Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Living Colour at City Winery

Corey Glover
English-born Vernon Reid had played guitar in New York in Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society before launching a series of bands he called Living Colour in 1984. Melding heavy metal, funk, jazz, hip hop and alternative rock, Reid and his bands found a home at CBGB's. The lineup stabilized by 1986, and turning to a more commercial bent, Living Colour hit with "Cult of Personality" on its debut album in 1988, winding up on MTV video rotations, opening for the Rolling Stones tour, and winning two Grammy Awards. Living Colour disbanded in 1995 and reformed in 2000. The band presently consists of Reid, vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun. Living Colour's fifth and most recent studio album is 2009's The Chair in the Doorway; the band hopes to release Shade in 2017.

Headlining at City Winery tonight, Living Colour showed its CBGB's roots with a cover of Talking Heads' "Memories Can't Wait." From the first song, the band stamped out its abilities: Glover was a fine singer, and the musicians were talented and ingenuous. Glover sings with a husky, commanding presence, Reid's guitar licks are fierce and daring, and the rhythm section was as creative as a progressive fusion band. Playing commercial music for common denominator tastes would have been too easy; instead, Living Colour rocked on instrumental jazz/funk workouts, riveting hard rockers, casual pop riffs and even Delta blues and hip hop. The few cover tunes ranged from the Beatles' psychedelic "Tomorrow Never Knows" to the Notorious B.I.G's "Who Shot Ya?" The consistent factor throughout was that all the jams rocked.

Living Colour will be performing at the AfroPunk Festival on August 28. Meanwhile, visit the band at www.livingcolour.com.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

X at Irving Plaza

Exene Cervenka
In 1976, bassist John Doe, born John Nommensen Duchac in Decatur, Illinois, and raised near Baltimore, Maryland, moved to Los Angeles, California. Guitarist Billy Zoom, born Tyson Kindell in Savanna, Illinois, moved to California in the 1960s. Doe and Zoom met after posting similar ads in a local newspaper seeking other musicians to form a punk rock band. Doe brought to the fold poet Exene Cervenka, born Christine Cervenka in Tallahassee, Florida, whom he met at a poetry reading in Venice, California. Doe also discovered drummer Donald "D.J." Bonebrake of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley when Bonebrake was playing in a local band called the Eyes. Together, the foursome formed X in 1977 and became the leaders of the Los Angeles punk scene. X split in 1988, reunited in 1993, split again in 1995 and reunited again in 1998. The band tours but has not recorded an album since 1993's Hey, Zeus!

X has retained a strong New York following, judging by the substantial turnout tonight at Irving Plaza. X played much the same set as the group has played for the past 30+ years. The set consisted of 24 rapid-fire songs, all from X albums dating back from 1980 to 1983. The set began with five songs from Wild Gift, and stayed close to that raw, energetic sound, hardly venturing into the more folk and country roots-oriented sound of Doe and Cervenka's later solo albums. The staple of the band remained firm, which was the synchronous singing of Doe and Cervenka, with Zoom igniting the songs with blazing leads during their vocal pauses. X performed the old X very well, as energized as its in most primitive, exploratory phase, except that tweaking a song like "The Unheard Music" does not qualify as new material. The public awaits new adventures from X.

Visit X at www.xtheband.com.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Junior Brown at City Winery

Jamieson "Junior" Brown was born in Cottonwood, Arizona, and at a young age moved with his family to a rural area of Indiana near Kirksville. His father taught him to play the piano, and he taught himself to play a guitar he found in his grandparent’s attic. As a young boy, he performed country songs at parties and school functions. As a young adult, he sang and played pedal steel and guitar on tour with the Last Mile Ramblers, Dusty Drapes & the Dusters and Asleep at the Wheel. In 1985, Brown invented a double-neck guitar, his unique hybrid "guit-steel," the top neck being a traditional six-string guitar, while the lower neck is a full-size lap steel guitar for slide playing. Since 1990, Brown has recorded seven studio albums including The American Original, which will be released by late summer. Since the 1990s, Brown and his band, including wife Tanya Rae, have been based in Austin, Texas.

At City Winery tonight, Junior Brown performed many kinds of country-rooted music, including honky tonk, western swing and bluegrass, but also blended shades of blues, surf, Tex-Mex, and even Hawaiian into the set. With his signature guit-steel hoisted onto a stand center stage, Brown moved behind it and frequently and effortlessly alternated from finger picking on the guitar neck to sliding on the steel neck, often on the same song. His other niche was the dry wit he sang through his lyrics. Brown provided an amusing performance, but city folk might find his concert to be more of a novelty than serious music.

Visit Junior Brown at www.juniorbrown.com.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Piebald at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Travis Shettel
Four high school students formed Piebald as a hardcore band in 1994 in Andover, Massachusetts, then moved to Somerville and gradually evolved into a popular emo band. Piebald split in 2000, reunited in 2002, and split again in 2008, though the band reunited briefly in 2010 at the Bamboozle music festivals in California and New Jersey. This year, Piebald reformed for the Wrecking Ball 2016 music festival in Atlanta, Georgia, and the band announced a "You're Part of It" tour leading to that date. Piebald presently consists of its classic lineup of vocalist/guitarist Travis Shettel, guitarist Aaron Stuart, bassist Andrew Bonner and drummer Luke Garro. Piebald's most recent album, Accidental Gentleman, was released in 2007.

Demonstrating how wit had become integral to its song craft, Piebald opened tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom with "Karate Chops For Everyone But Us" from its 2002 album We Are the Only Friends We Have. Half of the 20-song set drew from that album, with the prior album, 1999's If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains for Us All, coming close with seven songs. The band introduced no new songs, for all intents and purposes revisiting where the curtain fell in 2008. The band has matured with the times somewhat, with a slicker presentation that diminished the earlier jangly indie guitar chords and occasional progressive hardcore spines. With story-songs designed with rallying, climactic choruses, Piebald saw its audience engaged in enthusiastic singing from the first lyrics. If there is still room for emo bands in the contemporary rock skyline, Piebald may not be soon forgotten. Footnote: tonight was Stuart's birthday, and he knelt onstage and proposed marriage to his girlfriend in the audience midway through the concert.

Visit Piebald at www.piebald.com.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Eric Burdon & the Animals at City Winery

The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo formed in 1958 and became the Animals shortly after Eric Burdon joined in 1962. Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, the blues rocking Animals was one of the leading bands of the British Invasion. By late 1966, the other original members had left, and Burdon reformed the brand as Eric Burdon & the Animals, sometimes called Eric Burdon & the New Animals, until that band split in 1969. Living in San Francisco, California, Burdon joined forces with the funk rock band War in 1969, becoming Eric Burdon & War. Burdon began a solo career in 1971 with the Eric Burdon Band. His 11th and most recent solo album, 'Til Your River Runs Dry, was released in 2013. Although the original Animals reunited briefly in 1975 and 1983, Burdon’s present band of Animals consists of Johnzo West (guitar/vocals), Davey Allen (keys/vocals), Dustin Koester (drums/vocals), Justin Andres (bass guitar/vocals), Ruben Salinas (sax/flute), and Evan Mackey (trombone).

Eric Burdon's career lasted beyond the British Invasion of the mid-1960s for two reasons; his hit songs were dynamic rockers and he possessed a unique, powerful voice. At City Winery tonight, the 75-year-old blues rocker had no newer songs of that earlier caliber and his voice has lost considerable power, but he proved to be a remarkably formidable force nonetheless. Burdon and his new band opened with a fresh take on his 1970 hit, "Spill the Wine," then moved through much of the Animals repertoire and sprinkled a fewer newer songs like 2013's "Bo Diddley Special." Some parts that were sung originally were now more talky, and the singing was sometimes more gravelly, yet the songs retained their fierce and passionate delivery. Burdon in concert is still classic, and rock and roll history would be incomplete without his distinguished presence.

Eric Burdon & the Animals will return to City Winery on October 10 & 11. In the meantime, visit Eric Burdon at www.ericburdon.com.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dwight Yoakim at Damrosch Park

The son of a gas-station owner and a key-punch operator, Dwight Yoakam was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he sang and played guitar with local garage bands. Yoakim wanted to play honky tonk, but the country music circuit had gravitated toward pop "urban cowboy" music, so in 1977 he moved to Los Angeles, California, where Los Lobos, X and other bands were marrying cowpunk with roots rock and punk rock. Yoakim has recorded more than 21 albums and compilations, charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and sold more than 25 million records. On September 23, 2016, Yoakam will release his first exclusively-bluegrass album comprised of bluegrass covers of many of his biggest hits; it will be entitled Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, perhaps paralleling his life path to the Beverley Hillbillies.

Later this year Yoakim will turn 60 years old, and his concert tonight at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors AmericanaFest reflected in part the music of his childhood. Backed by his sequin-suited musicians, Brian Whelan on keyboards and guitar, Eugene Edwards on lead guitar, Jonathan Clark on bass, and Mitch Marine on drums, Yoakim sang 11 cover songs originally recorded by the likes of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton. Opening with "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud  Music)," Yoakim also performed nine songs from his own early career, including "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere", "Honky Tonk Man" and "Guitars, Cadillacs," plus four more recent songs. When the songs leaned towards traditional country music, Yoakim's rich hillbilly vocals crooned like silk, but his most driving songs were the rockabilly-inspired numbers. Yoakam is mostly associated with West Coast country, early cowpunk, and the Bakersfield Sound, but his concert successfully spanned the width of roots rock genres.

Visit Dwight Yoakim at www.dwightyoakam.com.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Celebration at Damrosch Park

The Band first came together as rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins' backing group, the Hawks, between 1958 and 1963. In 1965, Bob Dylan hired the musicians for his U.S. tour in 1965 and world tour in 1966. The group began performing apart from Dylan as the Band in 1968 and released 10 studio albums, ending its touring career with a star-studded concert in 1976 in San Francisco, California. This performance became Martin Scorsese's 1978 documentary film The Last Waltz. The Band recommenced touring in 1983 without guitarist Robbie Robertson, and occasionally resurfaced with various line-ups until bassist Rick Danko's death in 1999.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors' annual AmericanaFest NYC: Roots of American Music tonight hosted a 40th anniversary tribute to The Last Waltz. This free concert featured the late Band drummer Levon Helm’s collective, the Midnight Ramble Band, and its longtime musical director, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, along with vocalist/guitarist Teresa Williams, keyboardist Brian Mitchell, guitarist Jim Weider, bassist Jacob Silver, drummer Shawn Pelton and a horn section that included Steven Bernstein, Jay Collins, Clark Gayton, and Erik Lawrence. Bob Weir, Dr. John, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Howard Johnson, Teddy Thompson, and Anderson East also performed on several songs. Both Dr. John and Howard Johnson performed at the original Last Waltz in 1976. The original Last Waltz featured 40 songs; this two-hour tribute consisted of 18 of those songs.

Larry Campbell and the Midnight Ramble Band began with "This Wheel’s On Fire," "The Shape I’m In" and "Life Is a Carnival," and closed the main set with a medley of "Genetic Method" into "Chest Fever."

Guitarist/vocalist Buddy Miller, the evening’s first featured guest, joined the Midnight Ramble Band on "Up On Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Later in the set, Miller sang "Down South In New Orleans."

Singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson, the son of Richard and Linda Thompson, sang a rousing "Ophelia."
Patti Griffin sang "Helpless" and "Evangeline." 

Singer-songwriter Anderson East sang "Caravan."

 Howard Johnson on tuba led "Rag Mama Rag."

 Lucinda Williams sang "It Makes No Difference."

 Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead sang "Further On Up The Road."

 Dr. John sang "Such A Night," as he did at the original Last Waltz.

Theresa Williams sang "Long Black Veil."

For the encore, the entire cast except Dr. John performed "Forever Young,"
and then with Dr. John, all performed "The Weight."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Lucinda Williams at Damrosch Park

Lucinda Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the daughter of a poet and literature professor father and an amateur pianist mother. They divorced in the mid-1960s, and the dad took the children with him as he traveled as a visiting professor in Mexico and the United States. Lucinda began playing guitar at age 12, and her first live performance was in Mexico City at age 17. By her early 20s, Williams was performing a folk-rock-country blend in Austin and Houston, Texas. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi, then Los Angeles, California, before finally settling in Nashville, Tennessee. Williams received Grammy Awards for Best Country Song in 1994, Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1999, and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 2001. Her 12th studio album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, was released on February 5, 2016.

Lucinda Williams tonight headlined a free concert sponsored by National Public Radio (NPR) as part of the Lincoln Center's annual summer Out-of-Doors series. Ann Powers, an NPR host, introduced Williams and conducted a brief interview before walking off and leaving Williams to launch into a 40-minute set. Williams sang and played acoustic guitars accompanied solely by Stuart Mathis on electric guitars. Stripped down like this, the songs and voice were even more potent than usual, from the opening "When I Look at the World" to a cheer-inducing closer, "Foolishness" ("I don't need no foolishness in my life …/I don't need no racism in my life …/I don't need no sexism in my life …/I don't need Donald Trump in my life …/"). At age 63, Williams' defiant spirit shone brightly, whether it challenged country music traditions or political disorder. Williams is a songwriter with a lot to say, but the curfew of the venue did not allow her ample time to express herself aptly.

Visit Lucinda Williams at www.lucindawilliams.com.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Amos Lee at John Varvatos

Amos Lee
Ryan Massaro was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and at age 11 moved with his family to Cherry Hill, New Jersey. While attending college in South Carolina, he developed an interest in music and began playing guitar and bass in a band called Hot Lava Monster. Graduating with a degree in English and a minor in education, he returned to Philadelphia, where he taught second grade, worked as a bartender, and moonlighted as a singer/songwriter at open mics as Amos Lee. Lee's sixth album, Spirit, will be released on August 19, 2016.

Prior to a headlining tour that will bring Lee to Radio City Music Hall on September 10, Lee performed a free invitation-only showcase at the John Varvatos clothing store. Lee performed four songs with his band, and concluded with a solo encore for the few dozen guests who sat or stood a few feet from the makeshift staging area. Lee seemed comfortable in his songs, but perhaps not as comfortable in performing live; while he sang his soulful folk-rooted songs with consuming passion, he often rested his chin on his chest and seldom opened his eyes, even when speaking to his guests between songs. His rich, smooth vocal tones were compellingly honeyed as he strummed his acoustic guitar to soft, supple pillow songs. When he stepped back from the microphone and grooved to his band's accompaniment, the pause felt like the drizzle between two late night rainfalls. Tonight's tasteful mini-performance previewed what may be a massive breakthrough tour for Amos Lee.

Visit Amos Lee at www.amoslee.com.

Monday, August 1, 2016

NAF at the Bowery Ballroom

Jenny Lewis
In 2015, keyboardist/bassist Erika Forster (of Au Revoir Simone) and drummer Tennessee Thomas (formerly of the Like) played in a New York City band called Summer Moon. Vocalist Jenny Lewis (solo artist and formerly of Rilo Kiley and Jenny & Johnny) connected with the duo in 2016, and the three musicians quietly formed a band called NAF. The indie supergroup made its live debut at a Bernie Sanders benefit concert in New York in April 2016, and also opened a few concerts for M. Ward. NAF's self-titled debut album was released on June 24, 2016.

Rather than use the Bowery Ballroom's stage and lighting, NAF performed in a small space on the audience floor, lit only by a few light bulbs on a peace symbol behind Thomas. Performing without physical barriers, the three musicians could not have been closer to each other and to the audience. The music was raw, sometimes simply a voice over funky bass and primal drum lines, similar but lighter than punk funk band ESG in the 1970s. NAF's set was so basic that it sounded like the songs were written experimentally last night and were not yet completed. This was perhaps the charm that rocked the party. The considerable deficit, however, was that NAF played its entire nine-track album in a skimpy 28 minutes; with a set that short, perhaps the band should have held off on headlining until it had a second album's worth of material.

Visit NAF at www.niceasfuck.com.