Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Thurston Moore Band at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Thurston Moore
Thurston Moore was born in Coral Gables, Florida, and was raised in Bethel, Connecticut. As a young adult, he enrolled at Western Connecticut State University, but instead moved to New York City to join the burgeoning post-punk/no wave music scenes. Once in the city, Moore sang and played guitar in many bands, the most successful being Sonic Youth and Chelsea Light Moving. The Thurston Moore Band was formed for his fourth solo album The Best Day, released on October 21, 2014. Moore currently lives in London, England.

There was a time when maybe this would have been unimaginable. Old punk Thurston Moore performed at a corporate-sponsored event tonight. Norton and Pandora teamed to present a concert by the Thurston Moore Band as part of the companies' BoldlyGo Concert Series. Select Pandora listeners were treated to an open bar and concert at the Marlin Room (capacity 500) at Webster Hall while silk-screen printer Hit and Run pressed free limited-edition souvenir posters in neon paint. Shortly after 9 p.m., the 56-year-old godfather of grunge, with mussed hair, sneakers, black trousers and plaid snap-button shirt, came onstage with his new band. The musicians tuned until it became their first song, an 11-minute version of "Forevermore," most of which seemed to be one droning chord being strum. Okay, well at least it was not feedback and dissonance; that would come later. The second song, an eight and a half minute "Speak to the Wild," similarly toyed with simplicity, fed into a more freeform arrangement, and then returned to the main structure of the song. "Thank you, nice to be here. We are who they say we are," Moore said to the audience before introducing his band: guitarist James Sedwards, bassist Debbie Googe (My Bloody Valentine,  Primal Scream) and drummer Ryan Sawyer. "This next song was written for and dedicated to Chelsea Manning, professional whistle blower. Please send your thoughts and wishes to her. It’s called 'Detonation' and it is also dedicated to our new friend Masha of Pussy Riot." The main set consisted of six of the eight songs from Moore's most recent album and the 30-minute encores of "Pretty Bad" and "Ono Soul" were from his first album Psychic Hearts. Moore's closing words: "See you around. Protest." Moore, a master of artistic freedom and aural distortion, often sang atonally and utilized unusual guitar tunings for discomforting timbres and drones. The band's performance was as driving and experimental as one would have expected from Sonic Youth or any of Moore's other bands, but we could have done well with shorter songs and less feedback and distortion.

Visit Thurston Moore at www.thurstonmoore.com.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pop Evil at the Gramercy Theatre

Leigh Kakaty
Leigh Kakaty was born in Kingston, Ontario, but grew up in North Muskegon, Michigan, a very white, conservative city. He enjoyed Tupac Shakur and Led Zeppelin and was not sure where he would fit in the rock world. Kakaty has been quoted as saying "I am too white to be a rapper and too dark to be a pop star." (He is biracial; his father was dark from India and his mother was white). His first job was as a studio tech, and he also worked as a studio engineer. In 2001, he set out to sing in TenFive, a band that would embrace radio pop and hard rock. That band evolved into Pop Evil, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pop Evil presently consists of Kakaty, rhythm guitarist and co-founder Dave Grahs, lead guitarist Nick Fuelling, bassist Matt DiRito and drummer Josh "Chachi Riot" Marunde. Pop Evil's third and most recent album, Onyx, was released in 2013.

Often on tour as an opening act, Pop Evil headlined the Gramercy Theatre tonight. Grinding guitars played in the darkness, followed by the mid-tempo pounding of drums before the lights came on and the five musicians appeared on stage, all dressed in black. Kakaty began singing "Flawed" from the band's most recent album, a song addressing the feeling of not being enough. Harmony vocals filled the choruses. The sound was big, yet tame enough for mainstream rock radio. Theatrics were minimal beyond a few risers at the edge of the stage, helping the performance emphasize the nature of the songs and the identity of the band, that of positive-minded blue collar Americans surviving the odds. The set specialized in arena-style classic rock, but softened somberly for the slower power ballads "100 in a 55", "Monster You Made" and Kakaty performing solo on acoustic guitar for a stirring take on "Beautiful." Other slower tempo songs featured full thrust rock, including "Hero." For 15 songs and 75-minutes, Pop Evil did an excellent job marrying sweet melodies, badass swagger and fist-pumping rock.


Visit Pop Evil at www.PopEvil.com.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

HIM at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Ville Valo
In 1991, several high school friends in Helsinki, Finland, formed a heavy rock band called His Infernal Majesty. In short time, the band abbreviated the name to HIM and became Finland's biggest rock act and musical export. HIM sold over 8 million records, including the best-selling single of any Finnish artist and five albums certified platinum in Finland. In 2006, HIM became the first Finnish band to have a gold album in the United States. HIM's current lineup consists of original members Ville Valo on vocals, Mikko "Linde" Lindström on guitar, and Mikko "MigĂ©" Paananen on bass, with later members Janne "Emerson Burton" Puurtinen on keyboards and Mika "Gas Lipstick" Karppinen on drums. Him released four re-mastered albums and a limited edition box set, Lashes to Ashes, Lust to Dust: A Vinyl Retrospective ’96-’03, on November 25, 2014.

HIM opened an eight-concert tour at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, and performed a 22-song career retrospective. The large "heartogram" logo emblazoned on the amplifiers indicated both the sentimentality and metal edge of the band's make-up. Opening with the  dance beat and guitar riffs of 2003's "The Sacrament" and 1999's "Razorblade Kiss," HIM escorted metal far from its dangerous inclinations to explore and embrace its romantic potential, even as the vulnerable lyrics sometimes tasted the dark side. The band performed its anticipated better-known songs, including the foreboding sounding "Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly" and "Killing Loneliness," but surprisingly included "Love's Requiem," which never before had been performed live. "This Fortress of Tears" and "Heartache Every Moment" had not been performed live since 2005, and "Bleed Well" and "Killing Loneliness" had not been performed live since 2010. Valo was a rather ordinary baritone and front person, but seemed authentically cut from a melancholic, suffering-soul composition. When Valo backed off, the band charged through heavy riffs and melodic leads. As if to show that the band was not all about heart-tugging sensitivity, the set closed with an encore cover of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell," with Linde throwing his guitar to the fans at the end of the song. This kind of metal is not for everyone, but it did seem to be for a lot of people.

Visit HIM at www.heartagram.com.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Smashing Pumpkins at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Billy Corgan
Billy Corgan was born in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, and grew up with his blues guitarist father in Glendale Heights, Illinois. While in high school, he gave his savings to his father to buy him a used guitar, and the younger Corgan taught himself to play the instrument. He performed in bands in high school and in 1985 at age 19 he moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, to play with his first working band, a goth band called the Marked. The band dissolved, and Corgan moved back to the Chicago area, worked in a record store and formed the alternative rocking Smashing Pumpkins in 1988, writing Cure-inspired mope-rock. Corgan added personnel and the Smashing Pumpkins became one of the biggest selling bands of the 1990s, selling over 20 million albums in the United States alone. Internal disputes, drug use, and diminishing record sales led to a 2000 break-up, but Corgan began using the brand name again in 2007 with various line-ups. The Smashing Pumpkins' 10th album, Monuments to an Elegy, was released on December 9, 2014.

The last time the Smashing Pumpkins performed in New York, the band headlined the Barclays Center and released a DVD of the show. Tonight, on the eve of the new album release, the Smashing Pumpkins performed at the much smaller Grand Ballroom of Webster Hall. Comprised of Corgan, guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Killers bassist Mark Stoermer and Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk, the band performed an almost two-hour set that featured five songs from the new album, 10 older songs, a cover of David Bowie's "Fame" and concluded with an as-yet-unreleased song from a forthcoming album. With Corgan's snarly vocals way up front and a hard and heavy power-pop behind him, the band opened without fanfare with the new "One and All (We Are)" and "Being Beige." Often singing with eyes closed, Corgan sang angst-filled lyrics to a dense wall of sound driven largely by his and Schroeder's power chords. With pop melodies competing against loud guitars, much of the music seemed delivered by a raging bulldozer, such that the few softer moments provided temporary sonic relief. Audience response was greater to familiar songs like "Hummer", "Tonight, Tonight", "Disarm", "Zero" and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings." In all, the Smashing Pumpkins hosted a 1990s revival, grounded in re-tooled and refined alt-rock.

The Smashing Pumpkins will headline at the Brooklyn Bowl on December 13. Visit the Smashing Pumpkins at www.smashingpumpkinsnexus.com.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Celebrating Don Hill—A Night of Live Music" at the Hills NYC

Stephen Trask
After many years as the greeter at a popular mainstream rock music club, Kenny's Castaways, Don Hill started booking shows at the short-lived Cat Club in 1984. By 1993 he was ready to open his own club, Don Hill's, in Greenwich Village and later in SoHo, with a hit formula -- create a hot nightclub that would attract both trendy rockers and drag queens. Hill died suddenly in 2011, and the club closed a few weeks later.

Squeezebox was among several weekly theme nights at Don Hill's. At these drag events, composer Stephen Trask and artist John Cameron Mitchell developed a theater act combining live rock and drag, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Eventually moving out beyond Don Hill's, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was initially had limited success as an off-Broadway show and film. The film later developed a larger cult following through DVD circulation. The rock musical was revived on Broadway in 2014 and won four Tony Awards.

Meanwhile, the club of its genesis reopened in September as the Hills NYC, and Trask and the Broadway cast returned to where it all began to perform a tribute to the original club's founder on December 7. "Celebrating Don Hill—A Night of Live Music" featured Trask, who originally birthed the songs on that stage with his then-band Cheaters, and cast members Michael C. Hall, Lena Hall, Miriam Shor, and Shannon Conley. The house band was Tits of Clay (Tim Mislock, Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Peter Yanowitz), the off-stage alter ego of the band performing as the Angry Inch in the Broadway production. Most of the one-hour set was comprised of covers of punk rock songs, ending with a series of Hedwig songs. The concert also included guests David Johansen (who sang "Funky But Chic" from his days with the New York Dolls) and Fred Schneider (who sang "Planet Claire" by the B-52's). The event benefitted Road Recovery, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to helping young people battle addiction and other adversities by harnessing the influence of entertainment industry professionals who have confronted similar crises and now wish to share their experience, knowledge, and resources.
Fred Schneider

Lena Hall

David Johansen
Michael C. Hall

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Madball at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Freddy Cricien
Freddy Cricien, also known as Freddy Madball, lived in Florida when his older half-brother Roger Miret was in New York hardcore punk band Agnostic Front. Cricien was about seven years old when he relocated to New York and began to ride along with his brother on tour. Agnostic Front initially let Cricien sing along with their cover of the Animals' "It's My Life." In 1988, Agnostic Front formed a side band, Madball, around 12-year-old Cricien singing previously unused Agnostic Front songs. Several personnel changes later, Madball evolved into a separate band by 1994. In 2000, Cricien was charged with attempted criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to six months in prison. The band dissolved in 2001 but reformed in late 2002 with a new line-up. Madball presently consists of Cricien, guitarist Bryan "Mitts" Daniels, bassist Jorge "Hoya Roc" Guerra and drummer Mike Justian. Madball's ninth album, Hardcore Lives, was released on June 27, 2014.

In 1989, Cricien yelped "hardcore lives" on Madball's debut EP, Ball of Destruction. Twenty-five years later, he still means it. Madball's current tour celebrated the 20th anniversary of the band's iconic 1994 debut album, Set It Off. At the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, the Set It Off songs served as Madball's testament to New York's original hardcore spirit and legacy, and fans responded with serious stage diving and moshing. Focusing more on heaviness than speed, the energetic set plowed through the hall like a meteor scraping planet Earth. Now 38 years old, Cricien has spent nearly four-fifths of his life committed to hardcore and for this homecoming gig poured himself out onstage. He roared from the gut as he paced the stage perpetually. Between songs, he frequently developed camaraderie by pep-talking the community of fans, occasionally in Spanish. The band then rallied them with a catalog of Set It Off songs and new songs like the anthemic "Doc Marten Stomp" and the flag-waving "Hardcore Lives." Along with Agnostic Front, Madball is a cornerstone of the New York hardcore scene, and the band's live rumble embraced and gave new life to New York's rich hardcore tradition.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Relient K at the Gramercy Theatre

Matt Thiessen
Vocalist/guitarist Matt Thiessen and guitarist Matt Hoopes formed Relient K in 1998, their junior year in high school in Canton, Ohio. They named their pop rock band after Hoopes' automobile, a Plymouth Reliant K car, with the spelling intentionally altered to avoid trademark infringement over the Reliant name. The band released three studio albums in the Christian rock and punk market before hitting the mainstream in 2004 with MmHmm, which featured the crossover singles "Be My Escape" and "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been." Relient K has released nine studio albums, the most recent being 2013's Collapsible Lung.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Relient K celebrated the 10th anniversary of MmHmm by keeping the set list simple. The band performed the 14 songs from the album in order, walked off the stage and then returned for an eight-song encore drawing from five other albums and a forthcoming album. The set sparkled with the band's wry wit in songs like "The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse Is Betting on One" and "Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet," with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that had little to do with the titles. While there was always something amusing in the lyrics and the performance, the band demonstrated a more serious side as well with "More Than Useless" and "Let It All Out," and closing the main set with the emotional "When I Go Down," featuring vulnerable lyrics pondering an internal struggle with sin and reconciliation with God. The audience got it; the fans bounced, cheered and sang along to virtually every song. The revelry continued through encores that began with "Sadie Hawkins Dance," during which Robin (as in Batman and Robin) danced on stage and then dove into the audience for a bit of crowd surfing. Oddly, the band ended the concert by walking off stage to a blasting "Turn Down for What" by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, turning the wholesome Christian audience into ravers. As they exited the theater, many in the audience sang along to that hip hop standard as well.

Visit Relient K at www.relientk.com.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Red Dragon Cartel at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Jake E. Lee
Jake E. Lee was born Jakey Lou Williams in Norfolk, Virginia, and grew up in San Diego, California. His mother had him take classical piano lessons when he was six years old and he was playing Bach concertos and winning state competitions by age 10, but he gravitated to his older sister's guitar by age 13. Based on the formal training he had from piano, he became a self-taught rock guitarist. While in high school, he changing his name to Jake E. Lee and formed a popular local band called Teaser. He then played briefly in Ratt, Rough Cutt, and Dio. Lee is best known for his five years as Ozzy Osbourne's lead guitarist. After a break, Lee helped form Badlands in 1988; the band split 1993. Lee then quietly released solo albums and occasionally played on other people's albums, but basically withdrew to a quiet family life in Las Vegas, Nevada. He formed Red Dragon Cartel in 2013. The new band was culled from over a thousand submissions from a "Jake E. Lee needs a lead singer and drummer" Facebook page. They chose the name Red Dragon Cartel as a nod to Lee’s Japanese heritage. A self-titled debut album was released on January 28, 2014. Red Dragon Cartel is presently Lee, Darren James "D.J." Smith of Warmachine on vocals, Lee's former Badlands band mate Greg Chaisson on bass, and Jonas Fairley of Black Betty on drums.

Headlining the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, Chaisson, Smith and Lee began by facing Fairley as he pounded tribal rhythms. They turned to face the audience and performed "The Ultimate Sin" with Lee's trademark guitar riffs, but with Smith singing with bluesy soul , very unlike Osbourne's version. Drawing a set from three Osbourne, five Badlands and five Red Dragon Cartel songs, Smith did not copy the vocals of those who recorded the original versions, but sang in his own style, often sounding much like Paul Rodgers in his Bad Company days. Harmonizing the various epochs into one sound, Red Dragon Cartel more closely recalled the classic dark, heavy and raucous sounds of Dio and Blackmore's Rainbow, with melodic singing very much in front and guitar wizardry between lyrics. The night belonged to Lee, however, who remained off to the right of the stage most of the night. His dazzling, crushing guitar licks drove the songs to masterful levels. By his extended solo on the last encore, "Bark at the Moon" from the Osbourne era, the night had proved to be a showcase for Lee's superior talents. Red Dragon Cartel's concert was a time trip to classic, old-school, riff-rocking heavy metal.

Visit Red Dragon Cartel at www.reddragoncartel.com.

Killcode at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Tom Morrissey & D.C. Gonzales
Vocalist Tom Morrissey and guitarist Chas Banellis in 2008 had a vision of recreating a classic rock sound with a more modern metal edge and began recording original songs at Banellis' home studio in New York City. The duo shared the rough vision and recruited similar-minded guitarist Pat Harrington, bassist Erric Bonesmith and drummer Rob Noxious, who added form to this skeleton. The band began playing the local rock club circuit and helped establish an underground hard rock scene. Killcode released six-song EPs in 2008 and 2010, and a self-titled debut album in 2012. D.C. Gonzales replaced Harrington on guitar in 2013.

How does a band from New York wind up sounding like a southern rock band? It is a mystery that even Killcode may not understand fully. Opening for Red Dragon Cartel tonight at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall, Killcode again proved that New York is the mecca for hybrid rock music. Killcode's songs were hard rocking, as raw as punk and also as heavy as metal, smoothed with classic rock dueling guitars and southern rock vocal melodies. The band's deep bottom sound at times made the songs sound as sludgy as a four wheel drive in mud, but then Morrissey's melodic vocals cleared the dirt from the windshield for rallying hooks and choruses. After having played on every New York stage several times, the hard-working Killcode has refined its sound and is now ready to revive and save classic rock.

Visit Killcode at ww.killcode.net.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hot Tuna at the Highline Ballroom

More than 50 years ago, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady met as teen-agers living in Washington, D.C., and soon began jamming together. Casady was a lead guitarist and Kaukonen was a rhythm guitarist then. While in college, Kaukonen became enamored of Rev. Gary Davis' finger picking style and began imitating it, while Casady, still in high school, began applying his guitar style to the bass. Kaukonen moved to San Francisco, California, and performed in folk clubs. He was invited to help form Jefferson Airplane, and he recruited Casady as bassist. The Airplane, one of the most successful bands of the 1960s psychedelic scene, went on hiatus in 1969 while vocalist Grace Slick recovered from throat node surgery, so the remaining members began playing live as Hot Tuna. The early sets consisted of Jefferson Airplane songs and covers of American folk and blues songs. Although originally an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna's live album in 1970 helped establish the group as a fixed entity of its own, even as the group frequently changed personnel and alternated between acoustic blues and electric rock.

The two night engagement at the Highline Ballroom was billed as "Hot Tuna Acoustic Duo feat. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady." Tonight, the second night, Hot Tuna performed two sets of a dozen songs each. The two sat on stools as Kaukonen sang and played acoustic guitar and Casady played electric bass. The repertoire featured songs from Hot Tuna and Kaukonen solo albums and even two Airplane songs, "Trial by Fire" and "Good Shepherd." Leaning in the direction of Kaukonen's forthcoming acoustic solo album, the evening's set focused more on songs by Rev. Gary Davis (seven songs!) and other traditional folk and blues songs than on Hot Tuna originals. Virtually all of the songs were nearly a half century old and many of the songs, including "Hesitation Blues", "Mama, Let Me Lay It on You" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" were first recorded before any members of Hot Tuna were born. Their performances were classic, however. Kaukonen had a natural voice for down-home blues and his finger-picking skills were extraordinary. The only ambience missing was a wooden porch and a swing.

Hot Tuna returns to the Beacon Theatre on December 13, 2014. That show is billed as "Jack Casady's 70th Birthday Bash - Electric Hot Tuna w/ Marty Balin and special guests G.E. Smith, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams and Justin Guip." Visit Hot Tuna at www.hottuna.com.