Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flyleaf at Irving Plaza

For fans of the Texas hard rock band Flyleaf, the question has been how well the new lead singer, Kristen May, formerly of the Kansas City band Vedera, would fit all the songs written for and sung by Lacey Strum these past 10 years. On all the band’s million-selling recordings, even the current release, New Horizons, Strum sung and shouted with soaring angst in front of a wall of powerful rock. Strum left the band upon the arrival of her firstborn, Jack, in 2011, and this is the band’s first tour with May as the replacement.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Flyleaf was on fire. Taking photographs was difficult, for instance, because the energized band members never stopped moving, whether jumping or racing across the stage or flying off of the monitors. As for May’s performance, she fronted the band, engaged the audience and belted out the Flyleaf catalog, but her vocals were overwhelmed by the volume of the band’s music. She replicated the melodies, perhaps with a sweeter and lighter timbre than Lacey's notoriously gritty delivery, but the live mix did not allow for the crisp vocal delivery that jumps out on the albums.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Chapin Sisters at the Living Room

The Chapin Sisters started as a folk pop trio in 2004 consisting of sisters Abigail Chapin and Lily Chapin and their half-sister Jessica Craven. Abigail and Lily are daughters of folk singer Tom Chapin and nieces of the late Harry Chapin. Jessica Craven is the daughter of director Wes Craven. The sisters grew up in Brooklyn Heights and upstate New York but relocated to Los Angeles, where they released their first album, Lake Bottom, in 2008. Jessica left the band to start a family, and Abigail and Lily, now a duo, recorded and released the aptly titled follow-up Two. The Chapin Sisters toured with She & Him in 2010 as backup singers and as the opening act.

Abigail and Lily now live in New York again. They started 2013 with a residency at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, performing country songs made famous by old time sibling acts — the Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers and the Davis Sisters. Tonight at the Living Room, the duo was backed by a three-piece band and sang all Everly Brothers songs in preparation of the release of their next album, A Date with the Everly Brothers, on April 23rd. Foregoing their former country girl look and adopting the Everly Brothers persona, the sisters’ pristine harmonies gave a feminine touch to the legendary country folk catalogue from a half-century ago. Look for the Chapin Sisters to perform their Everly Brothers tribute until they rejoin She & Him for a summer 2013 tour.

Krystaleen at Arlene's Grocery

Is this the United Nations of heavy metal? Maybe something like this could only happen in Queens. Moroccan guitarist Omar Zerrei and Irish-American bassist Ben Rose played in bands together throughout high school. They recruited Israeli-American guitarist Eitan Gavish and Ecuadorian drummer Jaime Carangu in 2009. In 2010, the band placed first in Club Loaded’s Unsigned Band Festival, one of New York’s largest band competitions. Now with a new lead singer, a petite African American with a big voice, Natalia, Krystaleen is looking to bring traditional heavy metal to the New York area rock club circuit.

At Arlene’s Grocery tonight, Krystaleen showed itself to be an impressive developing band with a promising future. Gavish and Zerrei played fast and lyrical, trading lead guitar licks in the manner of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden or Exodus. Rose and Carangu played rhythm lines that were similarly fast and power-packed. Natalia sang in a wide range without growling – just please stop the stupid Satan nonsense. Krystaleen now needs only what every young band needs – opportunities to experiment, define and mature its unique identity through live performances.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Silverstein at the Gramercy Theatre

Silverstein is a post-hardcore band from Burlington, Ontario, formed in 2000. The band has released seven studio albums, three EPs, a compilation album and a live DVD/CD. The band's seventh studio album, This Is How the Wind Shifts, was released on February 5.

At the Gramercy Theater tonight, Silverstein showed what has kept its young audience captivated between Vans Warped Tours and other festivals. The musicians kept their moshers moshing in the moshpit by marrying the accessibility of power pop with adrenalin pumping hardcore punk. Vocalist Shane Todd frequently alternated clean vocals with screams, and consistently made affable banter to connect with the fans between songs. The overall performance was impressively strong, but my innate distaste for power pop prevented me from enjoying it much.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Mavericks at Bowery Ballroom

Raul Malo of the Mavericks invited Rodney Crowell to sing a song
The Mavericks, founded in 1989 in Miami, Florida, had won Grammy Awards and placed 14 hits on the Billboard country charts when the group disbanded in 2003. Lead singer and songwriter Raul Malo then recorded six solo albums and his fellow musicians formed other bands. Two decades passed since the band’s polyrhythmic and polymorphic music blend put "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down," "Here Comes the Rain," and "Dance the Night Away" on America’s country music radio stations. Last year, after an eight-year hiatus, Malo regrouped his musicians and a new Mavericks album, In Time, is being released tomorrow.

Tonight, however, the revitalized band stormed the stage of the Bowery Ballroom for a two-and-a-half hour concert (including 70 minutes of encores). Malo’s clear and soulful voice soared, and considering how long the musicians had been apart, the band was amazingly tight and crisp. The band’s upbeat melting pot catalogue of Tex-Mex and country music catalogue was performed with precision. The performance was slick, measured and polished until the encores, when the band broke free from the tight confines of its song structure and started to party. The encores became almost another concert, and even included Spanish songs, including the Cuban favorite, “Guantanamera,” which flowed into “Twist and Shout.”
Rodney Crowell was in New York for an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. He joined Malo and the Mavericks onstage for a song midway through the evening.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stumblebunny at Otto's Shrunken Head

In the 1970s, Chris Robison played guitar and keyboards in several bands that were the brainchildren of other musicians -- Steam (“Na Na Hey Hey”), Elephant's Memory and the New York Dolls. Breaking out with a new band in 1977, he formed the power pop Stumblebunny and played the New York club circuit until the group vaporized in 1979. Robison went on to record solo albums and children's music. Playing live was still in his blood, however, and he recreated Stumblebunny in 2010.

Frank Wood booked Stumblebunny as the house band for his “Wind Down Sundays” at Otto's Shrunken Head at the end of each weekend in February. The band once again played pop songs, but this time around the band gravitated to the jam band style, unlocking a looser musical structure that the earlier incarnation of the band. For Robison and company, the goal on these Sunday nights was not about creating a hit song, it was about enjoying what could happen when friends played simple songs and a basic 4/4 beat. This was enjoyable for the audience as much as for the musicians.

Red Gretchen at Otto's Shrunken Head

Frank Wood presents “Wind Down Sundays” at Otto's Shrunken Head at the end of each weekend. The bands and the audience are usually comprised of somewhat older rock fans; let us call ourselves “first generation rockers.” Nevertheless, many of the bands still have that rough edge, like they are still working out what their music will be. It is refreshing to find bands that are not trying to be the “next big things,” but who are playing music simply for the love of playing original music live before a small audience of friends.

Such is the case with Red Gretchen, a New York-based band which has recorded an album, Crystal Moon, and is trying to find its way into the local band circuit. First, let us quickly get past the novelty that the band is 75 percent female. Ronnie Lee Wheeler on lead guitar/vocals, Nancy Pollak on rhythm guitar/vocals, Anne Husick on bass, and Shauna Westgate on drums play simple pop songs often infused with a gritty, psychedelic guitar sound. Given the proper stage, the band may appeal to old-time fans of the Grateful Dead or modern fans of indie-rockers Yo La Tengo. Red Gretchen gets another chance to impress at Sidewalk on March 16.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tanner Walle at the Bowery Electric

Tanner Walle is a 29-year-old bartender from Kansas who relocated to Brooklyn six years ago. He is also a musician playing the singer-songwriter circuit with his backing band. Walle has toured the United States promoting his four CDs and came to Bowery Electric tonight.
If there is an unwritten rule that singer-songwriters are supposed to be all somber and not smile, if there is an unwritten expectation that singer-songwriters should not write catchy, upbeat songs, then Tanner Walle has broken some stereotypes. Backed by a four-piece band at Bowery Electric tonight, Walle performed the kind of songs one expects to hear on summer radio. Walle sang a bit like Nils Lofgren, a bit like Sting, and had a good time with his music.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale at Bowery Ballroom

Jime Lauderdale (left) and Buddy Miller
Austin’s Buddy Miller has played guitar in bands led by Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, while also producing records by, among others, Plant and Richard Thompson. Nashville’s Jim Lauderdale has seen his songs recorded by Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Shelby Lynne and George Strait. Miller and Lauderdale crossed paths in New York’s country music clubs in 1980 and bonded over a shared love of George Jones’s music. They have worked together often, including many Americana Music Award shows, where Lauderdale is the longtime host and Miller leads the house band. Miller and Lauderdale also co-host a Saturday night radio program, The Buddy and Jim Show, on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country station.

After 33 years of friendship, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale collaborated to record last year and now are touring music clubs as Buddy and Jim. Backed by three other musicians at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Miller and Lauderdale traded tunes from each other’s catalogue, introduced songs from their new album and completed the 90-minute set with a few classic country and honky-tonk covers. They performed separately and apart, and played a range of American roots music that included country swing and standards, even a touch of bluegrass and rockabilly. The strength of the performance, however, was when they harmonized together to sing like the Everly Brothers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gojira at Irving Plaza

Gojira is an unusual heavy metal band. Formed in 1996 by brothers Joe Duplantier (guitar, vocals) and drummer Mario Duplantier, with guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie, the four musicians hail from Ondres, a tranquil village on the southwest coast of France. The rugged coastline and scenic countryside inspired Gojira's interest in nature and the earth. While other heavy metal bands write about blood, guts, nihilism and paganism, Gojira sings of spiritual beliefs and concerns for the environment. The band aims to spread karma and save the whales while blowing out your eardrums! Also unusual in the heavy metal world, the band has had no changes in lineup. The band has recorded five studio albums and produced three live DVDs.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Gojira's concert combined elements of death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal, with unusual rhythm patterns, precision drumming, distorted guitar sounds and growling vocals. The start-and-stop riffs were often complicated and sophisticated, but the melodies formed a bare headbangers groove, without the guitar virtuoso leads of traditional metal. It was primal and simple, but to become a major act, Gojira will have to grow beyond the groove and the growl.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Robb and the Handsome Few at Bowery Electric

You might find Robb Tennant selling musical instruments at the Guitar Center or you might find him on a local stage fronting his alternative country band Robb and the Handsome Few. Last night, his band closed tonight’s hootenanny at Bowery Electric with the help of several guest musicians. They performed a few originals as well as covers of songs by Tom Petty and Roger Miller. The repertoire was loose, but it all had a twang and a swagger.

Simple Minded Predators at Bowery Electric

Three musicians from the south met in Brooklyn and clicked personally and musically. Singer/songwriters Miles Pittman and Bo DePena jammed together, and soon added Rebekah Durham, a classically-trained violinist who also played really good fiddle. They began playing the New York club circuit last summer as the Simple Minded Predators. Performing tonight at the Bowery Electric’s hootenanny, (left to right) Durham (fiddle, vocals), Pittman (banjo, vocals) and DePena (guitar, vocals) performed a few covers and a few fine original songs inspired by traditional American folk and bluegrass. They also ripped into a jig or two. Yes, it is possible to create a backwoods feel in the Manhattan.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Black Shades at Pianos

There are two bands named the Black Shades, one in England and one from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Formed in November 2009, the American band has had some success with an EP entitled Told Ya So, which charted for 10 weeks in the CMJ Top 200. The band is in the middle of a nine-night rapid-fire tour of music clubs from Virginia to New York to Missouri.

At Pianos tonight, the guitar/bass/drums trio played stripped-down 1960s-style garage rock, with an emphasis on guitar. A bit Chuck Berry, a bit White Stripes, a bit Hives, the Black Shades' performance was about how much fun it is to sing a few lyrics that hold together some high energy rock and roll.

Kiddo at Pianos

Having a unique story is essential to a singer songwriter, and Kiddo has a story unlike yours or mine. Born in Paris to a celebrity family (her mother is French film actress/director Zabou Breitman, her father is sculptor Fabien Chalon and her brother is actor Antonin Chalon), her life’s trajectory was configured early by a passion for music, playing the violin at age three and studying guitar at the Conservatoire in Paris at age eight. After graduating law school, she relocated to London to resume music studies. Two of her songs, released under her real name, Anna Chalon, were featured in French films and “Run and Hide” was nominated for Best Original Song at the World Soundtrack Awards in 2009. In 2011, she arrived in Boston to study at Berklee College of Music, ultimately moving to New York City last year to immerse herself in the local music scene. Tonight she performed at Pianos to celebrate the release of her album, Where To?

All her music education paid off. Kiddo performed well-crafted original songs, mostly in English with a touch of French, which spoke of her life’s journey. Playing a mean acoustic guitar and backed by a four piece band, Kiddo’s soft pop songs not only sounded good, they felt good as well. Even the lyrics from her life story that perhaps in conversation may be told in a melancholy way proved to be soul lifting through melody and musicianship. “Sunshine” is the lead track from her new album, and even that title tells us where on the road she finds herself. Kiddo has embraced New York and the New York singer-songwriter circuit will soon embrace her. Kiddo is performing at the Living Room on February 23rd.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Jaie at Rockbar

Instead of going to the same old music clubs once again tonight, I thought I would try something different. What a huge mistake! Several artists whose names I did not recognize were advertised to perform at Rockbar. Upon arriving I discovered they were all dance club acts singing and dancing to their own pre-recorded tracks. The most interesting artist among them was Jaie (pictured right), but like the others he sang along to his recordings. Please, if you are not bringing musicians, at least omit the vocal track from the recording so all the vocals are live! I will not make this mistake again.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Skyscrapers at National Underground

Two guitars and a basic drum kit. This is bare, minimum garage rock. The Skyscrapers at National Underground tonight were a throwback to the early origins of rock and roll. You might want to hear a bar band that plays originals as well as covers like "Hit the Road, Jack."

Milton at the Living Room

He goes by one name only. New York City-based singer/songwriter Milton returned to the Living Room, where he has played a residency every February for the past eight years. Since the future of this listening room is a mystery after it exits its present venue at the end of this month, this could be the end of a New York music tradition.
Tonight at the Living Room, if you closed your eyes on many songs, you might have thought you were listening to Bob Seger begin his “Night Moves.” Yet, the song I walked in on had a country swing, later on he sang a reggae song, and many songs in between sounded like they were rooted in Memphis soul. Milton sang a varied repertoire of earthy original songs with a distinctively soft yet gritty masculine voice. This is good music.

Rebecca Perl at Upstairs at Pianos

The talent booked at Upstairs at Pianos is outstanding, and I do like the room very much, but sometimes the weekend crowd can be so noisy that listening to the live music becomes extremely challenging. Such was the case tonight, when Long Island-based singer-songwriter Rebecca Perl returned to its stage. Well, it is really not a stage; actually it is a large throw rug set against the back wall.
So what was I able to hear? Songs that were all about “I.” There was always a “you” in the lyrics, so the songs seemed to be about self-discovery in relationship with another, whether the other is an individual or the world at large. She sang honestly, and seemed to be opening her soul. The music was enhanced by two musicians, one who played saxophone and flute, and the other who played the violin and also kept rhythm by hitting the box on which he sat. Perl gets another chance to impress New Yorkers when she opens for Suzanna Choffel from NBC’s The Voice at the Cutting Room on February 26.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gentei Kaijo at Arlene's Grocery

Gentei Kaijo hosts a jazz jam entitled “The Lesson” at Arlene’s Grocery every Thursday night. Few stages remain open to the jazz jam, where any unexpected combination of musicians are welcomed to improvise music, but in tonight’s jam, musicians in the audience were invited onto the stage for some spontaneity. Tonight, the rhythm section provided a funk bottom, the keyboardist merged modern electronic sounds and the singer I caught introduced hip hop vocals. I do not know how late this ran, but it seemed like anything musical could happen at these Thursday night jams.

Ten Commandments at Pianos

Since I was in the area – okay, I am almost always in the area since I live there – I stopped into Pianos during the set-up of a duo called Ten Commandments. One fellow readied his keyboard, another tuned his guitar, but there was also a laptop and a mixer on stage, so I could forecast that these were going to produce electronic bass and drum parts and perhaps a lot of other additional music tracks to fill out the band’s sound. The duo’s music was much like the British electronic pop music circa 1980 – the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, the Thompson Twins, A Flock of Seagulls, etc. The musicians bounced, members of the small audience danced, the band performed well and everyone seemed to be having a good time – except me since I do not like this kind of music, so I left to hit another music club. Best wishes to the future of Ten Commandments, however.

The Nepotist at the Living Room

The Nepotist is Chris Frank on guitar and vocals, his brother Hayden Frank on bass and vocals, and Owen Erickson on drums. The trio is originally from Ithaca and is now based in New York City, playing the local singer-songwriter circuit. The band performed at the Living Room tonight and will be performing at Arlene's Grocery on February 17 and the Wayland on February 25. Now this is outstanding: while every band seems to have its own website, here even Dad has a website promoting his sons’ band.

The trio engaged in a curious combination of pop music at the Living Room tonight. The guitarist played with a blues flair, the bassist played with a touch of reggae and the drummer played a bit like a jazz drummer. The first comparison might be to the Police, yet earthier and not as commercial. The Nepotist might be a rising band to watch.

Aaron Brooks & Friends at National Underground

If you thought southern rock was dead, here is a quartet that sounds like they were there and know nothing else. Performing original music as well as covers of songs by Tom Petty and the Marshall Tucker Band, Aaron Brooks & Friends at National Underground tonight sounded like the band is joining Blackberry Smoke and Killcode in trying to revive the genre. Aaron Brooks & Friends performs at National Underground every Thursday night.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jon Foreman/Heavy and Light Tour at Irving Plaza

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. Since its start in 2006, TWLOHA has donated over $1,000,000 directly into treatment and recovery and responded to more than 170,000 messages and emails from more than 100 countries. TWLOHA now brings the “Heavy and Light” tour to 16 U.S. cities to raise awareness of resources where at-risk people can get help for self destructive impulses. “Heavy and Light” is an evening of songs, conversation and hope that says rescue is possible.
Due to other commitments, I caught only the last half hour of the concert at Irving Plaza tonight, but it could have been my favorite concert of the year so far, principally because of what I heard of the closing performance by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Fiction Family. Foreman is a singer songwriter who uses abstract yet engaging poetic stylings to positive effect in his feel-good lyrics. His unique vocals combine the human yearning for search and the confidence that everything is going to be alright. This was particularly the case as the band performed Fiction Family's "Up Against the Wall." For the encore, he brought together all of the evening's performers for a country-ish version of David Bowie's "Heroes."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Barnaby Bright at the Living Room

The phrase "Barnaby Bright" is a medieval term for the summer solstice. It is also the name of an on-the-rise indie folk band touring the national singer-songwriter circuit. Barnaby Bright’s music has been featured on the ER, Days of Our Lives and Roadtrip Nation television shows. The New York-based quintet, led by vocalist Rebecca Bliss and her husband Nathan Bliss, won a NY Song Circle competition, and "If I Came Back as a Song" won third place in an international songwriting competition. The band has recorded three albums.

At the Living Room tonight, the band charmed the audience with its soothing country-flavored folk songs. Rebecca Bliss sang with a peaceful voice that communicated her life’s passions, longings and disappointments. The vocalist mentioned that it was her 47th time performing on that stage. It was also her last performance there, as the Living Room will close in two weeks.

The Dead Kennedys at the Gramercy Theatre

In the late 1970s, punk rock music scenes materialized in every major city. The San Francisco scene produced the Dead Kennedys, Millions of Dead Cops (MDC) and the Nuns, among others. Upon forming in 1978, the Dead Kennedys stood out for the harsh, snide socio-political satire of its lyrics and its loud and fast hardcore punk music, which featured elements of surf music, spaghetti western, psychedelic, garage rock and rockabilly. Dead Kennedys recorded five studio albums before disbanding in 1986. Original members East Bay Ray (guitar) and Klaus Flouride (bass), longtime member D.H. Peligro reformed in 2001 without original vocalist Jello Biafra, and are recording and touring with Ron "Skip" Greer as their current vocalist.

At the Gramercy Theater tonight, the Dead Kennedys relived its glory days, without offering anything entirely new. The times have changed, the music is old and no longer cutting edge, but the band still performs the old catalog well. Greer is much like Biafra is his movements and in that he talks entirely too much during the concert. The concert was fun and nostalgic, taking the audience back to the rebel elements of the Reagen-era 1980s, but without the friction.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Emmure at Irving Plaza

Emmure formed in 2003 in New Fairfield, Connecticut, but the band now resides in Queens, New York, and has recorded five blistering albums in these 10 years. Heavy metal music does not get much more extreme than this. Call it deathcore, metalcore, grindcore or nu metal, infused with a New York hip hop attitude, at Irving Plaza tonight Emmure performed the music that teenagers blast when they want their parents to leave the house. The band's name "Emmure" is a reference to immurement, a form of execution, and so it was with its music, with the five band members channeling their angst into their performance with intense aggression. Incorporating spoken words, rap and dissonant chords, the music featured countless brutal breakdowns and crunching riffs propelled by double bass drumming. Absolutely fierce.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lust at Bowery Electric

Japan Summit New York is an organization trying to make social and cultural connections between Japan and New York. Did not know there was a Japanese music scene in New York? Neither did I until the organization sponsored a Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief fund benefit at Bowery Electric tonight. Eight music acts and several dance groups were listed to perform over the course of six hours.
The final act to perform was Lust, a young power trio that performed a set of short, fast and dynamic songs, mostly in Japanese with a smattering of English. The music fell somewhere between the Jam and Green Day. I am unable to tell you what the songs were about, however. Sayonara!

The Trash Mavericks at Otto's Shrunken Head

Otto's Shrunken Head opened as a tiki bar in 2002 to bring the laid back South Pacific island vibe to New York’s East Village. The front room is decorated with bamboo and colorful blowfish lamps, leopard-print bar stools and Hawaiian-themed wallpaper. The back room features a stage where a variety of events can happen from open mic, spoken word, poetry and literary reading nights to film screenings, karaoke, draw-a-thon and rock trivia nights.  Many nights feature live bands as well. Frank Wood closes off each weekend with Wind Down Sunday, an evening where old-time rock and roll bands get to perform every 45 minutes or so.
Tonight I happened to catch the Trash Mavericks, a New Jersey-based band comprised of vocalist Bob Levy, bassist Kevin Battell, guitarist Matt Langone and drummer Sam LaMonica. The band has played in the local circuit for 25 years, but the music sounds 50 years old. The songs’ roots fall somewhere between Buddy Holly and early Rolling Stones, yet the set was played with the rawness of the New York Dolls. The band captured the spirit of American roots rock and roll.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Discostix at the National Underground

Discostix is comprised of four guys, but the band’s set list is comprised exclusively of 1980s hits that were originally recorded by female vocalists. At the National Underground tonight, the band was tight, dynamic, colorful and loud. There must be an audience for this, but I have a strong dislike for corporate rock. Best wishes, guys.

Steven Feifke Big Band at 92YTriBeCa

Originally from Lexington, Massachusetts, Steven Feifke is a 21-year-old senior at New York University, where he studies Jazz Performance and Economics. He is also an accomplished jazz composer, arranger and pianist. He was selected as one of 12 semi-finalists to the 2011 International Thelonious Monk Piano Competition held in Washington, DC. He has performed at Dizzy's Jazz Club, the Blue Note and Smalls in New York, and has toured in Europe.

Feifke (pictured standing) premiered his 17-piece Steven Feifke Big Band tonight at 92YTriBeCa on a bill that also featured the Adam Larson Quintet and the Armand Hirsch Trio. Writing and rehearsing with such a large and complex ensemble would be a challenge for a musician of any age, but this young musician proved he was more than capable. The band expertly performed his original compositions and executed imaginative arrangements of jazz standards.

Samples of Feifke’s music can be heard on his website, He will perform with his quintet, which includes the aforementioned Larson on tenor saxophone, at Columbia University’s Dodge Hall on February 15th.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ben Fields at the Living Room

Ben Fields is among the many New York-based singer-songwriters playing the listening room circuit, even tonight when relatively few audience members braved a harsh winter storm. Music careers often begin modestly, and in his case, his first recorded song, “Summer Song,” was voted Rage’s Indie of the Week on ABC in Australia and his song “Swede” won a John Lennon Songwriting Award. The videos for both songs are on YouTube.

Back by a trio of musicians for the first time at the Living Room tonight, his collection of crisp modern folk songs were gripping. These songs were more engaging than the two songs at the end of his set on which he accompanied himself only with his acoustic guitar. Fields resumes his residency at the Living Room with performances on February 8th and 15th.

Jann Klose at Rockwood Music Hall

Jann Klose is an actor and singer-songwriter who was born in Germany, raised in Kenya, South Africa, Germany and Ohio, and now lives in the Bronx. He was a cast member in Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde as well as in touring companies of The Who’s Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar. He also has recorded three albums and two EPs as a solo artist. He performed a collection of his original songs with a small band at the Rockwood Music Hall tonight.

By very definition, singer-songwriters must have stories to tell through their music, and Klose has had a wider range of life experiences than most of us will ever have. Backed by violin, piano, bass and drums, the evening was all about his story songs. Despite blizzard conditions outside on Allen Street, Klose and his band filled the small room with a quieting calm as attentive listeners entered and quickly settled into his life and reflections.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wayne Kramer at Bowery Electric

Wayne Kramer was a teenager in 1967 in Detroit, Michigan, when he co-founded the MC5, a short-lived yet pivotal rock band which, along with Iggy Pop & the Stooges, may have been the precursors of the raw and frenzied punk rock movement of the late 1970s. Kramer experienced times in drug addiction and federal penitentiary, and now is a co-founder of Jail Guitar Doors USA, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, California, which provides musical instruments and opportunities to help rehabilitate prisoners. He periodically returns to performing live music, as he did tonight at Bowery Electric. He has an album coming out in May called Lexington.
Wayne’s music still rocks, but he is backed by a jazz band. Much of his set was dedicated to songs that featured jazz arrangements. For the rockers, however, he played the MC5’s signature “Kick out the Jams” with a guest appearance from Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators and a cover of the Clash’s “Jail Guitar Doors,” sung with neighborhood rocker Jesse Malin. Pictured left to right are Emmy Award and Golden Globe-winning actor Jeremy Piven of television’s Entourage, who played drums on one song, Kramer and Malin.

Morningsiders at Upstairs at Pianos

Five students who hope to graduate from Columbia University have a music project on the side entitled Morningsiders. Magnus Ferguson (guitar/vocals) and Reid Jenkins (fiddle/vocals) met during freshman orientation and began making music together in the Morningside section of Manhattan. The duo formed Morningsiders at the beginning of this academic year by adding Rob Frech (piano), Vladimir Bernstein (bass/vocals), and Benjamin Kreitman (trumpet/drums/vocals). The result of their collaborative songwriting is a bluegrass-flavored folk-pop that also owes a nod to some of the band members’ jazz and classical training.
Performing at Upstairs at Pianos tonight, the group performed an impressive set of graduate-level Punch Brothers-like songs with outstanding music chemistry and vocal harmonies. Since I am a teacher by day, I am giving each of the band members an A+. The band has posted a video for the song "Empress" on YouTube and may be returning to Upstairs at Pianos for a residency in March.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tamar Korn at Rodeo Bar & Grill

Tamar Korn, backed by members of Brain Cloud, demonstrated at the Rodeo Bar & Grill tonight what Ella Fitzgerald would have sounded like if she had sung bluegrass or western swing. Secluded from urban harshness outside the restaurant doors, Korn's petite frame, retro outfits and soft, small voice took this listener to a gentler time and place. The backing instrumentation of a hollow body electric guitar, lap steel slide guitar, stand-up bass and drums completed the journey.

Turisas at the Gramercy Theater

Turisas is a folk metal band from Finland, founded in 1997 and named after an ancient Finnish god of war. At the Gramercy Theater tonight, in keeping with the band’s battle theme, the musicians’ outfits recalled post-apocalytic Mad Max warriors, and their faces and bodies were painted with black stripes and splattered in blood-red skin paint. Several fans in the audience similarly painted their faces. The hard rocking songs were led by clean singing, with epic, anthem-like, almost symphonic keyboard sounds and lead instrumental solos played on electric violin. The band is finishing its fourth album, Guards of Glory, and announced tonight that it would be back in New York later in the year to promote it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fulcrum of the Stars at Bowery Electric's Map Room

New York band Fulcrum of the Stars has been playing the downtown circuit since last summer, and played an unannounced show at the Map Room of Bowery Electric tonight. The trio consists of singer-songwriter and guitarist Jeremy Exelbert, bassist and vocalist Daniel Bailen, and drummer Alex Raderman. They played pop music reminiscent of Paul McCartney and Wings (and look at that McCartney-esque bass guitar!), but Exelbert infused an interesting element of jazz and blues guitar.

Of Mice & Men at Irving Plaza

Metalcore is the hybrid of heavy metal and hardcore punk. Although the ground was being set in the 1980s, metalcore developed into its own genre in the 1990s. It attracted an audience that liked its music loud, fast and extreme. This would not be the music of hit singles and radio play. It eventually reached a large and younger following through the annual summer Van Warped Tours.

Of Mice & Men from Costa Mesa, California, has discovered how to make metalcore for a larger audience. While remaining faithful to the hard edge of metal and punk, the band has been able to compose anthems with sing-along choruses, an approach avoided by most metalcore leaders. Vocalist and band founder Austin Carlile, formerly of Attack! Attack!, spent much of the concert at Irving Plaza tonight integrated the audience into the performance. Of Mice and Men returns to New York, opening for A Day to Remember at the Best Buy Theater, on March 26.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bronx at Bowery Electric

Sometimes it seems like creative music starts in New York, but Los Angeles artists copy, refine and improve it.  A hardcore punk band called the Bronx is actually from Los Angeles, and nobody does live punk better than what we saw tonight at Bowery Electric. The quintet of Matt Caughthran, Joby J. Ford, Jorma Vik, Brad Magers and Ken Horne is back with its first album in five years, entitled The Bronx (IV), and it finds the group more melodic and accessible, without sacrificing the slam dancing, crowd-surfing intensity of its 10-year trademark sound. Vocalist Caughthran encouraged much of the moshing, throwing himself repeatedly into the audience. The Bronx plays a second sold-out night at Bowery Electric tomorrow night.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Liz Hogg at Pianos

Liz Hogg has played in and recorded with several local bands, including Beach Arabs, Fables and UFOs, but tonight she performed solo at Pianos. What this Queens-based college student did with the electric guitar was amazing. In any one given song, she offered power riffs, intriguing finger picking and changing harmonics, often simultaneously.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Rubix Cube at the Gramercy Theater

In the mid to late 1970s, musicians fought back against the producer-driven disco dynasty with punk rock, hip hop and heavy metal. By the 1980s, the record companies who had enjoyed the consumer boom during the disco era now capitalized on those rebellious trends, polished them up to make them commercial, and served them to the public as corporate rock. Why are we bringing back the commercial, corporate 80s? Ask Rubix Cube, which bills itself as the Galaxy's Most Original 80s Tribute Band. Rubix Cube recently played a residency at the Canal Room, played the Gramercy Theater tonight and is returning on March 1. The band members not only perform hits from that decade, they recreate the culture. Notice Chewbacca's cameo appearance in the photograph above.

The Chris Bergson Band at Rodeo Bar & Grill

I am a happy person. I normally am not attracted to the blues. Yet every once in a while I hear a fresh new voice and sweet guitar playing and find myself riveted to the sound. I happened to catch the Chris Bergson Band's third set at Rodeo Bar & Grill tonight, and was mesmerized in particular by Bergson's talents. For fans of Derek & the Dominoes, Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and the Elvin Bishop Band.

Emancipator at Irving Plaza

Is this the future of music? Douglas Appling, better known by his stage name Emancipator, is a trip hop producer from Portland, Oregon. At Irving Plaza tonight, under psychedelic lights, laptop in front of him, he played with synthesized rhythms on his mixer. People watched, people danced, I left.