Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Devil Wears Prada at Irving Plaza

Mike Hranica
Founded in 2005 in Dayton, Ohio, the name of the melodic metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada came from the novel of the same name which was later made into a film; the phrase represented an anti-materialistic mindset that appealed to the musicians. The Devil Wears Prada presently consists of Mike Hranica (vocals), Jeremy DePoyster (rhythm guitar, vocals), Andy Trick (bass), and Daniel Williams (drums). The group has released five albums, the most recent being 2013's 8:18; the Space EP will be released this summer.

Following last month's departure of founding member and guitarist Chris Rubey, the Devil Wears Prada embarked on the Zombie 5 tour with the band's guitar tech, Kyle Sipress, taking on the guitar parts. The tour celebrates the fifth anniversary of the band's Zombie EP, and so the band performed all five songs from the EP, along with one to three songs from each of its albums, plus two new songs from a forthcoming EP. Opening with "Assistant to the Regional Manager," the Devil Wears Prada began its bludgeoning assault. The charm was in how amidst brutal metal licks, the band moved from dark lyrics and harsh vocals to lighter lyrics accentuated by clean vocals. While not a unique technique, these brief moments of balance were executed exceptionally well. By and large, however, the fist pumpers dominated the set and bristled with friction, maintaining melody over fierce breakdowns and torrential barrages of metal cavalcades. This was primal, pounding metalcore stitched together with refreshing interludes of brightness.

Visit the Devil Wears Prada at www.tdwpband.com.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Sonics at Irving Plaza

Rob Lind & Larry Parypa
In 1960, Larry Parypa, a teen-ager with a cheap guitar in Tacoma, Washington, started making music with his brother on saxophone, his mother occasionally on guitar or bass and later another brother on bass. Drawing to the ensemble vocalist/keyboardist Gerry Roslie  and saxophone player Rob Lind in 1964, the garage-rocking Sonics started performing in local venues. Despite a strong local following, several singles and albums failed to get significant radio play, and after many personnel changes, the band fractured by 1968. The original Sonics reunited briefly in 1972 for a live show at Seattle's Paramount Theater, released as Live Fanz Only. In 1980, a new Sonics fronted by Roslie recorded the album Sinderella, which revisited the original band's material. In 2007, Roslie, Parypa, and Lind reformed as the Sonics with a new rhythm section for the Cavestomp garage rock festival in Brooklyn, the band's first-ever New York performance. The Sonics in 2010 released 8, an EP featuring both live cuts and four new songs. This Is the Sonics, the band's first album of new material in 48 years, was released on March 31, 2015.

History came alive when the Sonics headlined Irving Plaza tonight. Roslie, Parypa, and Lind, with bassist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson, walked on in black suits, white shirts and black ties. It was not long before they worked up a sweat. They quickly demonstrated how their raw, aggressive rock and roll band developed a cult following and became a major influence on punk, garage, and grunge music. This upgraded Sonics line-up was even more raucous and hard-edged than the original band, however. From the opening song, "Psycho," one of the first songs the Sonics ever recorded, the compositions built on simple chord sequences played harder and faster than ever. Roslie, Parypa and Dennis took turns singing lead on seven new songs, several vintage cover songs including Little Richard's "Keep a Knockin'", Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" and Richard Berry's "Louie Louie" and original signature songs including "Strychnine" and "The Witch." The set list was rooted in the 1950s and 1960s, but the torrid power they unleashed was pure, unbridled and timeless rock and roll mayhem. The Sonics brought back the boom, ready to teach a new generation of garage rockers how it all began.

Visit the Sonics at www.thesonicsboom.com.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The London Souls at the Bowery Ballroom

Tash Neal
New York City native Tash Neal sang and played guitar since childhood. At age 15, he discovered classic rock and this new passion for a basic guitar, bass and drums trio felt more engaging than the hip hop he heard on the streets of Harlem. He bonded with a bassist and a drummer from the local music scene who also had a passion for British hard rock bands. Together they formed a band in 2008, taking their name from the country of their influence. The London Souls performed for the first time on stage in 2008 after having only been able to rehearse via cell phones. The London Souls released a self-titled debut album in 2011, and recorded a second album a year later. Tragedy then struck. Neal was in a taxi that was hit by a drag racer. Tash woke up in a hospital bed in critical condition after a week-long medically-induced coma and multiple brain surgeries. Doctors believed it would take up to a year before Neal could walk and talk normally again. Less than five months after the crash, Neal was back on stage, playing a concert. The London Souls became a duo, pairing Neal with drummer/vocalist Chris St. Hilaire. The band's second album, Here Come the Girls, was released today.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the London Souls made more sound than one could expect from two musicians. The duo reached back to the very earliest days of hard rock, sounding very much like late 1960s Cream, the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The melodies sounded like what British bands did back then to American blues and pop, with fast and fierce guitar leads and whirling drum patterns filling out the songs bombastically between lyrics. The London Souls did this authentically, with all the volume, power and fuzzy distortion of the band's pioneering predecessors. No synthesizers, no pre-recorded tape loops; the only thing relatively new was the billowing dry-ice fog. Highlights included "Alone", "All Tied Down", "When I'm With You", the fast-then-slow medley of "The Sound" and "Sweet Thang," plus a reinterpretation of the Beatles' "Get Back" with a slice of the Who's "Magic Bus." Hard rock does not get more Woodstock-era than that.

Visit the London Souls at www.thelondonsouls.com.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Houndmouth at the Bowery Ballroom

Matt Myers & Katie Toupin
Based in New Albany, Indiana, a small suburban city across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, guitarist/vocalist Matt Myers crafted some songs in his bedroom using automated beats as backdrops. Houndmouth started coming together in 2011 when Myers recruited bassist Zak Appleby, with whom he had played in cover bands, and keyboardist/vocalist Katie Toupin, with whom he had worked as an acoustic duo. Drummer Shane Cody, in turn, had been a collaborator with Toupin since high school. Myers discovered that all three band mates also had songs for Houndmouth. Four months later, the four twenty-something pals had a homemade EP in hand. The band's second album, Little Neon Limelight, was released on March 17, 2015.

Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Houndmouth kept the show loose and natural. To call Houndmouth an alternative country band is to use the term very loosely. The quartet is comprised of four singer-songwriters who have harmonized their vocal and musical styles into something that falls somewhere between the Band, Dr. Dog, Lucero and Drive-by Truckers. Starting with "Black Gold," the music was from the heartland, telling melancholy hard luck stories to sturdy, bouncy rhythms rooted in soft, unpolished garage-rock musical arrangements and very polished vocal harmonies. A highlight was when Toupin switched to guitar and sang "Gasoline," a woeful country song that started softly and ended with a bang. The final encore ended with Houndmouth being joined on stage by opening artist Parker Millsap and his band for a rousing cover version of Dion & the Belmonts' "Runaround Sue." A fair amount of the audience sang along to most of the songs, hinting that this lyric-driven music may find a larger, loyal following in short time.

Visit Houndmouth at www.houndmouth.com.

Monday, March 30, 2015

alt-J at Madison Square Garden

Gus Unger-Hamilton & Joe Newman
Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass), Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals) and Thom Green (drums) met in 2007 at their university in Leeds, England. Forming a soft indie rock band, they first called themselves Daljit Dhaliwal and then Films, until the band settled on the name alt-J (also known as , the symbol produced by pressing "alt" and "j" on older Mac keyboards). After graduating, the four musicians moved to Cambridge, where they claimed Jobseeker's Allowance, and dedicated two years to composing, rehearsing and performing local gigs. The band's debut album, An Awesome Wave, won both the 2012 British Mercury Prize and Album of the Year at the Ivor Novello Awards. Sainsbury amicably departed the band in early 2014, leaving alt-J as a trio. A second album, This Is All Yours, was released on September 22, 2014.

Headlining Madison Square Garden tonight after only two albums, alt-J's rapid ascent remains as mysterious as the band's lyrics and musical arrangements. With a repertoire limited to two albums, the set list produced no surprises. Engulfed in frequently recurring fog and made miniscule by a huge back screen projecting moving geometric shapes, colors and images, the mostly obscured band opened with "Hunger of the Pine." It would be several songs before the musicians could be clearly seen. Supported by Cameron Knight on guitar, bass and samples, alt-J played a dreamy and complex music that drew from folk melodies and harmonies but was injected with angular guitar breaks and atmospheric synthesizer fills. The intrigue was built in how all this weaved in and out of odd time signatures, off-kilter syncopations and contrapuntal arrangements. Comparisons could be made to Radiohead and mid-period Pink Floyd, yet alt-J's music was perhaps even more eccentric. Yet while the music and the video projection seemed composed of many moving parts, this could not be said for the static musicians, who barely moved; were it not for the drummer's arms flying around the drum kit, the front of the stage looked like a still photograph for the entire 80-minute show. The bright back lights made it hard for most of the audience to see the performers anyway. There was no rock star posing here, just inventive music.

Visit alt-J at www.altjband.com.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Coal Chamber at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Dez Fafara
Vocalist Bradley "Dez" Fafara and guitarist Miguel "Meegs" Rascón formed the band She's in Pain in 1992 in Los Angeles, California. Within two years, the duo moved into a more nu metal direction and formed Seal Chamber, soon to be renamed Coal Chamber. Coal Chamber was possibly the first darker-themed nu metal band, featuring a gothic image rather than the more common street image. Internal disputes, including a violent altercation onstage in Lubbock, Texas, fractured the band in 2003 after three albums. Fafara formed Devildriver and has so far recorded six albums with the band. Fafara and Rascón settled their differences in 2008, and began reforming Coal Chamber in 2011. Coal Chamber presently features its 2002-2003 line-up, with Fafara, Rascón, bassist Nadja Peulen and drummer Mikey Cox. Rivals, Coal Chamber's first album in 13 years, will be released on May 19, 2015.

Headlining at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Coal Chamber rediscovered its mojo. The 15-song set pivoted on older work, introducing only two new songs: the first single, "I.O.U. Nothing," and the title track of the forthcoming album. The set included deep cuts and a few surprising omissions (no "Shock the Monkey," Coal Chamber's biggest radio song). Coming on stage to emergency-like flashing red lights, backed by three large video projection screens, Coal Chamber launched into the band's first two singles, 1997's "Loco" and 1998's "Big Truck." Fafara sang, rapped and screamed into a vintage-styled radio microphone, as Rascón and Peulen paced back and forth across the stage, alternately standing on risers or spinning around. Rascón tuned down his guitar and used flanger, phaser and delay effects for a gritty, hard and heavy sound; sometimes it crunched, and other times it leaned towards an industrial resonance. Overall, Coal Chamber successfully recaptured its crass and crude metal sound for a new generation of fans.

Visit Coal Chamber at www.coalchamberofficial.com.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kid Creole & the Coconuts at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Bronx-born Thomas August Darnell Browder left his older brother's successful band, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, and formed Kid Creole and the Coconuts in 1981. Choosing to go by his two middle names, August Darnell adapted the moniker of Kid Creole for the new band from the Elvis Presley film King Creole. The Kid Creole image was inspired by Cab Calloway and the Hollywood films of the 30s and 40s. He styled the new band as a campy rock cabaret act, with the men wearing zoot suits and the women backup singers dressed in skimpy outfits. Darnell and his large band fused kitschy pop songs with Latin American, Caribbean and big band arrangements. Kid Creole and the Coconuts' 14th and most recent studio album, I Wake Up Screaming, was released in 2011. Darnell is now based in Sweden.

Returning to New York after a 14-year absence, Kid Creole & the Coconuts reprised many of its signature songs and rhythms tonight at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill. Fourteen vocalists and musicians squeezed onto the stage to present a colorful and genre-defying cavalcade of sights and sounds. Wearing a grey fedora, two-toned shoes and a purple suit of long coat and high-waist trousers, Darnell and his Coconuts began the set with "Caroline Was A Dropout," featuring a solo by original tenor saxophonist Charlie Lagond. The new generation of Coconuts, Eva Tudor-Jones (Mama Coconut of 18 years from London), Roos Van Rossum of the Netherlands and newest member  Jessica Forsman of Finland, sashayed in unison, sang choruses, and were the foil for Kid Creole's egocentric ladies' man persona. Never smiling at or patronizing the Kid, they instead feigned intolerance and ridicule. The musicians also shared the spotlight, frequently coming forth for solos big-band style. The versatile multi-national ensemble was at times a funk/soul revue band, and at other times a tropical band playing Latin, calypso or reggae-inspired songs. "Don't Take My Coconuts" segued into "Lifeboat Party" and "Flip, Flop and Fly," a jump blues-style song originally recorded by Big Joe Turner in 1955. The band revisited disco when featuring guest vocalists Stephanie Fuller, Cory Daye and Fonda Rae for one song each. The musicians jammed on songs from the its 1980s catalogue, including "Stool Pigeon," "Endicott" and "Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy," ending with "My Male Curiosity," the band's contribution to the soundtrack of the 1984 film Against All Odds. While the personnel has changed over the past 30 years, Kid Creole & the Coconuts presented a pleasing concert with spectacular flair, brilliant showmanship and ace musicianship.

Visit Kid Creole & the Coconuts at www.kidcreole.com.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mat Kearney at the Best Buy Theater

Mathew "Mat" Kearney was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, but began playing music while attending university in Chico, California. Using a roommate's guitar, he tried covering songs by other artists, but realized he was not very good at it and began writing his own compositions. Kearney performed at local coffee houses, fusing his simple guitar playing with spoken word or rap. He then accompanied a friend's move to Nashville, Tennessee, not foreseeing that he also would relocate there and launch a professional music career. Kearney's fifth album, Just Kids, was released on February 24, 2015.

At the Best Buy Theater tonight, Kearney used a variety of sounds to highlight his insightful, poetic lyrics. On many songs, he played acoustic guitar for a sensitive singer-songwriter approach. On other songs, he put down his guitar so that he and his soft-rocking band could propel a more dynamic force. Often his vocal delivery was talky, on many occasions even straight-out hip hop. His rather unique style as a soft-rocking folkie rapper clicked well, maintaining a mellow mood with a bright pop sound. His set introduced six new songs and a dozen older songs. A little past the halfway point of the 90-minute set, Kearney invited opening act Judah & the Lion to join in a banjo and mandolin-infused bluegrass and hip hop take on Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars’ "Uptown Funk." This was followed by a clever interlinking medley of Kearney's "Runaway" with U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name." Overall, Kearney proved himself to be a credible performer with a pleasant collection of tunes.

Visit Mat Kearney at www.matkearney.com.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jefferson Starship at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Paul Kantner
Jefferson Airplane ruled psychedelic rock from its origin in 1965 until its dissolution in the early 1970s. Late in the Airplane's iffy period, vocalist/guitarist Paul Kantner launched a side project with a fluid membership that eventually by 1974 became known as Jefferson Starship. In the mid-1970s, Jefferson Starship had a string of middle-of-the-road hits, and by the 1980s had become more of a commercial MTV-era rock band. Once past the hit period, Jefferson Starship regrouped and  returned to its original folk rock sound. Meanwhile, another spin-off of the group, Starship, still tours occasionally with a different set of former members and is centered on the music of the band's 1980s pop tunes. Jefferson Starship's most recent album is 2008's Jefferson's Tree of Liberty and tours with a lineup of Paul Kantner (vocals, guitar), recurring members David Freiberg (vocals, guitar) and Donny Baldwin (drums), and newer members Cathy Richardson (vocals), Chris Smith (keyboards, bass synthesizer), and Jude Gold (lead guitar).

The Jefferson Starship concert tonight at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill was billed as a tribute to Jefferson Airplane's 50th anniversary. The band advertised that it would not perform "We Built This City," one of the band's biggest hits from its commercial rock history. This added gravitas to its Jefferson Airplane credentials and distanced Jefferson Starship from the pop band it later became. The evening did not live up to its advertising. Out of 18 songs, only seven were Jefferson Airplane songs, and some were relatively obscure. Another six songs were from the Jefferson Starship catalogue, and the rest were either new songs or covers. The evening included a credible version of the Airplane's "Somebody to Love" and an interesting mash-up of John Lennon's "Imagine" with Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," but otherwise Jefferson Starship was a lukewarm affair. A feeble-looking Kantner, who turned 74 last week, hobbled on stage a bit hunched-over, leaned on an instrument case for support and left the stage for several songs in the middle of the set; his contributions seemed minimal.(Later note: Kantner had a heart attack three days later and dropped out of the tour.) Richardson was a capable singer and Gold was a sizzling guitarist when the songs gave him room, but overall the band performance was tepid and uninspiring. The retreaded Jefferson Starship was best suited for a nostalgia that lives better in our memories.

Visit Jefferson Starship at www.jeffersonstarshipsf.com.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Enslaved at the Gramercy Theatre

Grutle Kjellson
Vocalist Grutle Kjellson (also known as Kjetil Grutle) was 17 years old and lead guitarist Ivar Bjørnson was 13 when they formed Enslaved as a black metal band in 1991 in Haugesund, Norway. They are the only remaining original members. After many personnel changes, the line-up solidified in 2004 with guitarist Arve "Ice Dale" Isdal, drummer Cato Bekkevold, and keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen. Enslaved's 13th and most current album, In Times, was released on March 10, 2015. The band is now based in Bergen, Norway.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Enslaved demonstrated how far the group has graduated musically. Enslaved became perhaps more of a progressive metal band, with lengthy songs incorporating sharp dynamic shifts, both clean and guttural vocals, ambient keyboard sounds, and guitar melodies that ranged from atmospheric to crunching. At times a touch of doom metal and at other times Viking metal influenced the heavy sound, much of it harsh enough to be branded extreme metal. The mix of headbanging and dreamy moments was curious and epic.

Visit Enslaved at www.enslaved.no.