Monday, February 13, 2017

Gang of Youths at the Mercury Lounge

David Le'aupepe
Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist David Le'aupepe and his sister grew up as cultural outsiders in Sydney, Australia. He and his sister were mixed race (their father is Samoan, their mother is Caucasian), and the family belonged to a Messianic Jewish congregation (a fringe community of both Jews who subscribe to evangelical Christianity and Christians who adopt Jesus' Jewish identity). He bonded and banded with other church youth in 2012 to form a rock band, Gang of Youths, with musicians who shared his outsider identity in Australia: guitarist Joji Malani is a black man from Fiji; keyboardist Jung Kim is an Asian from Chicago, Illinois; bassist Maxwell Dunn is a white man from New Zealand; drummer Donnie Borzestowski of Polish descent is a newer addition. Gang of Youths in 2015 released its sole album to date, The Positions, which gained the band several awards nominations and sold-out tours in Australia. The band's most recent recording is the Let Me Be Clear EP, released on July 29, 2016.

On the first of two consecutive Monday night gigs at the Mercury Lounge, Gang of Youths may have found the stage too small. Throughout the show, Le'aupepe hastily paced back and forth across the stage but could only take a handful of steps before having to turn around and start again. For several songs, the audience was challenged to fix a gaze on him due to his unstoppable movement. Fortunately, he was able to push this energy through his music. Le'aupepe was a dynamic vocalist, singing muscularly a collection of soulful, melodic songs written from a place of pain, delivered with a mysterious Jim Morrison-like stage mystique. The band amplified Le'aupepe's crooning and hollering with intriguing arrangements that cleverly cascaded from sparse to wall-of-sound. Although the ultimate product was a series of radio-friendly rockers, the songs were rooted in an intense, bare-naked integrity that made the songs far more vital than typical pop fare. Given the opportunity to reach a wider audience, Gang of Youths may prove to become a fast-rising sensation.

Gang of Youth will perform at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on February 27. Visit Gang of Youths at www.gangofyouths.com.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Drive-By Truckers at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Patterson Hood & Mike Cooley
Patterson Hood was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the son of David Hood, the bassist of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Patterson began writing songs at the age of eight, and by the time he was 14 he was playing guitar in a local rock band. John "Mike" Cooley is from Tuscumbia, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals, and received his first guitar at age eight. While attending college in 1985, Hood and Cooley formed the punk-influenced band Adam's House Cat, then performed as a duo under the name Virgil Kane, and eventually started Horsepussy before splitting for a few years. Hood moved to Athens, Georgia, and began forming what would become Drive-By Truckers in 1996, luring Cooley to relocate and join. Drive-By Truckers has had many musicians come and go, and its sound has alternated between alternative country and southern rock over the course of 11 studio albums. Drive-By Truckers presently consists of Hood and Cooley on vocals and guitars, Jay Gonzalez on keyboards, guitar, and accordion, Matt Patton on bass and Brad "EZB" Morgan on drums. The band's most recent album, the politically-charged American Band, was released on September 30, 2016. Hood is presently based in Portland, Oregon, while Cooley remains Alabama-based.

In a city that has hosted consciousness-raising demonstrations of political dissent over the past three months, Drive-By Truckers' performance tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom offered additional fuel for the fire. For many in the audience, the concert might have been simply a concert of hip-swaying, southern-inspired rock, but for those who listened more closely, the concert was a canvas of social commentary. Opening with the rallying cries of "Surrender under Protest" and "Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn," both songs inspired by the 2015 campaign to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse after the racist shooting massacre inside a Charleston church. Other songs denounced gun violence, including controversial police shootings, and other contemporary issues. The social justice message rang through to the band's closing song, a cover of Neil Young's "Rocking in the Free World." The performance was filled with angry vocals, raging guitar work and livid passion leaking into everything, with Hood repeatedly kneeling at the edge of the stage as if to appeal to the audience for bonding. The current political climate has manifested in many expressive musicians performing better than ever, and Drive-By Truckers has now joined this pack. Hood and Cooley may be southern men, but they stood defiantly against their redneck culture via outspoken rock and roll expression.

Visit Drive-By Truckers at www.drivebytruckers.com.

Setlist:
  1. Surrender Under Protest
  2. Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn
  3. Women Without Whiskey
  4. Filthy and Fried
  5. The Living Bubba
  6. Where the Devil Don't Stay
  7. Lookout Mountain
  8. Ever South
  9. Gravity's Gone
  10. Sinkhole
  11. Uncle Frank
  12. Kinky Hypocrite
  13. Guns of Umpqua
  14. Once They Banned Imagine
  15. The Company I Keep
  16. What It Means
  17. Ramon Casiano
  18. Let There Be Rock
  19. Zip City
  20. Shut Up and Get on the Plane
  21. Hell No, I Ain't Happy (with snippet of Prince's Sign “” the Times in the middle)
  22. Rockin' in the Free World (Neil Young cover)

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Wood Brothers at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

As children in Boulder, Colorado, Oliver Wood and Chris Wood often sang along as their father played traditional folk, blues, country and bluegrass songs on his acoustic guitar. Approaching adulthood, Oliver moved to Atlanta, where he played guitar in rhythm & blues cover bands before joining Tinsley Ellis' blues band for two years; Oliver later fronted the blues band King Johnson, which recorded five albums. Chris, meanwhile, studied jazz bass, moved to New York City and, in the early 1990s, formed jazz and jam band Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW). After pursuing separate musical careers for some 15 years, Oliver sat in with MMW following King Johnson’s opening set in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Oliver and Chris began recording original roots-sounding songs together as the Wood Brothers in 2005. In 2012, Oliver moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and Chris recently followed. The Wood Brothers is presently a trio with multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. The Wood Brothers' most recent album, Live at the Barn, was release on January 13, 2017.

Later in the night, Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom would host an evening of EDM, house and techno music, but for a short time earlier, the Wood Brothers turned the dance club into a front porch hootenanny. Armed with just a guitar, upright bass and drums, the country and blues band opened with a cover of "Stop That Train," a song popularized by Bob Marley, and then proceeded to perform one song from each of the Wood Brothers' five studio albums. Before long, Rix left his drum kit for the stage line and hand-slapped his shuitar, a modern guitar-shaped percussion instrument. The songs sounded like vintage standards, but they were originals with arrangements inspired by the Americana of long ago. Near the end of the set, the trio gathered around an old-fashioned microphone called Big Mike for quiet interpretations of "Muse" and "Sing about It"; the opening trio, the T Sisters, returned to the stage to harmonize on the latter song. The concert ended with a rousing version of the Band's "Ophelia." In all, the Wood Brothers successfully refined simple blues, folk, and bluegrass roots for a lively barnyard-styled hoedown.

Visit the Wood Brothers at www.thewoodbrothers.com.

Setlist:
  1. Stop That Train (cover) > Two Places
  2. Keep Me Around
  3. Loaded
  4. Smoke Ring Halo
  5. Tried and Tempted
  6. Snake Eyes
  7. (New Song)
  8. American Heartache
  9. Atlas
  10. Blue and Green
  11. One More Day
  12. Muse
  13. Sing about It (with the T Sisters)
  14. Postcards from Hell
  15. Singin’ to Strangers
  16. Honey Jar
Encore
  1. Luckiest Man
  2. Ophelia (The Band cover)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Bush Tetras at the Bowery Electric

Cynthia Sley
Women musicians were scarce in rock music until the punk movement of the late 1970s. New York City's Bush Tetras in 1979 proved that women rockers were not only growing in visibility but also were innovative and groundbreaking. Today, hundreds of bands are copying Bush Tetras' progressive funk noise, even if these bands do not know it. Cynthia Sley's half talking, half scolding vocals, Pat Place's searing, hypnotic guitar resonance, Laura Kennedy's sturdy, funky bass grooves and Dee Pop's pounding, thumping percussion together combined for a sound like no other band. Bush Tetras failed to grow out of the punk rock circuit and into the mainstream, however, and ultimately the band split in 1983. Bush Tetras reformed from 1995 to 1998, and then reformed again in 2005. Kennedy died in 2011; the band's current bassist is Val Opielski. Bush Tetras' third and most recent album, Happy, was recorded in 1998 and became available in 2012.

Bush Tetras celebrated its 37th anniversary as a live band tonight at the Bowery Electric. Although the group is headlining the same kind of clubs it did decades ago, tonight's performance proved that the band's music was still as electrifying and invigorating as it was nearly four decades ago. Pop caught the beat, Opielski gave the backbone, Place slid into dissonant, distortion-filled riffs, and Sley snarled bold, deadpan vocals. Together, they released a primal, intense energy alongside an integral rock and funk swagger. The results were chilling. One can only speculate how the Bush Tetras' music would have grown if the band had remained together into the alt-rock 1990s.

Bush Tetras returns to the New York stage at the Delancey on April 27.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Plimsouls Re-Souled at the Bowery Electric

Eddie Munoz
After the power pop band the Nerves broke up in 1978, vocalist/guitarist Peter Case formed a rock trio called the Tone Dogs, which quickly became the Plimsouls, in Paramount, California. Guitarist Eddie Muñoz, originally from Austin, Texas, joined the Plimsouls shortly thereafter. The Plimsouls achieved national attention in 1983 when "A Million Miles Away" from the soundtrack of the film Valley Girl became a minor hit, but then Case left to launch a solo career and the band dissolved. The Plimsouls reunited several times, but never as the original line-up. Recently, Muñoz used the brand to form a new band, the Plimsouls Re-Souled, which plays the music of the Plimsouls. The Plimsouls Re-Souled presently consists of Muñoz, vocalist/guitarist Bryan Malone of the Forty-Fives, bassist Jeff Walls  of the Woggles, and drummer Rick West of Bad Dude. The Plimsouls Re-Souled has not recorded any music.

There is very little chance that Peter Case can be persuaded to reform the original Plimsouls, so the Plimsouls Re-Souled at the Bowery Electric was the closest that 21st century New Yorkers were going to get. The original band did not have a strong New York following, but the retooled band proved that the Plimsouls was an underrated rock and roll band. Although the original band debuted during the punk era, tonight's concert showed that the music hearkened back to a much earlier British Invasion-era garage sound. It was fast, it was raw, and it was gut-driven guitar rock. Malone's coarse and throaty vocals and Muñoz's crisp guitar leads gave the old songs a heightened value. The Plimsouls Re-Souled honored the sturdiness and the timelessness of unhyphenated rock and roll.

Visit the Plimsouls Re-Souled at www.theplimsouls.com.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Lumineers at Madison Square Garden

Wesley Schultz
Guitarist Wesley Schultz's best friend died of a drug overdose in 2002. Engaging in cathartic therapy, Schultz and his friend's brother, drummer Jeremiah Fraites, began playing music together in their home base of Ramsey, New Jersey. By 2005, they performed in New York City clubs under the names Free Beer, 6Cheek, and Wesley Jeremiah. They came upon a final name while in Jersey City, New Jersey, when the concert promoter erroneously announced the band as the Lumineers. Lack of local success, however, swayed Schultz and Fraites in 2010 to relocate to Denver, Colorado. There, they placed a classified ad for a cellist, and the first person to respond was Neyla Pekarek, a classically-trained Denver native who was fresh out of college and was thinking about becoming a teacher. The trio began playing at open mics, as Pekarek helped soften the rough east coast edges of Schultz and Fraites while expanding her skills to mandolin and piano. The band's first single, "Ho Hey," sold over 2 million copies in 2003 and led to a million-selling debut album. The Lumineers' second studio album, Cleopatra, was released on April 8, 2016.

Headlining the first of two consecutive nights at Madison Square Garden tonight, the Lumineers expanded to a quintet, with Stelth Ulvang on piano, accordion, mandolin, guitar, percussion, keyboards and backing vocals, and Byron Isaacs on bass, guitar, and backing vocals. Early in the show, Schultz reminded the audience that he and Fraites grew up only 12 miles away from the venue. "I saw one of my first concerts here, so tonight is a really special night for us," said Schultz. The Lumineers performed 19 songs over approximately an hour and a half, and attempted to bring a down-home ambiance to the arena with simple folk-styled music, a  four-song performance on a small stage in the center of the venue and, during "Ophelia," Schultz walking briskly through the floor audience and into the mezzanine. The beauty of the music was its simplicity, even with musicians frequently changing instruments. Especially when the quintet performed on the mini-stage, the performance was hinged on uncluttered acoustic rock with rustic Americana roots and stomp-and-clap pop arrangements. Schultz performed "Long Way from Home" solo on a hollow body guitar at the apron of the main stage, emphasizing the soulfulness of his front-porch style of songwriting. On many other songs, however, the band drove with rock power. The Lumineers perfectly did everything to make heart-on-the-sleeve music fill a big room.

The Lumineers will open for U2 on June 28-29 at the MetLife Stadium. Until then, visit the Lumineers at www.TheLumineers.com.

Setlist
  1. Submarines
  2. Flowers In Your Hair
  3. Ho Hey
  4. Cleopatra
  5. Gun Song
  6. Dead Sea
  7. Classy Girls
  8. Where the Skies Are Blue
  9. Charlie Boy
  10. Slow It Down
  11. Sleep on the Floor
  12. Angela
  13. Ophelia
  14. Big Parade
  15. In the Light
  16. My Eyes

Encore:
  1. Long Way from Home
  2. Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan cover)
  3. Stubborn Love

Andrew Bird at Madison Square Garden

Violinist Andrew Bird was trained in the Suzuki method from the age of four in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up, he was surrounded by classical music and learned to play many pieces by ear. As a child, he became interested in bluegrass, Irish tunes and English and Scottish folk music and, as a teen, he sought exposure to gypsy music as well as American country blues and pre-war jazz. Swing, calypso, and American folk were later influences. Shortly after graduating from university with a bachelor's degree in violin performance in 1996, Bird joined the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, appearing on three of the band's albums between 1996 and 1998. He then formed Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, recording three albums from 1998 to 2001, while also moonlighting in the jazz group Kevin O'Donnell's Quality Six. Bird launched a solo career by chance in 2002, when his band members were unable to get to a concert. Bird's 10th and most recent solo album, Are You Serious, was released on April 1, 2016. Bird is presently based in Los Angeles, California.

Opening for the Lumineers at Madison Square Garden tonight, Andrew Bird sang, played violin, guitar, and glockenspiel, and whistled melodies through several songs. Accompanied by his band (guitarist Steve Elliot, bassist Alan Hampton, drummer Kevin O’Donnell), Bird's largely acoustic-led set hinted at folk while the changing rhythms suggested classical and jazz, but Bird's music was summarily none of the above. Sounding similar to Sufjan Stevens at times, much of Bird's music was an eclectic collection of soundscapes, much of which sounded like soundtracks for invisible visuals. Seemingly more appropriate for a conservatory rather than a sports arena, the roots elements and the whistling in Bird's set nonetheless captured the attention of the Lumineers fans.

Visit Andrew Bird at www.andrewbird.net.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mondo Cozmo at the Mercury Lounge

Joshua Ostrander began playing music in the group Ty Cobb in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He formed the alt-rock Radiohead-sounding band Laguardia in 2000, also based in Philadelphia, and released an album. His next band, an indie rock trio called Eastern Conference Champions (also known as ECC), toured and recorded from 2005 to 2015, and was the band that relocated him to Los Angeles, California, his present base. Ostrander launched a solo career under the name Mondo Cozmo in 2016, creating his name from the title of John Waters' film Mondo Trasho and his dog's name, Cozmo. "Shine" hit #1 on Billboard's Adult Alternative Songs chart in January 2017, but Mondo Cozmo has not yet released an album.

Backed tonight at the Mercury Lounge by the Philadelphia-based group Illinois, Cozmo performed a half hour of chorus-heavy folk-rock songs. Cozmo sang with the earthiness of an early Bob Dylan, yet sometimes rocked the walls like he was from Asbury Park. Songs built to a crescendo with choruses so repetitive that it would be hard not to know the title of the song by the time he was done. This was particularly emphasized with his last song, a seven-minute version of "Shine," on which he brought out a six-member choir to chant "let ’em get high; let ’em get stoned; everything will be alright if you let it go" for close to five of those seven minutes. The songs were epic in their performance, and promise to gain him a swift following. One can only hope that when he returns he will play more than six songs.

Visit Mondo Cozmo at www.mondocozmo.com.

Setlist
  1. Chemical Dream
  2. Sixes and Sevens
  3. Higher
  4. Plastic Soul
  5. Hold On To Me
  6. Shine

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Greensky Bluegrass at the PlayStation Theater

Michael Arlen Bont (banjo), Dave Bruzza (guitar), and Paul Hoffman (mandolin) began learning to play bluegrass together in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, playing in Bont's basement and also at parties and open mics. Greensky Bluegrass grew into a quintet and by 2005, the band was touring nationally. Greensky Bluegrass won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition in 2006, earning the band a spot on the main stage of the 2007 festival and augmenting the band's notoriety with each passing festival. Greensky Bluegrass presently consists of Bont, Bruzza, Hoffman, Michael Devol on upright bass and Anders Beck on resonator guitar. The band's sixth and most recent album, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted, was released on September 23, 2016.

With each tour, Greensky Bluegrass' New York City audience has doubled in size. Starting at the apartment-sized Sullivan Hall, the group went on to headline Irving Plaza on its previous tour, and tonight headlined the PlayStation Theater, unheard of for a bluegrass band in New York. The performance highlighted why this was possible; Greensky Bluegrass flat-picked like a traditional bluegrass band but performed with the dynamics and the spirit of a rock band. Performing two sets, the band started with a more traditional set of arrangements and ended deep in swirling Grateful Dead-style psychedelia before the night was over. Energetic songs glided into one another often, held together by a common mission to pick strings masterfully to a driving yet drum-less stomp. On this night, the band rendered semi-acoustic versions of Traffic's "Light Up or Leave Me Alone," the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," the Stanley Brothers' "How Mountain Girls Can Love," and J.J. Cale's "After Midnight," all surrounded by original songs and substantial string-band improvisation. This was jam-grass at its finest.

Visit Greensky Bluegrass at www.greenskybluegrass.com.

Setlist
Set One:
  1. Hold On
  2. Jaywalking
  3. Light Up or Leave Me Alone (Traffic cover)
  4. 33443
  5. 200 Miles from Montana
  6. Hit Parade of Love
  7. Better Off
  8. Who Is Fredrico?
  9. A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)> Run or Die
Set Two:
  1. Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen cover) -> Broke Mountain Breakdown > Miss September
  2. How Mountain Girls Can Love > Dustbowl Overtures
  3. Windshield > The Four > Take Cover
  4. Don’t Lie
Encore:

  1. Merely Avoiding > After Midnight (J.J. Cale cover)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Black Clouds at Pianos

Dan Matthews
There is a rock band called the Black Clouds in Seattle, Washington, and there was a band with the same name in Washington D.C.; the latter band is now called We Were Black Clouds. There is a third band named the Black Clouds, this one from Spring Lake, New Jersey, just south of Asbury Park. More influenced by the Seattle era than the Asbury Park sound, this band formed in 2004 and consists of guitarist/vocalist Dan Matthews, guitarist Neil Hayes, bassist Gary Moses and drummer Cory King. The Black Clouds' third album, After All, was released on January 6, 2017.

The Black Clouds set tonight at Pianos recalled the alternative hard rock of the grunge age, but it appeared the band was not completely locked into retro mode. Raw and heavy, with all amplifiers turned to loud settings, Matthew's vocals moved from softer melodic modalities to angst-ridden blasts. Meanwhile the band boomed its fury, embracing primitive punk and metal trajectories with sludgy, distorted guitar lines, deep bass lines and pile-driving drumbeats. Choruses often went in the opposite direction, however, floating with pop harmonies. The Black Clouds consistently hugged their 1990s influences, but were daring enough to inject a few interesting twists.

Visit the Black Clouds at www.theblackclouds.com.