Monday, September 15, 2014

The Buzzcocks at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Steve Diggle & Pete Shelley
British college student Howard Trafford posted a notice looking for musicians sharing a liking for The Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray." Fellow student Peter McNeish responded. Trafford renamed himself Howard Devoto, McNeish renamed himself Pete Shelley, and they recruited a series of drummers and bassists to form The Buzzcocks in 1975. Stabilized with bass guitarist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher a year later, the Buzzcocks opened for The Sex Pistols in Manchester, England, and became among the leaders of the nascent British punk rock movement in 1976. Devoto left the band early on and Diggle joined Shelley as co-singer/songwriter/guitarist. After three successful albums, the Buzzcocks disbanded in 1981, but reunited several times beginning in 1989. Since 2008, the Buzzcocks consists of Shelley, Diggle, drummer Danny Farrant and bassist Chris Remington. The band's ninth studio album, The Way, was released in Great Britain in May 2014 but is not yet available in the United States.

At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, the Buzzcocks stormed through 25 songs in 80 minutes. The set opened with "Boredom," a song from early in the band's career that announced punk's attitude through a musical minimalism of three high speed chords and a two-note guitar lead. Older songs "Fast Cars" and "I Don't Mind" and new songs "Keep on Believing" and "People Are Strange Machines" followed with very British-sounding pop  vocal lines backed by a fast and pounding rhythm section. While the set was comprised mostly of older songs, the new songs were crafted from the same fabric. A handful of songs featured extended guitar solos, including "Nothing Left," but most were verse-chorus-repeat powered by high-octane rapid-fire guitar riffs. The formula carried the band through to the encores of "Harmony In My Head", "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" and "Orgasm Addict." As one of the forefathers of the early punk rock scene, the Buzzcocks recreated a very authentic revival of a 35-year-old music revolution.

Visit the Buzzcocks at www.buzzcocks.com.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Twisted Sister at the Best Buy Theater

Dee Snider
In late December 1972, a glam band called Silver Star was trying to stabilize its lineup in order to become a New Jersey version of the New York Dolls. Manhattan resident John Segall joined and pushed to change the band's name. Two months later, the band became Twisted Sister, and Segall changed his name first to Johnny Heartbreaker and later to Jay Jay French. The band adopted costumes and began performing in bigger and bigger New Jersey and Long Island clubs, while the band's line-up changed countless times. By 1976, Twisted Sister moved in a heavier direction, performing hard rock cover songs, and hired vocalist Danny Snider (Dee Snider). The band's line-up stabilized in the 1980s with Snider, French, guitarist Eddie Ojeda, bassist Mark Mendoza and drummer A.J. Pero. Twisted Sister also evolved its feminized image into a more grotesque look, and began introducing original hard rock and heavy metal songs. After a decade of being rejected by every record company, Twisted Sister finally broke internationally with "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock." After more personnel changes, Twisted Sister disbanded in January 1988, but the members' solo projects were unsuccessful. Twisted Sister reunited after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 at a benefit concert for the NYPD and FDNY Widows and Orphans Fund; the band's classic line-up now reunites annually to perform at European rock festivals. The band officially stopped wearing make-up and costumes in 2009.

Twisted Sister ended its brief 2014 tour tonight at the Best Buy Theater with a benefit concert for the Pinkburst Project for Uveitis Research in association with the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation. Jay Jay French's daughter, Samantha, has uveitis. Before Twisted Sister’s set, French, his daughter, and her doctor, Dr. Stephen Foster, thanked the audience and spoke about the treatable disease. "That Metal Show" co-host Don Jamieson hosted the benefit concert, and opening acts Adrenaline Mob and Killcode also donated their time and talent for the cause.  A.J. Pero played drums for both Twisted Sister and Adrenaline Mob tonight.

As the lights dimmed, the audience sang along to AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)," a fitting theme for Twisted Sister. Twisted Sister re-emphasized the theme with two rousing openers, "Stay Hungry" and "The Kids Are Back." With long curly hair falling onto his "Stop Talking Selfies" t-shirt, gripping his hot pink microphone stand, Snider moved non-stop, welcoming the audience to the band's long-awaited homecoming concert. Besides the charity, the band had one center of gravity, identified clearly through the anthemic "You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll", "I Believe in Rock 'n' Roll", "I Wanna Rock" and a cover of the Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)." All the musicians played well, but Snider and his gravelly voice commanded the attention, with so much banter that the last two songs listed on the set list had to be cut due to a curfew, "Come Out and Play" and "Tear It Loose." A seemingly semi-retired Twisted Sister has not released an album since 2006, but the concert tonight proved that when the rare concert appearance comes along, the fire still burns.

Visit Twisted Sister at www.twistedsister.com.

Adrenaline Mob at the Best Buy Theater

Mike Orlando & Russell Allen
Adrenaline Mob is a heavy metal supergroup formed in 2011 by vocalist Russell Allen (Symphony X), guitarist Mike Orlando and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater). With the addition of bassist Paul Di Leo (Fozzy), and rhythm guitarist Rich Ward (Stuck Mojo/Fozzy), Adrenaline Mob performed its first live performance in New York in 2011. Ward and Di Leo left in 2012 and Portnoy left in 2013, all due to scheduling conflicts with their other commitments. Adrenaline Mob is presently Allen, Orlando, bassist Erik Leonhardt and drummer A. J. Pero of Twisted Sister. The band's second album, Men of Honor, was released on February 18, 2014.

Adrenaline Mob was among the artists performing a fundraiser concert tonight at the Best Buy Theater for the Pinkburst Project for Uveitis Research, in association with the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation. Adrenaline Mob opened with some fierce rhythms and guitar licks before Allen came on stage wearing a black leather sports jacket, fedora and sunglasses. He worked the audience for a few moments and then began singing "The Mob Is Back," setting the tone for a raucous evening of hard hitting rock and roll. In time, he removed his hat and shades, as his singing grew grittier, gruffer and huskier, matching the muscular ruggedness of the ripping music. As the sole guitarist, Orlando was about settling the crunch riffs and then extending flashy guitar licks on "Dearly Departed", "Hit the Wall", "Let It Go" and "Come On Get Up" and other tunes. Towards the end of the set, Jeff Scott Soto, the lead singer of Talisman from 1990 to 2007 and the vocalist on Yngwie Malmsteen's first two albums, came onstage with the band to help sing a cover of the Black Sabbath's "The Mob Rules." Adrenaline Mob's performance was as dynamic as it was incendiary.

Visit Adrenaline Mob at www.adrenalinemob.com.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sonata Arctica at Stage 48

Elias Viljanen, Pasi Kauppinen, Tony Kakko
Sonata Arctica began in 1995 as a hard rock band named Tricky Beans in the forested northern hamlet of Kemi, Finland (population: 23,000). Tricky Beans released three demos. By 1997, the band gravitated towards power metal, renamed itself Tricky Means and released a fourth demo. The demo consisted of fast, melodic metal with heavy keyboards and clean high vocals. Finally the band renamed itself Sonata Arctica upon signing a record contract in 1999: "sonata" for the music and "arctica" for their home (northern Finland). This latest transformation emphasized keyboard melodies and an easily distinguishable rhythm line maintained both by the bass and the guitar. Sonata Arctica's current line-up consists of singer, keyboardist and songwriter Tony Kakko, guitarist Elias Viljanen, bass guitarist Pasi Kauppinen, keyboardist and keytarist Henrik Klingenberg, and drummer Tommy Portimo. Portimo is the only remaining member from the original band, although Kakko has been in since 1996. Sonata Arctica has eight albums; the most recent, Pariah's Child, was released on March 28, 2014. Sonata Arctica also re-recorded its debut Ecliptica album as Ecliptica - Revisited (15th Anniversary Edition), scheduled for imminent release.

Tonight at Stage 48, Sonata Arctica showed a 21st century audience what 20th century metal was like. Radio-friendly melodic songs featured strong, high, sometimes shrilling vocals and clean guitar leads. Some songs offered a wisp of symphonic metal or progressive arrangements, and the set included several power ballads. In today's metal world of growling vocals, breakdowns and distorted guitar sounds, Sonata Arctica might be considered soft metal, but this was the state of heavy metal in the days before thrash and death metal. While this more traditional brand of heavy metal has not dominated the market since the 1980s, Sonata Arctica's small audience seemed to bring twice the enthusiasm of a larger audience. Sonata Arctica commanded the sound perfectly. It would have been virtually impossible to hear the difference between Sonata Arctica and a veteran classic-metal arena band.

Visit Sonata Arctica at www.sonataarctica.info.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ada Pasternak at the Bitter End

Ada Pasternak was born in Moscow and in 1996, at the age of six, immigrated with her family to Fairfield, Connecticut. Pasternak began studying violin with her aunt, New York Philharmonic violinist Asya Meshberg, and continued her studies with Albert Markov at the Manhattan School of Music. Pasternak won the grand prize in her first music competition at age 11. She then won other competitions and awards, including the Concerto Competition at the Manhattan School of Music and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony's Carlson Horn Competition. By age 16, however, Pasternak was diagnosed with tendonitis and thought she would never play music again. At the urging of a guidance counselor, she applied to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Pasternak performed at her audition and was awarded a Presidential Scholarship -- a full ride. Pasternak began writing songs, moved to Brooklyn and has released a six-song EP entitled Ada.

Tonight at the Bitter End, Pasternak performed her original songs plus a violin-led rendition of Sam Smith's "Stay with Me." She fashioned herself in the pop singer/songwriter mode, borrowing a bit from light jazz and classical music, and bordering on cabaret. The frequent use of violin, both bowing and picking, demonstrated her virtuosity, and her backing quartet's occasional quirky arrangement was curious. Break-ups seemed to be her major source of lyricism; rather than articulate vulnerability or hurt, however, her lyrics more often seemed to tell a worthless former suitor to disappear. Pasternak is petite but she is tough.

Pasternak performs again at the Bitter End on September 10 & 17. Accompanying Pasternak in all performances are Pier Luigi Salami on piano, Andre Vasconcelos on guitar, Jude Cuchifrito Kimon bass and David Cornejo Alegre on the drums.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Counting Crows at Irving Plaza

Vocalist Adam Duritz and guitarist David Bryson formed Counting Crows in 1991 in San Francisco, California. They began as an acoustic duo, playing gigs in Bay Area coffeehouses. Counting Crows grew to a stable lineup by 1993, and the band's first album that year sold seven million copies. Counting Crows seventh studio album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, was released on September 2, 2014. The band consists presently of Duritz, Bryson, Dan Vickrey (lead guitar), David Immergl├╝ck (guitar, banjo, mandolin), Charlie Gillingham (accordion, keyboards), Millard Powers (bass) and Jim Bogios (drums).

Counting Crows performed a free concert at Irving Plaza tonight. Fans learned about ticket distribution locations by following tips offered through the band's social media. The concert was streamed online as well. The first thing to note was that the stage lighting was brilliantly bright and that the sound was exceptionally crisp to where every voice and instrument was heard clearly at all times. The band performed old songs and new, but did not play anticipated songs like "Mr. Jones," Counting Crows' first hit. Appropriate for New York, the performance began with "Sullivan Street," named after a street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood which Duritz now calls home. (Later, "Washington Square" also recalled the same locale.) Duritz sang soulfully, mostly with his eyes closed, as the band played a soft rocking country-styled backdrop. Next, a Romany Rye cover, "Untitled (Love Song)," a little more electrified, leaned towards southern rock. Performing 22 songs in 90 minutes, the concert showcased all of the band's finer abilities. Duritz was a thoroughly passionate singer, evoking hope and melancholy even when the message of his lyrics proved puzzling. The other musicians' warm multi-part harmonies and stinging, biting rock and roll accompaniment spun on Duritz's axis. The tapestries were woven tightly and pleasantly. Duritz's charming anecdotes and song introductions further endeared the fan base. Together, all these features made the show felt like a very special evening with a classic rock band.

Visit Counting Crows at www.countingcrows.com.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Modern Life Is War at the Bowery Ballroom

Jeffrey Eaton
Modern Life Is War formed as a melodic hardcore band in 2002 in Marshalltown, Iowa. The band released three albums before announcing its breakup in 2008. The band reunited in 2012 and released its fourth studio album, Fever Hunting, in 2013. Although the band experienced mid-career personnel changes, the reformed band hosts its original members: Jeffrey Eaton on vocals, John Paul Eich and Matt Hoffman on guitars, Chris Honeck on bass and Tyler Oleson on drums.

Modern Life Is War confirmed its reputation as a unique hardcore band tonight at the Bowery Ballroom. Familiarly born of youthful anger and despair, orchestrated with brutally intense musical arrangements, many songs fueled moshing and stage diving. Nevertheless, the overall sound was darker than most hardcore punk music. Eaton harshly screamed and growled some uncommonly vulnerable lyrics while the band played a dirge-like wall of sound that often approached death metal. The slower pace and light melodies combined with the thrusting assault of the instruments turned many of the songs into epic- sounding anthems of youthful resilience. This was primal angst, as abrasive and aggressive as it is supposed to be.

Burlap to Cashmere at the Bitter End

Vocalist/guitarist Steven Delopoulos assembled a theater project for his final exam at a theater and dance school in New York. He later asked his then-14-year-old guitarist cousin, John Philippidis, to join him in the show, and together with a childhood friend, drummer Theodore Pagano, they formed Burlap to Cashmere in 1994. Additional musicians were added, and two years later the folk rock and world music ensemble began performing regularly at the Bitter End. Burlap to Cashmere made a splash with two albums in 1998, but road fatigue split the promising band apart. Delopoulos recorded two solo albums, Philippidis did session work, and Pagano worked as an interior designer. A tragedy brought them back together years later. In 2005, Philippidis fell victim to a road rage incident near his home in Brooklyn and was beaten nearly to death; he spent a month in a coma and required radical facial reconstructive surgery. As he recovered, he and his former comrades wrote and sang songs together. The old spirit was recaptured. The reformed Burlap to Cashmere released a self titled album in 2011.

Burlap to Cashmere has returned to performing regularly at the Bitter End, and a hometown crowd eagerly awaits each time. There is no contemporary band quite like Burlap to Cashmere. Imagine Simon and Garfunkel singing to the music of the Gipsy Kings. Delopoulos and Philippidis sang crisp and vibrant harmonies to  Delopoulos' inspirational and poetic lyrics, Philippidis played speedy flamenco-style acoustic guitar, and the band backed them with hot, driving, foot-stomping Mediterranean rhythms. The song selection included many of their spiritually-driven compositions, including "Anybody Out There", "The Other Country" and "Basic Instructions." Altogether, Burlap to Cashmere excelled in melding folk and world music to a 21st century audience.

Visit Burlap to Cashmere at www.burlaptocashmere.com.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Red Moon at the Biter End

The Bitter End seems to be the club in New York to find classic-rock style bands. Tonight Red Moon was a gritty-sounding New York-based power trio performing original songs influenced by many contemporary sounds. Bronx-born vocalist/bassist Scott Fanzo offered gutsy, bluesy vocals over his funky bass progressions. Guitarist Rene Ferrer intoned the hard rock riffs and jazz-rock leads into the mix. Drummer Sergio Leccese kept the rock and roll beat. The trio tonight invited Cara Delevingne to sing a sultry cover version of Prince's "Kiss." Red Moon brought back the innovative rock spirit that dominated the same venue some 40 years ago.

Joanna Gruesome at the South Street Seaport

Alanna McArdle
Joanna Gruesome was formed in 2010 in Cardiff, Wales, and is comprised of Alanna McArdle on vocals, Owen Williams and George Nicholls on guitars, Max Warren on bass and David Sandford on drums. Much about the band's reported origins rub more like fiction than fact. The musicians claim that the band originated in an anger management counseling group. During the course they were taught that writing, making music, dancing or painting could relieve tension and help reduce feelings of anger. In one exercise, they were assigned as a group to compose and perform a song to perform in front of other participants. According to the tale, they initially found each other infuriating but gradually discovered a musical chemistry and continued working as a band outside of therapy. Joanna Gruesome began recording and performing live, allegedly twisting the band name from indie harpist Joanna Newsom's name. The fuzz-pop quintet created music that bore no similarity to Newsom's literary folk modes, however, instead drawing influence from the C86 scene and shoegaze guitar tones. Joanna Gruesome released several singles and EPs before the debut album, 2013's Weird Sister, was written, allegedly in a seedy occultist hotel.

Joanna Gruesome closed the South Street Seaport's outdoor summer concert series tonight and upon taking the stage quickly scared away many middle-aged middle-of-the-road types who came in lawn chairs hoping for pleasant music under the stars. The noise-pop band put on a short but energetic live show that bordered on indie art pop, riot grrrl, garage rock and discordant feedback dissonance. McArdle both spit out hardcore punk grunts and sang whispering melodic vocals to jangling guitar chord rhythms and fast primal-punk drumbeats. The band's attempt to bring a few brief breaths of delicate tenderness to its utterly aggressive brashness was clashingly cute. Songs with titles like "Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers," performed at high volume and velocity, showcased a unique sound that may win over the followers of Veruca Salt and Savages.