Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts at the Mercury Lounge

Miles Nielsen
Miles Nielsen has a musical bloodline that goes back four generations of players and singers. Miles was a toddler when Cheap Trick, his dad Rick Nielsen's band, released its debut album in 1977. As a boy, Miles rode on tour busses and grew accustomed to rock stars hanging at his home in Rockford, Illinois. By the age of 13, Miles was inspired to learn guitar, and was on stage covering songs by age 14. Eventually, he began writing his own songs and playing bass with various regional folk bands, including Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons, Cameron McGill & What Army, Hayward Williams, and Daniel & the Lion. He has also played rhythm guitar for Cheap Trick. Nielsen now leads his own band, Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts. He released his third album, Heavy Metal, on April 29, 2016.

Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts headlined a late show at the Mercury Lounge tonight, and brought some Midwest flavor to the city venue. Nielsen sang lyrics that exposed his mind and heart, with an honest, drawling voice hinged on a country lilt that felt warm, comfortable and rootsy. His compositions often built into pop hooks by the time he reached his choruses. The band provided a light and breezy backdrop to accentuate the melodies. The end result was more pop rock than country folk, but retained a rustic charm that celebrated America's heartland.

Visit Miles Nielsen at www.milesnielsen.com.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mitski at the Bowery Ballroom

Mitski Miyawaki was born in Japan, where her future music trajectory was informed by her mother's 1970s pop CDs. Her father's job caused her family to relocate frequently, and Mitski lived in 13 countries before she enrolled in college in Purchase, New York. Going by her singular first name, Mitski launched her music career while in college, self-releasing two albums, then moved again to New York City after graduation, where she would further her audience with two more breakout albums. Mitski released her fourth album, Puberty 2, on June 17, 2016.

Mitski's headlining gig at the Bowery Ballroom tonight was preceded by a cover story in Brooklyn magazine, a feature story in the Village Voice and coverage in several other local media. Mitski spoke in her interviews that her music reflects her issues of belonging due to her cross-cultural identity as "half Japanese, half American, but not fully either." Dozens of college-age women near the stage sang along with her odes to loneliness and attempted to get her attention, perhaps as if to say, "I am just like you." Mitski, dressed in a business-casual knit top and pencil skirt, appeared mature enough to be the mentor for young women sorting out their journeys, but yet seemed too young to be the cool mom. Playing bass, backed by a guitarist and drummer, Mitski soulfully sang songs that seemed thoughtful and personal, even when the images were closer to scattered stream-of-consciousness. From "Townie" to "Fireworks," plus two solo encores, Mitski had a rapt audience caught up in her sparsely-arranged songs. At the beginning of the set, Mitski remarked that the evening was a rare event, a convergence of both the summer solstice and a strawberry moon. Perhaps it was this cosmic cocktail that had her audience swooning symbiotically to her low-key music.

Visit Mitski at www.mitski.com.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Jackson Browne at the Beacon Theatre

Jackson Browne was born in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father, an American serviceman, was stationed. The future singer-songwriter was three years old when his family moved to his grandfather's house in Los Angeles, California. As a teenager, Browne sang folk songs in local venues, and after graduating high school in 1966, he joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a few months. Before his 18th birthday, he moved to Greenwich Village, where he backed Tim Buckley and Nico of the Velvet Underground. In 1968, Browne returned to Los Angeles and launched a solo career. Browne has sold over 18 million albums in the U.S., and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. Browne's 14th and most recent album is 2014's Standing in the Breach.

Despite a lack of new product to promote, Browne headlined three sold-out nights at the Beacon Theatre. Ticketholders had been warned that the show would begin promptly at 8 p.m., that there was no opening act, and that sufficient time should be allowed for a security check. True to his word, Browne held court on time and delivered two and a half hours of familiar music. Browne was accompanied by longtime band mates Val McCallum (guitar), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Alethea Mills (backing vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). Half of the set drew from his first five albums in the 1970s, and the other half covered all the subsequent decades. Browne sang in a deeper voice, such that on "For Everyman," at one point instead of reaching for a high note he dove for a lower octave. Nevertheless, the spirit was there, and Browne fairly showcased his knack for memorable melodies, insightful and personal lyrics, and pleasant arrangements in composition. From "Doctor My Eyes" and "These Days" to "The Pretender" and "Running on Empty," the songs still sounded fresh and vibrant. Hopefully next time around he will have some new songs to sell as well.

Visit Jackson Browne at www.jacksonbrowne.com.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Jesse Malin at City Winery

Raised in Whitestone, New York, Jesse Malin aspired to rock at the all-ages hardcore punk shows at CBGB's. At age 12, he became the vocalist for a hardcore band, Heart Attack. Upon the group’s disbandment in 1984, Malin labored as a gas station attendant, a health food store clerk and a "man with a van" moving furniture for Barbara Streisand and the Swans. In 1991, Malin and some childhood friends formed the popular glam-punk band D Generation and released three albums before disbanding in 1999. Malin played with several short-lived bands, then went solo in 2001. Along the way, he collaborated with Ryan AdamsBruce Springsteen and members of Green Day. Malin released his seventh album, Outsiders, on October 9, 2015.

Malin has spent three-quarters of his life playing in rock bands. In recent times, most of his local performances have been celebrations of record releases or benefit concerts. For tonight's set at City Winery, Malin and his band performed his entire 2002 debut solo album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, track for track, bringing to these songs new life and somewhat rethought arrangements. While the original versions were comparatively laid back, tonight they were given ignition and momentum. Malin opened the show singing from the audience, working his way to the stage. Playing an amplified acoustic guitar on some of the folk-centered songs brought out his emotive side, but Malin's whole being seemed to energize in the rockers. Between songs he used his gift of gab to annotate amusing anecdotes related to the lyrics of the forthcoming song. Malin and his band concluded the show with a bang, featuring "Mona Lisa" from his The Heat album, and covers of the Pogues' "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," the Clash's "Rudie Can't Fail" and The Lords of the New Church's "Russian Roulette." The next time around, Malin will be with his reunited D Generation, headlining at Irving Plaza on July 30.

Visit Jesse Malin at www.jessemalin.com.

Scarecrow at Drom

In 2008, Slim Paul was playing blues guitar on the banks of the Garonne riverfront in Toulouse, France, when Antibiotik Daw strolled by, listened for a bit and then improvised raps to Paul's rhythms. This was the start of a collaboration where American blues wedded French hip hop. Scarecrow presently consists of Paul, Daw, bassist Jamo and drummer Le Pap's. Scarecrow will release its second album, The Last, on June 24, 2016.

Scarecrow visited America this week as part of the France Rocks SummerFest, which is being billed as the largest French music festival in the U.S. Headlining tonight at Drom, the quartet accomplished what previously seemed impossible, coherently mixing Paul's deep-rooted blues with Daw's street hip-hop and the rhythm section's funk. When Paul sang, he resonated richly from the gut, and sounded like an old time blues man from America's 1930s. His nimble guitar picking furthered this authenticity. Literally on the other side of the table, Daw was scratching at his turntable, providing an additional yet far more modern percussive element. When Daw stepped from behind the table and smoothly rapped center stage in French, he sounded like he learned his technique in the Bronx. The two men melded sounds that were diametrically opposed, but shared a common source -- the sounds of freedom from two different generations of African-Americans. It took a French band to teach us this.

Visit Scarecrow at www.blueshiphop.com.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

D.R.I. at the Gramercy Theatre

Kurt Brecht
The Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (often shortened to D.R.I.) formed when guitarist Spike Cassidy replaced his roommate in the hardcore outfit Suburbanites in 1982 in Houston, Texas. D.R.I. morphed into a thrashcore band as the music began to crossover from hardcore punk to thrash metal's longer, slower, and more complex arrangements. In 1983, D.R.I. relocated to San Francisco, where the musicians lived in their van and ate at soup kitchens between performances. The band went on semi-hiatus from 2006 to 2010, and presently consists of founding vocalist Kurt Brecht, Cassidy, bassist Harald Oimoen and drummer Walter "Monsta" Ryan. D.R.I.'s seventh and most recent album was 1995's Full Speed Ahead, but the band today released an EP with new material, But Wait...There's More!, on June 10, 2016.

The Gramercy Theatre was less than half filled, and by the end of the evening one had to wonder why D.R.I. is not more popular. D.R.I.'s thrashcore was finely honed and integrated, a hard driving punk augmented by a crisp metal guitar edge. The band's onstage energy quickly reached a high plateau, filled with crunching guitar chords and speedy licks that were as compelling as they were brutal. With barely a pause between songs, Brecht seldom stopped pacing the stage while shouting the lyrics dryly. The onslaught saw no reprieve until the show ended. Hardcore and thrash metal purists might have had issues on both sides of the camp, but if the two genres were ever looking for a perfect marriage, this was it.

Visit D.R.I. at www.dirtyrottenimbeciles.com.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

John Doe & His Rock n' Roll Band at City Winery

John Nommensen Duchac, known professionally as John Doe, was born in Decatur, Illinois. After college in Baltimore, Maryland, Doe worked as a roofer, aluminum siding mechanic, and ran a poetry reading series. He moved to Los Angeles, California, and in 1976, he met both poet Exene Cervenka at a poetry reading and guitarist Billy Zoom (born Tyson Kindell) through an ad in a local paper. Doe played bass and sang with Cervenka, and with Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake formed the punk band X in 1977. Doe also played and sang in a sporadic country punk band called the Knitters. Doe released his 10th solo album, The Westerner, on April 29, 2016. Doe is also an actor and currently resides in Fairfax, California.

Headlining at City Winery tonight, John Doe & His Rock n' Roll Band consisted of co-vocalist Cindy Wasserman, guitarist Jesse Dayton, bassist Chris Rhoades and X drummer D.J. Bonebrake. The 19-song set included four X songs ("Burning House of Love", "The Have Nots", "The New World" and "4th of July"), a cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" and the traditional "This May Be the Last Time," plus songs from Doe's solo work.  The set alternated between folk-based songs and more country-rocking fare, but when Doe and Wasserman sang in unison, it recaptured the magic of X. The highlight of the show, however, was how Dayton's sizzling rockabilly-styled guitar leads tastefully fired up the repertoire. Without Dayton's sparkling contributions, Doe's set would have been pleasant but uneventful.

Visit John Doe at www.theejohndoe.com.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Brett Dennen at the Bowery Ballroom

Count on Brett Dennen to do good things. The Northern Californian has worked at a residential summer camp as a counselor. He led numerous anti-smoking campaigns on his college campus and was instrumental in removing ash trays from building entrances. Dennen has been a part of a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit organization that works towards a peaceful future by uniting diverse children and empowering them to strive for peace. The boyish-looking 36-year-old is also a folk/pop singer/songwriter, and released his sixth album, Por Favor, on May 20, 2016.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Brett Dennen performed easy-flowing pop tunes that sometimes rode on waves of light Caribbean and African rhythms. The lyrics were airy vignettes with little drama, buoyed by melodies that owed a serious debt to Paul Simon's Graceland era. Dennen performed six songs from his new album and one or two songs from each of his previous albums, all of which favored a simple arrangement. While the set was united by an uplifting, positive vibe, Dennen referenced the Orlando shooting in "Stand Up For It," which featured the lyric, “Everyday people like you and me / We have to realize that we are not divided." At least for this night, Dennen played cheerful, family-friendly songs that seemed like a light in a dark world.

Visit Brett Dennen at www.brettdennen.net.

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at the Highline Ballroom

Groovie Mann
Frankie Nardiello and Marston Daley met in 1987 while touring together with the industrial rock band Ministry. Collaborating in Chicago, Illinois, Nardiello and Daley began to conceive a trashy B-movie to be called My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – a headline taken from a British tabloid Nardiello recalled from when he lived in London. The film was never realized, but they released the completed songs as a three-track EP. Dubbing themselves Groovie Mann (Nardiello) and Buzz McCoy (Daley), they launched a project and then a band named My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (often shortened to Thrill Kill Kult or TKK). The electronic industrial rock band grew controversial for its satirical take on sex, religion and the occult. The band relocated to Los Angeles, California, and has continued to record and tour with a rotating lineup in addition to core members Mann and McCoy. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult's 12th and most album is 2014's Spooky Tricks.

Headlining at the Highline Ballroom tonight, Mann on vocals and McCoy on synthesizer were accompanied by a guitarist, bassist and two backing vocalists. TKK spun its humorous lyrics to heavy but danceable electro rhythms. The brew was a concoction of experimental, disco, and new wave, interlaced between songs with sampled dialogue. Man made for a colorful front person as he sang pumped up versions of "Sex on Wheelz" and other 1990s fan favorites. The weakness in the band was that the gothic industrial music scene has moved beyond this epoch, to music that is heavier and more complex, like KMFDM and Combichrist. TKK was still as much fun as ever, but to stay on top, the band must ramp up its creative output.

Visit My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at www.mylifewiththethrillkillkult.com.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mudcrutch at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Tom Petty (left) & guest Roger McGuinn
In its first incarnation, born in 1970, Mudcrutch was a southern and country rock band that served as the house band at a popular topless club in Gainesville, Florida. In 1974, Mudcrutch re-located to Los Angeles, California, then broke up in 1975. From these ashes, bassist Tom Petty and two bandmates, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, went on to form Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 1976 and struck platinum. In 2007, Petty invited drummer Randall Marsh and guitarist Tom Leadon, original members of Mudcrutch, to reunite with Tench and Campbell to reform Mudcrutch. Guitarist Herb Pedersen also joins the band for this tour. Mudcrutch's second full-length album, 2, was released on May 20, 2016.

Mudcrutch, back together for a first-ever U.S. tour, played a two-hour set featuring songs from its two albums and several covers at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom. From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a typical Petty concert. Mudcrutch opened with a traditional bluegrass song, "Shady Grove," and Petty was playing bass instead of guitar. Two songs later, Mudcrutch was covering Dave Dudley's 1963 truck-driving country song, "Six Days on the Road." There was only one Heartbreakers song, a little-known outtake called "Trailer," which was later recorded by Mudcrutch. Following a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Mudcrutch added another member, Roger McGuinn. (McGuinn, whose former band the Byrds mined a similar sound in the 1960s and 1970s, inducted Petty into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame last night.) Together, they performed three songs from the Byrds' catalogue, "Lover of the Bayou", "Bugler" and Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." The musicians all jammed as an ensemble, and they jammed well, with each member singing lead on one song, dismantling the myth that this was Petty and his "other" band. Mudcrutch was more than Heartbreakers redux; Mudcrutch was a viable band with a promising potential. There was no need for Heartbreakers hits to fill out the evening's solid country-rocking performance.

Visit Mudcrutch at www.mudcrutchmusic.com.