Monday, December 3, 2018

John Prine at the Beacon Theatre

Nathaniel Rateliff & John Prine
Born and raised in Maywood, Illinois, John Prine learned to play the guitar at age 14. After serving as a soldier in West Germany during the late 1960s Vietnam War era, he relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where he worked as a mailman. He attended open mic evenings, reluctant to perform, but eventually did so in response to a "You think you can do better?" dare made to him by a performer. Prine became a central figure in the Chicago folk revival until Kris Kristofferson discovered and promoted him nationally. Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and dozens of songwriters revered Prine's craft, but Prine never became a household name. Prine released his first new album of original material in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness, on April 13, 2018; debuting at number 5 on the Billboard 200 chart, it became Prine's highest-charting album ever. Prine currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, but also has residences in Gulfport, Florida, and Galway, Ireland.

John Prine tonight headlined WVUV's 15th annual Holiday Cheer concert at the Beacon Theatre, a show that also featured performances by the Lone Bellow and Shannon Shaw. Seemingly enjoying a career renaissance, Prine appeared with a full band, something he rarely did in the past, and performed a 17-song set that highlighted songs from his first album, his most recent album, and several collections in between. Prine is a two-time cancer survivor, overcoming squamous cell cancer on his neck in 1998 and lung cancer in 2013, yet he appeared hearty and robust, even unstrapping his acoustic guitar and dancing to the band's music towards the end of the performance. Otherwise, however, the concert was low key and delicate in its simplicity, commanding attentive listening to comprehend the genius in his lyrics. For the finale, Prine and his band were joined on stage by Nathaniel Rateliff, the Lone Bellow, Shannon Shaw and WFUV on-air staff.

Visit John Prine at www.johnprine.com.

Setlist:
  1. Picture Show
  2. Six O'Clock News
  3. Knockin' on Your Screen Door
  4. Bruised Orange
  5. Your Flag Decal Won't Get You into Heaven Anymore
  6. Caravan of Fools
  7. Crooked Piece of Time
  8. Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska 1967 (Crazy Bone)
  9. Grandpa Was a Carpenter
  10. Hello in There
  11. Summer's End
  12. I Have Met My Love Today
  13. Ain't Hurtin' Nobody
  14. Angel from Montgomery
  15. Lake Marie
Encore:
  1. When I Get to Heaven
  2. Paradise (with Nathaniel Rateliff, the Lone Bellow, Shannon Shaw and WFUV on-air staff)

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds at Irving Plaza

Arleigh Kincheloe
Arleigh Kincheloe grew up in a musical family in New York's Catskill Mountains. At age nine, she enjoyed singing publicly with her dad's big band, singing Nanci Griffith's "Love at the Five & Dime," Bruce Springsteen's “Fire,” Aretha Franklin's “Respect,” and other cover songs. By age 18, she had her heart broken and started writing songs on piano with her brother, Jackson Kincheloe, who played several instruments but eventually committed to the harmonica. A couple of years later, in 2008, the two siblings moved to Brooklyn, New York, and formed a hard soul and funk collective, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds. The band recorded and toured regularly but took a break in 2017 for Arleigh Kincheloe to birth a baby. The band quickly resumed its momentum, releasing its fourth studio album, Gold, on October 12, 2018. Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds presently consists of the two Kincheloes plus guitarist Sasha Brown, bassist Josh Myers, drummer Dan Boyden, saxophonist Brian Graham, and trumpeter Phil Rodriguez.

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds refined its groove in 2009 with a five-month weekly residency at the Rockwood Music Hall. Now almost a decade later at Irving Plaza, the powerhouse band continued to stir a lively blend of soul, funk, blues, jazz, country, and rock and roll, powered by soaring, gutsy vocals and fiery instrumental solos and jam. The set was inspired by 1960s soul revues, where passionate singing was punctuated by funky guitar riffs and bold brass lines. Arleigh Kincheloe remained the anchor and centerpiece for each song, as she easily moved from singing smooth verses to belting out choruses. As usual, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds' big sound provided the audience with a catalyst for an even bigger party spirit.

Visit Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds at www.sistersparrow.com.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Greta Van Fleet at Terminal 5

Joshua Kiszka
Barely a few years ago, vocalist Joshua Kiszka starred in high school plays in his home town of Frankenmuth, Michigan; he aimed to be a film maker. His twin brother, Jake Kiszka, was learning to play classic rock guitar, and their younger brother Sam Kiszka was learning bass. It was only natural that they should form a band. They formed Greta Van Fleet as teenagers in 2012; Danny Wagner joined the band in 2013 after the original drummer left. Greta Van Fleet's flashy hard rock performances quickly spread beyond their home town. In 2014, Greta Van Fleet released a one-take live EP, now a rarity. Two more EPS were released in 2017, and the band's debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, was released on October 19, 2018.

Only 16 months since Greta Van Fleet first came to New York City and played the small basement at Esther & Carole's, the blues-rocking quartet headlined three nights at the cavernous Terminal 5. The band's success has been rapid and well-earned. It is not so much that the band's music has changed, but that the music is reaching and being embraced by a wider audience. Even in its early days, the band showed that it had studied Led Zeppelin very carefully. Now Greta Van Fleet has won over the older, nostalgic Zep fans who have not seen Zep in decades, plus a younger audience that never had a Zep in their lifetime. On stage tonight, none of the musicians in Greta Van Fleet had the insurmountable abilities of their corresponding predecessors, but the four young musicians made a very similar sound come alive. The new band performed classic rock-styled songs more credibly than many of its elders. The songs rocked, the musicians entertained as skilled and flamboyant performers, and for all the mirroring of classic rock, the band sounded as genuine as a first generation hard rock band. The band's ascent is still at the foot of the mountain; expect Greta Van Fleet to headline Madison Square Garden very soon.

Visit Greta Van Fleet at www.gretavanfleet.com.

Setlist:
  1. Brave New World (snippet)
  2. Highway Tune
  3. Edge of Darkness
  4. Flower Power
  5. You're the One
  6. Evil (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
  7. Black Flag Exposition
  8. Watching Over
  9. When the Curtain Falls
Encore:
  1. Black Smoke Rising
  2. Safari Song

Saturday, November 24, 2018

VNV Nation at Irving Plaza

Ronan Harris
Born in Dublin, Ireland, a young Ronan Harris loved electronic and classical music, and started playing a synthesizer when he was 13 years old. At age 21, he had his first sampler and dove deeper into experimental music. In 1988, he relocated to London, England, where he worked as an IT manager and moonlighted as a journalist and webmaster for an industrial-electro music website. By 1990, he had a vision for an alternative electronic project that would become VNV Nation, for which he would be singer, songwriter and producer. The "VNV" in the name stands for "Victory Not Vengeance," in keeping with the group's motto, "One should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret." In 1990, he relocated to Toronto, Canada, then in 1994 moved back to Europe; he presently lives in Hamburg, Germany. Since 1995, VNV Nation has released 10 studio albums; the most recent, Noire, was released on October 12, 2018.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Ronan Harris was joined by two keyboardists, David Gerlach and Michael Wimer, and a percussionist, Chris Roberts. Harris sang and worked the audience, with his musicians, lined across the back of the stage, providing a throbbing wall of sound. Harris' approach to electropop and synthpop was a clever amalgam of industrial, gothic, and darkwave influences. The set pivoted electronic dance beats on haunting new-romantic-styled melodies, propelled by dynamic post-classical and trance arrangements. Harris crooned often, but also shouted, creating high drama by quickly spinning from melancholy to anger. Harris' passionate singing gave a tremendous amount of emotional warmth to an otherwise cold, mechanical framework. When the pulsing music grew subtle, Harris' delivery became even more intensely climactic. As such, VNV Nation live took electronic body music beyond the dance floor to a thrilling cutting edge.

Visit VNV Nation at www.vnvnation.com.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre

Hot Tuna, with Steve Kimock (left)
Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady discovered guitar and a love of the blues, country, and jazz as teenagers in Washington, D.C. Kaukonen left for college in Ohio and there learned the elaborate Piedmont fingerstyle guitar picking. Casady, meanwhile, stayed in D.C. and continued his study of guitar and then bass, often playing with local club bands. After college, Kaukonen took a work-study program in New York City, where he joined the burgeoning folk, blues, and bluegrass scene. He then traveled a bit and landed in California. In the mid-1960s Kaukonen was invited to play in a rock band that was forming in San Francisco; though roots music was his passion, Kaukonen joined what was to become Jefferson Airplane, and invited Casady to play bass in the band. Jefferson Airplane became a leader in the new psychedelic rock scene. In 1969, while Jefferson Airplane was on hiatus, Kaukonen and Casady formed a side project called Hot Tuna to play Airplane songs, roots music and original songs. From a commercial standpoint, Hot Tuna failed to rival or eclipse Jefferson Airplane and its successor, Jefferson Starship, but nevertheless outlasted those bands, both of which are now defunct.

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre is an annual pre-Thanksgiving given, as year after year the band performs pretty much the same set to the same audience. With no new album to promote, the band relied on older originals and covers of vintage folk blues tunes, along with a smattering of Airplane songs. Backed by drummer Justin Guip, the trio dazzles because Kaukonen may be the foremost remaining guitarist of the Piedmont style. Without being flashy, Kaukonen tastefully used alternate bass thumb techniques, along with runs, bends, double-stops, bass walk-ups, turnarounds, blues licks, and ornamental notes. Casady, meanwhile, floated his right hand in a relaxed position, often striking the strings close to or over the end of the fret board, sometimes plucking with two or three fingers for thicker tones. Kaukonen's deep, bluesy vocals gave the songs an anchor, but once the musicians jammed, a symbiotic chemistry between the three musicians made the performance far more than lyrics and music. Guitarist Steve Kimock joined the band for several solos and added a new twist to the familiar songs. Hot Tuna's roots music is out of fashion these days, but the band's dedicated fans always will be ready for yet another Hot Tuna concert.

Visit Hot Tuna at www.Hottuna.com.

Setlist
Set 1:
  1. True Religion
  2. I See the Light
  3. Ode for Billy Dean
  4. I'm Talking About You (Chuck Berry cover)
  5. Living Just for You
  6. Wolves and Lambs (Jorma Kaukonen song)
  7. Sea Child
  8. Hesitation Blues ([traditional] cover)
  9. Bowlegged Woman, Knock Kneed Man (Bobby Rush cover)
Set 2:
  1. Been So Long (Jorma Kaukonen song)
  2. Roads and Roads & (Jorma Kaukonen song)
  3. Trial by Fire (Jefferson Airplane song)
  4. Watch the North Wind Rise
  5. Sleep Song
  6. Good Shepherd (Jefferson Airplane song)
  7. Walkin' Blues (Son House cover)
  8. Hit Single #1
  9. Keep on Truckin' (Bob Carleton cover)
  10. Funky #7
Encore:
  1. Water Song

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The John Butler Trio + at the Beacon Theatre

John Butler
John Wiltshire-Butler, professionally known as John Butler, was born in Torrance, California, to an Australian father and an American mother. In 1986, after his parents divorced, Butler's father moved the family to Western Australia, where the family eventually settled in a small country town called Pinjarra. At age 16, Butler's grandmother gave him a 1930s dobro belonging to his deceased grandfather, and Butler learned to play music. After high school, Butler travelled to Encintas, California, where he began his music career in a band called Vitamin. Returning to Australia two years later, Butler became a busker, playing his compositions on the streets of Fremantle. There in 1998, he formed the John Butler Trio, a roots and jam band. The John Butler Trio has recorded seven studio albums, including three that reached number one on the Australian charts; his most recent album, Home, was released on September 28, 2018. The John Butler Trio presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Butler, bassist/keyboardist Byron Luiters, and drummer Grant Gerathy.

The John Butler Trio is not nearly as well known in the United States as it is in Australia, yet the band tonight was able to headline the Beacon Theatre, its largest venue in New York so far. (Butler told the audience that the only other time he had played the venue was 15 years ago, opening for moe.) On this tour, the band is being billed as the John Butler Trio +, with the plus being percussionist/vocalist Lozz Benson and percussionist/vocalist/synthesizer player Michael Hardy. Butler seemed to be the equivalent of many musicians, however, switching throughout the set between a custom-made 11-string guitar, several six-string guitars, a pedal steel, a lap-top, a banjo and a harmonica. Even with the use of electronic effects, the band kept the music sounding earthy, although defining its genre of music would be challenging and unfairly limiting. Was it folk, rock, blues, funk, classical -- or something somewhere in the midst of it all? Many songs featured Butler employing fingerpicking techniques, others with him utilizing a slide, and it was all accomplished with mastery. Almost half of the set consisted of songs from the band's most recent album, but the band also performed at least one song from each album as well, giving the audience a taste of the band's 20-year career. Seamlessly, it all sounded like roots music, although perhaps not always American roots. The John Butler Trio likely will find a growing audience among those music fans who enjoy a dynamic acoustic-driven percussive rock sound.

Visit the John Butler Trio at www.johnbutlertrio.com.

Setlist:
  1. Wade in the Water
  2. Better Than
  3. Tahitian Blue
  4. Betterman
  5. Just Call
  6. Running Away
  7. I'd Do Anything (Soldier's Lament)
  8. Faith
  9. Blame It On Me
  10. Pickapart
  11. Ocean
  12. Home
  13. Tell Me Why
  14. We Want More
Encore:
  1. Funky Tonight
  2. Zebra

Friday, November 16, 2018

Hey Guy at Mercury Lounge

Boris Pelekh
Boris Pelekh was born in Russia and moved to New York City in 1991, at age nine. He played classical guitar as a child, rocked on electric guitar in his early teens, and studied jazz and composition in his late teens. In 2008, Pelekh conceived of a rocking musical project he called Hey Guy with himself as vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, and then drew a changing cast of musicians to help him bring it to life. He also worked with the Nickelodeon duo Nat and Alex Wolff from 2008 to 2011, and toured in American Idiot: The Musical from 2012 to 2013, but Pelekh is best known for playing guitar in gypsy-rock band Gogol Bordello since 2015. Hey Guy continues to be Pelekh's side project, however; in 2011, Hey Guy released a self-titled album, in 2015 a four-song EP, hey guy III, and most recently a single entitled "Reason" on May 15, 2018. The band presently consists of Pelekh, guitarist Jason Binnick, bassist Gill Alexandre, and drummer Oskar Häggdahl.

At Mercury Lounge tonight, Hey Guy demonstrated how a band simultaneously could throw a party, rock hard and maintain a sense of humor. Pelekh sang alt-pop melodies, often cleverly off-kilter, backed by progressive arrangements and in-your-face intensity. The songs were complex compositions, intricately crafted and executed, but nevertheless retained a consistently high-energy excitement. This sonic approach was more alternative than most alternative rock, and injected with Pelekh's party-activating antics, made for an evening of intelligent and fun music.

Visit Hey Guy at www.heyguy.com.

The Doobie Brothers at the Beacon Theatre

Vocalist/guitarist Tom Johnston was born in Visalia, California, and attended college in San Jose, California. There he founded a power trio called Pud in 1970. Vocalist/guitarist Patrick Simmons, who had performed locally as a solo artist and in an acoustic trio called Scratch, joined Pud later that year. Simmons' fingerstyle guitar approach complemented Johnston's rhythmic rhythm and blues strumming. After several personnel changes, the band became the Doobie Brothers. Johnston left the group in 1975 due to precarious health conditions, and was replaced by Michael McDonald, whose interest in soul music changed the band's sound until it broke up in 1982. The Doobie Brothers reformed in 1987 with Johnston returning to the band, with occasional contributions from McDonald. The Doobie Brothers sold more than 40 million albums worldwide, with its greatest success in the 1970s. The band is led presently by Johnston, Simmons and guitar/pedal steel/banjo/fiddle player John McFee, who first joined the band in 1979. The Doobie Brothers' 14th and most recent studio album is 2014's Southbound.

The Doobie Brothers headlined two nights at the Beacon Theatre, accompanied by keyboardist Bill Payne, bassist John Cowan, drummer Ed Toth, percussionist Marc Quiñones, and a trio of horn players. The ensemble performed the Doobie Brothers' second and third albums, 1972's Toulouse Street and 1073's The Captain and Me albums in their entirety for the first time, plus a couple of select hits for the encore. For the band, this meant performing songs that reportedly were never before performed live, and that the entire set would predate the Michael McDonald era that began in 1975. For the audience, this meant not seeing the band purely as a hit machine, but experiencing a broader perspective that exposed the band's early history through deep cuts. Foregoing the band's later blue-eyed soul and adult contemporary material, the sets alternated mainstream arena rock and roll with songs that leaned on folk, country, blues and boogie. Johnston sang most of the songs well, the many musicians showcased their exceptional talents, and the old songs came alive with jams steeped in American musical roots. Not every song turned out to be memorable, but as a whole, the concert showed the Doobie Brothers to be an exceptionally dynamic rock and roll band.

Visit the Doobie Brothers at www.thedoobiebrothers.com.

Setlist
Set 1: Toulouse Street
  1. Listen to the Music
  2. Rockin' Down the Highway
  3. Mamaloi
  4. Toulouse Street
  5. Cotton Mouth (Seals & Crofts cover)
  6. Don't Start Me Talkin' (Sonny Boy Williamson cover)
  7. Jesus Is Just Alright (The Art Reynolds Singers cover)
  8. White Sun
  9. Disciple
  10. Snake Man
Set 2: The Captain and Me
  1. Natural Thing
  2. Long Train Runnin'
  3. China Grove
  4. Dark Eyed Cajun Woman
  5. Clear as the Driven Snow
  6. Without You
  7. South City Midnight Lady
  8. Evil Woman
  9. Busted Down Around O'Connelly Corners
  10. Ukiah
  11. The Captain and Me
Encore:
  1. Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) (Kim Weston cover)
  2. Black Water
  3. Listen to the Music (reprise, with full horn section)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Richard Lloyd at the Bowery Electric

Richard Lloyd was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was raised in New York City. Inspired by watching the Beatles perform on television's The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Lloyd began playing the drums and later learned to play guitar from a friend who was a protégé of Jimi Hendrix. In 1969, Lloyd's parents moved to Montclair, New Jersey, and he moved with them, but then relocated for two years to Boston, Massachusetts, where he played his first public performance, sitting in with John Lee Hooker. In 1971, Lloyd hung around the music scene in Los Angeles, California, but returned to New York City in 1973 to join what was becoming the first wave of punk rock. He heard Tom Miller (who became Tom Verlaine) playing guitar at an audition night, and in 1974 the two formed Television, a band that helped launch the soon to be legendary rock club CBGB's. Finding success elusive in the United States, Television disbanded in 1978, and Verlaine and Lloyd launched solo careers. Now based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Lloyd released his eighth solo album, The Countdown, on November 2, 2018, the same day that his 2017 memoir, Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll, was released as a paperback.

Richard Lloyd has played the Bowery Electric several times in the past, but this was an album release show for The Countdown, so the set list was radically different from previous performances. Lloyd, singing and playing lead guitar, backed by guitarist Bob Hatter, bassist Dave Roe, and drummer Steve Ebe, performed all 10 tracks from the new album, slicing the set in half with Television's "Marquee Moon." Forty years beyond the demise of Television, Lloyd's set was designed to spotlight the present rather than dwell in the past. As he has done in recent years, Lloyd handled most of the lead guitar work himself, foregoing Television's trademark guitar pairings, instead showcasing his technical guitar proficiency amidst a fusion of garage rock and power pop hooks. Lloyd's intricate yet fluid guitar licks demonstrated how he remains a student of his instrument, constantly learning clever ways to match tones and timbers. Overall, Lloyd's new music was a not-too-distant cousin of the music of Television, sometimes raucous or chaotic, sometimes more psychedelic or atonal, but always powered by strong guitar lines. Lloyd's vocals faltered, but the experimental prowess of his extended jams made for an impressive performance.

Visit Richard Lloyd at www.richardlloyd.com.

Setlist:
  1. Wind in the Rain
  2. Smoke
  3. So Sad
  4. Run
  5. Whisper
  6. Marquee Moon (Television song)
  7. I Can Tell
  8. Just My Heart
  9. Something Remains
  10. Down the Drain
  11. Countdown

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Boz Scaggs at the Town Hall

Doyle Bramhall II & Boz Scaggs
William Scaggs, better known by his professional name, Boz Scaggs, was born in Canton, Ohio, but was raised first in McAlester, Oklahoma, and then in Plano, Texas. Immersing himself in the blues, rhythm and blues, and early rock and roll, he learned to play guitar at age 12, and in 1959 he became the vocalist for Steve Miller's band, the Marksmen. The pair later attended university together in Madison, Wisconsin, and played in local blues bands like the Ardells and the Fabulous Knight Trains. After university, Scaggs traveled through Europe, the Middle East and Asia, briefly joining the burgeoning rhythm and blues scene in London, England, and eventually settling in Stockholm, Sweden, where he recorded his debut solo album. Returning to the U.S. in 1967, Scaggs joined the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco, California. Scaggs appeared on the band's first two albums, then left in 1968 to restart his solo career. His career peaked with 1976's multi-million-selling Silk Degrees. Scaggs' 19th solo album, Out of the Blues, was released on July 27, 2018. He has remained in Napa County, California, despite losing his home in the 2017 wildfires.

Backed by a band of six musicians, plus a couple of guest spots by guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, Scaggs performed his signature blend of soft rock soaked in mellow rhythm and blues, but he and the band also melded extended blues and jazz jams into the mix. Indeed, Scaggs' three most recent albums were steeped in the blues, and the two albums before that were jazz ventures, so outside of the obligatory hits, much of Scaggs' set spun a deeper, richer exploration of America's musical heritage. Scaggs' smooth, distinct vocals rang familiar as they carried the mild melodies, while Scaggs, Bramhall and Mike Miller traded guitar licks and the rest of the band provided rhythm and flow, punctuated by several keyboard and saxophone fills. Scaggs, now in his fifth decade of performing music live, provided a classy and musically rich set that was far more than a series of recreated hits.

Visit Boz Scaggs at www.bozscaggs.com.

Setlist:
  1. Jojo
  2. It’s Over
  3. Rock and Stick
  4. I’ve Just Got to Know
  5. The Feeling Is Gone (Bobby "Blue" Bland cover)
  6. Radiator 110
  7. Harbor Lights
  8. Look What You’ve Done to Me
  9. Lowdown
  10. Lido Shuffle
  11. Loan Me a Dime
Encore:
  1. Sick and Tired of Fooling Around with You
  2. You Can Never Tell