Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rubblebucket at the Mercury Lounge

Kalmia Traver
Annakalmia (Kalmia) Traver (vocals, saxophone) and Alex Toth (trumpet, band leader) first met as fellow music majors at the University of Vermont. Toth had been developing a dance band that fused psychedelic indie rock, upbeat dance rhythms and odd musical arrangements. Upon graduating in 2006, they moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where Kalmia modeled nude for art classes and Toth worked with marching bands. There they formed Rubblebucket, were joined by Adam Dotson (trombone, euphonium, vocals), David Cole (Drums) and Ian Hersey (guitar) and released a debut album in 2008 under the name Rubblebucket Orchestra. The band later relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and is filled out by Darby Wolf on keyboards and synthesizers and Jordan Brooks on bass. Rubblebucket's fourth album, Survival Sounds, was released today.

Rubblebucket brought its quirky music to the Mercury Lounge tonight, turning the venue into a party room. Traver often sang light pop songs that unexpectedly twisted into Baroque-sounding poly-rhythmic jamborees. Similarly, New Orleans-style brass section introduction led to art-rock with syncopated horns. Traver's vocals were soft and talky, but then she blew deep into a baritone sax or made electronic noises on a small synthesizer, giving the songs a more wiry sound. All along, the band kept the audience bouncing to the steady grooves and rhythms. This music may be too bizarre for the general public, but it already has drawn a fair number of believers.

Visit Rubblebucket at www.rubblebucket.com.

The Planets at Arlene's Grocery

Soon after graduating high school in 1971, Brooklyn native Binky Philips formed a band called the Planets and played all of New York's rock circuit. While earning a meager living working a day job at a record store in the East Village, his nights were dedicated to the Planets, opening shows for up and coming bands like the New York Dolls, Kiss, the Ramones and Blondie. While many glam and punk bands eclipsed the Planets, the Planets never broke past that local club circuit. Watching new clubs open and close for 20 years, the Planets finally packed up their guitar cases permanently. Philips wrote a well-received memoir, My Life in the Ghost of Planets - The Story of a CBGB Almost-Was, and continues to reminisce as a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Recently, more than 40 years after it all began, Philips revived the Planets and down-scaled his former rock and roll ambitions; these day he simply hopes the Planets can draw enough paying customers to pay for the next few rehearsal times. The Planets presently consists of Philips on guitar and lead vocals, Nolan Roberts on vocals, Desmond Sullivan on guitar, Mike Greenberg on bass and Bobby Siems on drums.

At Arlene's Grocery tonight, it was obvious that Philips still listens to the Who's Live at Leeds album. In the 1970s and 1980s the Who was an inspiration for many local bands, but in the 21st century this influence is rare among bar bands, and the Planets utilized it very well tonight. Occasionally Philips even stood with his feet wide apart and swung his arm over his guitar like a speedy windmill, looking very much a Pete Townshend technique. Roberts was not Roger Daltrey, however, when he swung his microphone just one time and dropped it. Roberts is young and new, and hopefully in time will learn to work the audience rather than sing with his eyes closed like an emo vocalist. Throughout the set, the band was rock solid. The Planets performed mostly Philips' songs, ranging from compositions dating to the band's CBGB's/Max's Kansas City era to songs written earlier this month. The band also performed a song from Philips' 1976 solo album and a very rocked-up cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (although a puzzled listener might wonder why). The Planets lined up well tonight for some good old-fashioned classic rock sounds, and it felt like old times at the long-defunct Coventry, the Mercer Arts Center and the Hotel Diplomat glam-rock music stages.

The Planets perform at Arlene's Grocery on September 30 and the last Tuesday of every month through the end of 2014. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The AfroPunk Festival at Commodore Barry Park, Brooklyn

There was a time when being black and playing or listening to rock music was a novelty. White teens had embraced black artists since Little Richard in the 1950s, but only occasionally did we find black youth playing hard rock until Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone in the late 1960s. When hardcore punk and heavy metal gained widespread popularity in the late 1970s, some of it was even linked with white supremacy, further isolating black rockers. Then came Bad Brains, several of Vernon Reid's bands, including Living Colour, TV on the Radio, Fishbone, and even Death, Lenny Kravitz and Thin Lizzy in similar rock genres. The Black Rock Coalition formed in New York to promote, support and encourage the multi-cultural potential in alternative music.

The AfroPunk Festival was founded in 2002 and occurs each summer in Brooklyn. This year's main attractions included Sharon Jones & the Dap Tones, Bodycount featuring Ice-T, Bad Brains, D'Angelo, Meshell Ndegeocello, Shabazz Palaces, Fishbone, Alice Smith, Valerie June, Unlocking the Truth, over 100 artists in total. The two-day event also hosted an Activism Row, where the public could learn about local community action groups, a Spin Thrift Market for clothing and other goods, the Green Light Bookstore, and a variety of food options.

Alice Smith showcased an amazing vocal range through sultry soul songs.
Los Angeles' Trash Talk returned this year to play more fierce, moshing hardcore punk.
Chiara de Blasio, daughter of New York mayor Bill de Blasio,
introduced foundational punk and reggae artist Bad Brains.

Bad Brains had several vocalists substitute for original singer H.R.,
including Cory Glover of Living Colour.
Ice-T was beyond a rapper as he led a hardcore Bodycount.
Fishbone performed a wild set mixing rock, funk, punk and ska.
Sza sang rhythm & blues.
Syd the Kid sang soft jazz and trip-hop with the Internet.
D'Angelo infused electronica into his rhythm & blues songs.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Arcade Fire at the Barclay Center

Win Butler and Josh Deu met at high school in Montreal, Canada, and continued an exchange of musical ideas into their university years. The two university students founded Arcade Fire around 2001, soon adding a fellow music student, Régine Chassagne. The trio recorded a set of demos and began performing live in the second half of 2001. Numerous musicians came and went, including Deu, but presently the band's core line-up is husband-and-wife team Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, Win's brother Will Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara. The band continues to be a collective of sorts, as various core and extra musicians switch between guitar, bass guitar, piano, keyboard, synthesizer, drums, violin, viola, cello, double bass, xylophone, glockenspiel, French horn, accordion, harp, mandolin, and hurdy-gurdy. The band's fourth and most current album is 2013's Reflektor.

Arcade Fire headlined Brooklyn's Barclay Center for three nights. The audience was treated to the extravagance of Arcade Fire's circus-like show, but the audience also was designed to be part of the entertainment. First off, the admission tickets asked the public to come in formal attire or costume. Hundreds of fans complied. The main floor had no seating, giving the costumed fans adequate space to dance or perform. Also, in a very unusual move, the evening did not end with Arcade Fire's performance; a disc jockey came on after the headliner and the audience was invited to stay and dance for another hour.

On the second night, after two opening acts, the stage curtain fell and more than a dozen musicians came on stage, including a horn section, string ensemble and several percussionists. Several unidentifiable people wearing huge Mardi Gras-style papier-mâché heads resembling the main band members appeared as a fake band, dancing to the disco-pop "Rebellion (Lies)." Across the floor from the main stage, a smaller hydraulic platform was raised sporadically for use as a side show stage. During “We Exist,” a song about coming out as gay, four male dancers in high heels were elevated on the platform and they imitated the song's video with a choreographed dance. During “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus),” Chassagne appeared on the platform, surrounded by writhing dancers in skeleton suits, facing the main stage. Butler sang to her and she sang back her countermelody with the fans literally caught in the middle of the interplay. During “Afterlife,” a sole figure in a head-to-toe mirrored space suit turned slowly on the platform, reflecting light around the room. For the encores, the fake band took the B-stage for a cover of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer." Marky Ramone then joined Arcade Fore on the main stage for covers of the Ramones' "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement" and "I Wanna Be Sedated." Periodically through the set, cannons sprayed massive amounts of confetti onto the audience. The surprises never stopped.

The problem was that if the fans came to hear good music, that element was sorely missing. For all its worth, the Barclay Center did not have the acoustics for music to be appreciated. The venue was an echo chamber, and the sound was simply too loud and muddled, even near the sound board. Any nuance in the music and any interesting musical arrangements were overpowered simply by a wall of boom-boom rhythms and melodies. Perhaps this was complicated by the sheer number of musicians on the stage, usually about 13 and sometimes numbering as many as 25. Enjoying the visual stimulations of the sensory-loaded spectacle was easy, but the Arcade Fire audience could only enjoy the actual music if by familiarity the fans were singing along or listening to the recorded versions of the songs in their heads.

Visit Arcade Fire at www.arcadefire.com.

Friday, August 22, 2014

X at City Winery

Exene Cervenka & John Doe
Billy Zoom saw the Ramones perform in a Los Angeles suburb in 1977 and the former rockabilly guitarist realized he wanted to play similar music. Bassist John Doe was already a fan of the new punk music scene. Both musicians submitted want ads to the same publication using nearly the exact same wording. They responded to each other’s classifieds and performed a few shows with various drummers. Doe met Exene Cervenka, a newly-relocated Floridian, at a poetry reading in Venice Beach and liked her poems so much that he offered to perform them in his band. Cervenka told him that if anyone was going to perform her poems, it would be her, and she joined the band. Doe saw D.J. Bonebrake play in a band called the Eyes and recruited him. X was formed before the end of 1977. The band recorded seven studio albums, the most recent of which is 1993's Hey Zeus! X went on hiatus during the mid to late 1990s and reunited in the early 2000s.

X returned to New York this week for four nights at City Winery, each night dedicated to performing the entirety of one of the band's first four albums. Tonight was the second night, and X performed its second album, Wild Gift, named 1981's Record of the Year by Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Village Voice. Wild Gift featured short and speedy songs and preceded the band's wider exploration of punk-country-folk, and so tonight's performance was mostly pure primal punk, X style. Cervenka and Doe's individual vocals were rather ordinary, but together their slightly off-kilter signature harmonies still splendidly recalled a raw version of Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin and Grace Slick. Zoom played stingingly clear and crisp rockabilly guitar leads and Bonebrake hit the drum beat hard. After performing nitro-powered versions of the 13 songs from Wild Gift, X mixed songs from its other three early albums: three songs from 1980's Los Angeles; six from 1982's Under the Big Black Sun; and five from 1983's More Fun in the Real World. In the end, the evening was a live retrospective of what made X a great band, with 28 archival X songs played loud and fast. The public has not heard a new songs from X in more than 20 years, however; hopefully the success of this series will inspire the band to write and record new songs.

Visit X at www.xtheband.com.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Biohazard at Webster Hall's Marlin Room

Billy Graziadei
Guitarist Bobby Hambel was among the founders of Biohazard in 1987 out of Brooklyn, New York. Early on, vocalist/guitarist Billy Graziadei joined and turned the trio into a quartet and Biohazard released its first demo in 1988. Danny Schuler replaced the original drummer after that demo. Many personnel changes later, Scott Roberts played lead guitar in Biohazard from 2002 to 2005, and rejoined the band in 2011 as bassist. Biohazard's ninth and most recent album, 1992's Reborn in Defiance, was released worldwide with the exception of North America.

Biohazard was one of the earliest bands to fuse hardcore punk and heavy metal with elements of hip hop and controversial social and political commentary. After more than 25 years of heavy-bottomed punk metal, Biohazard maintained its legacy with a pit-bull bite tonight at a long-awaited hometown gig in Webster Hall's Marlin Room. Utilizing the entire width of the large stage, the three front men ran, jumped and bounced as they opened with "Shades of Grey" from the 1992 Urban Discipline album. This was followed by more high-energy manifestos in "What Makes Us Tick" from the 1994 State of the World Address album, then the title track from Urban Discipline. Biohazard performed its 17 angriest songs, and all but one were from the band's first three albums, covering 1990 to 1994. The sole exception was featured smack in the middle of the set, "Vengeance Is Mine," from the most recent Reborn in Defiance album. The explosive eruption of Biohazard's scorching music remained clean and clear throughout the blistering set. On many songs, Graziadei sang, shouted and spit the lyrics originally sung by former band leader Evan Seinfeld at no sacrifice to the integrity of their foundation. But there was the rub as far as the future progress and trajectory of Biohazard. There seemed to be enough fire to keep the band going -- the prognosis was good for life after Seinfeld. Tonight's show indicated that the band could be massive if it resumed its former write-record-tour ethic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Johnnyswim at the Bowery Ballroom

Abner Ramirez trained as a musician at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in his native Jacksonville, Florida. Amanda Sudano spent summers touring the world as a backing singer for her mother, Donna Summer. Ramirez and Sudano met in a coffee shop after Sunday service at a church in Nashville, Tennessee. Four years later Sudano attended a songwriting workshop held by Ramirez and became interested in writing songs with him. The two began writing and singing together and discovered similar influences of folk, soul, and rock. The pair formed a songwriting partnership in 2006 and called themselves Johnnyswim. Following three earlier EPs, Johnnyswim's debut album, Diamonds, was released on April 29, 2014. Sudano and Ramirez married in 2009 and are based in Los Angeles, California.

Who does not respond favorably to a bit of southern charm and elegance? Johnnyswim's headlining engagement tonight at the Bowery Ballroom was packed with an exuberant cordiality, a magnetic positivity and an engaging wholesomeness. Johnnyswim's set was hinged on rich, mesmerizing two-part harmonies and unadorned, low-key musical arrangements, much like the Civil Wars. Often staring each other in the eyes, Ramirez and Sudano were so in sync with each other that sometimes it was tasking to tell their voices apart. With Ramirez strumming an acoustic guitar and backed by an electric guitarist, bassist and drummer, the songs mined folk, soul, blues and pop for a lily-soft, blended sound, even when they took a turn at foot-stomping and hand-clapping country towards the end of the set with "Home." Ramirez and Sudano invited the audience both into their music and their lives. The duo introduced many songs with personal anecdotes, always related with an amusing spin; the story about Ramirez's proposal was longer than the song it produced, "Paris in June." With a knack for feel-good songs, mutually-enhancing vocals, a cross-section of musical styles and enjoyable banter, Johnnyswim's performance was almost like a variety show. Could Johnnyswim become the next generation's Sonny & Cher?

Visit Johnnyswim at www.johnnyswim.com.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Echo & the Bunnymen at Irving Plaza

Ian McCulloch
Ian McCulloch was born in Liverpool, England, and as a teenager integrated into the local music scene at Eric's Club. Upon turning 18, the budding singer-songwriter formed his first band, the Crucial Three, with Julian Cope and Pete Wylie, but the band never got beyond rehearsals. Wylie left, the band split, and a year later in 1978 McCulloch and Cope formed the short-lived A Shallow Madness, which similarly never recorded or performed. Cope then sacked McCulloch from the band, A Shallow Madness changed its name to The Teardrop Explodes, and McCulloch joined with guitarist Will Sergeant and bassist Les Pattinson to form Echo & the Bunnymen in 1978. Supplemented initially by a drum machine, Echo & the Bunnymen soon debuted at Eric's Club as the opening act for The Teardrop Explodes. Since Echo & the Bunnymen's debut album in 1980, the band has released 11 studio albums; after a five-year hiatus, the fan-funded Meteorites was released on June 3, 2014. McCulloch and Sergeant presently fill out Echo & the Bunnymen with touring musicians.

Echo & the Bunnymen returned to Irving Plaza tonight for the first of a two-night headlining engagement. As usual, McCulloch stood at his microphone stand and remained almost motionless throughout the concert, bathed in darkness. Never was a spotlight shone on him, making photographs a challenge. The band opened with the title track of the new album, and McCulloch, wearing dark pants, shirt, sports jacket, shades and unkempt hair, appeared as a silhouette singing dark, brooding vocals. His Jim Morrison-style of singing became more evident with a medley of "Rescue" and "Broke My Neck." Three songs later, he sang the Doors' "People Are Strange." It was this voice on which the show centered, more so than any of the musicians' contributions. New songs were received well, including "Holy Moses" and "Constantinople," but 36 years into its stage life, the show built up to the haunting, synthesizer-driven "Bring on the Dancing Horses," a bombastic medley of "Villiers Terrace" and the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," a lighter "The Killing Moon" and a harsher "The Cutter." For the first encore, the band joined a soft, acoustic "Nothing Lasts Forever" to adaptations of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour." The show ended with the better known "Lips Like Sugar" in extended form and a modest final encore of "Ocean Rain." The classic drama-pop masters kept the music alive and energetic, and despite McCulloch's subdued visual appearance, his voice was what made it all interesting.

Visit Echo & the Bunnymen at www.bunnymen.com.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Red Wanting Blue at the Bowery Ballroom

Scott Terry
Originally from New Jersey, singer/songwriter Scott Terry formed Red Wanting Blue (also known as RWB) as a rock and roll band in 1995 with classmates at Ohio University in Athens. The band released two albums while still in school, and after college the band relocated in 1999 to Columbus, Ohio. Terry is the sole remaining original member of Red Wanting Blue; the band’s current lineup consists of Terry on vocals, ukulele and guitar, Mark McCullough on vocals and bass, Greg Rahm on guitar, Eric Hall on lap steel and guitar, and Dean Anshutz on the drums. Red Wanting Blue's 10th album, Little America, was released on July 1, 2014.

Red Wanting Blue brought the heart of middle America, complete with an on-stage display of on-the-road bumper stickers and truck-stop novelty items, to the Bowery Ballroom tonight. The music was similarly driving, with many lyrics painting the life of musicians who live on a tour bus. It was blue collar rock and roll with a taste of country and southern rock for flavor. Terry's husky, masculine voice delivered well, with all fervor and little nuance, lending a sense of depth and integrity to the sometimes oblique tales he spun in his reflective lyrics. He told the audience that he was afraid to sing the new song "Leaving New York" in New York, but took off his hat and sang the soft ballad earnestly and beautifully. Throughout the set, the energetic musicians played tightly and enthusiastically; although the feel of the music was loose, in reality there was little wiggle room for jamming until the end of the set. Opening act and long-time friends The Alternate Routes joined Red Wanting Blue on stage for the show's finale, a rousing seven-minute southern-rocking cover of Oasis' "Champagne Supernova," complete with dueling guitars. This was the sound of a young, working class America.

Red Wanting Blue will perform at Irving Plaza on November 20. In the meantime, visit Red Wanting Blue at www.redwantingblue.com.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Miss Fairchild at the Bowery Electric

Growing up in a small town as the son and grandson of preachers, Travis Richard (or "Daddy Wrall") discovered a yearning to command the stage and sing. Teaming in 2004 with two Boston-based friends, producer Samuel Nice (or Sammy Bananas) and arranger Schuyler Dunlap, Travis became the voice of a studio project called Miss Fairchild. A live band was formed around the song and dance man by 2005. Miss Fairchild released its third album in 2013, Show Band.

Miss Fairchild performed a super-slick, almost cabaret-style rhythm and blues show at the Bowery Electric tonight. Richard captured the 1960s soul sound in his vocals and as a charismatic front person was fully committed to the entertainment aspect of the show. Everything clicked together. Joyful pop songs with a funk groove were powered by blue-eyed soul singing, smooth melodies and bubbly arrangements. Richard engaged the audience to sing along to catchy choruses in "Train Wreck" and other tunes. The songs were given greater depth through keyboard leads and sax fills, creating a groove that moved the audience, including Liza Colby of popular local band the Liza Colby Sound, to dance to the rhythms. The set swayed sweetly with a sassy sashay.

Visit Miss Fairchild at www.missfairchild.com.