Monday, August 17, 2015

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams at City Winery

Larry Campbell, Justin Guip & Teresa Williams
Larry Campbell was born in New York, New York, and Teresa Williams is from rural Peckerwood Point, Tennessee. They met when he was hired to play pedal steel guitar behind her at a New York gig over 25 years ago. They married in 1988 but did not perform together until they participated in Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble Band in Woodstock, New York. Otherwise, they seemed to travel in separate hemispheres, he backing Bob Dylan and others and she backing Emmylou Harris and performing her own music. They finally released a self-titled debut as a duo on June 23, 2015.

While Campbell has played many stringed instruments for other artists, at City Winery tonight he stuck closely to his electric guitar and mandolin. Joined by keyboardist Bill Payne of Little Feat, bassist Byron Isaacs of Amy Helm's band and drummer Justin Guip, the music ranged from straight country to honky tonk to gospel. While Campbell has spent the past 35 years as a side musician, he did well as a front person, a role he shared with Williams, and towards the end, with Payne, who led an eight-minute version of "Dixie Chicken" and also sang "Oh Atlanta." The set was casual yet rousing, bringing out the best in all the musicians. Williams was a graceful singer and Campbell finger-picked tastefully, and excelled in their joyous harmonies. They gently moved the set from heartfelt songs to rowdy barroom rockers with class. They were a case student of what happens when a city boy partners in music with a country girl: the songs featured the grandest elements of Americana's deep roots while fearlessly rocking the house.

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams return to New York next month opening for Jackson Browne at various area venues. The duo also will perform in his band.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Santana at Forest Hills Stadium

Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico. There he learned to play the violin at age five and the guitar at age eight under the tutelage of his father, a mariachi musician. The family moved to Tijuana, Mexico, and then San Francisco, California, and Santana became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1965. After several years working as a dishwasher in a diner and busking for spare change, Santana decided to become a full-time guitarist. In 1966, he formed the Santana Blues Band with fellow street musicians. Pioneering a blend of Latin-infused rock with jazz, blues, salsa and African rhythms, the band (which then adopted their front man's name, Santana) gained a following on the San Francisco club circuit. The band's early success was capped at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. Since then, Santana has sold over 100 million records, has won 10 Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. The band's most recent album is the Spanish language Corazon, released on May 6, 2014. Carlos Santana currently lives in Las Vegas.

Headlining the Forest Hills Stadium tonight, Santana performed a two-hour set of the band's signature Latin rock. The evening opened with a video montage showing a younger Carlos' performance at Woodstock as the current line-up took the stage and launched into "Soul Sacrifice," the Santana song that appeared in the Woodstock film and soundtrack album. Santana’s two current lead vocalists, Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay, came onstage and sang newer songs and covers. From the beginning, however, the music was all about Carlos' uncanny guitar work and its trademark percussive backdrop. Whether this backdrop was informed by African rhythms, salsa, samba, cha-cha or hard rock, it was advanced by Santana's guitar solos, richly fluid and played with such clarity that they sounded lyrical, even when they lasted over five minutes. About a half hour into the set, the mostly-silent Carlos introduced his son, Salvatore Santana, and the younger Santana came out to sing three urban pop originals as the elder Santana played backup. Overall, the bulk of the material may have been new to the audience but, as many of the songs were dominated by extended instrumental jams, it hardly mattered what song was being performed. "Smooth" closed the regular set, and the encores began with older songs "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" accompanied by more video highlights of Santana's career. Nearly 50 years in music, Santana live remains a top jam band.

Visit Santana at www.santana.com.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Coal Chamber at Irving Plaza

Dez Fafara
Vocalist Bradley "Dez" Fafara and guitarist Miguel "Meegs" Rascón formed the band She's in Pain in 1992 in Los Angeles, California. A year later, they formed the hard-rocking Coal Chamber, which recorded three well-received albums before disbanding in 2003. Fafara went on to lead Devildriver for six albums and also sang on movie soundtracks, while the other members tried unsuccessful music paths. Coal Chamber reunited in 2011 and presently consists of the familiar line-up of Fafara, Rascón, bassist Nadja Peulen and drummer Mike Cox. Coal Chamber's fourth studio album, Rivals, was released on May 19, 2015, and is the band's first studio album in 13 years.

Headlining at Irving Plaza tonight, Coal Chamber appeared on the dark stage to the sound of eerie sound effects. Once the four members were in position, Fafara greeted the audience, Cox started a hard drum beat, blinding strobe lights flashed into the audience from behind the band, a fast moving video image displayed on a large screen behind Cox, and the band was on its way to launching the set with the industrial rock sound of its oldest hit, "Loco." The band followed quickly with the heavy thudding "Big Truck." Starting with two older songs meant the veteran band was back, but then the blistering new track "I.O.U. Nothing" indicated that the band also came with a present and a promising future as well. Fafara's harsh growl and lion-like roar, along with Rascón's coarse and crunching guitar tones, crossed between brutal nu metal and industrial goth. The songs worked gritty headbanging grooves so fluidly that song endings seemed abrupt. The band commanded visual attention as well: the heavily tattooed, face-painted and nose-ringed singer worked the audience while howling into a vintage-looking microphone (and a digitally-lit megaphone on "Rowboat"), the mascaraed guitarist played to the edge of the stage, the bassist in the sexy dress spun around in circles with her long red hair leading the way, and the muscled, bare-chested drummer often played standing up. Coal Chamber closed with a rousing version of its anthemic "Sway." Coal Chamber's raw performance was much more dynamic than the band's more polished recordings, so hopefully the band will remain together for a while and live out its potential.

Visit Coal Chamber at www.coalchamberofficial.com.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Philm at the Mercury Lounge

Dave Lombardo
When he was two years old, Cuban-born David "Dave" Lombardo immigrated with his family to South Gate, California, and was playing bongos at age 8. Shortly thereafter he played marching drum for his school band. By age 10, he had his first drum kit and learned to play by following along to Kiss songs. At age 16, he met guitarist Kerry King, and after recruiting other musicians, thrash metal band Slayer was born in 1981. Lombardo recorded seven albums with Slayer (although he quit the band three times, most recently in 2013) and has worked other projects and genres, including classical music and television soundtracks. His most recent project is Philm, a Los Angeles-based progressive rock trio formed in 2009 with guitarist Gerry Nestler and bassist Francisco "Pancho" Tomaselli. Philm's second album, Fire from the Evening Sun, was released on September 12, 2014.

At the Mercury Lounge tonight, Philm was a showcase for three musical architects. Left to right, Nestler, Lombardo and Tomaselli were positioned across the front edge of the stage. They spoke little even to each other; the music was the telepathic message. From the start, the polyrhythmic songs twisted and bent in nonconforming and unpredictable turns, not necessarily returning to where the song began. Pushing past all musical boundaries, was this experimental metal, was it extreme jazz, or was it cacophonic noise? The instrumental breaks dominated the set, and were a labyrinth, primitively raw and dangerously ferocious. Nestler muttered and growled as he played anarchic guitar leads, and Tomaselli intoned a deep, thick bass bottom. Inevitably, Lombardo shone as the fearless master, playing perhaps the most innovative and inventive drum patterns of his career. Monstrously aggressive and intense, yet shadowy, abstract and perplexing, Philm played some of the most complex progressive music to bleed the ears of heavy music fans.

Needtobreathe at Terminal 5

Bear Rinehart
William "Bear" Rinehart III and Nathaniel "Bo" Rinehart were raised in Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, and later moved to Seneca, where as teenagers the brothers began playing music together in church. They later performed publicly in coffee houses at Furman University, where Bear was a star wide receiver. In 1999, Needtobreathe took shape as a heartland rock band playing an ever-widening tour circuit. Initially releasing their music independently, the band now has five major-label albums. Live from the Woods at Fontanel is the band's first live album, released on April 14, 2015. Currently based in Charleston, Needtobreathe (stylized as NEEDTOBREATHE) is Bear Rinehart (lead vocals, guitar), Bo Rinehart (backing vocals, guitar), Seth Bolt (backing vocals, bass) and Josh Lovelace (backing vocals, keyboards), although additional musicians are used in live performances.

Headlining at Terminal 5 tonight, Needtobreathe emphasized the heart in the term heartland. Bear sang with a rich, emotive voice that beckoned audience response. Wrapped around well-written and meaningful lyrics, his distinctive voice felt warm, homey and personal. Softer songs weaved between harder blues and country-inflected rockers, all delivered with an honest small-town integrity. Bo played guitar for most of the performance, but when he strapped on a banjo, the band's southern calling became more than evident. Likewise, when Bear shouted soulfully, it recalled the brothers' roots in their dad's Pentecostal church. Needtobreathe specialized in rocking music that first moved the soul and then the hips.

Visit Needtobreathe at www.needtobreathe.com.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at Damrosch Park

Lyle Lovett was raised on his family's horse ranch in Klein, Texas, a small Houston suburb named after his grandfather. While in college majoring in both German and journalism, Lovett started writing his own music and performing in coffee houses. After recording his self-titled debut country music album in 1986, he began experimenting further in jazz, swing, blues, gospel, folk and pop within the country framework. He frequented landed roles on television and in movies, and is perhaps best known for eloping with Julia Roberts in 1993 after they met on a movie set; they divorced two years later. Lovett has recorded 11 albums, the most recent, Release Me, in 2012; he has won four Grammy Awards.

Tonight's free performance at Damrosch Park as part of Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors began with Lovett's band on stage and his back-up singer, Francine Reed, starting the opening song strolling slowly through the audience. Lovett's set opened and closed with accompaniment from His Large Band, a 15-piece ensemble that helped Lovett deliver swing, jazz and blues songs. The middle half of the two and a half hour set featured a reduced line-up (usually no horns, less percussion and no Reed) playing folk, country, bluegrass and gospel. That Lovett was able to lead all these genres convincingly was a masterful feat in itself. Lovett's singing highlighted an aching, yearning quality that was ripe for his blues and country songs of love and heartbreak; other lyrics revealed Lovett's wry wit. He was a generous bandleader, turning many of his songs into multi-level jams where every musician's talents were elevated. Beyond the sincerity and charm of his musical performance, Lovett's pleasing demeanor was casual, relaxed and chatty, inviting his audience into a cozy ambiance. The result was a modern and eclectic performance spanning the various sub-genres of Americana, executed with smarts, class and expert technique.

Visit Lyle Lovett at www.lylelovett.com.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Desaparecidos at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Conor Oberst
Vocalist/guitarist Conor Oberst formed the band Desaparecidos in 2001 in Omaha, Nebraska, but put the emo band on hiatus after one album as his other band, the indie folk band Bright Eyes, began to gain popularity. Charged with a political bent, the band took its name from the Spanish word "desaparecidos." which means "disappeared ones"; it is a reference to the political dissidents who mysteriously disappeared under Latin American dictatorships, particularly Augusto Pinochet’s right-wing dictatorship in Chile from 1973-1990. With Bright Eyes on hold, Desaparecidos reunited for a single show in 2010, and in 2012 embarked on its first tour since 2002. Desaparecidos released its second album, Payola, on June 23, 2015, 13 years after the debut Read Music/Speak Spanish. The band consists of original members Oberst, guitarist Denver Dalley, keyboardist Ian McElroy, bassist Landon Hedges and drummer Matt Baum.

Oberst recently concluded a solo tour promoting a solo album, but the singer is now committed to Desaparecidos. At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Desaparecidos performed 11 of the 14 songs from its new album, six of the nine songs from the debut album, and a cover of the Clash's "Spanish Bombs." If anyone came to see the folkie side of Oberst, that person was in for a surprise. This band rocked an intense wall of sound, many of the songs fit for crowd surfers and stage divers. Often the musicians' faces were covered with hair as they bounced to the hard and heavy rhythms. Rooted in loud tuneful punk, the melodies rode on escalating, anthemic cascades and were given drama by Oberst's angst-filled vocals. The thrust of the adrenalin-driven music felt like it was caught in a tornado. If anything, this was the fault of the set; there was little if any nuance in the mix. Many songs also took on a socio-political defiance, such as the anti-corporate, anti-CEO "Golden Parachutes" and the anti-racism "MariKKopa," adding to the vibrant urgency of the music. For the encores, Desaparecidos brought out their opening acts: the So So Glos on "Slacktivist" and the Band Droidz on "Spanish Bombs." The evening ended with the pro-worker "Mañana" and the anti-establishment "Greater Omaha." Rather than Bright Eyes, this was more like Angry Eyes.

Visit Desaparecidos at www.desaparecidosband.com.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

KMFDM at Irving Plaza

Lucia Cifarelli & Sascha Konietzko
German vocalist/programmer/keyboardist Sascha Konietzko founded the industrial band KMFDM as a performance art project in 1984 for an exhibition of young European artists in Paris, France. KMFDM is an anagram for the nonsensical and grammatically incorrect German phrase Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid, which literally translates as "no majority for the pity", but is typically given the loose translation of "no pity for the majority." KMFDM experienced many line-up changes before splitting in 1999. Konietzko resurrected KMFDM in 2002, and by 2005 he had assembled a consistent line-up that included American singer Lucia Cifarelli, British guitarists Jules Hodgson and Steve White, and British drummer Andy Selway. KMFDM has released 19 studio albums, with sales of more than two million records worldwide. Our Time Will Come, the band's 19th and most recent studio album, was released on October 14, 2014. After brief residences in Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington, Konietzko presently is based in his hometown of Hamburg, Germany.

KMFDM was one of the first bands to bring industrial music to mainstream audiences, pioneering the crossover between techno/dance and heavy metal with a signature techno-industrial sound. At Irving Plaza tonight, KMFDM backed the male and female vocals with a fusion of crunching heavy metal guitar riffs, electronic music, industrial beats, pre-programmed samples and dance floor sensibilities. Only a super-fan would have recognized the majority of the music; the band performed 20 songs from 13 albums. The Mohawked, sunglassed Konietzko growled the first song, "Money," alone; Long Island native Cifarelli received applause when she came out to howl with him on the second song, "Light." Koneitzko and Cifarelli each stood before a small synthesizer/programmer/sequencer, but often stepped away to sing at the edge of the stage, Cifarelli often dancing and slithering like a vertical cobra. Throughout the set, flashing lights and fog played with the dark and dense dance grooves (and with the auto focus on our cameras). If there are raves in hell, they might sound like this.

Visit KMFDM at www.kmfdm.net.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers at the Drom

Amy Helm
Amy Helm was born and raised in a musical conclave in Woodstock, New York. Her father, the late Levon Helm, was the drummer in the Band, her mother was singer-songwriter Libby Titus and her stepfather was Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. As a teenager, she played her first show in a Manhattan bar, then sang and played in several other bands until joining her father's band, the Midnight Ramblers, for 10 years. Her father passed away in 2012, and she is now leading Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers with guitarist Dan Littleton, bassist Byron Isaacs and drummer David Berger. After three albums with the alt-country collective Ollabelle, her first solo album, Didn't It Rain, was released on July 24, 2015.

Headlining at the Drom two nights after opening for Dr. John in Central Park, Helm showed that the roots of her music remain close to those of her father. As a formidable singer-songwriter, her lyrics explored the timeless themes of life, love and loss. The format of the catalogue pivoted largely on traditional folk and country, but stretched generously into blues and gospel. Helm played mandolin on a few songs, and sang soulfully and expressively whether the song simmered on bluegrass or rhythm and blues. Littleton played an acoustic guitar but curiously made it sound like an electric guitar; he and Berger brought the rock jam sound to many of the up-tempo songs. In all, Helm's heartfelt singing, choice of material and arrangements drew by the buckets from the many streams of Americana. Given proper exposure, Helm may revitalize the Woodstock sound.

Helm will perform with Ollabelle at City Winery on September 3. In the meantime, visit Amy Helm at www.amyhelm.com.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

X at City Winery

Bassist John Doe and guitarist Billy Zoom met through the musicians' classified page in a music newspaper in Los Angeles, California. Doe began bringing his poet girlfriend, Exene Cervenka, to their rehearsals and she began to share vocal duties with Doe. After trying out several drummers, they finally settled on DJ Bonebrake. The seminal line-up for the punk band X was completed in 1977. X released seven studio albums from 1980 to 1993 and, after a period of inactivity during the mid to late 1990s, X reunited in the early 2000s. X's most recent album of new songs is 1993's Hey Zeus!

On X's 2014 tour, the band concentrated on one album for each of four nights at City Winery; this time around they shuffled the set list and played the same songs in a revised order. This time, however, Zoom suddenly withdrew from the tour in order to seek immediate medical treatment for bladder cancer; the shows were partially a benefit for Zoom, with City Winery selling autographed bottles of “Billy Zoom” wine to support his medical bills. With little time for debriefing, Texas-based guitarist Jesse Dayton (Waylon Jennings, Supersuckers) sat in for Zoom, learning 28 songs in eight days. At City Winery tonight, the opening act, Dead Rock West, closed its set with a cover of the Staple Singers' "This May Be the Last Time" and were joined on stage by X members singing harmony. After intermission, X rocked 22 songs from the band's early 1980s catalogue plus an older song, 1978’s "Adult Books." Most of the set was high-speed punk rock; there was very little from the band's more subtle folk and country side. Doe and Cervenka's off-kilter harmonizing was riveting, Dayton added a punky twang and Bonebrake's propulsive percussion drove the songs home. X injected punk sensibilities into two cover songs, the Otis Blackwell–composed "Breathless" and the Doors' "Soul Kitchen." All the public needs is some new material, please.

Visit X at www.xtheband.com.