Saturday, March 14, 2020

The New Colossus Festival 2020

Over the 100 emerging bands registered to perform at the New Colossus Festival in Manhattan's Lower East Side and East Village. Since this five-day event was scheduled right before SXSW, it was a starting point on the way to the Texas festival. Then SXSW was cancelled due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. The New Colossus Festival soldiered on, but each day, as the government issued additional warnings, fewer people attended the performances and more bands dropped out and went home.

The New Colossus Festival blossomed from a 10-bands-in-one-day pre-SXSW concert at Pianos in 2018 to more than 100 bands performing in eight venues across five days and nights in 2020. Many of the bands were scheduled to perform several times throughout the festival at Arlene's Grocery, Berlin, the Bowery Ballroom, the Bowery Electric, the Delancey, Lola, Moscot, and Pianos. Daytime shows were free to the public, whereas the nighttime events required individual admissions or a $100 festival badge. The venues were all in walking distance of one another, so the idea was that music fans would flow from venue to venue from early in the day to late at night.

The festival listed numerous bands travelling from Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries. Especially for bands not signed to a recording contract, the dream of performing in the United States for the first time at the New Colossus Festival and SXSW was a considerable financial and possibly non-recoverable investment. No one could expected a sudden international pandemic to shatter those dreams.

The one Bowery Ballroom concert, featuring A Place to Bury Strangers, Public Practice, and Life, was the first event to be cancelled. Midway through the festival, Pianos and the Bowery Electric cancelled the rest of their shows (although the Bowery Electric kept the shows in the Map Room going a little longer). By Sunday, all shows everywhere were cancelled.

Tallies (Canada)
Ali Barter (Australia)
Hot Garbage (Canada)
Karkosa (United Kingdom)
Coco Verde (United States)
Hoorsees (France)
The Orielles (United Kingdom)
Honey Lung (United Kingdom)
Toflang (Spain)
Wyldest (United Kingdom)
Wolfjay (Australia)
Luke De-Sciscio (UNited Kingdom)
Frankiie (Canada)
Thud (Hong Kong)
Zoongide'ewin (Canada)
Water from Your Eyes (United States)
Hanya (United Kingdom)
Swallow the Rat (New Zealand)
Honey Cutt (United States)
Life (United Kingdom)
Tim Burgess of the Charlatans UK (United Kingdom)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Love Rocks NYC at the Beacon Theatre

Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Dave Matthews, Warren Haynes, Jackson Browne, Leon Bridges, Joss Stone, Emily King, Cyndi Lauper and many other artists agreed to perform at the fourth annual benefit concert for God's Love, We Deliver at the Beacon Theatre on March 12, 2020. What no one anticipated was that a health pandemic would be brewing about that time. Rather than cancel the concert, the promoters cancelled the audience a few hours before show time. The artists would perform, but ticket holders were asked to stream the program instead of attending in person. The theater's doors were open only to core artist personnel, event staff, essential team staff, credentialed media, and immediate family.

Unseen by the public, Alan Kalter, the announcer from Late Night with David Letterman, introduced the artists. The four-hour concert opened with Cyndi Lauper in front of closed velvet curtains performing "True Colors" on an Appalachian dulcimer and backed by a 13-piece string section.

The audience watched a video about the work of the not-for-profit organization. Then the curtains opened and the house band was in place. Led by musical director and bassist Will Lee, the house band consisted of New York's top session musicians: guitarist Eric Krasno, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, keyboardists Ricky Peterson and Jeff Young, and the drummers Steve Gadd and Shawn Pelton. For many songs, the core band was augmented by a six-piece horn section and six backup vocalists.

Emily King impressed with her vocal range on her own "Look at Me Now." 

Macy Gray covered Radiohead's "Creep," with Larry Campbell interjecting a stinging guitar solo.

Joss Stone covered Big Brother & the Holding Company's "Piece Of My Heart."

The music paused so that God's Love We Deliver President and CEO Karen Pearl could speak to the audience both in the venue and online, rallying support by comparing how the current pandemic was similar to the AIDS epidemic that launched God's Love We Deliver 35 years ago.

Guitarists Jimmie Vaughan and Jimmy Vivino, along with keyboardist Mike Flanigan, performed "That's Why You Got Me Crying" with the house band.

Guitarist Sue Foley then joined Vaughan, Vivino and the house band for a cover of "Let The Good Times Roll."

Jackson Browne came on stage not to perform but to introduce his friend, pianist Marc Cohn, who sang his own "Walk Through the World."

Leon Bridges sang "Bad Bad News," which was punctuated by a guitar solo from Eric Krasno, after which Bridges slowed the tempo to sing his own "River."

The husband and wife duo of Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter, known professionally as the War and Treaty, made its Love Rocks NYC debut. Before singing, Blount-Trotter dedicated the song to the veterans, including her husband, who served two tours of duty in Iraq. They then performed "Hey, Pretty Moon."

Marcus King covered Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" and his own "Beautiful Stranger."

Jackson Browne on piano with percussionist Pedrito Martinez jammed on Browne's "Doctor, My Eyes."

Joss Stone and Marcus King joined Browne, Martinez and the houseband for an ensemble version of Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With."

Ms. Liza Fischer, who sang backup for the Rolling Stones, sang an emotive interpretation of the Stones' "Wild Horses."

Warren Haynes covered U2's "One."

Guitarists Jimmy Vivino, Derek Trucks, and Marcus King then jammed with Haynes extensively on Derek & The Dominos' "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?"

Dave Matthews performed a solo acoustic version of "Don't Drink The Water." The house band returned with Pedrito Martinez for a rocking "Ants Marching, with Larry Campbell on fiddle and Jeff Coffin on soprano saxophone, leading to a percussion duel between Gadd, Martinez and Pelton. Matthews then unstrapped his guitar to lead a vocal cover of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer."

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, along with Pedrito Martinez and Paul Shaffer, led the house band in Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Loved You)" and the Boxtops' "The Letter," performed Joe Cocker-style.

A long-bearded David Letterman reunited with his former musical director, Paul Shaffer.

Letterman asked Shaffer if Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks would perform Dan Penn's "Dark End of the Street," which they did. Jackson Browne and Shaffer joined them.

Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes, accompanied by keyboardist Ivan Neville of the Neville Brothers, closed with "Jealous Again" and "She Talks to Angels." The closing song, Otis Redding's "Hard To Handle," saw several of the musicians jamming on extended solos.

The entire cast then came on stage to join in the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

Since its foundation in 1985, the mission of God’s Love We Deliver has been to improve the health and well-being of men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses by alleviating hunger and malnutrition. Thanks to the help of an army of volunteers, the agency cooks and home delivers 1.9 million meals each year free of charge to New York City residents who are too ill to cook for themselves.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Wire at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Colin Newman was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. After finishing art school, he moved to London at age 21 and formed Wire, in which he became the vocalist, songwriter and guitarist. The year was 1976 and so Wire was included among the first wave of punk. In short time, the band moved past that genre, however, performing what would come to be known as post-punk. The band developed a cult following but never enjoyed significant commercial success. Wire split in 1979, reformed in 1985, resumed a hiatus in 1991, and regrouped in 1999. The band presently consists of Newman and two other original members, bassist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Grey, plus guitarist Matthew Simms, who joined in 2010. Wire released its 17th and most recent studio album, Mind Hive, on January 24, 2020. On Record Store Day, Wire will release 10:20, featuring eight previously unreleased songs recorded for the Red Barked Tree and Mind Hive albums.

On the second of two nights at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Wire performed a set that leaned strongly on the years 1977 to 1990, but also included four songs from the most recent album. On the surface the music was monochromatic art-rock. The more rocking songs bounced on simple chord structures, yet rife with minor chords and other jarring movements. Some of these uptempo songs were driven by a guitar lead that was built on singular repetitive notes. The softer songs built on pervasive elements of ambient, shoegaze and drone. A deeper listen revealed that even these songs had unorthodox arrangements, with curious melodic arrangements floating on undercurrents of pulsing sounds. Wire's music was largely experimental, designed for those who hunger for obtuse rock sounds.

  1. The Offer
  2. Be Like Them
  3. 1st Fast
  4. Cactused
  5. Morning Bell
  6. Succulent Plants
  7. Question of Degree
  8. Over Theirs
  9. German Shepherds
  10. I Should Have Known Better
  11. Patterns of Behaviour
  12. Ex Lion Tamer
  13. It's a Boy
  14. French Film Blurred
  15. Oklahoma
  16. Hung
  1. Small Black Reptile
  2. Outdoor Miner
  3. A Touching Display

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Suzanne Santo at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2

Suzanne Santo (nee Suzanne Santosuosso) learned to play guitar, banjo and fiddle in her native Cleveland, Ohio. Pursuing a career as a model and actress, she relocated to Los Angeles, California, and appeared in the film Imaginary Heroes and in the television series Law & Order, Without a Trace, and Medium. In 2006, she met singer/songwriter Ben Jaffe at a costume party. The two began making music together, with Jaffe on piano, guitar, and vocals and Santo on vocals, banjo, and violin. Originally known as Zanzibar Lewis, the Americana duo changed its name to Honeyhoney before its debut album in 2008. Over the next 10 years, Honeyhoney recorded three albums and many soundtracks, most recently creating music for the television series The Guest Book. In 2016, Santo sang and played violin, guitar, and banjo in Butch Walker's band, leading him to produce her debut solo album in 2017. Santo then sang and played guitar and violin in Hozier's touring band in 2018-2019. She will release her second solo album, tentatively titled Yard Sale, later in 2020.

Suzanne Santo is no longer wedded to Americana music, based on tonight's performance at the Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2. Backed by a trio (guitarist Blaine Stark, bassist Izzi Ray, drummer Paul Doyle), she matched her bluesy voice to surprisingly harder rocking riffs, colored with a touch of pop and a splash of rhythm and blues. Her country/folk roots were buried deeper as she explored her darker and more raucous southern-gothic side. Perhaps to compete with the fuller backing, Santo's vocal range became increasingly elastic, exuding with passion, vulnerability and strength. By the end of the performance, her vocals were penetrative and explosive. In all, Santo's moody pop-noir direction was strikingly compelling, but at times the band rocked perhaps too hard, nearly swallowing Santo rather than supporting her. These are growing pains, however, which likely will be corrected by proper balance and temperance.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Big Country at Sony Hall

Bruce Watson, Simon Hough
Formed in 1981 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, Big Country's music was unique in how it incorporated Scottish folk and martial music styles. The band engineered its guitar-driven arrangements to summon the sound of bagpipes, fiddles and other traditional folk instruments. Although Big Country's popularity  had a longer lifespan in the United Kingdom, the band was essentially a one-hit wonder in the United States, thanks to the 1983 Top 40 song "In a Big Country." The song featured heavily-engineered guitar playing that sounded similar to bagpipes. The Crossing, the album that featured the single, achieved gold record status in the United States for sales of over 500,000 units. Follow-up singles and albums fared comparatively poorly in the United States. The band's lead singer died in 2001, after which surviving members periodically rebranded Big Country for occasional tours. The band presently consists of original members Bruce Watson on guitar and Mark Brzezicki on drums, plus Watson' son, Jamie Watson, on guitar, Simon Hough on vocals, and Scott Whitley on bass. Big Country's ninth and most recent album is 2013's The Journey.

At Sony Hall tonight, Big Country focused exclusively on its 1980s catalogue, perhaps because these might be the only Big Country songs known by the majority of its American audiences. Simon Hough approximated the vocal style of the original vocalist, helping the band to recapture its old flavor. Essentially, however, that is what the band produced, an old flavor. The set was memory-evoking for folks who were fans decades ago, with no indication that the performance was anything more than nostalgia. The musicians performed well, the songs were lively, and between songs Watson shared anecdotes from back in the day, recalling for instance how the band had first opened in New York for Darlene Love. It was all a pleasant rock and roll evening, but unless Big Country continues to write and perform new material, the band will have little hope of  becoming a viable band in the 2020s.

  1. 1000 Stars
  2. Look Away
  3. East of Eden
  4. Lost Patrol
  5. The Storm
  6. Just a Shadow
  7. Steeltown
  8. Harvest Home
  9. Where the Rose Is Sown
  10. Come Back to Me
  11. In a Big Country
  12. Chance
  13. Wonderland
  14. Fields of Fire
  1. Restless Natives

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Widespread Panic at the Beacon Theatre

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, John "JB" Bell performed as a solo guitarist/vocalist while attending university in Athens, Georgia. In 1981, he began collaborating on songs with fellow students. By 1986, they had become a band, Widespread Panic, playing local bars and fraternity parties. Joining the jam band circuit, Widespread Panic widened its touring circuit regionally and then nationally, drawing larger audiences by word of mouth before achieving radio airplay and charting albums. To date, the band has sold over three million records and four million downloads. The Georgia Music Hall of Fame inducted Widespread Panic in 2008. Widespread Panic's 12th and most recent studio album is 2015's Street Dogs, although the band in 2017 released two albums of archived concerts. Widespread Panic currently consists of Bell, guitarist Jimmy Herring, keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Duane Trucks, and percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz.

Widespread Panic sold out five consecutive nights at the Beacon Theatre. On opening night, the band's first set was loaded with original songs and the second set was peppered with cover songs reinterpreted in jam band manner. From the first song to the encore, the set blended Southern rock, blues-rock, progressive rock, funk and hard rock, with the musicians liberally extending the songs far beyond their original recording times. Widespread Panic launched into one song and organically floated into another, sometimes returning to the original song for a reprise. There is some truth in saying that if you had heard 20 minutes, you had heard the whole concert; there was a prevalent sameness to the band's music. This statement by itself, however, does not fully capture the integrity with which the band jammed and improvised, creating a performance that could never again be repeated. For jam band aficionados, this was the next best thing to a Phish concert.

Set 1:
  1. Porch Song
  2. Rebirtha
  3. Greta (>) Stop-Go (with a rap  snippet of Leonard Cohen's "That Don’t Make It Junk ") (>) Little Lilly
  4. Proving Ground (>) Bust It Big (>) Proving Ground reprise
  5. Action Man
Set 2:
  1. Steven's Cat
  2. Walk On (Neil Young cover)
  3. Blight (brute. cover)
  4. Help Me Somebody (NRBQ cover)
  5. Fishwater (>) Drums (band remained on stage) (> ‘Fishwater’ reprise)
  6. Pilgrims
  7. Pusherman (Curtis Mayfield cover)
  8. Conrad
  1. You Wreck Me (Tom Petty cover)
  2. Tall Boy

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

33rd Annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall

The Year of the Iron Mouse began with a musical bang at Carnegie Hall, when Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Margo Price, Sandra Oh, Bettye LaVette, Tenzin Choegyal, Matt Berninger, Phoebe Bridgers, the Resistance Revival Chorus, and Laurie Anderson headlined the 33rd Annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert. Proceeds from the concert supported the work of Tibet House US, a non-profit educational institution founded in 1987 at the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to ensure the survival of Tibetan civilization and culture.

Philip Glass curated and led the concert, as he does every year. Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery opened the concert with sonorous invocation chants, followed by remarks from Tibet House US' president, Bob Thurman, and vice president, Philip Glass. Thurman told the audience that Tibetans were living under intense military surveillance since January 14. Stewart Hurwood then performed an avant garde composition using various synthesizers.

Laurie Anderson, along with Jesse Paris Smith and Tibetan exile Tenzin Choegyal, performed with Rubin Kodheli from their collaborative album, Songs from the Bardo. Anderson also revisited her 1982 song "From the Air," asking the audience to participate in a call and response "We don't know what we are" and "This is the time."

Born out of the Women's March on Washington, the all-women Resistance Revival Chorus is a New York City-based collective of about 50 women who sing protest songs. Dressed in white, the women gathered in the back of Carnegie Hall and walked down the aisles and onto the stage, singing a cappella a timeless Chinese proverb affirming the interdependent natures of light, beauty, harmony, honor and peace.

Phoebe Bridgers, formerly of boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center, is now a solo performer. Playing acoustic guitar, she performed a live debut of "Garden Song" and "Scott Street" with a small band plus a string ensemble, the Scorchio Quartet. Matt Berninger of the National then joined her on stage to duet on the song they recorded together, "Walking on a String."

Bridgers then left the stage and Matt Berninger performed two more songs, ending his set with a Mercury Rev cover.

Tenzin Choeygal returned to the stage with Glass to perform a Tibetan song, "Snow Lion."

Singing professionally since she was 16 years old and now well into her 70s, song stylist Bettye LaVette finally achieved national recognition in 2005. At the benefit concert, she re-interpreted songs originally written and performed by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Ray Charles.

Sandra Oh is a Canadian-American actress best known for her roles on Grey's Anatomy and Killing Eve. Accompanied by Philip Glass on piano, Oh read beat poet Allen Ginsberg's "When the Light Appears."

Country singer-songwriter Margo Price performed "Better Than Nothin'" for the first time. She was backed by members of the Patti Smith Band and Smith's son, Jackson Smith.

Iggy Pop recited "We Are the People," which he derived from a poem written by Lou Reed in 1970. Laurie Anderson backed his performance. Pop then removed his sports jacket to reveal his bare chest and sang "I Wanna Be Your Dog"; the cello accompaniment was perhaps the oddest arrangement ever of the Stooges standard. The audience cheered when he writhed on the Carnegie Hall stage, threw his microphone, and then lifted and tossed aside his microphone stand.

Accompanied by her band, Patti Smith first paid tribute to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain with "About a Boy," her first performance of the song since 2014. She then reminisced about the final days of Allen Ginsberg's life, which inspired her next song, 1997's "Don't Say Nothin'," which she had not performed live since 2011. Smith closed with her 1988 anthem, "People Have the Power," a finale which brought all the artists back on the stage.

After the two and a half-hour concert, the performing artists and Tibet House supporters enjoyed a post-concert gala at the nearby Ziegfeld Ballroom.

Stewart Hurwood
  1. Drones
Laurie Anderson & Rubin Kodhelo
  1. Selections from Songs from the Bardo
  2. Gee Whiz (with Philip Glass)
  3. This Is the Time Coda
Resistance Revival Chorus
  1. Where There Is Light in the Soul
Phoebe Bridgers
  1. Garden Song
  2. Scott Street
Matt Berninger
  1. Walking on a String (with Phoebe Bridgers)
  2. Distant Axis
  3. Holes (Mercury Rev cover)
Tenzin Choegyal
  1. Snow Lion (with Philip Glass)
Bettye LaVette
  1. The Times They Are A-Changin' (Bob Dylan cover)
  2. Isn't It a Pity (George Harrison cover)
  3. They Call It Love (Ray Charles cover)
Sandra Oh
  1. When the Light Appears (Allen Ginsberg poem, with Philip Glass)
Margo Price
  1. It's Better Than Nothing at Least
  2. I'd Die for You
  3. All American Made (with the Patti Smith Band)
Iggy Pop
  1. We Are the People (with Laurie Anderson)
  2. I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges song)
Patti Smith
  1. About a Boy
  2. Don't Say Nothing
  3. People Have the Power (with all performers)