Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Jim Jones Revue at the Bowery Electric

Jim Jones of the Jim Jones Revue
Vocalist/guitarist Jim Jones met guitarist Rupert Orton (the brother of folk singer Beth Orton) at a Not The Same Old Blues Crap club night in London. They enlisted three other musicians and formed the Jim Jones Revue in 2007. The band recorded its self-titled debut blues-punk album in just 48 hours in 2008. The band's third and most recent album, The Savage Heart, was released in October 2012. The Jim Jones Revue presently is composed of Jones, Orton, pianist Henri Herbert, bassist Gavin Jay and drummer Nick Jones.

The Jim Jones Revue began its 2014 United States tour with a New Year's Eve concert at the Bowery Electric. Leave it to the British to show how American rock and roll should be played. The band was on a mission to strip rock and roll back to its core. Imagine if the history of rock and roll consisted of Little Richard and punk rock with nothing in between. The Jim Jones Revue revealed the potential of rock and roll some 50 years after the music was invented. The sound was raw blues-style guitar-and-piano-led rock, but infused with the spirit of Motor City garage rock and the speed and intensity of hardcore punk. Sweat-drenched hair falling in front of his face, Jones' raw blues-influenced singing sounded like he was ripping vocal chords, and he played primitive rhythm riffs like he invented the electric guitar. Herbert powered many of the instrumental breaks with loud and fast boogie-woogie licks. The result was thrilling. The last concert of 2013 might have been the best concert of the year.

Visit the Jim Jones Revue at www.jimjonesrevue.com.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Puma Perl at Otto's Shrunken Head

Guitarist Joff Wilson of the Bowery Boys (left)
and saxophonist Danny Ray (center)
provided improvisational music behind Perl's reading tonight.
Puma Perl is a performance artist, poet and writer. She is the author of two chapbooks, the award-winning Belinda and Her Friends and Ruby True, and one full-length collection, knuckle tattoos. She reads publicly at Otto's Shrunken Head, the Parkside Lounge, the Bowery Electric and other rock clubs.

What is a native Brooklynite with a masters degree in social work doing in a place like Otto's Shrunken Head? You can catch Puma Perl there most Sundays, enjoying the rock bands. Sometimes she climbs onstage to read her poetry, backed with improvisational music by the various musicians that the club attracts. Her poems are often set in the Lower East Side, where she has lived for many years, and liberally provide a unique local perspective. Tonight her reading was like that of someone who has seen it all and done it all, good and bad. Unlike the neighborhood's more popular slam poetry, which is passionate and exuberant, Puma moved in the opposite direction; her narratives shared images of local characters and landscapes in a dry, static manner, while using colorful collections of words. "I decided to kill myself on a Sunday," she read as she started one of her works; she gets the audience's attention alright. Patti Smith was performing a few blocks away at Webster Hall tonight; she could have come to Otto's afterwards and drawn closer to her rock poet origins with Puma Perl.

Puma Perl will perform at the Bowery Electric on January 10. Visit her blog at www.pumaperl.blogspot.com or find her on FaceBook.

Friday, December 27, 2013

H2O at the Gramercy Theatre

Toby Morse said his inspiration was his son Max.
Toby Morse was a roadie for Sick of It All, and would sometimes come on stage and sing with the hardcore punk band during its encores. In 1994 Morse started his own band as a one-song side project, forming H2O in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The band toured relentlessly and over time recorded six studio albums; the most recent album was 2011's "Don't Forget Your Roots." H2O is Morse on vocals, his brother Todd Morse and Rusty Pistachio on guitars, Adam Blake on bass and Todd Friend on drums.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Morse promised the audience that H2O would release a new album in 2014. In the meantime, the show was jammed for a little more than an hour with songs dating back as far as the band's first album almost 20 years ago. The unique qualities of H2O were evident, in that the band is among the few to play melodic, anthemic punk rock without becoming a kiddie band. H2O tonight was more Rancid than Green Day, for instance. The band played fast and heavy, frequently hammering what almost sounded like crashing metalcore riffs. Morse barked but never growled the lyrics, rallying his listeners with clear messages questioning authority, purpose in life and purpose in music, often giving the audience a chorus it could sing along. Between songs, he praised the earlier hardcore punk rock bands and clubs like CBGB's that opened the path for later bands like H2O, and frequently introduced and praised his wife and pre-adolescent son, Max. Nineteen years into H2O, Morse proved that he is still a sober, tattooed punk rocker and a champion of the disaffected lower class, but he is also now a 43-year-old man with a passionate manifesto for keeping hardcore punk alive. Young Max may be the next punk hero, however; he sangduring the show with his dad and, after the encores, Max stayed on stage and played an extended drum solo.

Visit H2O at www.h2ogo.com.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Willie Nile at the Highline Ballroom

Robert Anthony Noonan was born into a musical family in Buffalo, New York. His uncles played boogie-woogie and his grandfather was a vaudeville pianist who played with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Eddie Cantor. The young boy listened to the music of Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Fats Domino, brought home by his older brothers. He 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. Still in his early teens, he began to compose short songs. He later studied philosophy at the University at Buffalo, and during the summers he made trips into New York City to frequent hootenanny clubs like Folk City and the Gaslight. After graduation, he took the name Willie Nile and rented an apartment in Greenwich Village. He performed regularly in folk rock circles, particularly at Kenny's Castaways, while drawing inspiration from the emerging downtown punk scene, as he began hanging out at clubs like CBGB's, where he would see bands like the Patti Smith Group, Television, the Ramones and Talking Heads. His music was influenced by both the singer-songwriter and the punk rock approaches. Since his debut album in 1980, Nile has disappeared and reappeared from the spotlight several times. He released his eighth studio album, American Ride, this past June.

Headlining the Highline Ballroom tonight was yet another successful homecoming by the city that has adopted Willie Nile. Decades ago, he was the Village troubadour touted as the new Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. Little of this was seen tonight. For most of the nearly two-hour set, the 65-year-old veteran performer avoided the folkie style of his origins and led his band in loud and fast street-tough rock and roll. The band — Nile on rhythm guitar and piano, Matt Hogan on lead guitar, Johnny Pisano on bass and Alex Alexander on drums — shook the roof with wall-of-sound backup. They ripped into some of his older songs with abandon, particularly on "House of a Thousand Guitars," but the show was largely a showcase of new songs as well, beginning with "This Is Our Time" and "Life on Bleecker Street." The show slowed down mid-set as Nile moved to the electric piano. Shortly thereafter, though, the soft and gentle "Love Is a Train" started solo on the piano and gravitated to a crushing full band powerhouse. A fiery cover of the late Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” had the band rocking full-time again. Always one to make quick friends, Nile towards the end of the evening invited Bret Alexander of the opening act, the Badlees, onstage for Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," local rocker Jesse Malin (who finally roused the audience to its feet) for "One Guitar," and several other musicians for an encore medley of Ramones songs. Maybe we could have enjoyed more troubadour and a little less rocker, but the show was splendid nevertheless.

Visit Willie Nile at www.willienile.com.

The Badlees at the Highline Ballroom

Nyke Van Wyk (left) and Bret Alexander
Shortly after forming as Bad Lee White in central Pennsylvania in 1990, the local fans referred to the band as the Badlees, and the name stuck. The band started to get national radio play with its 1995 album, River Songs, but a record company collapse froze the band's follow-up album and prohibited the band from capitalizing further on this moderate success. Several breakups and reunions later, the Badlees are still among the living. Vocalist/harmonica player Pete Palladino, rhythm guitarist/mandolin player/vocalist Bret Alexander, bassist Paul Smith and drummer Ron Simasek have performed together for decades, with lead guitarist Dustin Drevitch and violinist Nyke Van Wyk joining in 2009. The band’s 10th album, a 21-song collection released this past autumn, is a double CD package entitled Epiphones and Empty Rooms.

Opening for Willie Nile tonight at the Highline Ballroom, the Badlees performed as a quintet, minus Palladino; Alexander did an impressive job singing all the leads. Perhaps it is unfair to review the band not knowing what it sounds like with its lead vocalist in place, but the band was extraordinary even without him. Suppose Bruce Springsteen toned down his dynamics living-room style, had a fiddle instead of a saxophone in his band and decided to play with more of a country sound; his music would sound like the Badlees. The Badlees played muscular Americana-rooted songs with a touch of blues and country, but was essentially none of the above. At one point, the violinist sounded like he was about to start a chamber piece and then the tight band turned it into a polished rock tune. The band played songs from the heart, but with choruses catchy enough to make them immediately accessible and singable. Perhaps central Pennsylvania is a lot closer to central New Jersey than maps can tell, and we in central Manhattan benefitted tonight thanks to the Badlees.

Visit the Badlees at www.badlees.com.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Slim Wray at the Mercury Lounge

With the success of the White Stripes and the Black Keys, we can expect more guitar-drum duos to make the rock scene just a little bit more abrasive. Enter the Brooklyn-based Slim Wray, comprised of Ryan Houser, a.k.a. Howzr, on guitar and vocals and Chris Moran on drums and vocals. The primal rock duo has recorded a debut album, Sack Lunch, and released a humorous video for the lead single, "Bear."

Opening for Anacortes at the Mercury Lounge tonight, Slim Wray was bombastic from the start. Making up for a lack of other instruments, Moran punctuated the rhythms with thunderous percussion while Houser hollered and alternated between rhythm chords and grimy lead riffs. It was a blast of loud, gritty and even bluesy garage-band rock. The raucous, energetic set consisted of original material with recurring whoo-hoos, and included nearly-unrecognizable covers of 1964 pop, the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That” and Them’s “Gloria.” For those who groove on basic 4/4 hard-edged rock, Slim Wray presented a fierce set.

Slim Wray performs at the Bowery Electric on February 1. Visit Slim Wray at www.slimwray.com.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The English Beat at the Gramercy Theatre

A recession and high unemployment in England in the late 1970s led to great social and political strife, and this was reflected in the burgeoning punk music scene. Simultaneously, white youth and black youth banded to form a revival of Jamaican ska music, primarily led by the bands Madness, the Specials, the Selecter and the Beat. Formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England, the Beat brought a simple message of peace, love and unity set to old Caribbean dance rhythms crossed with soul, reggae, pop and punk sounds. When the band came to America, it used the name the English Beat. The band recorded three albums before the six members split evenly into three bands in 1983, General Public, the Fine Young Cannibals and the International Beat. Since 2006, founding lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Wakeling has been fronting the US version of the group as the English Beat, while founding vocalist/toaster Ranking Roger leads a UK version of the group known simply as the Beat.

The English Beat concert at the Gramercy Theatre tonight attracted followers of the 1980s ska scene as well as younger fans who may have come to ska via later-generation bands like Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto. Wakeling was the only original member of the English Beat, and between songs he light-heartedly poked fun at his age and his long history in music. Throughout the show, Wakeling was perpetually jovial as he often spoke to the audience in clever one-liners, snarky puns and detailed stories about how the songs came to be. The audience listened to his friendly chatter and then bopped to “Hands Off, She’s Mine”, “Twist and Crawl”, “Save it for Later”, “Mirror in the Bathroom” and many lesser known songs, including newer and unfamiliar tunes. The band also performed Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” (as covered by the Beat), the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” (as covered by General Public) and General Public’s “Tenderness.” Wakeling sang much like he did when he was 30 years thinner and blonder, and the band he assembled played the songs authentically. The biggest drawback was the lack of progress; despite the new songs and a fresh set of backing musicians, including toaster Antonee First Class, the show felt like a time warp, no longer on the cusp of something new and exciting. Nevertheless, it was a fine showcase of increasingly rare ska music.

Visit the English Beat at www.englishbeat.net.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Patty Smyth at the Gramercy Theatre

Brooklyn native Patty Smyth was 15 years old when she played her first gig at Folk City in Greenwich Village. She spent the next few years honing her singing and songwriting by performing short sets at Catch A Rising Star in between then-unknown comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Larry David and Chris Rock. Guitarist Zack Smith asked her to front the pop rock band he was forming, Scandal, in 1981. A year later, thanks to MTV play, the band hit with the song “Goodbye to You” and two years later, “The Warrior.” The band split in 1985, and Smyth sang backup on albums by Don Henley and the Hooters. Eddie Van Halen then asked her to replace David Lee Roth as lead singer in Van Halen but she declined the offer, as she was eight months pregnant. She married punk rocker Richard Hell in 1985 and together they had a daughter. When the marriage failed in 1987, she launched a solo career. In the early 1990s she had a hit single, "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough," a duet sung with Henley, and co-wrote and performed with James Ingram the song "Look What Love Has Done" for the 1994 film, Junior. She married tennis pro John McEnroe in 1997 and together they had two daughters. In 2004, VH1 recruited Smyth and the surviving members of Scandal for a Bands Reunited episode, and the band experienced a short-lived revival with tours and recordings. Other than a few concert appearances and film commissions, Smyth has been missing from the music world.

Smyth returned to her hometown stage tonight at the Gramercy Theatre, singing old songs, new songs and Christmas songs to fans, friends and family, including at least two of her daughters. Once a rocker during the new wave invasion, she is now 56 years old and more inclined to adult contemporary music. The band rocked, but by today’s standards sounded very controlled, with occasional short and precise instrumental breaks as filler between verses and choruses. Smyth’s voice was huskier and a bit more gravelly than in the 80s. Her singing sounded fine, but was rather unexceptional. Were it not for her short history of familiar songs, the show would have been rather uneventful. But then there were the Christmas songs, and it is hard to fault anyone who includes holiday songs in their December repertoire. In the end, Smyth’s show was enjoyable for those fans who were there, but those who were not there did not miss much.

Visit Patty Smyth at www.pattysmythandscandal.com.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Grouplove at le Poisson Rouge

Vocalist/keyboardist Hannah Hooper met vocalist/guitarist Christian Zucconi in 2009 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after hearing, and enjoying, his music. Despite having just met, Hooper invited Zucconi to an artist residency in Crete she would be attending later that week. At this retreat, they met guitarist Andrew Wessen, bassist Sean Gadd and drummer Ryan Rabin. A year later, the quintet became Grouplove and recorded an independent self-titled EP. This led to a debut album, Never Trust a Happy Song, in 2011. Grouplove's second and most recent album, Spreading Rumours, was released on September 17, 2013.

Grouplove headlined a free-admission, invitation only concert at le Poisson Rouge, sponsored by Rolling Stone Private Series. The show was postponed from November 11 due to Hooper suffering an inflammation in her vocal chords. The date was rescheduled and tonight became the last show of the year for the Los Angeles-based band. The five musicians gave it their all, turning in an exciting, energetic set of songs that was ignited by an equally responsive audience. The band rocked fiercely in a 1990s alternative rock vein, bookmarked with an unpolished garage-band underpinning. The music grooved well, often to a pogo rhythm, but with a harsh hammer of intensity. Grouplove’s strongest feature was its harmonies, however. Much like the soaring male-female vocal interplay in X in the 1980s, none of the singers was especially outstanding, but together the combination of odd voices made for a curiously engaging sound. This band will go far.

Visit Grouplove at www.grouplovemusic.com.

Sara Bareilles at Irving Plaza

Sara Bareilles was born and raised in Eureka, California. She participated in the high school choir and local community theater musical productions, including her high school's production of Little Shop of Horrors. After graduating from high school in 1998, Bareilles attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was a member of an cappella group, Awaken a Cappella. The group's rendition of Bareilles' "Gravity" was featured on the Best of College a Cappella 2004 compilation CD. Bareilles performed in the annual student concert UCLA Spring Sing, winning twice. After graduating from UCLA in 2002, Bareilles performed at local bars and clubs, building a following before performing in larger venues. Bareilles achieved mainstream success in 2007 with "Love Song." Bareilles has sold over one million records and over four million singles in the United States alone and has been nominated for a Grammy Award five times, including two current nominations. Bareilles was a celebrity judge in the third season of NBC's The Sing-Off, and has appeared as actress or singer in numerous films and television programs. She has also performed for the First Family at the White House and other events several times. In 2012, she released A Trace of Sun, a documentary of her time volunteering in Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Her Grammy-nominated fourth album, The Blessed Unrest, was released in July 2013, followed by a live CD/DVD, Brave Enough: Live at the Variety Playhouse, which was released in October. Presently, Bareilles is working on writing music for Waitress, a musical adaptation of the 2007 film, and writing a book for publication in 2014.

Canon promoted its Power Shot line of cameras tonight by sponsoring an unadvertised, free-admission, invitation-only concert by Bareilles at Irving Plaza. Bareilles performed a full set with her band, highlighting her best known songs but also introducing lesser known songs. She spent most of the show singing while standing by her keyboard at stage left, although she occasionally came out to center stage to sing, dance or play the guitar. Overall, the performance jumped back and forth so often between singer-songwriter-troubadour and pop singer that it obliterated the lines of distinction. This was because at this stage of her career, she is no longer the sensitive coffeehouse singer that launched her career, yet she has not totally compromised her music to commercial radio interests. She demonstrated that there are many valid reasons why the combination of her singing and piano skills continues to be compared to Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and even Billy Joel in different ways. Her singing borrows a bit from jazz and soul in a very feminine manner. Her honest lyrics similarly espouse vulnerability and wisdom while exploring feelings gained from relationships, all from a woman's perspective. She also connected with the women in the audience through her chattiness between songs. Even her attire was kind of girlie. Bareilles’ set was well executed, but as part of the male minority at the concert tonight, the performance impressed but failed to excite me.

Visit Sarah Bareilles at www.sarabmusic.com.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

J. Roddy Walston & the Business at the Gramercy Theatre

J. Roddy Walston grew up listening to gospel and country music, and sang in his church in Cleveland, Tennessee. His maternal grandmother, a country music artist loosely affiliated with the Grand Old Opry, taught him how to play piano and guitar, but often grieved his desire to rock and roll. He recorded a demo tape in his basement, and the songs trumped 350 contestants to win a showcase in a national festival in 2002. He then formed a band, J. Roddy Walston & the Business. Two years later, the band recorded its first EP and relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, because Walston’s then-girlfriend (and now wife) began studying opera at the Peabody Conservatory of Music there. The Walstons now live in Richmond, Virginia. The band’s third album, 2013’s Essential Tremors, is also the common name of a nervous-system disorder that frequently causes Walston’s hands to shake. J. Roddy Walston & the Business presently consists of Walston on vocals and piano, Billy Gordon on guitar, Logan Davis on bass and Steve Colmus on drums.

J. Roddy Walston & the Business relived some of rock and roll’s roots at the Gramercy Theatre tonight. Occasionally, Walston played guitar, but mostly he sat at a rich-sounding 1970s-era upright piano; it is a 300-pound monster, but Roddy insists on bringing it on tour because he refuses to play electronic keyboards. As he sang into the microphone, swinging his head so that his long hair covered his face, his fingers pounded the piano keys so hard that they forced him to be lifted up off his seat. The band fed off his energy, delivering a loose but incendiary backup so intense that it felt like it was approaching chaos. Roddy sang with a scrappy Leon Russell-styled southern honesty; he loves this stuff from deep in his soul and he communicated that love earnestly to the audience. Roddy’s songs were melodic compositions with memorable hooks, perhaps too ragged for pop radio but, much like Andrew WK, ideal for a sweaty beer keg party. The music fluidly melted together timeless elements of blues, boogie, soul and rock and roll swagger. Yes, Walston and his band’s visit to the New York meant that some serious business was going down on stage.

J. Roddy Walston & the Business will be among the opening acts for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn on February 1. Visit J. Roddy Walston & the Business at www.jroddywalstonandthebusiness.com.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Protest the Hero at the Gramercy Theatre

Vocalist Rody Walker played bass on one song
Protest the Hero is a progressive metal band from Ontario, Canada. Originally named Happy Go Lucky, the band changed its name shortly before releasing a debut EP in 2002. The day that the band members finished their senior finals at their high school, they went on a three-week "Rock the Vote" tour from Toronto to Halifax to raise awareness for the upcoming Canadian election and to draw attention to the band as well. Protest the Hero won the 2004 Canadian Independent Music Award for Favorite Metal Artist/Group even before releasing its first album in 2005. The band released its fourth album, Volition, on October 29. 2013. Current members are Rody Walker on lead vocals, Luke Hoskin on lead guitar and piano, Tim Millar on rhythm guitar and piano, Arif Mirabdolbaghi on bass and new member Mike Ieradi on drums.

The original strain of progressive metal peaked over the early 1990s, with the commercial success of Rush, Queensryche, Dream Theater, Tool and King’s X. A resurgence may be building with the recent return of Fates Warning and the surging popularity of new bands like Periphery and Protest the Hero. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Protest the Hero embraced both the aggressive heaviness of metal and the complex technicality of progressive rock bands. On the metal side, the band amplified its guitar-driven sound with wildly fast yet intensely technical playing, much like in the metalcore and post-hardcore genres. On the progressive side, the band’s compositions dazzled with experimental, conceptual themes and featured adventurous melodies similar to jazz fusion and classical music. Walker sang soaring melodies, sometimes shrieking high notes and other times singing harshly. The band’s charged performance was equally dramatic, spinning heads with innovative song structures while keeping the music moderately accessible and polished. The end result was a delight for prog-heads but a puzzle for traditional rockers.

Visit Protest the Hero at www.protestthehero.ca.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Corey Smith at the Gramercy Theatre

Georgia native Corey Smith majored in Social Studies education at the University of Georgia, writing songs and playing for his friends at parties on the side. Upon graduation, he taught world history and geography in a local high school for a time, but finally decided to pursue music full-time at the age of 28. Since then, Smith has written, recorded and produced seven studio albums and a live album. This past October, he released “Ain’t Going Out Tonight,” the first single from an as-yet-untitled album set to be released in early 2014.

Innovation is nearly impossible in country music, but Corey Smith’s performance at the Gramercy Theatre tonight was at least pleasing to the ear. His audience was composed of country music fans, but Smith showed himself to be first and foremost a singer songwriter. The subject matter of Smith’s songs often gravitated around the simplicities of small town life or partying, two standard country music topics; perhaps he sang too many references to consuming alcohol. The greatest point of interest was how cleverly his lyrics were composed, however. The clarity of his vocals fortified his lyrics, initiating anticipatory curiosity as to where he was heading in his storytelling mode. Like a good novelist, he kept his audience engaged in the content of his craft. Accompanying himself on guitar and with three backup musicians, the music behind the lyrics was a fairly common middle-of-the –road country twang, delivered simply and honestly. Not quite outlaw and not quite country pop, Smith demonstrated that he is very capable of capturing the attention of the serious fan of solid songwriting.

Visit Corey Smith at www.coreysmith.com for a free mp3 download.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stratospheerius at the Bowery Electric

A few decades ago, when droves of Russians were escaping communism and immigrating to the United States, the myth was that the majority were doctors and musicians. Reversing the stereotype, Joe Deninzon was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and studied music after landing in America. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Violin Performance and Jazz Violin from Indiana University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Jazz/Commercial Violin from the Manhattan School of Music. He relocated to New York in 1998, and formed the progressive rock band Stratospheerius in 2001. The band’s fifth and most recent album is 2012’s The Next World…. The band presently is comprised of Deninzon on vocals and violin, with Aurelien Budynek on guitar, Jamie Bishop on bass, Lucianna Padmore on drums.

Violins appear often in contemporary music, but seldom drive a band’s music. Rock bands typically utilize electric guitars for the high range. The Flock, Fairport Convention, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hot Tuna and the Charlie Daniels Band were among the few bands in the past that regularly featured the violin as a lead instrument. Presently, European folk metal bands including Gojira and Eluveitie are using the violin extensively. Tonight at the Bowery Electric, Stratospheerius demonstrated how the violin can be incorporated in the progressive rock, jazz fusion and jam band genres. The quartet weaved a tapestry of funk and jazz styles with more melodic and progressive rock. The set was filled with funky dance grooves and roaring guitar/violin jams, but they were built around Deninzon’s songs, not on instrumentals. Although all four musicians excelled at their craft, the center of gravity was Deninzon and his Flying-V-shaped violin. He occasionally held it and finger-picked it like a small guitar, but more often he strapped it around his neck and right shoulder and played it with a bow. On the floor, he had a multitude of pedals, allowing him to play the violin through reverberation, wah wah, and countless other sound manipulations. The evening’s music was highly imaginative and innovative.

Visit Stratospheerius at www.stratospheerius.com.

Sebastian Blanck at Chez Andre

Acclaimed visual artist Sebastian Blanck was born in 1976 in New Haven, Connecticut, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1998 after studies at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Since 2002, he has been best known in New York for his solo exhibitions and group shows. Blanck is also a musician, however. He was a founding member of the experimental electronic group Black Dice (1997 – 1999), contributed music for the films Adelaide and About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now, and released a folk-influenced solo album in 2010 entitled Alibi Coast. He and his wife, fellow artist Isca Greenfield-Sanders, live and work in New York City.

In the early 1960s, after Bob Dylan changed the face of folk music by plugging in an electric guitar, a plethora of folk pop groups became radio favorites. Tonight at Chez Andre in the Standard Hotel, East Village, Blanck was not a canvas artist but a musician, composer and bandleader, who recreated the early folk rock sound, only faster and louder. Composition-wise and through multi-part harmonies, Blanck and his band recalled early 1960s bands like the Cyrkle and the Association. His songs sounded like they originated as simple, sentimental material that evolved into boppers through band input. As a result, the songs fit the niches of both singer-songwriter works and rock club bangers. Many in his audience were aficionados of the art world; Blanck may be the artist to unite the New York art and music communities.

Visit Sebastian Blanck at www.sebastianblanck.com.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Evie Archer at Chez Andre

At two years of age, Melissa Rosenberg asked her parents if she could take piano lessons. Not long after that, she began to write original songs. In her New Jersey classrooms, she composed songs instead of essays for her English assignments. In her freshman year at Princeton University, she wanted to be an economist, then a lawyer like her father, but kept circling back to music. Her performance of an original song won a music competition at Princeton. Now a singer-songwriter known professionally as Evie Archer, her self-titled debut EP will become available in early 2014.

At Chez Andre, a smart new music club under the Standard Hotel in the East Village, Archer sang and played electric piano, accompanied by Mikey Wax on keyboard, Oscar Bautista on guitar and Dan Weiner on drums. Archer’s performance captured the most traditional and the most basic approach of all contemporary music compositions. She wrote short verses about the turns of the human heart, led them into catchy pop choruses and sang them well. Even Archer’s long wavy hair could remind one of Carole King. Her set was short, but the highlights included an original Christmas song, “On Christmas Day,” about missing loved ones during the holidays, before ending the show with “Close to You,” an upbeat love song.

Evie Archer performs at the Rockwood Music Hall on December 17 and at SubCulture on January 15.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jessy Carolina & the Hot Mess at the Second Avenue Subway Station

Jessy Carolina & the Hot Mess energized a unique party at the Second Avenue subway station platform this afternoon. The Transit Museum parked one of its antique trains from the 1940s at the station, a band was playing hot acoustic jazz, about 100 partiers came dressed as if it was the Ziegfield Follies, and couples danced old time dances. Many men even waxed their long mustaches into twirls. It was like a time travel back to the revelry that accompanied the announcement of the end of World War II!

Formerly known as the Bill Murray Experience, Jessy Carolina & the Hot Mess is a Brooklyn-based ensemble specializing in early American roots and jazz music from the late 1800s to the 1930s. The group features Jessy Carolina on vocals and washboard, Jordan Hyde on guitar, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton on piano and banjo (missing at this performance), Jay Sanford on bass, Mario Maggio on clarinet and Satoru Ohashi on trumpet. All accomplished music students, Carolina authentically embraced an old bluesy vocal style, and the cool clarinet and trumpet players produced genuine vintage jazz. The performance was way more fun than listening to scratchy 78 rpm records!

Visit Jessy Carolina & the Hot Mess at www.jessycarolinahotmess.com.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Veil of Maya at the Gramercy Theatre

Brandon Butler
From the ashes of their previous melodic death metal band, Insurrection, Marc Okubo and Sam Applebaum formed Veil of Maya in 2004 in Chicago, Illinois. The name of the band was derived from the Hindu illusion, Maya. Veil of Maya has had as many as three guitarists at a time, but since 2007 Okubo has been the band’s sole guitarist. The group has released four studio albums, the most recent being 2012’s Eclipse. A new song, “Subject Zero,” was released via internet streaming on October 30, 2013. The band is presently comprised of Brandon Butler on vocals, Okubo on guitars, Danny Hauser on bass and Applebaum on drums.

An unattentive listener at the Gramercy Theatre tonight might have dismissed Veil of Maya as yet another heavy band with a growling singer. A closer listen revealed a fresh new enterprise. Heavy metal music fans argue the existence of "djent." Swedish band Meshuggah reportedly coined the term “djent” to refer to a distorted crunching sound that can be made on electric guitars. If there is a subgenre of “djent,” Veil of Maya has mastered the technique. At times this sounded like a nearby washing machine was breaking down in the spin cycle. It was a jarring rhythmic assaulted the ears. This was not mechanical failure, however, but the foundation for a brutal mix of progressive metal, melodic death metal, thrash and hardcore music. The most prevalent elements of Veil of Maya’s music, that being the growling vocals, pounding rhythm sections and repeated musical breakdowns, are as common in metalcore as tonight’s moshpitters and crowd surfers. For the attentive listener, however, Veil of Maya was distinctive in the way it subtly incorporated the mythical “djent” into a creative mix of savage riffs, fragmented leads and shredding solos. At times it sounded like jazz metal; okay, I am going to coin this new term right now so metal fans can argue its existence. In any case, Veil of Maya may become one of the bands to lead metalcore in new directions.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bound by Sustance at the Gramercy Theatre

Bound by Substance consists of four natives of Queens, New York. They are Henry Rzonca on vocals and keyboards, Dino Colacito on guitars, Angelo Marino on bass and Matt Farina on drums. The band has performed locally at the Bitter End, Webster Hall, Irving Plaza, Arlene's Grocery, Tammany Hall and Sullivan Hall. Bound by Substance has recorded three EPs, the latest of which is IV.

Bound by Substance headlined a Gotham Rocks night at the Gramercy Theatre tonight. For the occasion, the band dressed formally in tuxedos. As if it were a fraternity house party, however, Rzonca came on stage carrying a half case of tall beers for the band members, and placed it front and center on the stage. (He later poured hard liquor from a tall bottle into plastic cups.) The music similarly was an odd clash of styles. The guitar-bass-drums played hard rock extremely well, while Rzonca sang sentimental songs, often at his electric piano. He was like a Billy Joel while the rest of the band was like a Pearl Jam. The musicians built their songs around Rzonca’s lyrics and melody, but often the set felt like the two factions played different mojos. The band may find an audience that likes ballads with a hard edge.

Visit Bound by Substance at www.boundbysubstance.com.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Annabella Lwin at the Bowery Electric

Myant Myant Aye Dunn-Lwin was born in 1966 to a Burmese father and an English mother in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar). In 1980, at age 13, while working part-time at a dry cleaner in North London, she was spotted by a friend of Malcolm McLaren. An established architect of the punk rock movement in England, McLaren changed her name to Annabella Lwin and had her front a new band, Bow Wow Wow, with former members of Adam & the Ants with the intention of using the band to promote his fashion line. Lwin shaved her head into a Mohawk, became a punk icon pictured in many music magazines, and then caused controversy the following year at age 15 by posing nude for the cover of the group's first album, See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy. After three albums, the 16-year-old was ousted from the band in September 1983 and she embarked on a solo career, releasing Fever in 1986, while the other members formed the Chiefs of Relief.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, Annabella Lwin was 30 years older than the ingénue that fronted the punk rocking Bow Wow Wow. As a youth, her vocals swung between adolescent pouting and a screaming banshee; while she recalled some of those flavors, the new Lwin showed she was more interested in singing like an adult. Lwin let out a few girlish squeals and chants singing Bow Wow Wow songs, including “C·30 C·60 C·90 Go", "See Jungle! (Jungle Boy)", "Do You Wanna Hold Me?" and a cover of a 1965 hit by the Strangeloves, "I Want Candy." For those songs, her three musicians brought back the original tom-tom-heavy tribal sound. Lwin grew into a middle-aged Buddhist singer-songwriter, however, and would not simply replay the songs she sang as a child. Her set included her newer, softer and often danceable pop songs, some with titles like “Love, Peace and Harmony” and “Sacred Ground.” She performed a 75-minute set, 17 songs in total, and she performed well, not with a remarkable voice but with a joyful spirit. The question is how much of an audience can be generated for this new mix.

Visit Annabella Lwin at www.annabellalwin.com.

Lez Zeppelin at John Varvatos

In 2004, Steph Paynes wanted to play Led Zeppelin music on her guitar. Before long, the New Yorker formed an all-female tribute act, Lez Zeppelin, to perform the work of the 1970s hard rocking British quartet. Lez Zeppelin played the club circuit and worked its way up to festivals. The band recorded a self titled album in 2007, which was produced by Eddie Kramer, who was the recording engineer on three Led Zeppelin albums, and was mastered by George Marino, who digitally remastered all of the original Led Zeppelin recordings with Led Zeppelin’s guitarist, Jimmy Page. The Lez Zeppelin album featured six Led Zeppelin covers (one song from each of the first six albums) and two originals. Lez Zeppelin recorded a second album in 2010, Lez Zeppelin I, a replication of Led Zeppelin’s 1969 debut; the band employed all of the same vintage equipment used by the original band in 1968, from the ’50s era Les Paul and Telecaster, to the Supro amp, 60’s era compressor, Hammond organ and Fuzzbender stomp box. Lez Zeppelin presently consists of Paynes on guitar, Shannon Conley on vocals, Megan Thomas on bass and Leesa Harrington-Squyres on drums.

Tribute bands provide a live experience of familiar music for nostalgia buffs. At John Varvatos tonight, the four women in Lez Zeppelin faithfully imitated many of the music licks, stage outfits and even mannerisms of the members of Led Zeppelin. Opening with “The Immigrant Song”, “Rock and Roll” and “Black Dog,” and moving through “The Song Remains the Same” and ending with “Dazed and Confused”, “Heartbreaker” and “Whole Lotta Love,” Lez Zeppelin diligently recreated a studious Led Zeppelin experience, down to the sound and the swagger. While interesting to watch, however, it was not Led Zeppelin, but a copy band playing 30-year-old classic rock songs. Lez Zeppelin’s performance was a curious novelty in that the members are female as opposed to the original all-male band. This could not generate in an audience the enthusiasm and expectation of hearing the original band nor a new band playing fresh music. Nevertheless, for a night out, Lez Zeppelin was very entertaining.

Visit Lez Zeppelin at www.lezzeppelin.com.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Jacob Jeffries Band at the Bowery Electric

Jacob Groten was born 25 years ago in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He began playing the piano when he was 5 years old and writing original music at age 10. At 17, Warner Chappell offered him a publishing deal and Baldwin Pianos an endorsement opportunity that Jacob proudly accepted. He formed a pop rock quartet with friends in 2006. Just weeks before the release of the band’s first album, Jacob’s father died; honoring his dad, Jeffrey, Jacob changed his own last name to Jeffries. The Jacob Jeffries Band was named 2008’s “Best Live Band & Best New Release” by New Times, a south Florida music newspaper, and won the 2008 Florida Grammy Showcase. The Jacob Jeffries Band’s fourth and most recent album is 2012’s Tell Me Secrets.

With so many bands experimenting with new sounds and styles, occasionally a trip back to the traditional is refreshing. At the Bowery Electric tonight, the Jacob Jeffries band played Billy Joel-style rock and roll. Jeffries is a talented singer/songwriter and pianist, and he showcased a set of original songs featuring engaging lyrics and with two- and three-part harmonies that sometimes sounded like the Band. The musicians also harmonized well musically, with Jeffries deftly playing keyboard leads and the guitarist blasting several speedy yet tasteful leads. Jeffries’ storytelling lyrics were mature and heady, yet hook-laden and catchy. Although I had never heard the band’s music prior to the performance, I walked home singing in my head a few of the insightful choruses I had heard in the club. That is a sign of a promising career in music.

The Jacob Jeffries Band will perform at Spin in Brooklyn this Friday night, December 6. Visit the Jacob Jeffries Band at www.jacobjeffries.com.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Betty Who at Webster Hall's Marlin Room

Jessica Anne Newham was born in 1991 in Sydney, Australia, where she was trained since age four as a classical cellist. Newham is also self-taught on piano and guitar, wrote her first songs at age 14, and began performing as a singer-songwriter at age 16. She moved to the United States in 2007 to attend Interlochen Center for the Arts, and later attended the Berklee College of Music. Newhan is now a New York-based pop singer known as Betty Who. Betty Who’s debut four-song EP The Movement was released on April 16, 2013.

Betty Who performed a 40-minute set tonight at Perez Hilton’s Pop-Up #3 CD Release Party at Webster Hall’s Marlin Room. Who’s band first took the stage, a bass-keyboard-drums trio, all wearing white shirts and pants and a red cardigan letter sweater. The front line (keyboardist and bassist) was comprised of very short black women. Who came on stage; she was a very tall white woman wearing a very short jumper skirt; she also wore all-white and a red cardigan sweater. The set was pure pop. Much of the music was danceable, but unlike much of current dance pop fare, the songs were refreshingly light on production. The musical arrangements were pleasingly simple, without layers of synthesizer sounds and without a constant electronic thump-thump-thump pounding in the mix. Betty Who’s music is a return to the basics. With a more targeted exposure, her pop songs and cheerleader look may appeal to an audience not yet old enough to enter the clubs.

Betty Who will perform at the Women in Music Annual Holiday Party at le Poisson Rouge tomorrow night, December 4, and two sold out shows at the Mercury Lounge on December 14. Visit Betty Who at www.bettywhomusic.com.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sugar Ray at Irving Plaza

Sugar Ray formed in 1986 as a funk metal band in Orange County, California, but gravitated to pop music in 1997 after the soft rock "Fly" became a radio hit. This change to a mainstream, pop music style then landed the band a succession of hits with "Every Morning", "Someday" and "When It's Over." Sugar Ray has released six albums, the most recent of which was 2009’s Music for Cougars.

Sugar Ray headlined a concert tonight at Irving Plaza to benefit Wall Street Rocks, a collective of financial services officers who sponsor fundraisers for the Wounded Warriors Project, Reserve Aid and other veteran and first responder charities. During one of his many long between-song talks, lead singer Mark McGrath identified the band as a ‘90s icon, and Sugar Ray’s set was a fulfillment of that vision. The set was largely comprised of the band’s string of hits from that era. At one point, however, the band harkened back to its rougher roots with an early punk rock song, “Mean Machine,” leading into a cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop.” Rodney Sheppard had one song only in which to let his lead guitar really wail. Otherwise, the set was a collection of breezy pop songs made for driving in a convertible down the California coast. The concert was pleasant but very safe.

Visit Sugar Ray at www.sugarray.com.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Slut Junkies at Tammany Hall

The Slut Junkies briefly performed at New York and New Jersey bars in 2002-2003, then split apart. Lead singer Jurgen "Azazel" Munster reassembled a new line-up in 2010, and the band has continued to experience personnel changes, but the current five-piece performed at Tammany Hall tonight. Munster was still the ham of the band, with his top hat, leather pants, leather wristbands, aviator sunglasses, sideburns and attention commanding movements. Nevertheless, the band should not be discounted; the rock steady drummer gave the rhythm a full sound rather than a simple beat, and the lead guitarist offered some impressive fret work. The band’s musical style is not easy to niche, except to say that it is hard driving rock and roll, perhaps a throwback to late 1970s glam rock. It will be interesting to see how this music fares in today’s indie-dominated bar circuits, as the Slut Junkies perform an alternative to alternative music.

The Husk at Arlene's Grocery

The Husk is a young Brooklyn-based punk rock trio featuring Johnny Provenzano on vocals and guitar, Dave Thompson on bass and vocals and Louis Rabeno on drums. The band played a brief but impressive set at Arlene’s Grocery tonight. All three musicians played very well, jamming speedy licks that were clear and harmonious enough to avoid a wall-of-noise effect. The overall sound was closer to the pop punk sound of Green Day than the rebel-rallying sound of Rancid or NOFX, but probably fell somewhere in between all of those bands. Two small drawbacks: Provenzano’s unnecessary f-bombs in every one of his between-song banters and the band members drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer out of a can onstage appeared very high school. Well, they are young.

Visit the Husk at www.soundcloud.com/thehuskband.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

NOFX at Irving Plaza

"Fat Mike" Burkett is the front man for NOFX
NOFX formed as a punk rock band by vocalist/bassist “Fat Mike” Burkett and guitarist Eric Melvin in 1983 in Los Angeles, California, later relocating to San Francisco. Drummer Erik Sandin joined shortly after, and after a series of lead guitarists, Aaron "El Hefe" Abeyta joined in 1991, rounding out the current line-up. Punk rock had a second wave of popularity in the mid 1990s with the success of Green Day, the Offspring, Rancid, Bad Religion and NOFX. NOFX’s biggest album, 1994’s Punk in Drublic, was certified gold in both the United States and Canada, even though the band never been signed to a major record company. The group has sold over six million records worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent bands of all time. NOFX has released 12 studio albums, 15 EPs and numerous seven-inch singles. The most recent studio album, Stoke Extinguisher, was released earlier this year. The band also broadcast its own show on Fuse TV entitled NOFX: Backstage Passport.

If punk rock makes yet another comeback, NOFX will be among its leaders, judging by the performance tonight at Irving Plaza. The band played fast and furious punk rock, but stood out among the pack by occasionally widening its berth with a dash of Caribbean rhythms and other sounds. With his hair now a blue Mohawk and wearing black jeans cut off below the knee, an energetic Burkett led the evening’s frenetic charge to revive the punk movement, and so the spirit of punk rock was fresh and alive for all of the 90-minute set. The set spanned the band’s 30 years of original music, with an occasional new song thrown in. In true punk rock tradition, many of the songs were under two minutes, some under one minute, so that some songs ended even before the audience could get the groove on. It was left unknown whether or not the band members still hold onto their earlier political activism (in 2003, Fat Mike organized the website www.punkvoter.com, compiled two chart-topping Rock Against Bush albums, and started a Rock Against Bush U.S. tour), because tonight this was simply a place to rock and mosh. The four musicians maintained their anti-rock-star stance, however, hanging a small sign with the band’s logo rather than draping the back of the stage with a huge backdrop, and also by commenting negatively about their musical prowess. The downside of the show, however, was that Burkett and Abeyta often took up way too much time between songs with nonsensical blabber, causing some fans to yell repeatedly “shut up and play music.”

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Wicked Messengers at Hill Country Barbecue Market

The Wicked Messengers is a rock and roll/country music quintet based out of Brooklyn. The musicians call their music “rock n' twang,” and have recorded two CDs, Livin’ Fast and Headtwangers Ball. Led by Allen Lee Backer, the band leads a “kuntry karaoke” on Tuesday nights at Hill Country Barbecue Market.

Tonight the Wicked Messengers performed a rare self-contained set (not centered around drawing karaoke singers from the audience) that featured original songs and cover tunes. The band’s performance was indebted to the 1960s, especially noted in their covers of early Beatles songs. The original songs similarly were rooted in simple early-pop-radio elements. The evening’s set showed that this was a band that was able to do more than fuel a karaoke party; if you like retro-pop, the band was worth listening to as well.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Emilie Autumn at Irving Plaza

Dancer Victoria Varlow (left) and Emilie Autumn
Emilie Autumn Liddell, who performs under the name Emilie Autumn, is a survivor. Born in 1979 in Los Angeles, California, she grew up in nearby Malibu and learned to play the violin at age four. Autumn became a victim of abuse beginning at age six, and is a survivor of rape. Autumn was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which caused her to experience drastic mood swings, insomnia, and auditory hallucinations, and for which she takes medication. As an adult, she attempted suicide, which led to her admission to the psychiatric ward at a Los Angeles hospital, where she was kept on suicide watch. After her release, she had her cell block number tattooed on her right arm as a way of remembering what happened to her and penned a novel, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, which was published in 2010. Autumn has recorded several vocal and instrumental albums, including 2012’s Fight like a Girl.

Autumn brought her novel to the concert stage at Irving Plaza tonight. The stage was set with odd structures and scaffolding, and Autumn appeared with two backup singers/dancers, all dressed in a combination of Victorian and burlesque wardrobe. Autumn began the performance with a highly choreographed “Fight like a Girl,” sung to prerecorded tracks, establishing that this would be a very theatrical show. All the music was prerecorded and at times it appeared that some of the vocals may have been as well. The first problem, however, was that Autumn’s lyrics were often difficult to distinguish. It seemed throughout her performance that a story was being told, but it was extremely difficult to follow the story line beyond the basic notion that it was about women in an asylum. No program was provided, and there was no narration between songs to clarify what was happening. For this listener, all the costumes, choreography and climbing on the scaffolds were meaningless and so became increasingly less enjoyable and more frustrating. Beyond that, the electronic industrial-style music and cabaret-style singing were cold and suffered from being left in a vacuum. Sorry, Emilie, I lost patience with your music and your show and found my way to the exit halfway through.

Visit Emilie Autumn at www.emilieautumn.com.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Foxes at the Gramercy Theatre

Three recording artists are presently using the name Foxes. Foxes can refer to an Australian heavy metal band, a British synth pop band that features a female singer, and a British synth pop singer. At present, all three acts are little-known, so confusion is inevitable. There is also a British indie band called the Foxes; never mind other bands with similar names like Fleet Foxes and For the Foxes. The British synth-pop singer was the one that performed at the Gramercy Theatre tonight – I think.  Twenty-four-year-old Foxes, born Louisa Rose Allen, is a London-based singer and songwriter who released a remixed Warriors EP on October 27. Her debut album, entitled Glorious, will be released in March 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre, Foxes was accompanied by two musicians far across the stage from her and from each other. Although the focus was on her, the two musicians were more than side players. The synthesizer player provided all the melodies and layers of sounds, and the drummer offered a full and steady beat. Nonetheless, Foxes poured herself on each song, showcasing an impressive vocal range with clear enunciation – how about that, a rock concert where one can actually hear the lyrics! Once an open mic singer-songwriter, the former troubadour has completely embraced electronica. Starting with the Eurythmics in the 1980s, there has been no shortage of sultry women singers fronting a wall of synth-pop; Foxes is entering a crowded field, so only a hit single could help her stand out from the crowd. By the way, Foxes, a 45-minute set with no encore is a cheat.

Visit Foxes at www.iamfoxes.com.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds at Irving Plaza

Arleigh Kincheloe was born and raised in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where she sang in her parents' band by the age of nine. Already a seasoned stage performer by 18, she began writing songs. She already had her harmonica-shredding brother Jackson by her side, but she imagined a large, powerful band playing her music. Their cousin Bram, a California-bred drummer, helped them fulfill that dream in 2008. Now based out of Brooklyn, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds is an eight-piece funk/soul band led by singer Arleigh Kincheloe, with Jackson Kincheloe on harmonica, Bram Kincheloe on drums, Josh Myers on bass, Sasha Brown on guitar, Ryan Snow on trombone, Phil Rodriguez on trumpet, and Brian Graham on baritone saxophone. The band released its second album, Pound of Dirt, in 2012, and a third EP, Fight, last month.

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds has worked its way up from playing small clubs like the Rockwood Music Hall. Headlining Irving Plaza tonight, the night was a celebration for the band’s long-standing Brooklyn and Catskills-based fans. Kincheloe is a small woman with a big voice, and she belted out soulful songs like an enraptured gospel singer. She was equally comfortable and equally able with rollicking rock songs and sultry torch songs. A small but powerful brass section set fire to the danceable grooves with hard driving New Orleans funk and Memphis rhythm and blues. All told, the band served a sassy blend of classic American blues, soul, funk, rock and jazz, and it was a red hot brew.

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

Mindy Smith at SubCulture

Mindy Smith was born in 1972 on Long Island, New York, and was adopted at birth by a pastor and his wife. She developed a passion for music and began singing at an early age. After her mother's death from cancer in 1991, Smith moved to Cincinnati for two years and then to Knoxville, Tennessee and, in 1998, she moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. Smith gained popularity in 2003 when she covered "Jolene" on a Dolly Parton tribute album, Just Because I'm a Woman. Parton later added backing vocals to a new mix of the song for Smith's 2004 debut album, One Moment More. Smith has recorded five albums, the most recent of which was 2012’s self-titled album, and has just released a five-song holiday EP, Snowed In.

Old Long Island friends and family poured into SubCulture tonight and gave Smith a warm welcome home. Onstage, however, Smith accompanied herself simply, with only an acoustic guitar. The unplugged, no-frills mode stripped her songs back to their original manufacturer settings. No more country twang, no more retro Americana roots, her songs had to stand naked on their own. Thanks to her gutsy vocal delivery, she was able to pull it off. Smith came across as a reflective, candid, and perhaps mood-driven songwriter. The evening’s highlights included songs from her first album; despite the connotations of the title, “Come to Jesus” was not necessarily an evangelical song, but more a song of comfort, and “One Moment More” spoke tenderly of the aftermath of the death of a loved one. The one song she sang from her new Christmas EP, an original song called “Tomorrow Is Christmas Day,” was appropriately jovial. The performance was fine, but hopefully her next performance will be with a band.

Visit Mindy Smith at www.mindysmithmusic.com.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Metric at the Bowery Ballroom

Emily Haines
Although her parents were Americans, Emily Haines was born in New Delhi, India, lived her earliest years in London, England, and was raised in Ontario, Canada. She formed Metric with British-born James Shaw in 1998 in Toronto, Canada, and since then, the band also has based itself in Montreal, London, New York City and Los Angeles. The band consists of Haines (lead vocals, synthesizers, guitar, tambourine, harmonica, piano), Shaw (guitar, synthesizers, theremin, backing vocals), Joshua Winstead (bass, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Joules Scott-Key (drums, percussion). Although all of the members have recorded side projects, Metric as a band has five studio albums, the most recent being 2012’s Synthetica.

Metric has been performing in arena opening for Paramore, but tonight on a night off from that tour Metric headlined the more intimate Bowery Ballroom. Looking through the long blonde bangs covering much of her face throughout the performance, Haines told the audience that this was the first time the band had played the venue since 2005. With the freedom to play longer here, the band performed a 17-song set that featured songs from the two more recent and more popular albums, but also revived songs from the three earlier, less known albums. This included a rarely-performed “Love is a Place” from the band’s debut album. The set alternated between Haines singing in a pillow-talk voice while playing moody, ethereal runs on her two keyboard/synthesizer units to her rocking out to harder-edged synth-pop songs while dancing at the edge of the stage. Haines also spoke to the audience as a former New Yorker, acknowledging the recent mayoral election and dedicating the first encore, another older and lesser known Haines-James duet, “The Police and the Private”, “to the end of stop and frisk.” The concert ended with another duet, this one dedicated to the late Lou Reed, an acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy.” Altogether, Metric’s set was the pinnacle of very polished of indie rock.

Visit Metric at www.ilovemetric.com.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tori Kelly at Irving Plaza

Victoria “Tori” Kelly was born in 1992 in Wildomar, California, to a Puerto Rican/Jamaican father who is a singer and bassist and a German/Irish mother who plays piano and saxophone. Kelly began singing at age three and entered her first singing competition at age six. She began playing drums at age 12 and later moved on to guitar and piano. She began writing songs when she was 14 years old. Kelly appeared on the television talent shows Star Search and America's Most Talented Kids, and nearly became a contestant on American Idol. In time, she took her music online and, even without ever recording a full album, her YouTube channel has more than 55 million views and almost 700,000 subscribers. Her Foreword EP was released on October 22, 2013.

Kelly was the sole supporting act to Ed Sheeran at Madison Square Garden on November 1, and two weeks later headlined her own show at Irving Plaza. Just a month short of her 21st birthday, Tori Kelly is not old enough to enter a lot of music clubs, but Irving Plaza is an all-ages venue. In this more intimate setting, Kelly demonstrated how she would have been a natural for American Idol. The television series seems to specialize in white singers who sound Black, and Black singers who sound white. Here was Kelly, a mixed race singer, singing and performing solo on acoustic or electric guitar, belting like a soaring gospel singer and opening herself up like a poetic singer-songwriter. Especially in this bare-bones setting, Kelly’s music projected vulnerability, insight, vitality and conviction. Having a passionate, soulful voice made her songs that much sweeter. Her charm seemed to appeal largely to the below-drinking age women in the audience, but there is no denying that Kelly is a powerhouse of talent that can reach a wider audience.

Visit Tori Kelly at www.torikellymusic.com.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Johnny Marr at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Johnny Marr was born John Martin Maher in 1963 in Manchester, England. He had aspirations to be a professional soccer player, but his first band, the Paris Valentinos, at the age of 13, changed the course of his life. In 1982, at age 18, he and Steven Morrissey, formed the Smiths. Since leaving the Smiths in 1987, Marr joined the Pretenders, the The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and the Cribs, all for short periods, and performed as a session musician and soundtrack composer. In 2013, he released a solo album titled The Messenger.

Marr became known as a guitarist during the 1980s, when guitarists were falling out of fashion. With such a reputation in tow, one could have expected numerous extended guitar licks at his headlining concert at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom tonight. Instead, Marr kept the songs short and simple, even allowing his co-guitarist to play some of the leads. Marr performed "Getting Away with It" from his days with Electronic, and several selections from his solo album. Much of the audience came to relive the Smiths, however, and he performed six Smiths songs, including "Panic," "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before," "Big Mouth Strikes Again" and the final song of the night, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." Towards the end of the set, Marr introduced former Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, and performed together on "How Soon Is Now?" and "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want." The songs sounded noticeably rougher with Marr singing instead of Morrissey, and all in all, the show was more rocking than the Smiths concerts were. Marr has a long way to go, however, if he is ever to outdistance himself from his Smiths legacy.

Visit Johnny Marr at www.johnny-marr.com.

Meredith Sheldon at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

You won’t find much information anywhere on Meredith Sheldon. She is a secret. All we can say is that she was born 25 years ago in Berkeley, California, and presently is based in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. She started playing acoustic guitar at age six and electric guitar at age nine. While at dance school at age 18, she started to play guitar seriously. Sheldon was reportedly a member of both Family of the Year and the Ben Taylor Band, but confirmation is scant. Evan Dando of the Lemonheads discovered her solo music and had her open his band’s tour, and both Marina and the Diamonds and Johnny Marr more recently did the same. She has released an independent EP, A La Mar.

At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom tonight opening for Johnny Marr, Sheldon appeared on a dimly lit stage (why do opening acts get poor lighting?). She stood in tall black boots and a red shirt long enough to qualify as a dress. With no introduction, she began to sing original compositions and play electric guitar, accompanied on lead guitar by Marr’s son, Nile Marr. Perhaps having a full band would have given more identity to the genre of music she inhabits, but here Sheldon sang soft folkie pop songs with a strong alto voice, yet played muscular rhythm guitar chords loudly, like a rocker. Nile Marr filled in a few guitar leads, but often played the same chords and rhythms as she did. Although the lyrics were difficult to capture in this environment, they seemed to be a lot about “you,” the word I heard most often, and many songs were carried along by a lot of woooh-oooh-ooohs. A classically-trained singer, Sheldon’s passion projected as earnest and expressive. Despite the odd mix of sounds, or maybe because of it, Sheldon accomplished a difficult task; she caught the ears and the hearty applause of an unsuspecting audience that had come to see the headline act.

Visit Meredith Sheldon at www.meredithsheldon.com.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I See Stars at the Gramercy Theatre

Zach Johnson and Devin Oliver
Starting together in 2006 as teenagers in Warren, Michigan, the members of I See Stars are a rarity among metalcore bands in that they have pretty much maintained their original line-up. The band’s music has changed several times over four albums, however, at times lighter and more pop-oriented and at times heavy and aggressive. The band’s fourth album, New Demons, was released in October 2013. The band consists of Devin Oliver on clean vocals, Zach Johnson on unclean vocals, keyboards and electronic programming, Brent Allen and Jimmy Gregerson on guitars, Jeff Valentine on bass and Andrew Oliver on drums.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the band balanced its hard-edged approach often with pop vocal melodies, while also throwing in fair amounts of scream and electronic. The two vocalists were energetic and sometimes worked the songs and the audience independently, sometimes in harmony. They turned nearly every song into an anthem. The music was somewhat innovative as well. If metalcore is a sub-genre of heavy metal music, then I See Stars showed itself to be at the forefront of the sub-sub-genre referred to as electronic hardcore music (EHM) or electronicore. The band played metalcore breakdowns at times followed by unusual touches of techno/dub-step/electro music. The songs occasionally even mixed clean and unclean vocals with synthesized vocals. Like the evening’s co-headliner, The Word Alive, I See Stars’ youthful exuberance and high-energy performance did a masterful job of engaging a younger Warped Tour-type audience.

The Word Alive at the Gramercy Theatre

Telle of the Word Alive
The Word Alive formed as a metalcore band in 2008 in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally fronted by co-founder Craig Mabbitt of Escape the Fate, the band early on replaced him with Tyler "Telle" Smith, who was formerly one of the vocalists for In Fear and Faith and bassist for Greeley Estates.  The band currently consists of Smith, Zack Hansen on lead guitar, Tony Pizzuti on rhythm guitar, Daniel Shapiro on bass, and Luke Holland on drums. The band’s second and most recent album, Life Cycles, was released in 2012.

At the Gramercy Theater tonight, the Word Alive showed what a hard-touring metalcore band can do. The band showed as much range as one can find in the genre, balancing smooth melodies with harsh breakdowns, clean vocals with growls and screams, speedy guitar blasts and a power-pumping rhythm section, and giving an attention-deficit audience plenty of accolades and attention. While the performance was tight and executed well, the band sounded fairly standard for a metalcore band. That is not necessarily the fault of the band; there just does not seem to be a band that is breaking new ground in this genre anymore. The band speaks the language of youth, however, and will continue to do well with the Warped Tour generation.

Visit the Word Alive at www.wearethewordalive.com.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New York Junk at the Bowery Electric

The four members of New York Junk are survivors of the New York music scene of the early 1980s. This was the era when attention to punk rock had died down and local bands were playing basic rock and roll again. The musicians in New York Junk played in various bands during that era and now are reviving that music.

At the Bowery Electric tonight opening for the Waldos, at first New York Junk sounded like another band playing three chords fast in a garage rock way. Listening more carefully, one heard songs, real songs, songs from the soul of thinking, working class people. Guitarist/songwriter Joe Sztabnik sang with a limited range that simultaneously pushed his angst and his passions. The roar of the two guitarists then echoed those sentiments with raw and gritty rock and roll leads. It sounded simple, but it also sounded compellingly honest.

New York Junk will be opening for the Jim Jones Revue at the Bowery Electric on New Year’s Eve.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dir En Grey at Irving Plaza

Kyo of Dir En Grey
Since its inception in Japan in 1997, Dir En Grey has changed musical styles often, making its genre difficult to define, but the music is more closely associated with heavy metal and perhaps progressive rock than anything else. Originally a visual kei band, the band has opted for less dramatic attire in recent years. The name "Dir En Grey" is composed of words from several languages, so that people would not be able to attach a specific meaning to it other than the band's name itself. Since its inception, Dir En Grey has consisted of Kyo on lead vocals, Kaoru and Die on guitars and backing vocals, Toshiya on bass and backing vocals, and Shinya on drums. The band has recorded nine full-length albums, including 2013’s forthcoming Scream for the Truth.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Dir En Grey looked and sounded spooky. For several of the initial songs, Kyo sang through a dark shawl. After a few songs, he began to slowly reveal ghoulish makeup. Kyo’s face, neck and chest appeared to be painted (hopefully not tattooed) white with black skeletal markings. Throughout the show, he wrapped and unwrapped his head in the shawl as he sang, and on one song turned his back to the audience and sang to a camera that projected his zombie face onto the large screen behind the drummer. Kyo’s movements appeared to be interpretive expressions of the songs. He alternately whispered and screamed words and sounds hauntingly as the band alternated between ethereal and head-pounding music. The twin guitar attack of Kaoru and Die sizzled, distorted, reverberated and bashed while the rhythm section anchored the often thunderous music. Finally, rather than communicating with the audience between songs, the space between songs was usually filled with dark, atmospheric rhythms that may have been either pre-recorded or programmed, completing the setting. In all, Dir En Grey’s performance made for an interesting brand of hair-raising metal music.

Visit Dir En Grey at www.direngrey.co.jp/english.