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
Saturday, April 27, 2013
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 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.
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 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
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.
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
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!
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
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.
|Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum|
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
|Vocalist Joey Belladonna has rejoined Anthrax -- again!|
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
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
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
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.
|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 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.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
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.
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
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
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.'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
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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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.
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.