Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dir en Grey at the Gramercy Theatre

Dir En Grey formed as a metal band in Japan in 1997. The name was composed of words from several languages so that it has no specific meaning other than the band's name itself. Originally a visual kei band, Dir En Grey has opted for less dramatic attire in recent years. The five members each go by a single name: vocalist Kyo; guitarists Kauro and Die; bassist Toshiya; and drummer Shinya. That line-up has been since its inception. Dir En Grey released Arche, its ninth and most recent album, on December 10, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Kyo () wore a long white robe and draped his head in a low hanging black fabric that partially concealed his face mysteriously. Positioned over a bright light and fan for most of the show, Kyo swayed, squatted and spun, and the robe and drape billowed and created shadow effects. As Kyo unwrapped the shroud, the audience saw a man with bizarre face paint that included two eyes painted above his real eyes. Kyo's voice dynamics echoed his dramatic movements; alternating between a cower, a reach for the sky, and nearly every position in between, Kyo's voice similarly ranged everywhere from a whispering croon to a guttural scream. A listener frequently might not understand what he sang, but his movements and vocals were hypnotic and elegant. Behind him, the musicians sometimes played a simmering backdrop or played scraping industrial, progressive and experimental metal. Free from clichés and commercial hooks, the songs were innovative and daring, designed more to be experienced than heard. The concert was non-traditional and uniquely rarefied.

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dead & Company at Madison Square Garden

John Mayer and Bob Weir
The Grateful Dead formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, and while the core band enjoyed great success and stayed together over the next 30 years, it was haunted by many deaths. Following the death of guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia in1995, the remaining members formally decided to disband. These surviving members reunited in various combinations, however, including the Other Ones, the Dead, Furthur, and the Rhythm Devils. In addition, many of the musicians started their own bands, all of which played Grateful Dead music. In the summer of 2015, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart reunited for five stadium concerts called "Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead," stating that this would be the last time that the "core four" would perform together. The Grateful Dead's music would live on, however. Shortly after the stadium concerts, Lesh toured with his own band, Phil Lesh & Friends, while Weir, Kreutzmann, and Hart announced the formation of Dead and Company with guitarist John Mayer, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, and bassist Oteil Burbridge, playing 20 arena concerts from October to December 2015.

Dead and Company's third concert at Madison Square Garden was sponsored by American Express, and tickets were distributed free via lottery. Despite the mix of old and new musicians, the entire concert was comprised of songs that the core musicians had played in concert since at least 1978, with a couple of songs that stretched as far back as 1967. Mayer, an accomplished blues and pop artist, sang and played lead guitar well on songs largely composed before his birth in 1977. Mayer added a gritty, swampy layer to the songs, but otherwise the concert was yet another retread for the vast and undying Dead Head community. Dead & Company was not the Grateful Dead, but instead the remaining scraps of the Dead's legacy. For Dead Heads everywhere, Dead & Company will have to do, at least until the next inevitable combination of surviving musicians reunites.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Amaranthe at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Elize Ryd
Vocalist Joacim "Jake E." Lundberg and guitarist/keyboardist Olof Mörck had performed in various bands in their native Sweden when they joined forces to form a new melodic power metal band in 2008. This band, originally called Avalanche before changing the name to Amaranthe in 2009, was to be different in that it would alternate three types of lead vocalists. Amaranthe's present line-up consists of Lundberg on clean male vocals, Elize Ryd on clean female vocals, Henrik Englund on unclean vocals, Mörck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Løwe Sørensen on drums . Following three studio albums, Amaranthe released a compilation, Breaking Point - B-Sides 2011-2015, on October 30, 2015, consisting of b-sides and bonus tracks.

Amaranthe headlined tonight at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall as part of a 22-date North American Massive Collision Tour. Lundberg bowed out of the tour due to a family emergency, however, and Chris Adam, a friend of the group, replaced Lundberg on clean male vocals. The three vocalists frequently sang on the same songs, with the Ryd and Adam dual-gender clean-singing effect contrasting sharply with Englund's death growls. The band opened with newer songs, "Digital World" and "Trinity" before digging into the catalog with "Hunger" from 2011's debut album. Ryd then expressed approval of the intimate setting of the small venue; indeed, she had already reached out and touched many fans during the opening songs. While most of the music was radio metal for the masses, the band periodically hammered some crunching power chords, which were quickly offset by floating synth lines and Ryd's soaring vocals for an epic sound. The mix constantly hovered between light and dark, dwelling mostly on the sunny side. Perhaps more than any band before it, Amaranthe mastered the unlikely combination of commercial power metal with elements of underground metal in doses small enough to challenge without going over the edge. Marketed to the right audience, Amaranthe could be huge.

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Soldiers of Fortune at Max Fish

In 2004, bassist Brad Truax of Interpol and Spiritualized conceived of an anti-band in which several musicians would gather periodically to play together but never write songs, rehearse, tour, record or make any products for public consumption. Soldiers of Fortune came together as an anarchic improvisational collective, but a traditional convention snuck in and a debut album, Early Risers, will be released on November 6, 2015. The loose collective consists of Truax, drummer Kid Millions (Man Forever, Oneida), keyboardist Barry London (Oneida), and guitarists Matt Sweeney (Chavez ), Jesper Eklow (Endless Boogie), Mike Strallow (a.k.a. Mike Bones), and Patrick Sullivan (a.k.a. Papa Crazee of Oneida and Oakley Hall).

Soldiers of Fortune performed at a record release party in the basement of Max Fish tonight. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, Steve Malkmus & the Jerks), who contributed to the album, joined the core anti-band for the evening. The club had no stage, sound system or lighting system. Instead, instruments and amplifiers were lined lengthwise along a narrow hallway. Eventually, the musicians began gathering and tuning their instruments. At an undefined moment, the tuning evolved into the composition. The five guitarists, the keyboardist, the bassist, and the drummer turned toward the center of their grouping and mostly stared at their instruments or kept their eyes closed, never once looking up at the audience of about 50 people. No one seemed to be directing either the general compass or the solos. The octet played one improvisational piece for over an hour, slowing down and speeding up, with sporadic grunts, howls and chants from several musicians. For the listener, the experience perhaps was at times harrowing and grating, and at times magnetic and hypnotic. Spontaneous chaos rubbed against instantaneous creativity, swinging from unconstruction into lucid construction and then back into deconstruction. What happened tonight can never happen again -- at least not exactly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Blind Guardian at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Hansi Kürsch
Blind Guardian formed as a speed metal and power metal band in the mid-1980s in Krefeld, West Germany. Ten musicians have been a part of the band's line-up in its history, but since 2005 has consisted of vocalist Hansi Kürsch, lead guitarist André Olbrich, rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen, and drummer Frederik Ehmke. Barend Courbois is the band's new bassist. Kürsch and Olbrich compose the music, with Kürsch's lyrics frequently inspired by fantasy fiction authors, traditional legends and epics. As such, fans see the band members as travelling storytellers and have nicknamed Blind Guardian "The Bards." Blind Guardian released its 10th studio album, and the first in five years, Beyond the Red Mirror, on January 30, 2015.

Although Blind Guardian has existed for some 30 years, the current 22-date tour is only the band's fourth tour of North America. At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, Blind Guardian performed songs from all its albums except, curiously, A Night at the Opera. Throughout the set, the band's melodic metal featured solid use of Kürsch's expressive range and anthemic style of singing, Olbrich's stinging guitar work, and dense, epic musical arrangements. The use of European folk melodies deepened and helped authenticate the songs' fantasy-laden premise, and intricately-woven progressive metal arrangements brought muscle into the mix. The intense two-hour performance was recorded for a live album.

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Silent Film at the Bowery Ballroom

Robert Stevenson
From 2000 to 2005, Robert Stevenson (vocals/piano/guitar) and Spencer Walker (drums) played in a band called Shouting Myke in their native Oxford, England. In 2008 they formed a new band which they named A Silent Film after Stevenson wrote a song using the melody from a Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid; the band liked the style and chose the name as a reference to Chaplin's many silent films. A Silent Film released its third album, A Silent Film, on October 16, 2015.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Stevenson and Walker were assisted adeptly by three American musicians on bass, guitar, and keyboard. A vibrant and charismatic Stevenson fronted the band well, singing in a clear, strong voice, and enthusing the audience through animated movements at the edge of the stage. A Silent Film's set circled around unabashed big-energy pop hooks, perhaps too commercial and calculated to be deemed alternative or indie rock. Drawing from all three of the band's albums, the emotive songs were distinctive enough to be deemed related yet uniquely individual. The overall big sound echoed U2 and Coldplay, and appeared ready for radio play.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Youth Lagoon at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Youth Lagoon
Trevor Powers was born in San Diego, California, and raised in Boise, Idaho. He started composing music while still in high school, and while in college in 2010 began recording his songs in his bedroom, a kitchen, and a four-car garage. Powers took Youth Lagoon as his alias in 2010 and in 2011 posted his dream-pop music online to positive response. He released his third album, Savage Hills Ballroom, on September 25, 2015.

At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Powers commanded the spotlight over his three backing musicians. Hunched tightly over his keyboard for much of the performance, periodically stepping away to work the audience from the edge of the stage, he whispered, crooned and belted songs from his three albums. Much of the music veered towards lo-fi experimentation, especially when the other instruments were near inaudible and Powers unraveled his psyche in a high tenor and falsetto over his electric piano and sampled dreamscapes. Even when the band gave the songs a skeleton of muscular beats or lilting rhythms, Powers' vocals rested in a spacey atmosphere, circling back for the choruses. Perhaps because most of the lyrics drew from his anxiety disorder and other struggles and troubles, the delivery of the performance seemed intimate and cathartic. If a music fan was looking for happy rock and roll, however, this was not the place to find it.

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Combichrist at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Andy LaPlegua
Ole Anders Olsen, known professionally as Andy LaPlegua, was born in Fredrikstad, Norway, and started his music career there in hardcore bands. Phasing through various bands, he gradually explored hip hop, metal, industrial, trance, and psychobilly music. In 2003 he formed his most successful project, Combichrist, as a melting pot of many of these sounds, recording solo but performing live with a band. Combichrist specializes in aggrotech, an evolution of electro-industrial and dark electro that in the mid-1990s began fusing elements of EBM, industrial, noise, trance and/or techno music. Combichrist's sixth and most recent album, We Love You, was released on March 25, 2014. Combichrist is currently based in Atlanta, Georgia.

At the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, LaPlegua’s hardcore past and electronica present merged into a powernoise spectacle. Backing LaPlegua's frequently acidic vocals, Combichrist scraped an explosive barrage of industrial-led beats and buzz-sawing guitar riffs over prominent stabs of lead synth lines. The result was a marriage of dark, gothic singing intertwined with raw headbanging and floor -stomping rhythms. Throbbing and thrusting, it was a sonic battery with such bare-toothed aggression that it had the potential to loosen eye sockets and dislodge ear drums. With so many nu-metal bands sounding so alike these days, this metallic foray into industrial-techno music was as brutal as it was engaging.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Misfits at the PlayStation Theater

Jerry Only
As the burgeoning punk rock scene was exploding in New York City in 1977, vocalist/pianist Glenn Danzig was in Lodi, New Jersey, formulating Misfits as a punk rock band similar to the Ramones. Danzig named the band after actress Marilyn Monroe's final film The Misfits (1961). Bassist Gerald Caiafa, later known as Jerry Only, replaced the original bassist early on and survived through dozens of personnel changes. In the early 1980s, Misfits evolved into a hardcore punk band (and later a heavy metal band), and along the way became increasingly committed to exploiting the horror movie angle, both in song composition and appearance. Misfits disbanded in 1983 and Danzig went on to form Samhain and then the eponymous Danzig. Misfits (and especially Misfits t-shirts) became even more popular after the band's demise. After a series of legal battles with Danzig, Only and his bandmate brother, guitarist Paul Caiafa (renamed Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein), regained the rights to record and perform as Misfits and formed a new version of the band in 1995. The band dissolved in 2000, but Only reformed yet another Misfits, this time taking on the lead vocals in addition to the bass. Misfits has recorded seven studio albums, the most recent being The Devil's Rain in 2011. The band presently consists of Only, his son Jerry Caifa, Jr. on guitar and Eric "Chupacabra" Arce on drums.

Misfits annually tours around Halloween, and with no current album to promote this year, the Static Age Revisited tour promised a return to the band's early punk roots. Select cities, including New York, were promised a revisit to 1982’s Walk Among Us and 1983’s Earth A.D. albums in their entirety. As the house lights dimmed at the PlayStation Theater tonight, the band's skeletal mascot, the Crimson Ghost, sauntered hauntingly past the graveyard motif displayed on the stage. Wearing zombie face paint, the three Misfits then walked on and performed an astounding 39 songs in about 90 minutes. In addition to most of the two promised albums, the set also included six songs from Famous Monsters, four songs from Static Age and a few other songs. Only also introduced Alicia Vigil, bassist of the She Demons, to play bass during a newer song, "Vampire Girl." As promised, this was a revisit to the band's hyperspeed blasts and bombastic assault. The music was not nearly as raw as it used to be, however: Only has taken vocal lessons, the younger Caiafa's guitar leads were impressive, and Arce skillfully played a decent drum kit. Despite the seeming limitations of continually creating fresh horror punk without exhausting the factory, Only so far has found a way to keep the franchise alive.

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The She Demons at the PlayStation Theater

Priva Panda
Jerry Only of the Misfits posted an audition notice in April 2015. He sought five women to form a band that, like the Misfits, would mix horror themes with punk, but also would cross the Ramones with the Ronettes. He selected vocalist Priya Panda, guitarists Constance Day and Kiki Wongo, bassist Alicia Vigil and drummer Jessica Goodwin, all of whom had played in bands in Los Angeles, California. Even without an album to promote, the She Demons, named after a low-budget 1958 horror film, then took to the road, opening for the Misfits.

At the PlayStation Theater, Only enthusiastically introduced his pet project. The She Demons then skillfully filled the huge stage with sight and sound. Visually, the youthful women were attractive, wore eye-catching rock star wardrobe, and worked the audience well. Sonically, the band brought punk energy and metal power to cute 1960s pop covers (the Ronettes' "Be My Baby", the Crystals' "He's a Rebel") and newer horror-themed compositions ("Fresh Blood", "Once Bitten", "She Demon"). Like the Runaways, Suzi Quatro, Girlschool, Fanny and many similar all-women rock bands, the She Demons took hard rock and roll and gave it a feminine touch. The musicians displayed impressive talents, but like actors interpreting a script, they were still working on building their own common voice. The newborn band needs time to live in its own skin, but already shows promise.

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