Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Yngwie Malmsteen at Irving Plaza

Yngwie Malmsteen started his first band at age 10 in his native Stockholm, Sweden. As a teenager, he was heavily influenced by classical music, particularly 19th century violinist composer Niccolò Paganini, and also discovered his most important rock guitar hero: the similarly classical-influenced Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and later Blackmore’s Rainbow. Shortly after arriving in America at age 18, Malmsteen became known for his neo-classical playing style in the heavy metal bands Steeler and Alcatrazz. He became a solo artist in 1984, has recorded more than 20 albums and recently published Relentless: The Memoir.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Malmsteen stood before seven eight-foot stacks of Marshall amplifiers. He had a vocalist and a backing band, but it did not matter. The dazzling, dizzying guitar work was the one and only focus of the music. Malmsteen played extended solos on every song, and one could only marvel at his various techniques and sounds. It became such a technical display that all else was sacrificed—lyrics, melody, and the musicianship of the other players was rendered white noise in favor of the showcase of Malmsteen’s mastery of the guitar. By the end of the show, ironically, he threw the guitar in the air several times and watched it crash to the ground, then smashed it to bits and tossed the parts into the audience.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Love Pirates at Otto's Shrunken Head

Frank Wood throws the best rock and roll parties with his Wind Down Sunday showcases at Otto’s Shrunken Head. Among the featured bands tonight was the Love Pirates. Here was a New York band that loves the Rolling Stones. Lead vocalist/guitarist Gass Wylde (for a time a member of the Pretenders) even has the facial looks of a Mick Jagger and the body and wardrobe of a Keith Richards. Harmonica player Android gave the band a touch of the J. Geils Band. Back in the days when those bands were playing bars and small music clubs, they probably sounded a lot like the Love Pirates do today, except the Pirates have raised the tempo and the energy level.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Robert Gordon at the Bowery Electric

At the peak of the New York punk rock scene in the late 1970s, Robert Gordon puzzled music fans by leaving a group that was on the verge of becoming popular, the Tuff Darts, to become a solo rockabilly singer. While the audience for punk rock was growing, there was not much of an audience for a rockabilly revivalist at the time, and even with later associations with guitarists Link Wray and Chris Spedding, Gordon won and maintained only a cult audience.

Gordon convincingly revisited his rockabilly repertoire tonight at the Bowery Electric. Hardly recognizable now from his early-career James Dean-type photographs, a heavier and graying Gordon is no longer looking like a retro-fit novelty. Accompanied by a simple but very able guitar-bass-drums trio led by Rob Stoner, the now 66-year-old Gordon proved he was not a throwback but a classic. Gordon’s performance was centered on his rich, masculine baritone on long-forgotten country ballads and pre-British Invasion rock and roll songs like “I’m Leaving It Up to You”, “Sea of Heartbreak” and “Rockabilly Boogie.” He closed the evening with a rousing version of the song Marshall Crenshaw wrote for him, “Someday, Someway.” Hopefully this performance will not be a one-shot, but the beginning of a return to many live performances.

Lil' Kim at the Gramercy Theatre

Lil’ Kim was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn as Kimberly Denise Jones in 1974. She lived much of her adolescent life on the streets after being expelled from home. When she was 19, she performed a freestyle rap for The Notorious B.I.G., who put her in his hit group Junior M.A.F.I.A. in 1995. Lil' Kim's debut studio album, Hard Core, in 1996) spawned three consecutive #1 rap hits, a record for a female rapper. Her following albums, The Notorious K.I.M., in 2000) and La Bella Mafia in 2003, were certified platinum, making her the only female rapper besides Missy Elliott to have at least three platinum albums. In 2005, she served a yearlong prison sentence for lying to a jury about her friends' involvement in a shooting four years earlier. During her incarceration, her fourth album, The Naked Truth, was released. She returned to the public eye in 2009 with an appearance on Dancing with the Stars.

Lil’ Kim returned to the New York stage with a late night performance at the Gramercy Theatre tonight. The show was listed for 10 p.m., but she came on at 1 p.m. I wish I had a dollar for every time she said “New York!”, “make some noise” and “I love you so much.” I wish I had a dollar for every person she allowed on stage with her, from the musicians to backup singers, the dancers and body builders, even the photographers and countless people hanging in the wings. But if I had a dollar for every curse word she spouted, I would have more millions than her. Despite all that, and despite several unexplained disappearances off stage during her 50-minute set, she gave the audience what they came for, the hits. Way too often, she pointed the microphone to the audience, having the fans sing or rap the lyrics to her hits. In all, we probably got about a half hour of true performance from her. I would say she got off easy.

Joe Taino at Rodeo Bar and Grill

Joe Taino became interested in playing music after watching the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night when he was nine years old in his native Puerto Rico. Little Jose got his first guitar when he was 11 years old and began playing the rock and blues he heard on English-language radio stations. He later began performing his first live shows at the USO naval station and the rock clubs in San Juan.  Jose adopted the name “Taino” due to his Native American appearance and background. He currently resides and performs in the New York area.

Backed simply by a strong bass and drums rhythm section at Rodeo Bar and Grill tonight, the trio played blues and boogie. Some songs were instrumentals, some were sung, but at the end of the set all I remembered was Taino’s precise and dizzying guitar playing. Taino’s fingers were all over the frets of his guitar. He played rough; he played sweet; he just played and played like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Johnny Winter. Newer guitarists need to sit at Taino’s feet to watch and learn. Taino plays solo at Bamboleo in Greenwich Village every Monday and Wednesday evening and occasional band gigs in New Jersey.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Harmonica Lewinskies at Arlene's Grocery

The Harmonica Lewinskies is a New York-based rock and roll blues funk band known for giving its audiences a riotous good time. The five-year-old band has released two EPs and a full length CD over the past year, and has been pulling in a steady core of followers to performances in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn music club circuits. Recently, the band has enlarged its following to allow for a Boston to Philadelphia itinerary.

The Harmonica Lewinskies returned to Arlene’s Grocery tonight and once again whipped up a frenzy with high energy, fast moving songs. Whether it was ska-flavored originals or spirited covers of 1960s songs including “Land of 1,000 Dances” or “Johnny B. Goode,” the musicians kept the party going and kept the goers partying. Each of the band’s front men took turns leading the songs so no one musician was the focal point. Here is a band that did not seem to torture itself trying to compose intricate new arrangements –they brought their individual musical inspirations to the family table and then everyone else partied like it was 1999. Watch for the Harmonica Lewinskies; the band will soon rock a music club near you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kaki King at the Mercury Lounge

Years ago, Kaki King (born Katherine Elizabeth King in Atlanta, Georgia) supported herself by selling drinks at the Mercury Lounge and busking in New York subway stations. The Brooklyn-based artist began recording, and these led to worldwide tours, solo and with a band, supporting Eric Johnson, the Foo Fighters, the Mountain Goats and others. Rolling Stone in 2006 listed her among "The New Guitar Gods." Then 26 years old, she was the sole woman and youngest artist on that list. She has recorded six albums and two EPs, and scored music for television and film, receiving a Golden Globe nomination with Eddie Vedder and Michael Brook for the soundtrack of Sean Penn's Into the Wild.

King returned to the Mercury Lounge tonight to perform two sets, one solo and one with a small band. The band consisted of a drummer and her frequent collaborator, Dan Brantigan, who played a trumpet, synthesizers and programs, including a unique breath-controlled trumpet synthesizer. The two concerts celebrating the 10th anniversary of the release of her debut acoustic album, Everybody Loves You. King sang several soft indie-sounding songs, but the spell-binding feature of the performance was that without a lot of flash, King demonstrated that she is a student of the guitar, combining a variety of previously unconnected techniques. For instance, one composition launched with classical flamenco fingering before smoothly transitioning into a jazz fusion blend and concluding with more chamber-esque progressions. On some of her rocking songs, she borrowed influences from heavy metal riffs and grooves. She played melodies with finger-style "fanning," fret tapping and funky slap bass percussion techniques, using imaginative double open tunings and multiple tunings on acoustic, electric and, for an encore, a lap steel guitar. She also incorporated electronic sound layering and looping. Overall, her sonic vision defies definition, but King is one of the most amazing guitarists you will ever see.

Ben Rector at the Bowery Ballroom

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 26 years ago, Ben Rector’s song “Conversation” won the Grand Prize in the pop category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2006, making him the youngest person ever to win the award for the pop category. While a student at the University of Arkansas, Rector won the NAMA award for best singer songwriter in Northwest Arkansas in 2009. Soon after, he relocated to Nashville, Tennessee. He has recorded four albums, and his songs have been featured on more than a dozen television programs, including One Tree Hill, Drop Dead Diva, Pretty Little Liars and Teen Mom, and in commercials for Harley-Davidson, Huggies, and OluKai.

Through most of his sold out concert at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, I kept thinking, “he sounds like but sings more love songs than Billy Joel.” Then he ended his set with a Billy Joel cover, “Movin’ Out.”  Joel’s influence is plain to see, then, especially when Rector plays his keyboard. Yet Rector’s main influence is love itself, as demonstrated by his wedding ring, a small symbol seldom seen on rock stages. While Rector’s vocals were not particularly outstanding, he used its ordinary quality to great effect by making it the clear deliverer of his story songs. A band comprised of guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and drummer accompanied him well with strong backing arrangements, but never compromised the sparkling content of Rector’s songs. Looking like a character from Doctor Who with his bow tie and tweed sports jacket, his clean-cut charm and unabashed romanticism will find a larger audience among fans as well as Nashville’s many song interpreters.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Saint Rebel at Arlene's Grocery

I happen to see a listing that a rock band from Denmark was playing at Arlene’s Grocery tonight. I figured if they could travel all the way from Denmark, I could walk the four blocks from my house to catch the performance. The band had four people in the audience – three of their friends from Denmark plus me. Nevertheless, Saint Rebel’s impressive American debut proved it was an outstanding hard rock band. I see a lot of concerts, and this performance was stronger than that of many popular bands.
What makes the six-year-old band interesting is not that it is progressive, but rather that the music is refreshingly regressive. Jonas Kaas sings, screams and croons like a blues singer. The musicians (Allan Blumensen and Martin Højfeldt on guitars, Lasse Hansen on bass and Jesper Riis on drums) were rooted in high-energy heavy-bottomed throbbing melodies that might recall Alice in Chains, the Stone Temple Pilots and other 1990s bands. The live performance was as polished as any you would see from a major band at a large venue. Saint Rebel has a few videos and a pending CD, The Battle of Sinners and Saints, which can be previewed on iTunes and several of the band’s social media. The band will be performing unplugged tomorrow night, April 24, at the National Underground. Somebody please discover Saint Rebel and make the band huge!

Steel Panther at Irving Plaza

Somewhere between the over-the-top humor of David Lee Roth and This Is Spinal Tap, there is Steel Panther, a Los Angeles hair metal band that does not take itself too seriously. Since forming around 2000, the band members exaggerated their on-stage personas to where they are intentionally a parody of the heavy metal music and lifestyle of the 1980s. The band’s lyrics and onstage demeanor lampoon the excesses of the 1980s Sunset Strip scene – the no-restraints sex, drugs, cursing, make-up and hairspray. The band’s 2009 album, Feel the Steel, debuted at number one on Billboard’s comedy charts and received a Grammy nomination for best comedy album.
At Irving Plaza tonight, the band was true to form. This was entertainment more than it was great music. Vocalist Michael Starr (Ralph Saenz) sang goofy and profane songs touting extreme rock culture decadence. Between songs, guitarist Satchel (Russ Parrish) bragged about unimaginable numbers of sexual conquests, while bassist Lexxi Foxxx (Travis Haley) checked his make-up with a handheld mirror and repeatedly sprayed hairspray on his long mane. Drummer Stix Zadinia (Darren Leader) added to the posing. Anthems like “Party All Day” and “17 Girls in a Row” performed live in concert help us see the comedy of today’s rock culture as well.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Light Asylum at the Mercury Lounge

Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum
Shannon Funchess moved from her native Southern Baptist Mississippi roots to the Seattle grunge scene and finally to Brooklyn's then-nascent indie-rock scene by 2001. There she joined several bands before forming the mission of Light Asylum with Bruno Coviello in 2010. The two combined their visions of raw and danceable electronic music with dark, socio-political commentary and a call to action. Light Asylum recorded a four-track EP, In Tension, in 2010 and a self-titled album in 2012.

Watching Light Asylum’s performance at the Mercury Lounge tonight, I thought “this must become the avant garde of New York indie dance music.” I then discovered the New York Times already published a similar prophecy about Light Asylum. Funchess growled and grunted her guttural and androgynous contralto sounding somewhere between James Brown, Grace Jones and an angry pit bull. Backed by basic rock-bottom rhythm tracks, Funchess violently hit synth pads with her drumsticks not only for musical accompaniment, but also to allow her body an expressive release of pent-up aggression. Her accompanying musician on keyboards, Raphael Radna, maintained the grooves with simple, hypnotic riffs on his keyboard synthesizer.  Most EDM artists today are increasingly complicating their multiple layers of sound; Light Asylum is moving in the opposite direction, making bare-naked music stripped down to pulsing rhythms, similar to what the Bronx band ESG did with funk punk music in the 1980s.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Anthrax at Irving Plaza

Vocalist Joey Belladonna has rejoined Anthrax -- again!
Anthrax is among the granddaddies of thrash metal, and was New York’s prime representative in the field throughout the 1980s. Formed in 1981, Anthrax, along with Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Sepultura and so many others, pushed heavy metal music beyond what Judas Priest and Motorhead had accomplished. In the ensuing years, many newer bands became thrashier and more extreme, seemingly dating Anthrax to a period that now in comparison no longer seems so wild. Over the past 32 years, Anthrax changed line-up many times and even altered the direction of its music several times while recording 11 studio albums and performing at some of the world’s largest heavy metal festivals.

Anthrax’s pair of tour-ending concerts at Irving Plaza allowed the audience to conclude what can be said of very few bands – after more than 30 years, Anthrax sounds better than ever live. Although the first half of the concert harked back to the landmark 1970s era of Iron Maiden or Dio, the rest of the concert was speedier and harsher, focusing on what made Anthrax one of America’s thrash pioneers. Returning vocalist Joey Belladonna sang with extraordinary range, new touring member Jonathan Donais shredded on lead guitar and rhythm guitarist Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante powered the onslaught. At a time when many metal bands growl lyrics and thrust a wall of furious white noise to grand effect, it was refreshing to hear a classic thrash band combine melody and clarity with the adrenalin-pumping pulse of true thrash.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Killing Joke at Irving Plaza

Killing Joke formed in England in 1979 during the punk wave, and were perhaps the first of these bands to lean heavily towards heavy metal. The band's line-up became a revolving door, the band's musical direction has changed several times over the course of 16 albums and even the existence of the band has been spotty. Some 30 years after its birth, the original members of Killing Joke reunited, recorded and toured. Vocalist Jaz Coleman, guitarist Kevin "Geordie" Walker, bassist Martin "Youth" Glover and drummer Paul Ferguson are joined by Reza Udhin, who plays guitar, keyboards and synthesizers.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Killing Joke showed its most recent metamorphosis. Once a punk band, Killing Joke now is mostly an industrial band. The band played wall-of-sound hard and heavy grooves throughout the 90-minute performance, virtually all of it to a danceable beat. The music was almost EDM, except that this genre usually has synthesized sounds up front, whereas Killing Joke has them more in the background. Once Killing Joke established these grooves, however, nothing much else happened musically, unlike Skrillex, KMFDM and other contemporary acts who build layers of sound upon their industrial base. If Killing Joke's grooves featured any electric guitar or synthesizer leads, they were too buried in the mix to be significant. Meanwhile, Coleman entertained with an Ozzy Osbourne-like stage presence, but he was far from a great singer, and his melody lines were as repetitive as the band's churning music. Overall, Killing Joke's concert was loud and uptempo enough to course through the body and be enjoyable, but the musicians have a lot of catching up to do if they want to remain relevant in this century.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bridges and Powerlines at the Mercury Lounge

The present members of Bridges and Powerlines, vocalist/keyboardist Andrew Wood of Connecticut, guitarist David Boyd of Kentucky, bassist Keith Sigel of North Carolina, and drummer Mason Ingram of Texas, met in Brooklyn. The indie-pop band debuted with a self-titled EP in 2006, released two subsequent albums and a new EP, Better, becomes available on May 21st.

At Mercury Lounge tonight, Bridges and Powerlines showcased some of its older songs as well as its newer songs, the latter of which are all named after Brooklyn neighborhoods. These were all short harmony-laden songs, seemingly inspired in part by 1990s college-radio power pop tunes. The drummer propelled the rest of the band into a driving body-bouncing beat that quickly compelled the audience out of the seating area along the perimeter of the room. The accent of the music was more pop than rock, however, so each song was packaged slickly as a tightly compressed unit, with little room for instrumentation to more than accompany a melody. Bridges and Powerlines will perform at a record release concert at Pianos on May 18th.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Born Ruffians at Bowery Ballroom

Born Ruffians is an indie rock band formed in 2004 in Ontario, Canada. The band’s first success outside Canada was in Great Britain, where the group appeared in the British teen drama Skins, performing in a Brooklyn night club. Born Ruffians was also featured in the comedic web series, Nirvana the Band the Show, with the musicians playing as themselves as they rehearsed with a new member of the band. Born Ruffians' third album, Birthmarks, was released today by Yep Roc Records.

Led by Luke Lalonde (guitar/vocals), with new member Andy Lloyd (guitar/keyboard), Mitch Derosier (bass) and Steven Hamelin (drums), Born Ruffians performed music that sounded familiar yet refreshingly new at the Bowery Ballroom tonight. Overall, the band performed light, slow pop music but with tricky, indie inventiveness. The result was a mix that has been exercised by many of the staples of college radio, but yet the slick, clever arrangements were imaginative enough to keep it fresh. Born Ruffians will headline Maxwell’s in Hoboken on April 18.

Mindless Self Indulgence at Irving Plaza

Vocalist Jimmy Urine came off the stage mid-song
to engage (or confront?) his audience
Mindless Self Indulgence (also known as MSI) formed in New York in 1997 with the intention of making aggressive music that was fun, shocking and maybe even a bit ridiculous. Vocalist Jimmy Urine writes sarcastic and biting songs, many with titles that can not be printed in most family publications. Meanwhile, guitarist Steve, Righ?, bassist Lyn-Z and drummer Kitty play a mixed style incorporating elements of punk rock, alternative rock, electronica, techno, industrial and hip hop. The band’s longevity is rooted in a loyal cult audience with dark sense of humor that has followed the band’s quirky music and high-powered stage antics.

I did not know any of this when I walked into Irving Plaza tonight. Given the time needed for an on-site learning curve, I remained puzzled much of the time as to what was the attraction to this colorful band. The audience appeared to be more than a collection of fans; it was more like an assembly of MSI devotees. The music and the musicianship were performed interestingly in that they covered a vast ground without taking ownership of any particular genre. The key was personality. Urine self-mockingly was intentionally odd-looking and odd-moving, and spent most of the concert engaging the audience in his energetic performance and in his between-song banter, much of which was him comically insulting his fans. To enjoy an MSI experience, a sense of humor is required and foreknowledge of what to expect is advised.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Graham Parker and the Rumour at the Gramercy Theatre

Graham Parker started playing music in his native England in the 1960s, but did not get any attention until Graham Parker and the Rumour rode the British punk wave of the late 1970s, along with his peers Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. His Gramercy Theatre concert tonight showed that over time much has changed in the music world around Parker, but Parker has only had to soften his sound a bit to remain contemporary. Listening to him sing his older and newer songs, it was hard to believe that his music was ever punk or new wave. If anything, he might be branded a pop singer-songwriter with a strong backing band in today’s world. His somewhat snarly, sneering vocal tone is perhaps the only remnant of that time period. No longer an angry young man and no longer copping a change-the-world attitude, the 63-year-old artist sang like he was part of a modern landscape. Parker’s live performance was fairly engaging, but very middle-of-the-road. The older songs were enjoyable for nostalgic reasons, their performance was professionally executed, but unless the listener held a special place in his or her heart for the late 1970s, overall the concert was pretty forgettable.

Chad Valley at the Mercury Lounge

Hugo Manuel is the vocalist of the British group Jonquil, but also performs as a solo artist under the name Chad Valley. At the Mercury Lounge tonight, he sang dreamy, soulful electro-pop songs, as he played a keyboard and synthesizers, while accompanied by another musician playing synthesized beats and a backup singer. Unlike many EDM (electronic dance music) and synth-pop artists, however, the accent was not on what kind of sounds could be generated or what kind of response it would get on a dance floor. It was about the songs. Manuel is a rhythm and blues singer, and the songs were built on that. Rather than letting the musicianship overshadow the singer or the songs, the singing was front and center, backed by woozy, ambient music. Some may call his music chillwave.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Parkway Drive at Irving Plaza

Parkway Drive is a metalcore band from Australia formed in 2002 that has released four albums, including the latest, Atlas, as well as two DVDs, an EP, and two split albums. The band won Australia’s ARIA Award for Best Hard Rock and Metal Album and gained a considerable American following through its participation in the summer Warped festivals.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Parkway Drive showed itself to be a crunching heavy metal superpower, poised for world domination. Vocalist Winston McCall growled and screamed from the gut, while the musicians charged forth with precise and intense hardcore punk breakdowns, chunky riffs and rapid fire double-kick beats. Meanwhile, the responsive audience showed its allegiance to the band, chanting song requests in unison. The fans’ wall-to-wall moshing on the main floor was so extreme that, for the first time ever, I retreated to the V.I.P. balcony for safety.

Hunter Valentine at the Mercury Lounge

Hunter Valentine is formed in 2004 in Toronto, Canada, and is now based in Brooklyn. Though a hard-touring band since its inception, the band gained its greatest fame last year, when its tour was documented on the Showtime series The Real L Word. The We're Here to Recruit You DVD, shot at the Stonewall Inn on the 40th anniversary of the historic Stonewall Riots, interspersed casual band chit-chat with live performances and like the television series firmly established the band members as celesbians. Hunter Valentine has released its third album, Collide and Conquer, and will tour with Cyndi Lauper this summer, playing the Beacon Theatre on July 10.

Kiyomi McCloskey, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Hunter Valentine, has large tattoos on her right arm of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At Mercury Lounge tonight, she wore a rosary around her neck. Nevertheless, throughout the concert, she swore and drank whiskey, beer and anything else that was passed to her from the audience. This kind of tension defines her and the band, and this is what ripped through their concert performance. Hunter Valentine rocked – hard, fast and furious. McCloskey spit her vocals harshly and passionately, although they seemed to be somewhat undermixed or buried by the instruments. The four musicians played with seemingly unbridled energy. The songs on their albums have strong pop hooks, but the stage is where the band lives.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Allison Gordon at Googie's Lounge

Born in the north and raised in the south, Allison Gordon has made New York her home and is performing on the downtown singer-songwriter circuit. At Googie’s Lounge tonight, accompanied solely by her acoustic guitar, Gordon sang to an attentive audience in pillow-talk. Many of her songs were about the niceties and complications of relationships with another person, but some songs told of a sorting out of her own inner workings. They were not necessarily therapy with a melody, however. They were carefully written and meticulously performed story-songs about the complexities of life.

Milhouse Palacios at Upstairs at Pianos

With so many music clubs in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, there is no surprise in finding a singer-songwriter playing an acoustic guitar on one of the many stages. Ah, but a folky punk singing original songs largely in Spanish? That is different.

Milhouse Palacios, lead singer of a punk rock band, Dias Felices (Happy Days), in his native Bueno Aires, Argentina, brought his indie pop to Upstairs at Pianos tonight. For a while, he seemed to accept that he was background music to most of the Friday night clusters of talkative patrons. Nevertheless, he was not the mellow, sensitive, reflective and introspective performer one expects at some of these clubs. Sitting on a stool, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, he refused to be invisible or inaudible. Expressing a jovial personality, he was raucous, strumming quickly and loudly, insisting the patrons clap along on one song and playing his guitar behind his head at another time. The room was too noisy for me to tell you anything about his lyrics, but I can tell you he was fun.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Weapons at the Parkside Lounge

Holy Ramone! How many good rocking songs can you get basically using the same drum beat and three guitar chords? At the Parkside Lounge tonight, the Weapons brought garage-band music back to its pop punk roots, playing songs that were short, fast and loud. Unlike many of the pioneers of this music, the quartet hosted two lead guitarists, making the songs stand out as more rocking than popping. Not to be confused with numerous recording artists (as far as Canada and Iceland!) called Weapon or Weapons, this New York-based band performs next at Bowery Electric on May 16.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

U.D.O. at the Gramercy Theatre

U.D.O.'s Udo Dirkschneider
Back in the 1970s, when heavy metal was leather and studs, before the 1980s spandex and make-up era, Accept was a respectable hard rocking and hard touring band from Germany. Accept opened for many of the biggest names and received generous admiration from hard rock and heavy metal audiences, but the group never got big enough to headline on its own. Perhaps Udo Dirkschneider’s singing was too screechy for its time, but it paved the way for AC/DC’s Bon Scott. In the 1970s, the band only enjoyed widespread recognition with the song “Balls to the Wall.” Dirkschneider left Accept in 1987 and formed a new band, U.D.O., which releases its 14th studio album, Steelhammer, on May 24.
U.D.O. is harder and heavier than anything Dirkschneider had ever done, judging by the concert at the Gramercy Theatre tonight. Many of his new songs brought his sound up to date – they were faster and thrashier – but the bulk of the band’s performance was rooted in no-fluff 1970s heavy rock, a sound older than some of the four musicians he brought to share the stage. Unlike newer metal bands, U.D.O.’s two guitarists, Andrey Smirnov and Kasperi Heikkinen, returned to an old format by simply trading speedy guitar leads without a lot of crunching power chords or distortions. Bassist Fitty Wienhold and drummer Francesco Jovino pounded the rhythm section. Accept missed out in the 1970s, but if today’s larger hard rock audience hungers for a pure metal resurgence, U.D.O. will lead the way.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Realm Reality at S.O.B.'s

Rick Gonzalez, the actor from Bushwick, Brooklyn, seen on Coach Carter, Roll Bounce and War of the Worlds, is also known as rapper Realm Reality. Prodigy of Mobb Deep launched his own record company, Infamous Records, and signed Realm Reality as his first artist and released the debut mixtape, In the Grind We Trust. Realm Reality headlined BET's monthly showcase, Music Matters, at S.O.B.'s tonight.
Backed by DJ Lyfe, a drummer and two backing vocalists, Realm Reality rapped about life as he knows it. Some of his story raps were sympathetically tragic, about family life that does not meet dream standards and where time does not heal all wounds. Here, the vulnerability worked. On the other hand, some of the raps were just foul. Realm Reality, like many other rappers, is young and needs to learn from experience that crude language is not necessary for street credibility.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

BUDDH4CL4WZ at Arlene's Grocery

When EDM (Electronic Dance Music) music was born in the late 1980s, someone could set up a table in a schoolyard, bring out a Casio keyboard and a couple of turntables, and the rave began. The keyboard would provide a choice of rhythm tracks and the player would create electronic sounds for melody lines. As the music developed, electronic gear increasingly replaced the keyboard’s dominance. Artists created music and programmed it back into the machinery. Now in its fourth decade, the line between what is played live and what is pre-programmed varies from artist to artist. One can fairly ask the question: is this a musician or a disc jockey?
Meet BUDDH4CL4WZ, also know as Andreas Robbins, who performed at Taylor Rich’s Step into Spring night at Arlene’s Grocery tonight. He produced music with software synthesizers, mixers and MIDI controllers. He sometimes touched the keypad on his laptop or twisted a dial on one of the electronic gadgets, then walked away as the music played on without his help. Halfway through his set, he was joined onstage by two rappers, once again as he stood apart from the machines producing the music. The music was energetic and danceable, although most in the audience were spectators, not dancers. While much of the music was not created live, the blur was irrelevant, as ravers heard and felt what they came to experience.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Living Colour at Irving Plaza

Living Colour was formed in New York City in 1984 by British-born guitarist Vernon Reid, developed a strong following on the local music scene, particularly at CBGB’s, and broke internationally with its debut album Vivid in 1988. At the peak of its popularity, Living Colour was named Best New Artist at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards, the song "Cult of Personality" won a 1990 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance and the band performed before huge audiences as the opening act on a Rolling Stones tour. Shortly thereafter, Living Colour faded from the limelight, splitting apart and reuniting several times.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Vivid with a concert at Irving Plaza tonight, Living Colour demonstrated why its wide commercial success was limited to a brief time period – the band is far from a standard hard rock band – and why its music is way too super-creative for the masses. At its core, the band is a hard rock band, with Reid playing sizzling guitar leads on most songs. Corey Glover, now gray-haired and without the long locks he swung in the band’s earlier videos, is still a soulful singer. With the strong rhythm section of bassist Doug Winbush and drummer Will Calhoun, the band stretched beyond hard rock with a challenging fusion influenced by free jazz, funk, hip hop, punk rock and heavy metal. Even more dynamic than the music, however, were the lyrics collected from several of the band’s albums; these lyrics explored human behavior in a time of gentrification of neighborhoods, Eurocentrism, racism, bisexuality and yes, the cult of personality. During the encores, Living Colour introduced members of the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash’s Furious Five for a few minutes of vintage rap. What can we do to keep Living Colour alive and challenging us further?

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Black Crowes at Terminal 5

Since forming in 1989 in Atlanta, Georgia, the Black Crowes recorded nine studio albums and four live albums that sold over 30 million copies. The band’s most recent studio album was released in 2008, however, and was followed by a hiatus from recording and touring while the lead vocalist pursued another project, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The Black Crowes reassembled recently, took to the road and performed at Terminal 5 tonight.
Known as a blues-rooted band akin to the Rolling Stones and many 1970s hard rock bands, at Terminal 5 the Black Crowes showed that its core is in long-haired southern rock. Throughout the two-hour concert, the accent was on Chris Robinson’s slightly raspy vocal chops and the often dueling guitar playing of both his brother Rich Robinson and new member Jackie Greene. Much of this guitar work recalled the slide work of the Allman Brothers Band. The band stayed true to its 24-year history of playing retro-styled rock, pleasing its audience, but showed no new signs of where the band might be heading in its future.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Bowery Ballroom

To describe the Carolina Chocolate Drops as a black bluegrass band is far too limiting. True, the band’s old-time fiddle and banjo-based music recalls the backwoods hillbilly sounds of generations past. Yet the young North Carolina-based band is so much more – the members have researched and reinterpreted many traditional folk musics, including jug band, string band, blues and jazz. The band’s 2010 debut album, Genuine Negro Jig, won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album.
At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the Carolina Chocolate Drops not only explored the roots of American music, including bluegrass, country and blues, the group even performed Haitian and Scottish folk songs in their native languages. (Ironically, gospel was not in the mix.) The four musicians played a different combination of instruments for each song; most were stringed instruments (cello, guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin), but occasionally they introduced a drum, African pan-pipe or just plain handclapping. In between several songs, they taught briefly on African American history and about traditional musical instruments. This was more than a jaw-dropping concert; this was an education in the legacy of American music.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jake Pinto and the Yeah Tones at Bowery Electric's Map Room

It is a rare young New Yorker who would want to play jazz for a living. Florida-born, New York-based Jake Pinto is a twenty-something keyboardist entering the local club circuit with his jazz trio, the Yeah Tones. Tonight they began a series of Tuesday performances at Bowery Electric’s Map Room.
At the trio’s debut gig at the Map Room, the audience encountered the simplicity of the musicians’ love for ensemble sound. Pinto’s keys and occasional electronic interludes skillfully weaved with the funky bass and steady percussion of his musicians to create an improvisational and experimental soundscape. Influenced by the era of Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett and Miles Davis, yet with the addition of contemporary electronic riffs, the compositions often began as simple arrangements and chords, but alive and growing before our ears, built upon themselves to a rousing peak. To become a true jazz artist, it pays to avoid the familiar and take risks, and Jake Pinto and the Yeah Tones may have the passion to accomplish this.

Andy Grammer at Irving Plaza

Andy Grammer was joined on one song by Colbie Cailat
While in ninth grade, Andy Grammer picked up his dad’s guitar and taught himself to write songs. The Los Angeles native later started on his music career as a busker on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica with his car battery-powered amplifier and acoustic guitar. Grammer began playing everywhere he could, including gigs at more than 100 colleges and universities, as well as birthday parties and high school dance classes. He later performed in the Viper Room, the Roxy Theatre and the House of Blues. With the 2011 release of his debut album, Andy Grammer, national tours with Natasha Bedingford, Colbie Caillat and Train, and television appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (twice), and Good Morning America, Grammer found a wider audience than pedestrians on a promenade.
At Irving Plaza tonight, parents lined the perimeter of the room while teenaged girls sang along to light pop tunes and shrieked anytime Grammer said anything cute. He smiled a lot, flashed beautiful teeth and said all the right things. It was so squeaky clean that I wanted to go wash my hands. Nevertheless, Grammer’s radio-fit music was enjoyable for adults as well. Perhaps it was the southern California sun in the compositions, but it felt like the return of winter outside and Grammer’s songs sounded like summer. Singing about internal turmoil and relationships with girlfriends, even the songs about breakups sounded like feel-good songs, with sparkling melody hooks, an air of soft soul and a subtle funky undertow.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Virgins at Bowery Ballroom

Guitarist/vocalist Donald Cumming began writing songs in his New York apartment, then recruited friends to fill out the band that would be called the Virgins in 2006. Before long, the Virgins released a debut album and gained some national popularity when the CW show Gossip Girl featuring five of their songs in one episode. The Virgins began getting high profile opening slots at area music clubs and at many American, British and European summer music festivals, along with television appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Last Call with Carson Daly. Cumming revamped the band’s line-up last year and Cult Records released a second Virgins album, Strike Gently, on March 12.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the Virgins demonstrated how skillfully honed its soft indie pop dance music can be performed while remaining faithful to its core identity as a rock band. Taking a page from the Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Dire Straits style of almost talking the lyrics (Cumming even wore a Mark Knopler-era head band) and injecting funky dance grooves and edgy guitar licks, the Virgins live found the thread that sewed together the band’s older pop songs with the newer folk-rock derived songs. The band showed onstage that it is still maturing its hybrid sound, but Cumming, guitarist Xan Aird, bassist Max Kamins and drummer John Eatherly are finding their way to a broader audience than the limited teen audience that the band cultivated in its primal stage.

Har Mar Superstar at Bowery Ballroom

Sean Tillmann does not look like a rock star. The singer/actor looks to be past middle age (although his stats claim he is 35), and he is short, overweight and balding. He kind of looks like porn star Ron Jeremy, although by the time his Har Mar Superstar character has stripped off his suit down to his skivvies at the end of his show there seems to be one notable place where the similarity ends. Har Mar Superstar has an entertaining sense of humor about his looks, playing up a ludicrous sex god image.

That said, the singer-songwriter from Minnesota is serious about his music, even though some of his lyrics are tongue-in-cheek.  At the Bowery Ballroom, Har Mar Superstar sang original dance pop music in the style of a Madonna, while the simple guitar-bass-drums backing band leaned to an earthier rhythm and blues and even hip hop feel. His songs wrapped hook lines around grooves that encouraged dancing in place and his singing recalled the softer Marvin Gaye-side of Motown. Nevertheless, it is his Danny de Vito-type persona that has earned Har Mar Superstar appearances on television shows including the Sharon Osbourne Show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live! in the United States and Born Sloppy, Bo Selecta, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Never Mind the Buzzcocks in Great Britain. It is the same persona that will get him noticed on the rock music circuit.