Saturday, April 27, 2019

Kris Kristofferson & the Strangers at City Winery

Born in Brownsville, Texas, Kris Kristofferson moved frequently as a child following his father's military assignments, finally settling in San Mateo, California. There he first experienced fame when he appeared in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" for his achievements in collegiate rugby, football, and track and field. Earning a Rhodes Scholarship, Kristofferson studied in Oxford, England, where he unsuccessfully launched a music career. Under pressure from his family, Kristofferson joined the U.S. Army and became a helicopter pilot. In 1965, Kristofferson was assigned to teach English literature at West Point, but he decided to leave the military and pursue songwriting in Nashville, Tennessee; his family disowned him because of his career decision. While working as a janitor at a recording studio, he met June Carter and asked her to give his demo tape to her husband, Johnny Cash, to little avail. Kristofferson soon gained Cash's attention by landing a helicopter on Cash's front yard. Cash recorded Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," leading to Kristofferson winning Songwriter of the Year at the Country Music Awards, the first of many industry awards. Kristofferson's peak music years in the 1970s helped redefine country songwriting, and led to a flourishing career as an actor in more than 70 films. Starting in 1985, Kristofferson had a brief resurgence when he joined Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash in the country music supergroup The Highwaymen, firmly establishing the outlaw country music movement. Although Kristofferson gained more fame as an actor than as a recording artist, his songs have been recorded by other artists an estimated 450 times. The three-time Grammy winner has recorded 29 albums; his most recent studio album is 2016's The Cedar Creek Sessions. He lives in Malibu, California, with a residence in Maui, Hawaii.

Almost 50 years after the release of his debut album, Kristofferson performed many of his earliest songs at City Winery tonight, including 10 of the 12 songs on his first album. In recent years, Kristofferson has performed many of his concerts solo and acoustic. This time he brought for backup the late Merle Haggard's band, the Strangers (Merle’s guitarist sons Ben Haggard and Noel Haggard, keyboardist Doug Colosio, fiddler Scott Joss, and drummer Jim Christie), and he and his musicians took turns singing six Haggard songs. For two sets over two hours, Kristofferson sang, played guitar and harmonics on 30 songs, hardly speaking or even moving. At 82 years of age, Kristofferson's songs took on a different perspective from when he was country music's outlaw  rebel; the keen narratives about heartaches, hard living and hangovers now took on a sage's wisdom. His once husky and forceful vocals were softer and yet still as passionate as ever. The band did a fine job bringing spark and body to the songs. One of his few newer songs of the evening, "Feeling Mortal," acknowledged that he is in the latter stages of his life. Nevertheless, his presentation of his body of work was as tasteful and classy as ever.

Setlist:
  1. Shipwrecked in the Eighties (Kris Kristofferson and the Borderlords song)
  2. That's the Way Love Goes (Merle Haggard cover)
  3. Darby's Castle
  4. Me and Bobby McGee
  5. Here Comes That Rainbow Again
  6. Best of All Possible Worlds
  7. Help Me Make It Through the Night
  8. Okie From Muskogee (Merle Haggard cover)
  9. Casey's Last Ride
  10. Rocket to Stardom
  11. Feeling Mortal
  12. From Here to Forever
  13. Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man) (Merle Haggard cover)
  14. Broken Freedom Song
  15. Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)
  16. Just the Other Side of Nowhere
  17. Duvalier's Dream
  18. I'd Rather Be Sorry
  19. Sing Me Back Home (Merle Haggard cover)
  20. Jody and the Kid
  21. The Fightin' Side of Me (Merle Haggard cover)
  22. The Pilgrim, Chapter 33
  23. Jesus Was a Capricorn
  24. I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink (Merle Haggard cover)
  25. To Beat the Devil
  26. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
  27. For the Good Times
  28. A Moment of Forever
  29. Why Me
  30. Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends (Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge song)

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Nuclears at Coney Island Baby

Two guitarist/vocalist brothers, Brian Dudolevitch and Mike Dudolevitch, formed the Nuclears in 2003 in Washington DC. In 2004, the band won the local semi-finals in Little Steven’s Underground Garage Battle of the Bands, but was quickly disqualified when the promoter learned that Mike Dudolevitch was a minor, making the band ineligible to compete.  Had the promoter not learned of this, the Nuclears would have received $6,000 worth of musical equipment and an opportunity to compete at New York’s Irving Plaza against finalists from eight other cities. In 2007, the Nuclears came to New York City anyway, relocating to Brooklyn and recruiting new musicians over time. The band presently consists of the brothers Dudolevitch, vocalist Briana Layon, bassist Bobby Sproles, and drummer Kevin Blatchford. The Nuclears released a third album, Barrage Rock, today.

Tonight, the Nuclears celebrated the release of a new album with a performance at Coney Island Baby. The band was perhaps more inclined to a power punk sound in years past, but over time has closed in on a more refined classic rock and roll bent, rife with big power chords and loud guitar solos. Rooted in vintage hard rock, only dirtier and grittier, the band found its way past standard clichés to blast its way to fresh punk and blues-inspired movers and shakers. Rotating between three vocalists, the band grounded its songs on lyrics and melody, but then stepping back from the microphones midway through the songs, the musicians charged into rough and tumbled ragers, ultimately finding their way back to closing choruses. Versatility? The Nuclears sealed the performance with a closing tongue-in-cheek country mocker, "New York City Blows." Start to finish, this was good-time rock and roll party music.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Blackfires at Coney Island Baby

"Cheggi" Chegodaev
With dreams of launching a career in music, Andrey “Cheggi” Chegodaev relocated to New York City in 2011 from his native Moscow, Russia, where he had enjoyed a career in sports journalism. He had no music connections in the United States, so he colorfully posted his availability on social media to the effect of "I am a front man; whoever wants to conquer a world with me, jump on board." He connected on social media with guitarist Anthony Mullin, who had moved to New York City from England to pursue a Ph. D. The duo had trials and errors with various local musicians before recruiting Costa Rican guitarist Hector Marin, Uruguayan bassist Grasebo Doe, and New Jersey-born drummer Joe Mitch. The Blackfires released an EP in 2012 and an album, Rock Beast, in 2017.

At Coney Island Baby tonight, the Blackfires performed classic-styled hard rock bristling with stimulating flair, riotous gusto and gripping passion. Chegodaev's Motley Crue t-shirt might have given an indication as to where the band was inclined, but the set proved to be multi-focused. Chegodaev's soulful vocals were often romantic, Mullin leaned on the blues, Marin referenced his classical training, and the rhythm section erupted like a volcano. The music had few subtleties, with everyone seemingly playing lead at the same time. If hard rock makes a comeback, the Blackfires may be on the front line.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Combichrist at the Gramercy Theatre

Andy LaPlegua
Born in Fredrikstad, Norway, Ole Anders Olsen, known professionally as Andy LaPlegua, sang hardcore punk in My Right Choice, hip-hop in LAW, industrial in Devils into Crime (DIC), metal in Lash Out, and trance and club music in Plastic Life and Sector9. In 1997, he launched a solo project playing futurepop as Icon of Coil, but when he started adding additional musicians, the project evolved  into a more aggressive aggrotech with Combichrist in 2003 and the more danceable Panzer AG in 2004. LaPlegua later also conceived the techo project Scandy and the psychobilly Scandinavian Cock. Combichrist is LaPlegua's most successful project, largely a solo project in the studio and a band of changing musicians for live performances. Combichrist presently consist of vocalist LaPlegua, guitarist Eric13, drummer Dane White, and percussionist Will Spodnick. Combichrist's ninth album, One Fire, will be released on June 7, 2019. Since the mid-2000s, LaPlegua and Combichrist have been based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Combichrist's performance at the Gramercy Theatre tonight seemed like a bit of a cheat. The newest configuration of Combichrist has no keyboardist or bassist. Where were all the layers of music originating? A lot of it must have been pre-programmed and not live. Nevertheless, LaPlegua cuttingly spat old songs and new, and engaged the audience by playing right to the lip of the stage and gesturing to the fans. Eric13 contributed the metal edge to the electro-industrial music with his sharp guitar riffs and searing leads, and the two drummers provided an explosive barrage of corrosive beats over LaPlegua's acidic melodies. Combichrist entertained with a solid set of songs at a hard-hitting, adrenaline-charged pace, but it would have felt more genuine had all the music been performed live.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Uli Jon Roth at the Gramercy Theatre

Uli Jon Roth was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he began performing live in 1968 at the age of 13 as lead guitarist for Blue Infinity. While attending high school in Hanover, Uli played Dawn Road while also studying classical guitar and piano. In 1973, guitarist Michael Schenker left the Scorpions to join UFO; the two remaining Scorpions merged with the four members of Dawn Road to form a new lineup of Scorpions. In the Scorpions, Roth gained a reputation as an innovative virtuoso, as he incorporated advanced compositional elements from European classical music, such as pedal tone sequences and intricate arpeggios. Feeling increasingly stifled by the confinements of mainstream rock music, Roth left the Scorpions in 1978 and formed his own band, Electric Sun, where the classical influence dominated his playing style. After three albums with Electric Sun, Roth exited the limelight for 13 years, designing the Sky Guitar, which features an extended fingerboard, and composing four symphonies and two concertos, sometimes performing them with European symphony orchestras. Roth's fifth and most recent solo studio album is 2015's Scorpions Revisited. Roth currently resides near the English border in Powys, Wales.

Uli Jon Roth's 2019 tour was announced as a triple anniversary. The shows, which included tonight's performance at the Gramercy Theatre, celebrated his 50th anniversary of performing live, the 40-year anniversary of Tokyo Tapes, the live Scorpions album that brought him fame, and the 40th anniversary of his solo work with Electric Sun. The first set consisted mostly of Electric Sun songs, and the second set mostly of Scorpions songs; Roth had not performed the bulk of this music for over 30 years. Roth's musical journey was on full display, as he played complex melodic arpeggio sequences on both his extra-frets Sky guitar and, for a few songs, the white Fender Stratocaster he used in the Scorpions and Electric Sun in the mid-1980s. Roth's neo-classical guitar technique was dazzling, as he employed major and minor pentatonic, the blues scale, phrygian, harmonic minor, diminished, and whole tone scales. For the most diehard Roth fans, the concert was a three-hour retrospective filled with majestic guitar wizardry; the rest of the audience might have been puzzled by the musical selections and the multi-media projections.

Setlist:
Set 1:
  1. Sky Overture
  2. Indian Dawn (Electric Sun song)
  3. Electric Sun (Electric Sun song)
  4. Sun in My Hand (Scorpions song)
  5. Why? (Electric Sun song)
  6. Don't Tell the Wind (Zeno Roth cover)
  7. Just Another Rainbow (Electric Sun song)
  8. I'll Be There (Electric Sun song)
  9. Icebreaker (Electric Sun song)
  10. Starlight (Sky of Avalon song)
  11. Enola Gay (Hiroshima Today?) (Electric Sun song)
Set 2:
  1. Passage to India (Roth performed solo)
  2. Apache (The Shadows cover)
  3. We'll Burn the Sky (Scorpions song)
  4. In Trance (Scorpions song)
  5. Pictured Life (Scorpions song)
  6. Catch Your Train (Scorpions song)
  7. All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)
  8. Yellow Raven (Scorpions song)
  9. The Sails of Charon (Scorpions song)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Acid Mothers Temple at Mercury Lounge

Kawabata Makoto
Influenced by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, krautrock, and progressive rock, guitarist Kawabata Makoto initially formed Acid Mothers Temple (originally using an apostrophe, Acid Mother's Temple) in Japan in 1995. His intention was to create "extreme trip music" by editing and dubbing previous recordings. The project became a psychedelic rock band and then an experimental collective of musicians with Kawabata as the only consistent member. The collective also spawned seemingly countless offshoots and spinoffs, including Floating Flower, Nishinihon, Tsurbami, the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., and many other bands and projects. As a result, the musical output is generous; Acid Mothers Temple and its associates twice released four albums in a three-month span. In 2002, Kawabata also launched his own solo offshoot, Kawabata Makoto & the Mothers of Invasion, to create jazzier music. The collective releases its newest studio recording, Hallelujah Mystic Garden Part Two, as Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. on April 26, 2019.

Acid Mothers Temple typically tours Canada and the United States every spring, and this year included a late night set at Mercury Lounge as part of the venue's 25th anniversary series. Anchored by Kawabata Makoto's searing guitar leads, much of the set was a series of movements, from meditative grooves to progressive rock to doom metal to a flurry of pulsating, atonal deconstructionism. The performance periodically drifted into improvisational noise and rhythms, interrupted when vocalist/guitarist Jyonson Tsu reigned the forces with a soft, calming vocal structure. The result was spellbinding. Live, Acid Mothers Temple is one of the world's most intense psych rock bands.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Black Lips at the Bowery Ballroom

Guitarist Cole Alexander and bassist Jared Swilley left their band, the Renegades, and formed Black Lips in 1999 in Dunwoody, Georgia. Born of a DIY ethic, Black Lips started by playing sweaty basement shows in Georgia and eventually toured traditional circuits as well as remote areas of Asia and the Middle East. Reportedly inspired in part by the 1960s' short-lived but violent Viennese Actionism performance art movement, Black Lips drew a fan base not only due to the band's rough and dirty garage rock but also because of the band's provocative theatrics. Live performances have included vomiting (Alexander's medical condition), masturbation, urination, nudity, electric radio-controlled car races, fireworks, flaming guitars and other wild antics. Unhinged shows led venues to ban the band from returning, and the band quietly fled some third world countries ahead of schedule in order to escape arrest. The band presently consists of Alexander, Swilley, guitarist Jeff Clarke, saxophonist Zumi Rosow, and drummer Oakley Munson. Black Lips' eighth and most recent album is 2017's Satan's Graffiti or God’s Art?.

Black Lips' concert at the Bowery Ballroom tonight was tame in comparison to some of the band's previous New York City performances. There were no shock-rock activities on stage, and the crude, fuzzy garage rock songs even seemed somewhat toned down. In true Black Lips fashion, however, the music pivoted on raw and fast cowpunk-flavored rock and roll. When the coarse guitar chords gained momentum, the slam dancing, crowd surfing and stage diving began in earnest. Rather than refine and polish their craft over the years, the musicians have maintained and amplified the messy sound that has become their signature. The difference with this performance was that Black Lips repeatedly followed the speedier songs with slower songs rather than performing an extensive block of high energy songs. Nonetheless, Black Lips' rock and roll frenzy was engaging and captivating.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers at the Bowery Ballroom

Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, but her family moved frequently between military bases in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Germany and Italy. When she was eight years old and living in Italy, Grace bought her first guitar by mail order with money saved from mowing lawns. Her parents divorced when Grace was 12 years old, and she moved with her mother to Naples, Florida. While in junior high school, Grace became a fan of punk rock, attracted to the nihilistic and anarchistic ideals of the genre. At age 13, she played bass in her first band, formed with members of her church youth group, playing Nirvana and Pearl Jam covers at church talent shows. After playing in several local bands, Grace recorded her first demo in 1996 as Against Me! Moving to Gainesville, Florida at 18, she began performing as Against Me!, either alone on an acoustic guitar or with a friend drumming on pickle buckets. After several successful albums with Against Me!, Grace announced in 2012 that she had experienced gender dysphoria since her youth and became the first highly visible punk rock musician to identify publicly as transgender. In 2016 Grace formed a side project, Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers, with bassist Marc Jacob Hudson and Against Me! drummer Atom Willard, and released a debut album, Bought to Rot, on November 9, 2018. Since 2013, Grace has lived in Chicago, Illinois.

Laura Jane Grace has pressed pause on Against Me! to concentrate on more intimate singer-songwriter material, but the new songs seemed to carry the same punk attitude when performed tonight at the Bowery Ballroom. Grace sang confessional lyrics that spoke honestly of her life's travails, laced with pop melodies and punk energy. The set consisted of all 14 songs from the Bought to Rot album, plus 10 cover songs. Grace did all the vocals and guitar work, with far more attention to voice than to lead guitar interludes. Grace's voice was clear on the gentler lyrics and gritty when she came to the angry lyrics (which was often). The scope of the songs ranged wider than with her primary band, with perhaps a toned-down flavor overall. The songs still rocked and rolled but they did not all blast the audiences faces to the wall as Against Me! has done. This was a side project done well: it was a familiar-sounding yet distinct presentation that expanded the originator's sound on all edges.

Setlist:
  1. Apocalypse Now (& Later)
  2. Amsterdam Hotel Room
  3. Dilaudid (The Mountain Goats cover)
  4. I Hate Chicago
  5. Conceptual Paths (Laura Jane Grace song)
  6. The Hotel Song
  7. China Beach
  8. Born In Black
  9. The Apology Song
  10. Ache with Me (Against Me! song)
  11. The Acid Test Song
  12. The Airplane Song
  13. Screamy Dreamy
  14. The Friendship Song
  15. Androgynous (The Replacements cover)
  16. Amputations (Laura Jane Grace song)
  17. Reality Bites
  18. Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1 (The Mountain Goats cover)
  19. Valeria Golino
  20. Manic Depression
Encore:
  1. Harsh Realms (Laura Jane Grace song)
  2. Take the Skinheads Bowling (Camper Van Beethoven cover)
  3. Two Coffins (Against Me! song)
  4. True Trans Soul Rebel (Against Me! song, performed solo by Grace)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Collapsing Scenery at Home Sweet Home

Through the early 2000s, Pennsylvania-born and New York City-based Don Devore played in many local bands, including punk rockers the Icarus Line, indie guitar band the Lilys, rockers Amazing Baby, theatrical band Ink & Dagger, and electronic group Historics; he is also a curator for the Brooklyn arts space Trans Pecos. Texas native and Los Angeles resident Reggie Debris doubles as Mickey Madden, bassist for Maroon 5. They met in Los Angeles and reconnected in London while each was touring. In 2013, the two musicians started a new band, Collapsing Scenery, with a goal of casting aside the stringed instruments on which they had first learned to play music and on which they were comfortable and versed. Instead, they assembled an array of analog electronics -- samplers, step sequencers, synths and drum machines -- all supplemented by effects pedals. It did not mean they were not going to abandon traditional instruments; it meant they were going to create untraditional music. Collapsing Scenery performed at art installations and underground clubs, and recorded music independently. Collapsing Scenery will release its debut album, Stress Positions, on June 28, 2019.

Collapsing Scenery celebrated the announcement of its pending album release with a free performance tonight at Home Sweet Home. Debris as vocalist and Devore as multi-instrumentalist, along with a drummer, Ryan Rapsyscrossed the lines of futurist electro, goth, industrial, techno, post-punk, chillwave and darkwave with haunting vocals and a hard pulsing beat. Abrasive, aggressive and jolting, the performance seemed to border the fine line between sanity and insanity, with Devore ranting on social injustices as Debris challenged the listener with a mix of conflictingly coarse and meditative soundscapes. Collapsing Scenery has built on the sounds pioneered by Suicide, Swans, and Sonic Youth in the 1980s and taken them one more step further over the edge for some creative and engaging experiments in noise rock.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ministry at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Al Jourgensen & Chris Connolly
In 1961, shortly after the Cuban Revolution, the family of three-year-old Alejandro Ramírez Casas escaped from Havana and settled in Florida. In 1964, his mother remarried and adopted her husband's surname for herself and her son. The couple raised the boy, who came to be known as Al Jourgensen, in Chicago, Illinois, and Breckenridge, Colorado. In 1978, Jourgensen relocated from Denver, Colorado, to attend college in Chicago. There, he worked as a radio DJ and played in several short-lived bands, including the backing band of drag performer Divine. Jourgensen finally found success when he formed Ministry in 1981, through which he helped pioneer the industrial metal movement. Vocalist/guitarist Jourgensen is Ministry's only constant member; the band also presently consists of guitarists Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto, keyboardist John Bechdel, bassist Tony Campus and drummer Derek Abrams. Ministry released it 14th and most recent studio album, AmeriKKKant, on March 9, 2018.

Vans sports brand sponsored a six-day screening tour for Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax Records, a documentary about the Chicago-based independent record store and record company that launched industrial music, and the tour stopped tonight at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Fans were invited to attend the screening, a brief panel discussion that included former Ministry/Revolting Cocks musician Chris Connelly and My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult's Groovie Mann, and live sets by Ministry and Cold Cave. For the occasion, Ministry performed a set of only deep cuts and vintage catalog. Jourgensen occasionally joked about the throwback format of the set. "That was actually kinda fun," he told the audience after playing "Jesus Built My Hotrod," a song Ministry had retired from live performances in 2006. Surprises also included Connelly joining the band on stage for "Burning Inside," similarly resurrected  for this tour, and "So What." Connelly returned for the encores of the Revolting Cocks' "No Devotion" and for a rare acoustic version of "(Everyday is) Halloween," which Jourgensen introduced as "about walking around and not being accepted by society." For the entire set, Ministry's performance was filled with healthy rage and fast, loud, and extremely aggressive music. Industrial music remains an underground genre, but few bands are as well equipped as Ministry to blast it to the masses.

Setlist:
  1. The Missing
  2. Deity
  3. Stigmata
  4. Jesus Built My Hotrod
  5. Just One Fix
  6. N.W.O.
  7. Thieves
  8. Burning Inside (with Chris Connelly)
  9. So What (with Chris Connelly)
Encore 1:
  1. No Devotion (Revolting Cocks cover,  with Chris Connelly)
  2. Supernaut (Black Sabbath cover, 1000 Homo DJs version)
Encore 2:
  1. The Land of Rape and Honey
  2. (Everyday Is) Halloween (acoustic, with Chris Connelly)