Monday, May 9, 2016

Otep at the Studio at Webster Hall

Otep Shamaya
Otep formed as a metal band in 2000 in Los Angeles, California. The band's name was taken from vocalist Otep Shamaya's stage name and is an anagram for the word "poet." Before Otep had a recording contract, Sharon Osbourne caught a live performance and invited Otep to become the first female-fronted band to play the Ozzfest tours; since then, Otep has performed at several Ozzfests. Shamaya also is a spoken word artist, and appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry twice, recorded an unreleased poetry album and authored three books of poetry. She also authored a book of short stories and produced and directed an audiobook of one of the three stories. Otep's seventh album, Generation Doom, was released on April 15, 2016. The band presently consists of Shamaya, guitarist Aristotle Mihalopoulos and drummer Justin Kier; the live performances currently include touring bassist Andrew Barnes.

Headlining at the Studio at Webster Hall, Otep performed nu metal with elements of death metal and rapcore. Shamaya wore masks and handled a variety of props to articulate the messages in her songs; she held a Donald Trump mask on a spiked bat to begin "Lords of War," donned a Guy Fawkes mask for another song and spun a pig's head on a mic stand during "Blood Pigs." She recited poetry as prefaces to some songs. The band blasted bombastic chords, while Shamaya seemed equally comfortable with softer croons, hip hop raps and gutter screams. The set consisted of five songs from the new album, eight songs from earlier albums, and an odd cover of Lorde's "Royals" to conclude the concert. Otep ended up with a metal performance that was both artfully conceived and menacingly brutal.

Visit Otep at www.oteploves.me.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Tarantinos NYC at Otto's Shrunken Head

Formed in 2005 in Queens, New York, the Tarantinos NYC is a surf-rock quartet that borrowed its name from film director Quentin Tarantino. True to its name, the band plays instrumental music that either was or sounds like it should have been in Tarantino’s movies. The Tarantinos NYC recorded one album, 2009’s Super Sounds of the Cinema. The band is presently comprised of guitarist Paulie Tarantino, bassist Trisha Tarantino, keyboardist Louie Tarantino, and drummer Tony Tarantino.

The Tarantinos NYC frequently perform at Unsteady Freddy’s Surf Rock Shindig, which has taken place at Otto’s Shrunken Head on the first Saturday of each month for the past 16 years. At Otto’s tonight, the Tarantinos NYC once again blended a sparkling dose of 1960's-1970's surf, spy and spaghetti western soundtracks with similarly-rooted original instrumentals. Paulie Tarantino mastered an authentic vintage twang to his guitar work, and manipulated a variety of subtle sounds and textures that kept the songs sounding unique. This was more than simply reverb on steroids. This was one case where the concert was more enjoyable than the movie.

Visit the Tarantinos NYC at www.tarantinosnyc.com. The Tarantinos NYC will perform next at Sidewalk on June 15.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Peter Wolf at the Bowery Ballroom

Raised in the Bronx, New York, a young Peter Blankfield aimed to be an artist, but in the late 1960s he reinvented himself as Peter Wolf, a radio disc jockey in Boston, Massachusetts. He also sang in a band called the Hallucinations before joining the rocking rhythm & blues group the J. Geils Band in 1967. The J. Geils Band remained popular throughout the 1970s and peaked when it began leaning new wave in the early 1980s. Wolf left in 1983 for a solo career, but has continued playing with the J. Geils Band on many reunion tours. Wolf's eighth solo album, A Cure for Loneliness, was released on April 8, 2016.

Peter Wolf's band, the Midnight Ramblers, is a roots band in a way that the J. Geils Band is not. At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the Midnight Ramblers, firstly, were more countrified, and secondly, were a lot mellower overall. Was anyone ready for an acoustic bluegrass reinterpretation of the J. Geils Band's "Love Stinks?" This was followed by a cover of bluegrass veteran Bill Monroe's "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold." Along the way, there were many low-key blues, rootsy rock and roll and rhythm & blues excursions, and a tribute to Merle Haggard. The biggest applause, not surprisingly, was reserved for J. Geils Band staples "Cry One More Time", "Musta Got Lost" and "Looking for a Love." At 70 years of age, Wolf has softened, but he still can belt out an energetic rocker or two.

Visit Peter Wolf at www.peterwolf.com.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Waldos at the Bowery Electric

Walter Lure
After playing in a cover band while in college, vocalist/guitarist Walter Lure first hit his hometown New York circuit with the glam-punk Demons in the 1970s. After leaving the Demons, Lure joined Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell and Jerry Nolan in the Heartbreakers in 1975. The Heartbreakers became the darlings of the burgeoning punk circuit, and a year later the band was opening the maligned Sex Pistols tour in England. The Heartbreakers split initially in 1977, but Lure continued playing with Thunders in many reunion shows until Thunders' death in 1991. Meanwhile,  Lure also played on three Ramones albums, recorded a single with the Blessed, and led several local bands, including the Hurricanes, the Heroes, and the Waldos. The Waldos released the Rent Party album in 1993. Since 1995, the Waldos has consisted of Lure and Tak Nakai on guitars, EZ on bass and Joe Rizzo on drums.

Three-fourths of the classic Heartbreakers line-up are dead (Thunders, Nolan and bassist Billy Rath), so seeing the Waldos is about as close as one can get to seeing the Heartbreakers. At the Bowery Electric tonight, what songs were not left over from the Heartbreakers days sounded very much like they should have been. Songs were played with a ragged rock and roll spirit that did not take itself too seriously. "Born to Lose", "Too Much Junkie Business" and "Chinese Rocks" may have been confessionals of the heroin-soaked New York scene of the mid 1970s, but were performed with a sense of humor rather than tragedy. The Waldos did not break new ground, although Lure pointed out that "Get Off the Phone" is more relevant today than back then. In concert, Walter Lure and the Waldos were pure rock and roll fun.

The Waldos will headline the annual Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash at the Bowery Electric on July 14.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Heart on Fire: Concert for Ivan Julian

Ivan Julian played guitar in Richard Hell & the Voidoids beginning in 1976 during the nascent days of punk rock. Recently Julian was diagnosed with cancer and began six months of treatment. Many of Julian's contemporary musicians rallied at City Winery for two benefit concerts to raise funds for his medical bills, even as a GoFundMe page was set up for public contributions.

The first benefit was on May 4 and included Debbie Harry (of Blondie) as master of ceremonies, Richard Hell, Vernon Reid (of Living Colour) & Burnt Sugar, Ian Hunter (formerly of Mott the Hoople), Garland Jeffreys, Willie Nile with Fred Smith (formerly of Blondie, Television), Bush Tetras, the Dictators NYC, Ira Kaplan (of Yo La Tengo), Lenny Kaye (of the Patti Smith Group), Richard Barone (of the Bongos), and others. The house band consisted of guitarists James Mastro (formerly of the Bongos, now in Ian Hunter & the Rant Band) and Nicholas Tremulis, keyboardist/guitarist Al Maddy (formerly of the Nitecaps), bassist Tony Shanahan (of the Patti Smith Group), drummer Steve Goulding (of Graham Parker & the Rumour, the Mekons) and percussionist Vinny DeNunzio (formerly of the Feelies).

Addendum: A second benefit concert on May 7 included Lydia Lunch as host with performances by Richard Hell, Thurston Moore, Lee Renaldo, Matthew Sweet, Vernon Reid & Burnt Sugar, Arto Lindsey, the Dictators NYC, Ira Kaplan, and others.

To contribute to the Ivan Julian Fund, go to www.gofundme.com/IvanJulianFund.

Debbie Harry introduced the musicians at the May 4 concert but did not sing, despite several requests from the audience.

Lenny Kaye began the first concert singing a cover of the Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup." He dedicated the ‘60s pop tune to Julian for being a "foundation of the New York rock scene." He then sang a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Walk on the Water."

Richard Barone covered Richard Hell & The Voidoids' "I'm Your Man" and the Bongos' "Numbers with Wings."

Cynthia Sley (left) of Bush Tetras and Felice Rosser (right) of Faith dueted on "I Can't Help Myself." Pictured behind them is Tony Shanahan, bassist of the Patti Smith Group.

Bush Tetras performed their "Things That Go Boom in the Night" and "Cowboys in Africa."

Garland Jeffreys sang "Wild in the Streets," then dedicated his cover of the Velvet Underground's "I’m Waiting for My Man" to his college classmate, the late Lou Reed, and Reed’s wife, Laurie Anderson.

Ira Kaplan covered the Beatles' "If You've Got Trouble" and Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything."

Willie Nile performed his "Vagabond Moon" and "Heaven Help the Lonely."

Ian Hunter sang his New York anthem "Central Park n' West" and covered Mott the Hoople's "I Wish I Was Your Mother."

"Handsome" Dick Manitoba asked for and received a kiss from Debbie Harry before he and members of his Dictators NYC performed "Stay with Me" and a cover of MC5’s "Kick Out the Jams."

Vernon Reid and the nine-piece Burnt Sugar performed tributes to Prince ("When Doves Cry", "Controversy") and David Bowie ("Rebel Rebel", "Let’s Dance").

Richard Hell sang three songs from his Voidoid days, "The Kid with the Replaceable Head", "Time" and "Blank Generation."

Ivan Julian came on stage at the end of the night to thank everyone.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sevendust at the PlayStation Theater

Lajon Witherspoon
Bassist Vince Hornsby joined drummer Morgan Rose in 1994 in a band called Snake Nation in Atlanta, Georgia. John Connolly, then a drummer in another band, switched to guitar and joined Snake Nation. The trio recorded a demo, but upon playback realized they needed a stronger vocalist. Snake Nation spent a year searching for a new singer before finding Lajon Witherspoon. Six months later, guitarist Clint Lowery joined the band, and they renamed themselves Rumblefish, then Crawlspace, but discovered both times that these names were taken by other bands. The band members then renamed themselves Sevendust, inspired by the insecticide Sevin Dust. Sevendust earned three consecutive RIAA gold certified albums and sold millions of albums worldwide. The band's 10th album, Kill the Flaw, was released on October 2, 2015.

At the PlayStation Theater tonight, Sevendust began its opening song, "Not Today," from behind a white curtain, with the audience seeing the silhouettes of the musicians through green back-lighting until the screen dropped halfway through the song. Witherspoon sang in rough voice, as the musicians played hard melodic riffs. The 13-song, 70-minute set ranged from nu metal rapcore crunchers like "Face to Face" to softer, slower songs like "Angel's Son," which Witherspoon dedicated to the late Prince. Witherspoon introduced "Denial" by saying it would be the acoustic version; actually, the song was performed softly but not acoustically. Immediately after, the musicians cranked up the energy. Overall, Sevendust impressed in how it highlighted its strong song structures first and the appropriate accompaniment second rather than the reverse. Despite Sevendust's faithfulness to these merits, the band's liability is that its 1990s alt-metal no longer sounds as fresh as it did two decades ago.

Visit Sevendust at www.sevendust.com.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Darkness at Irving Plaza

Justin Hawkins
Vocalist Justin Hawkins was born in Chertsey, England, and studied music technology at college, wrote advert jingles, and fronted a heavy metal band called the Commander before forming the Darkness with his guitarist brother Dan Hawkins in 1999 in Lowestoft, England. The Darkness' debut album in 2003 won three Brit awards and sold over three million copies. Two years later, Justin completed drug and alcohol recovery and then quit the band in 2006. As a result, the remaining members formed Stone Gods in 2007, and Justin Hawkins in 2008 started another band, Hot Leg. In 2011, the four original band members of the Darkness reunited. The band presently consists of the Hawkins brothers, original bassist Frankie Poullain and new drummer Rufus Taylor, son of Queen's Roger Taylor. The Darkness' fourth album, Last of Our Kind, was released on June 2, 2015.

At Irving Plaza tonight, the Darkness dressed like a 1970s tribute band and sounded much like a glam rock band from that era. The concert would have seemed like a Steel Panther parody except that the songs and the musicianship successfully recreated the best elements of that time for a fresh and lively rock and roll show. Unlike most bands who feature their most album prominently in concert, the Darkness instead played most of its landmark debut album, Permission to Land, plus just two or three songs from the other three albums. The 16-song, 75-minute set was chock full of strong riffs, anthemic choruses and Justin Hawkins' unique high voice. More than the music, however, Hawkins was entertaining in an over-the-top way. Between songs, his humor was always in "on" mode, and he colored his performance with leaps from the drum riser, splits, stage diving and crowd surfing. The music was rocking but the showmanship was even more entertaining.

Visit the Darkness at www.thedarkness.co.uk.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Willie Nile at City Winery

Robert Noonan was raised in a musical family in Buffalo, New York. His grandfather was a vaudeville pianist who played with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Eddie Cantor, and his uncles played boogie-woogie. The youth began playing piano at age eight and took classical music lessons until he was a teenager, when he taught himself his first rock and roll song. After college, he reinvented himself as Willie Nile, moved to New York City and began playing the folk circuit in Greenwich Village while also catching the burgeoning punk rock scene across town. His own music then captured the best elements of both worlds, and the folk-rocking storyteller was touted by Bruce Springsteen, the Who's Pete Townshend and many other artists. It seemed like Nile would become the "next big thing," but that never happened. Some 40 years later, Nile released his 10th studio album, World War Willie, on April 1, 2016.

Willie Nile launched his music career as a folk singer, but he was very much a rocker at City Winery tonight. Nile sang stories and strummed an electric guitar or sometimes just wielded a microphone while the three-piece band behind him played a driving wall of sound. The set featured six new songs, a smattering of somewhat older songs (the oldest being 1991's "Heaven Help the Lonely"), and covers of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," and David Bowie's "Heroes," concluding the encores with the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." Towards the end of the set, Nile invited onstage several local musicians, including James Maddock and Patricia Vonne. What united the set was a sense of integrity and maturity that pervaded every performance; the 67-year-old singer-songwriter was equal parts music fan and musician, and so he approached every song with reverence. What was missing, however, was the more nuanced, reflective songs of his earlier days. Perhaps the set would have been just a bit better if Nile had performed a few solo acoustic songs mid-set.

Visit Willie Nile at www.willienile.com.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Bob Mould at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Born near Canada in Malone, New York, Bob Mould moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for college. There in 1979, he formed Hüsker Dü, a highly-regarded punk rock trio that fared only modest commercial success. Hüsker Dü split in 1988, but the band later was cited often as a key influence on 1990s alternative rock, including Nirvana and the Pixies. After Hüsker Dü, Mould sequestered himself in a remote farmhouse in Pine City, Minnesota, having quit drugs and alcohol, and began writing the songs that would generate his solo albums. From 1992 to 1995, Mould led a pop trio, Sugar, with whom he recorded two albums. Mould returned to solo albums in 1996, including an electronics-dominated dance album under the pseudonym LoudBomb (an anagram of his name) while living in New York City. His 13th solo album, Patch the Sky, was released on March 25, 2016.

Mould began his set tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom with two Sugar songs, "A Good Idea" and "Changes" and ended with five Hüsker Dü songs. Although the set represented some 35 years of his music, it leaned on newer compositions. The performance was not a historical picture book, however, as the songs were reinterpreted to reflect his current wavelength. The songs were played as fast, energetic power pop tunes augmented by a jagged guitar edge, with hardly a breath between numbers. Mould barely spoke to or looked at the audience; in the spare seconds between songs, he turned to his guitar or musicians. Any breaks would have diminished the intensity of the performance. To start the encores, drummer Jon Wurster approached the microphone stand to sing lead on a cover of the Ramones’ "Beat on the Brat" while opening act Ted Leo played the drums. The set ended with a cover of the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Love Is All Around," which Hüsker Dü covered in 1985, followed by the other side of that single, "Makes No Sense at All." Only after the musicians walked off the stage were audience members allowed to catch their breath.

Visit Bob Mould at www.bobmould.com.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Halestorm at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Halestorm started as a family band in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. Siblings Arejay Hale and Elizabeth "Lzzy" Hale took piano lessons at the age of five and began writing and performing original music in 1997 when they were 10 and 13 years old, respectively. Lzzy later progressed to a keytar and began guitar lessons at age 16, Arejay learned to play drums, and their father, Roger Hale, played bass. The teenagers released a debut EP in 1999. Lead guitarist Joe Hottinger joined in 2003 and  Josh Smith replaced dad on bass in 2004. With "Love Bites (So Do I)," Halestorm won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 2013, the first female-fronted band to win in that category. Halestorm's third full studio album, Into the Wild Life, was released on April 10, 2015.

Headlining a bill with Lita Ford and Dorothy at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, the concert was all about rocking women. During Ford's set, Lzzy Hale and Dorothy Martin came on stage for a cover of the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb," and frequently throughout the night Hale exalted Ford as a pioneer woman rocker with the Runaways. Halestorm later began its set with Lzzy solo on electric piano tenderly singing "God Bless the Beast." The band came on and the rocking started with "Mz. Hyde." The set drew heavily from the band's two most recent albums, adding a shortened cover of Nazareth's "Love Hurts" and Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" with Martin returning to the stage. During an extended drum solo, Arejay Hale was joined by Ford’s drummer, Bobby Rock, and Dorothy's drummer Zac Morris. Halestorm fared well over all, playing an updated form of classic rock highlighting Lzzy's bluesy vocals and all-around rocking support from the band.

Visit Halestorm at www.halestormrocks.com.