consists of Youngblood, bassist Sean Tibbetts, drummer Casey Grillo, keyboardist Oliver Palotai and vocalist Tommy Karevik. Kamelot's 11th studio album, Haven, was released on May 5, 2015.

Kamelot headlined the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight with both straight ahead rockers and complex progressive compositions. The overall sound was epic, however, with each song seemingly building up to a blaring pinnacle. The hard-rocking songs were propelled by smooth vocals, melodic guitar leads and banging percussion, with flourishes added from a symphonic-sounding keyboard and an occasional female background vocalist. Opening with "When the Lights Are Down" from 2005's The Black Halo, followed by the title track of 2007's Ghost Opera album, the 16-song set often revealed a dynamic yet melancholy approach to cinematic melodies and aggressive thrust. Karevik engaged the audience with encouragements to raise fists and chant "whoa-o-o-os," at one point telling the fans that he would enjoy performing for them all night every night. Closing with the title track of the new album, Kamelot demonstrated that 24 years after it began, the band is still a creative entity performing with hungry integrity.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dustin Kensrue at the Studio at Webster Hall

Guitarist/vocalist Dustin Kensrue founded the post-hardcore/experimental rock quartet Thrice in 1998 while in high school in Irvine, California. Early in its career, Thrice played fast, hard music based in heavily distorted guitars, prominent lead guitar lines, and complex time signatures, later incorporating electronic beats, keyboards, and more experimental and nuanced songwriting. The band is on hiatus, as Kensrue explores being a solo artist. Kensrue released, Carry the Fire, on April 21, 2015.

Dustin Kensrue appeared on stage tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall with only an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a microphone. The set included several songs from his solo albums, particularly the new album, but also included acoustic renditions of Thrice songs, including "Words in the Water." Until recently, Kensrue was a church elder, and so not surprisingly some of his lyrics alluded to his biblically-based ponderings. The acoustic performance was tame, nowhere near as inventive as a Thrice performance, and showed a more reflective and sensitive side to Kensrue. While the folk-styled concert was pleasant, one can only hope that Kensrue soon will return to the stage with a band.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Stone Temple Pilots at Irving Plaza

Chester Bennington (left) and Dean DeLeo
Stone Temple Pilots began in 1985 in San Diego, California. At first named Swing, then Mighty Joe Young, the group took the initials of STP motor oil and fielded many names with those initials until the members agreed on Stone Temple Pilots. Catching the grunge wave, the band's debut album in 1992 launched a successful career, and Stone Temple Pilots sold nearly 40 million records by the time the band split in 2002. Stone Temple Pilots reformed in 2008 for a reunion tour, then fired lead vocalist Scott Weilland in 2013 and continued with Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington. The band presently consists of Bennington and three original members, guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz. The band's only recording with Bennington so far has been a 2013 five-track EP, High Rise.

Stone Temple Pilots was unable to hide the elephant in the room at Irving Plaza tonight. Stone Temple Pilots' most notable product was written and sung by someone who is no longer in the band, and the band has recorded little new music since his departure. Stone Temple Pilots performed 22 songs, and only one, the comparatively unknown "Out of Time," was recorded after Bennington joined the band two years ago. How could a hard rock fan listen to the old songs and not compare the revamped band to the previous personnel? Bennington was a fine singer, and added his own spin to the old songs, but not enough to prove that the new lineup was a distinct and credible band moving forward. More than halfway through the show, Dean DeLeo interrupted "Big Empty" to demand that someone in the audience be removed; was the offender a heckler? DeLeo offered no explanation. The band started the song again. While the band ably played the hits and many deep cuts, there was no way around the big emptiness in the performance. Perhaps the band should record a substantial amount of new material and introduce these songs into the live set so that the live show does not sound like karaoke night.

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