Friday, November 14, 2014

Kat Dahlia at the Studio at Webster Hall

Katriana Huguet's parents emigrated from Cuba to Miami Beach, Florida, but her French surname came from her paternal great-grandparents who came to Cuba from Lebanon. Kat performed her first solo at a benefit when she was eight years old and started writing her own songs at age 15, ripping instrumentals from YouTube in lieu of a band. Kat saved money from waitressing jobs and moved to New York in 2010 in search of a music career. She settled in North Bergen, New Jersey, and became Kat Hue. Currently known as Kat Dahlia, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter and rapper will release her debut studio album, My Garden, on January 13, 2015.

At the Studio at Webster Hall tonight, Dahlia showed an impressive range of music, including lively pop-rock, smoky soul stirrers and excursions into reggae, Latin and rap. Several of her story-songs originated from her life experiences, both from being raised in a poor and fractured family and from later living in a toxic romance as a young adult. Her songs revealed that she remains somewhat broken and vulnerable but has emerged strong and confident. Part of her appeal live was that these sentiments are universally relatable and also inspire hope. The rest of her appeal was that she sang with a strong, sultry singing voice that subtly said both "get into my life" and "get out of my life." Her concert was therapy for the broken-hearted.

Visit Kat Dahlia at www.katdahlia.com.

Echosmith at Webster Hall's Marlin Room

Sydney Sierota
Four siblings born in the 1990s grew up playing musical instruments in a musical household in Los Angeles, California. They formed a pop band called Echosmith in 2009, and their first single, "Tonight We're Making History", was featured in an NBC promotional advertisement for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Lead vocalist Sydney Sierota (17) also plays keyboards. Noah Sierota (18) plays bass. The oldest member, Jamie Sierota (21), plays guitar. The youngest member, Graham Sierota (15), plays drums. Echosmith's debut album, Talking Dreams, was released in October 2013 and spawned a platinum hit in "Cool Kids."

Fresh off the Honda Civic Tour with American Authors, Echosmith tonight was supposed to headline at the Studio at Webster Hall, but the show was moved to the venue's larger Marlin Room. "Last year we played the little room downstairs," Sydney Sierota told the audience. "Not only was it an upgrade … we’re headlining tonight!"

Echosmith's original songs featured melodies and arrangements that recalled 1980s dance-pop bands. The band even covered Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" and Modern English's "I Melt With You," songs that were popular a decade before anyone in Echosmith was born. Sydney then introduced their closing song, saying "This song has changed our lives." She dedicated "Cool Kids" to "all the outcasts" and "to anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t fit in," affirming that "It's okay to accept yourself for who you are and for who you aren't." The band ended its performance with the reggae-tinged "Nothing's Wrong" as an encore. Throughout the night, the band performed with youthful energy and professional showmanship. Safe and simple pop music is not for everyone, but Echosmith did it well.

Echosmith will perform at the Fresh 102.7 Holiday Jam at the Beacon Theater on December 10. Visit Echosmith at www.echosmith.com.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Anberlin at Irving Plaza

Stephen Christian
While still in high school in 1998, vocalist Stephen Christian formed a punk band called SaGoh 24/7, which released two albums. Eventually changing direction to alternative-rock, the band evolved into Anberlin in 2002, based out of Winter Haven, Florida. There were a few personnel changes, but since 2007 the band has consisted of vocalist Stephen Christian, guitarists Joseph Milligan and Christian McAlhaney, bassist Deon Rexroat, and drummer Nathan Young. After 14 years and seven albums, Anberlin released it final album, Lowborn, on June 23, 2014.

Yahoo! Live streamed Anberlin's concert from Irving Plaza tonight, as the band shared its first of three New York farewell concerts with the world. Shouting out a cry of "New York," Christian and crew ripped into a career retrospective beginning with "Never Take Friendship Personal" and "We Owe This to Ourselves." On the third song, "Paperthin Hymn," Christian hopped across the photo pit and stood on the rail of a barricade, holding a microphone to his mouth with one hand and balancing himself with the other by holding the outstretched hands of the fans below him. Throughout the 20-song, 90-minute set, Anberlin honed its refined sound, which blended an energetic power-chord-driven hard rock base with sweet melodies and Christian's soaring vocals. The pace slowed mid-set with "(The Symphony of) Blasé", "Take Me (As You Found Me) and "The Unwinding Cable Car," the latter song performed acoustically and dedicated to the musicians' wives. Beyond that, Anberlin returned to its muscular radio-ready rock, finally ending with Christian crowd surfing at the end of "Feel Good Drag" and an appropriate encore of "(*Fin)." Anberlin ends its tour and its career in two weeks, and the band made every second count.

Anberlin performs again at Irving Plaza on November 16 and will perform the album Cities at the Gramercy Theatre on November 17. Visit Anberlin at www.anberlin.com.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Whitechapel at the Gramercy Theatre

Phil Bozeman
From Knoxville, Tennessee, deathcore band Whitechapel formed in 2006 and is named after the Whitechapel district in London, England, where Jack the Ripper committed a series of murders. The group presently consists of vocalist Phil Bozeman, guitarists Ben Savage, Alex Wade and Zach Householder, bassist Gabe Crisp, and drummer Ben Harclerode. The band's fifth studio album, Our Endless War, was released on April 29, 2014.

Whitechapel returned to New York tonight as a headliner at the Gramercy Theatre after opening for Devildriver at Stage 48 only five months ago. Whitechapel proved itself this time around with a brutal metal performance. Bozeman growled in front of a thunderous avalanche of breakdowns and metal riffs. The band came on stage to the recorded sound of the instrumental "Rise" and then launched into "Our Endless War" with manic force, as Bozeman's growling vocals articulated an angry message citing the failure of the American system. Throughout the hard banging performance, the music remained uber-intense and dynamic enough to spin one's head. The band's greatest weakness, however, was that although the band has three guitarists, the music failed to feature a high level of guitar leads.

Visit Whitechapel at www.whitechapelband.com.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

He Is Legend at the Studio at Webster Hall

Heavy metal band He Is Legend formed in 2000 by several graduating high school students in Wilmington, North Carolina. The band name was adapted from the title of Richard Matheson's 1954 vampire novel I Am Legend. The band presently consists of vocalist Schuylar Croom, guitarists Adam Tanbouz and Denis Desloge, bassist Matt Williams and drummer Sam Huff. He Is Legend released its fourth album, Heavy Fruit, on August 19, 2014.

Headlining at the Studio at Webster Hall tonight, He is Legend performed a compelling mix of classic and nu metal styles, combining bluesy vocals with fast, crunching guitar riffs and pounding percussion. Croom's vocals verged on screamo while rooting itself on a basic rock and roll foundation. The overall sound was raw, gritty and forceful, and yet sometimes interjected art-rock-styled mini-suites where the music slowed and lightened significantly before reengaging with a sledgehammer. At a time when so many metal bands sound alike, He Is Legend's non-traditional and experimental hard rocking performance was refreshing.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hozier at Irving Plaza

Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known simply as Hozier, was born on St. Patrick's Day 1990 in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland. The son of a musician, he taught himself to play guitar and piano, and was already fronting a soul band when he was 15 years old. Later, he attended Trinity College in Dublin to study music and joined the Trinity Orchestra, but dropped out midway through his first year in order to record demos in a simple studio he created in his attic. In 2013 he recorded a four-track EP, Take Me to the Church, playing most of the instruments and singing all the parts. The title track became his breakthrough song after its video showing a hate crime against a same-sex couple went viral on YouTube. Hozier followed with the 2014 EP From Eden. Hozier's self-titled debut solo album was release globally in October 2014.

When Hozier booked his 2014 North American club tour, his breakout single "Take Me to Church" was still at the buzz stage. He performed at the Bowery Ballroom in May and six months later closed his tour with two headlining nights at Irving Plaza, even as his March 2015 theater tour sold out in advance. Hozier started his set plucking off notes to the gentle, brooding Irish-folk-sounding "Like Real People Do" on a hollow-bodied guitar. Mid-song, his band began accompanying him, playing softly in the background. The excited audience was unable to match the quiet reverence, cheering loudly and repeatedly through the song. In the darkness of the room, Hozier continued with a similarly dark and jazzy "Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene," also from his first EP. As steam rose from his cup of hot tea, Hozier displayed little flare, chatted briefly with the audience between songs in what sounded like a humble mumble, and generally made the performance exceptionally homey. Mid-set, Hozier's love of American blues was established with his cover of Skip Jones' "Illinois Blues," which he played, along with a couple of original songs, solo on a nylon-string acoustic guitar. His songs articulated emotional aching and longing, and his haunting vocals matched the tone well. Hozier concluded his main set with his signature song, "Take Me to Church," his anthem about worshipping a lover, and returned for two encore songs, a cover of Amerie's "1 Thing" and his own "From Eden," performed in quintuple time signature. Hozier showed he was an artist with the skill to craft solid songs, present them with a charming, minimalistic musical arrangement and sing with enough raw manly-yet-sensitive emotion to make for an appealing performance.

Visit Hozier at www.hozier.com.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Richie Kotzen at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Richie Kotzen began playing piano at age five and (inspired by the band KISS) guitar at age seven in his home town of Reading, Pennsylvania. As a teen-ager, Kotzen played guitar with local bands and recorded his first solo album by the age of 18. A year later, in 1989, he created the video Rock Chops, highlighting many of his formative techniques, and appeared on the cover of Guitar World magazine.  Kotzen moved to Los Angeles in 1991 at age 21, and joined glam-rock band Poison. In 1996 Fender Musical Instruments launched two signature model guitars bearing Kotzen's name.  Kotzen joined the mainstream rock band Mr. Big in 1999 and currently plays guitar and fronts the Winery Dogs with bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy. Kotzen recently curated a career retrospective collection from his 18 solo albums; The Essential Richie Kotzen was released on September 2, 2014.

The Winery Dogs performed at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill just a few months ago, but tonight Kotzen's trio (with bassist Dylan Wilson and drummer Mike Bennet) returned to the venue to feature his solo work. Kotzen made a splash as soon as he came on stage wearing red MC Hammer-type parachute pants, black high top sneakers and a black tank top exposing tattooed biceps. Opening the show with "War Paint," a new track on his latest release, Kotzen showed his bluesy roots both in his guitar playing and in his soulful vocals. The song exploded with hard and heavy riffs and not one but several guitar solo intervals -- and Kotzen was finger-picking, not using a pick. Kotzen showcased fluid legato and arpeggio sweeps using his bare fingertips. In a traditional classic rock style, he used minimal electronic effects and foot pedals, focusing more on what pure sounds he could wring out of his Fender guitar. The songs were well composed and Kotzen sang them well, occasionally climaxing with a soulful screech followed by similar sounds in his wailing, melodic guitar licks. The further he went into his two-hour performance, the deeper he went into his bluesy guitar runs. One can only wonder why he is not a better known guitarist.

Visit Richie Kotzen at www.richiekotzen.com.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lucero at the Bowery Ballroom

Ben Nichols
Country-rock jam band Lucero formed in 1998 in Memphis, Tennessee. Caught between rock and country, the band played punk clubs due to a lack of proper venues for mixed-genre artists. The band toured hard and with time crafted a niche audience. Lucero's 10th album, Lucero: Live from Atlanta, is a double-CD, career-spanning retrospective of 32 songs recorded over three nights in Atlanta’s Terminal West. Lucero is presently comprised of vocalist/guitarist Ben Nichols, guitarist Brian Venable, keyboardist Rick Steff, bassist John Stubblefield and drummer Roy Berry.

On this By The Seat Of Our Pants Tour, Lucero headlined three nights at the Bowery Ballroom and opened for itself, starting each night by playing an acoustic set of deep cuts and songs not often performed live with the full band. On the first night, the set list for the first half of the show was scribbled on a flat brown paper bag, and the looseness on stage made one wonder if this set list was more fact or fiction. Between sets, several band members smoked and chatted with fans outside the venue. The second set rocked more and featured horns. The attraction was not the individual songs, however, but the spirit in which they were delivered. Nichols' deep, gravelly vocals led the charge and the party began. Nichols sang heartfelt songs with vivid, panoramic tableaus of life, love, partying and taking the road. Lucero rocked and twanged accordingly, seldom defining a clear boundary, as if the band was comprised of anti-pop bohemians. The band demonstrated its flexibility, successfully fusing its alt-folk, alt-country, alt-punk and alt-rock sounds.

Visit Lucero at www.luceromusic.com.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Born of Osiris at the Gramercy Theatre

Ronnie Canizaro
Deathcore band Born of Osiris was formed in 2003 in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The group underwent several name changes, including Diminished (2003–2004), Your Heart Engraved (2004–2006), and Rosecrance (2006–2007), before finally settling on Born of Osiris in 2007, basing the name on the tale of Horus, the son of the Egyptian deity Osiris. Born of Osiris' third and most recent album, Tomorrow We Die Alive, was released in 2013. The band presently consists of vocalist Ronnie Canizaro, guitarist Lee McKinney, keyboardist Joe Buras, bassist David Da Rocha and drummer Cameron Losch.

After more than 10 years as an opening act, Born of Osiris finally is headlining concert halls. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the band opened with "Empires Erased" from the band's first EP, The New Reign. Surpisingly, the band performed five of the eight songs from that 2007 collection. No songs were performed from 2009's debut A Higher Place album. The rest of the set was from 2011's The Discovery album and from the 2013 Tomorrow We Die Alive album. Like far too many metal bands nowadays, the stage was lit from behind, making the band nearly invisible except for silhouettes throughout the show. Canizaro exhorted the audience to raise their hands, but one doubts he could have seen much of the audience in the darkness that was pierced only by roving lights. As the audience moshed, an energetic Canizaro screamed his growls, the keyboards lent an epic and sometimes symphonic sound, the guitars chugged rich riffs and the breakdowns were executed well. Was it nu metal or was it deathcore? Was it progressive or technical? While the band seemed to have found an interesting way to mix several modern metal influences, the problem is that this overall field of music is so flooded right now that standing out is extremely difficult. A less distracting lighting design that spotlighted the musicians might have helped the audience focus more on the music than on the moshing.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Damned at Irving Plaza

Captain Sensible & Dave Vanian
The Damned formed at the beginnings of the punk rock movement in 1976 in London, England, debuted onstage supporting the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, and in 1977 became the first British punk band to tour the United States. By 1978, the band had its first of many break-ups, personnel changes and farewell tours. Since 2004, the band's line-up has consisted of original members vocalist Dave Vanian (David Letts) and guitarist Captain Sensible (Raymond Burns), plus keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, drummer Pinch (Andrew Pinching) and bassist Stu West. The Damned's 10th and most recent album is 2008's So, Who's Paranoid?

The Damned has a tendency to tour around Halloween (the band last headlined Irving Plaza in October 2011, part of its 35th anniversary tour), and it seems appropriate. Tonight, Vanian appeared gothic with a long black coat and white and grey make-up exaggerating his facial lines, Sensible wearing a red beret and a white sports jacket emblazoned with large black letters (spelling out "old age punk" and profanities), and West dressed in a black skin-tight fetish outfit. Songs like "13th Floor Vendetta," performed under dim blue lights, and Vanian's Jim Morrison-style crooning on "Curtain Call" had a spooky, ominous feel. The set was based out of an old punk sound, but taken in a goth direction for a hard to define and fairly unique sound. With no new songs to introduce, the Damned played a predictable set including "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", "Machine Gun Etiquette", "I Just Can't Be Happy Today", "Wait for the Blackout", "Smash It Up", "Neat Neat Neat" and other songs that had kept the band going through its earlier, creative period. It did seem like a retro show, but it was energetic, wild and colorful, all adding to the Halloween fun.

Visit the Damned at www.officialdamned.com.