Friday, May 31, 2013

The Wildhearts at the Gramercy Theatre

Throughout the 1990s, the Wildhearts had a string of hits in its native England and was popular in Japan but remained unknown in the United States. Since its formation in 1990, the group split or went on hiatus and reunited many times, with former members rejoining in as many as 15 combinations. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Ginger (real name David Walls) is the band’s one mainstay, but even he has a side project now called the Ginger Wildheart Band. The Wildhearts current American tour celebrates the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut album, Earth Vs. the Wildhearts.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the Wildhearts did two sets. The first set reinvented the band’s first album; the second set consisted of greatest hits and B-sides. While the band’s music over the years had run the gamut from pop rock to hard rock, tonight’s overall live sound was a Green Day-type power punk, with a touch of the Clash. The music was fast and loud, and Ginger sang the lyrics clearly with catchy choruses that were emphasized for rallying singalongs. For the band’s fans, it was a sprite-filled homecoming; for unknowing Americans, it was a fine performance but a dated sound we have heard many times before.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Dictators NYC at the Bowery Electric

The Dictators formed in New York in 1973 as a hard-hitting rock and roll band in the style of Detroit rock ragers the MC5 and the Stooges. The band became a local legend and recorded eight albums, but marginal widespread success led the band to split up and reassemble in different configurations and under more titles than even the band members can count. Vocalist Richard Blum, better known as “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, and guitarist Ross “the Boss” Friedman presently lead the Dictators NYC.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, the Dictators NYC encapsulated the band’s 40-year history with a set that included “The Next Big Thing” and “Two Tub Man” from the first album, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!, to “The Savage Beat” and “Who Will Save Rock and Roll” from the 2001 D.F.F.D. (Dictators Forever, Forever Dictators) album. The band even performed two songs from the Dictators’ splinter band, Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, “The Party Starts Now!” (which was in the movie Kindergarten Cop but not on soundtrack album), and “New York, New York” (which was on the Mondo New York soundtrack). The Dictators NYC played loud, hard and fast, but most of all Manitoba made sure it was fun as well. Manitoba’s Bronx-born bad-boy stream-of-consciousness banter between songs came with a light-hearted attitude that complimented the in-you-face rawness of the band’s music. We await the next Dictators reunion.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lydia Lunch Retrovirus at the Bowery Electric

Lydia Lunch (born Lydia Anne Koch on June 2, 1959) moved to New York City from Rochester at the age of 13 in 1973, and soon after became one of the leaders of the punk rock and No Wave music scenes with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and as an actress in several independent films. She later formed and recorded with 8-Eyed Spy before launching a solo career in music, film and mostly in spoken-word events.

Lunch returned to music with her new band Retrovirus tonight at the Bowery Electric. The repertoire was comprised of a span of Lunch’s catalogue, reinterpreted by a searing and bludgeoning band. Always at the cutting edge, never succumbing to widespread or commercial appeal, Lunch seemed to have taken her spoken word works and wrapped music around them, much like Patti Smith, Jim Carroll and maybe even Lou Reed did in their early days. The lyrics often were provocative, and her snarly delivery meant that even now in her late 50s she has not refined her attitude. The band was not nostalgic for 1970s punk of Lunch’s earlier musical adventures; rather, the band played taut, heavy, breakneck guitar-heavy rock. This could be the project she needed in order to find a wider audience.

Imaginary Cities at SubCulture: Arts Underground

Vocalist Marti Sarbit and multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas happened to meet in a music club in their native Winnipeg, Canada, in 2010 and shortly thereafter Imaginary Cities was born. The duo's debut album, Temporary Resident, was released in 2011, won a Western Canada Music Award for Best Pop Album of the Year and was nominated for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. To support the album, the band toured Eastern Canada and the United States as an opening act for Pixies. Imaginary Cities’ second album, Fall of Romance, will be released tomorrow.

Labeling Imaginary Cities as an indie band is all too convenient and possibly inaccurate. Indie artists tend to play music that is a bit left of center, but Imaginary Cities is a straight-on mainstream pop rock band. At SubCulture: Arts Underground tonight, the five-piece touring ensemble played a 40-minute set of what could become commercial radio music. Sarbit’s smoky alto was often spotlighted and was magnetically sultry, but more often was teamed with Matyas’ in a Jefferson Airplane or X manner. Short verses led to catchy, melodic choruses, with little time taken for instrumental breaks. Imaginary Cities may appeal to fans of Sixpence None the Richer and Florence and the Machine.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

You Bred Raptors? at the Mercury Lounge

You Bred Raptors? (yes, with an intentional question mark) is an instrumental trio from Queens that wears an array of masks and fuses jazz, classical and funk. Named after a spoken line in the film Jurassic Park, You Bred Raptors? is comprised of Epileptic Peat (aka Peter Rains) on a custom-built eight-string bass and glockenspiel, Zach Schmidlein on drums and Bryan Wilson on cello and glockenspiel. The trio busks in New York subway stations, has worked as a pit orchestra for a local theater group and scored the feature film, The Return to Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Peat and his new custom Conklin bass will be featured in the July 2013 issue of Bass Guitar Magazine. You Bred Raptors? has recorded two albums. The band also has an amusing sense of humor, on stage and on their web sites.

I remember seeing a then-unknown Mahavishnu Orchestra as an opening act in the 1970s and coming away thinking, “I do not know what that was, but it was amazing.” I felt the same sensation upon listening to You Bred Raptors? at the Mercury Lounge tonight. Now in the confines of an enclosed venue rather than an open subway station, the band cranked up the intensity as well as the volume of the music. The most riveting factors were the intricate compositions and Peat’s performance on his unique instrument. How was he able to play classical guitar on the bass? Sometimes he slapped and plucked the bass like Larry Graham. At high peaks, he played the two lower strings like a lead guitar. Other times he played chords like a heavy metal guitarist, and other times he hit the bass strings as if they were percussion instruments. At the end of the performance, he used a bow across his bass strings, recalling Jimmy Page. You Bred Raptors? was simply jaw-dropping.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Monochrome Set at the Bowery Electric

The Monochrome Set was among the British bands that had some name recognition during the new wave movement. Formed in London in 1978, the group gathered a cult following but never attained major league success, and so split up and reformed several times in the ensuing years. The band recorded its 10th album last year, Platinum Coils, and prepared for an East Coast tour. The present lineup consists of original members Bid (guitar, vocals) and Lester Square (guitar), with Andy Warren (bass) and Steve Brummell (drums). Prior to the show tonight at the Bowery Electric, the Monochrome Set last played in New York at the Ritz in December 1982.

Did anyone notice over all these years that the Monochrome Set was missing in action? I did not. I went to tonight’s show not remembering anything about the band beyond its name. Upon listening to the live performance at Bowery Electric, I realized why I had forgotten. At times the band sounded like a band playing soft versions of 1960s mod pop music (like the Who, the Jam or the Fall). Other times the quirky, wordy guitar pop had a twangy, mopey sound (like the Smiths or the Cure). For me, it just did not click. If you like that kind of music, the Monochrome Set will perform as part of the NYC PopFest at the Knitting Factory on May 31.

Suicide Commando at the Gramercy Theatre

Suicide Commando is a Belgian electro-industrial act created by Johan van Roy in 1986. Electro-industrial is an outgrowth of electronic body music (EBM), which first came to prominence in Belgium in the early 1980s combining elements of industrial music, electronic dance music and synthpunk. While EBM has a minimal structure and clean production, electro-industrial has a harsh and layered sound. Industrial dance is a North American alternative term for electronic body music and electro-industrial music. Fans associated with this music scene call themselves rivetheads.

I was an unsuspecting spectator at Suicide Commando’s only U.S. concert this year, tonight at the Gramercy Theatre. I came wearing a simple sweatshirt, but many came dressed in extravagant wardrobe; some outfits were leather-and-studded heavy metal, some gothic, some fetish wear, and many others indescribably colorful. Suicide Commando took the stage at 1:15 a.m., accompanied by a guitarist and programmer, another keyboard programmer, and a drummer. Van Roy’s vocals were intentionally distorted to additional grittiness and harshness, as they were with opening acts Frontal Boundary and FCFG820. The music was hard and abrasive electronic dance music. Van Roy sang repetitive lyrics like “Severed Head”, “Come on and Hate Me” and “Death Cures All Pain.” Each song had its accompanying video backdrop, and many of the videos were excessively bloody or gory. One video seemed to be of a surgery or an autopsy, exploring a person’s inner organs. Another video repeatedly looped close-ups of a young woman using a knife to slice her arms and spread her blood on a checkerboard floor. This may have been enjoyable for fans of splatter films, but the music and the overall scene was too diabolical for my tastes, and I exited rather quickly.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

YeraSon Orquesta Charanga at the Loisaida Festival

YeraSon Orquesta Charanga is a New York-based charanga orchestra that was founded in 2002 by vocalist/violinist/composer/arranger Yrving Yeras. YeraSon reinterprets old-school Cuban music, including son, mambo, cha cha cha, boleros and guajiras, with a distinctly modern New York twist. YeraSon’s music was included in the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. YeraSon performs at Havana Central Times Square on Sunday evenings.

YearSon performed today on Avenue C at the open-air Loisaida Festival, an annual street fair which in part celebrates the Hispanic culture of the Alphabet City section of the Lower East Side. YeraSon showed that it is the new breed of charanga music. Firstly, the band had no horn section, a staple of all traditional Latino dance music. Secondly, the group played non-Cuban dance music as well, from Puerto Rican salsa to Dominican merengue. The performance was a lively, modern take on traditional music, and had the audience dancing in the street. It brought to the surface the Cuban in me.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lord Classic at the Bowery Electric

The Brooklyn-based Lord Classic is comprised of guitarist Pauly J, bassist Mattley Mountain and drummer Mossy Ross. At club dates in Brooklyn and Manhattan, J and Mountain wear centuries-old military outfits and Ross wears an Antoinette dress. Much more than that about the band is unknown, unless you believe the band’s entertaining but fable-like colonial-era-inspired biography.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, it took only a moment to work past Lord Classic’s colorful wardrobe to hear some pretty interesting music. It is easier to describe what the music was not rather than what it was. There was no electronic filler, no floor full of electronic distortion devices, and no wall of sound. The music was built around basic pop melodies driven by a strong bass line, enhanced by staccato guitar riffs, with ratatat drums filling in all the hollows. Bare bones garage band rock, sparse rather than noisy, it leaned in the opposite direction of today’s indie trend. Lord Classic’s music seemed one step beyond grunge or, since the band’s outfits inspire us to fabricated history, maybe it can pass for grunge’s fictitious prequel.

The Living Kills at the Mercury Lounge

Merrill Sherman played in punk bands for 10 years while recording alone in an Alabama shack and later in a Chicago basement. He relocated to Brooklyn and formed the Living Kills three years ago to give new life to those early compositions. The current lineup consists of Sherman on guitars and vocals, Jennifer Bassett on organ, synthesizer and vocals, Erica Keller on bass and vocals and Brian del Guercio on drums. The band has recorded one album, Faceless Angels.

There is something engaging about watching a band perform simply because it enjoys making music. At the Mercury Lounge tonight, the Living Kills did not appear to be applying any particular formula in an attempt to become a popular bar band or to get on radio. The four musicians, while learning to master their instruments, are simply exploring the art of song craft with adventurous experiments in creativity.  This is translating into an organic yet communal group sound. Mostly inaudible lyrics and over-reverberating vocals, fuzzy guitar, light one-finger keyboard leads, throbbing bass and tom-tom heavy drums made for a stark yet hypnotic low-fidelity garage band sound, much like the psychedelic bands of the mid-1960s. The songs were purposefully monotonous, with no dazzling lead guitar solos, for instance, in order to produce a trance effect. Film projection of moving colors and shapes both on the players and on the large white sheet behind them added to this effect. I did not come out remembering any of the songs, but did feel that I had experienced an exercise in artistry at work.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ocean View at the Cake Shop

Ocean View is a young four-piece punk rock band from Copenhagen, Denmark, formed just two years ago. The band is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Julius Ernst, lead guitarist Victor Nuno, bassist Anton Funck and drummer Bastian Emil. Ocean View issued a debut album, No End, in 2012, which got the band noticed in its own country. The band currently is visiting New York for two weeks to play rock clubs and to personally get the band’s new 10'' vinyl EP Ocean.Puke.Future into our few remaining record stores.

At the Cake Shop tonight, Ocean View sounded like a mix of early off-kilter Talking Heads and the ferociousness of the Cramps. Ernst's performance vocally and physically recalled an early David Byrne. Ocean View's music was raw, passionate and just a bit eerie.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mad Juana at the R Bar

When the popular Finnish punk rock band Hanoi Rocks originally broke up in 1985, bassist Sami Yaffa went on to play with Johnny Thunders and several other bands before picking up the guitar and forming Mad Juana in 1995 with his wife, vocalist Karmen Guy. Mad Juana then was put on hold so that Yaffa could play for other musicians, including Joan Jett, Michael Monroe, Murphy’s Law, Jesse Malin and a revamped New York Dolls, among others. Mad Juana recently reformed and performed earlier this week at Bowery Electric and tonight at the R Bar.

At R Bar tonight, Mad Juana proved it was in a separate class from most any band you will ever hear live. It is a party band, fusing together a sophisticated brew of world music with elements of rock and roll, bohemian gypsy music, reggae, mariachi, flamenco and punk. Guy commanded the lead well, with soulful vocals and a dance-inducing stage presence. The band had a big Old World sound, with double percussion, double horns and an accordion to fill out the various genres. For the listener, the evening offered nothing predictable, especially not world beat covers of Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.” Mad Juana was fascinating and fun.

Buckcherry at Irving Plaza

A decade after the Los Angeles hard rocking club scene produced a dozen popular bands, Buckcherry formed and tried to revive the scene in 1995. The band released two albums, Buckcherry (1999) and Time Bomb (2001), before dissolving in the summer of 2002. In 2005, lead vocalist Josh Todd and lead guitarist Keith Nelson reformed Buckcherry with new members Stevie D. on rhythm and lead guitar, Jimmy "Two Fingers" Ashhurst on bass guitar and Xavier Muriel on drums. The 2006 comeback album, 15, contained Buckcherry's biggest crossover hits to date, "Crazy Bitch", and the band’s first Top 10 hit, "Sorry." Although the band's popularity sagged again after that album, Buckcherry continued recording and touring, and released its sixth studio album, Confessions, on February 19.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Buckcherry delivered a good old-fashioned rock show, a time trip back to the days when Aerosmith, Ratt and many other bands injected a bit of flash into standard rock and roll song structures. If Todd played a bare-chested and heavily tattooed Mick Jagger, then Nelson played the Keith Richards, particularly when the band played and Todd encouraged the audience to sing a bit of the Rolling Stones' “Miss You” as a precursor to Buckcherry's “Crazy Bitch.” Todd commanded the stage well, singing much like a rhythm and blues singer, thoroughly passionate and in control of his shrieks and whispers. Buckcherry’s hard rocking performance was enhanced by the dual piercing guitars and the groove-laden bass and drums. Nevertheless, in this age when so many of his peers have been through substance abuse rehabilitation and have published memoirs about getting straight, Todd’s frequent praises and pantomimes of sex and drug activities seemed misplaced, dated and even cartoonish.

Red at the Gramercy Theatre

Red (sometimes stylized as RED and R3D) is a Christian hard rock band formed in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2004. The band's current lineup consists of singer Michael Barnes, guitarist Anthony Armstrong and his brother bassist Randy Armstrong and drummer Joe Rickard. Red has released four studio albums, the latest being Release the Panic.

Red’s performance at the Gramercy Theatre tonight proved that the four-piece band is poised to complement or compete with the secular big boys. The stage backdrop seemed to depict a street alley, complete with street lights and graffiti murals, but with the addition of rows of lights shooting into the audience. The band’s sound was equally bright and crisp, meshing hard rock, post-grunge and industrial sounds with melodic choruses ripe for radio play. A fast-moving Barnes led the songs with strong vocals, from croons to screams, and the songs were distinct enough that no two songs sounded alike. Although Red’s recordings creatively incorporate the use of violin and cello, these programmed sounds were minimal in concert. With a set of pleasing melodies, catchy choruses, heavy riffs and a fiery live show, Red seems to have everything in place for a career of rock radio anthems.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The So So Glos at the Studio at Webster Hall

The So So Glos are a punk rock band formed in Brooklyn by brothers Alex Levine (vocals, bass) and Ryan Levine (guitar, vocals) and Zach Staggers (drums, vocals). Ryan and Zach met in pre-school, and through divorces and remarriages, Staggers became the Levines’ step-brother. Without fully knowing how to play or tune their instruments, the three started their first rock band in 1991. They adopted their current name in 2007 and self-released their eponymous debut album that same year. Guitarist Matt Elkin joined the band in October 2007 shortly before their first cross-country tour. The band released the Blowout album on April 23, 2013.

The So So Glos performed a free concert tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall for MTV Live. I will be neither the first nor the last to point out that the band looks and sounds like the Clash, even though the members of the So So Glos might have been toddlers during the Clash’s peak years. Alex Levine commanded an authentic rebel yell to all the songs, and all four musicians successfully channeled a passionate rage through their instruments. The stage was not big enough for them, as their need to physically assault their music might have required some running space. Somehow, the band always came off as an inspirational voice-of-the-people’s band, even when the lyrics could not be heard. Alex made up for that with plenty of sing-along “uh-ohs.” The So So Glos is a very engaging live act.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Newsted at the Highline Ballroom

Three decades since launching a career playing bass behind the front men in Metallica, Voivod, Flotsam and Jetsam and other bands, 50-year-old Jason Newsted now is leading a band to which he has given his surname, Newsted. After a 10-year hiatus recovering from a shoulder injury, he is back to basics with the new band, touring in a van and trying to gain a following by playing small clubs. He is more than simply the band’s front man, however. He wrote the songs in early 2012, formed the band in December 2012, underwrote the finances, sang the songs, occasionally switched to lead guitar, established a website, produced the recorded work and even launched his own record label, Chophouse Records, in order to retain artistic and managerial control of the project. Newsted is joined by guitarists Mike Mushok (of Staind) and Jessie Farnsworth and drummer Jesus Mendez, Jr. The group released an EP entitled Metal in January, and has recorded an album of 13 songs to be released in the fall. The group also will perform in Megadeth’s Gigantour this summer.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, promoted the band’s EP in part by wearing a black t-shirt that read “Listen to Metal.” That was more than a promotion, however. That was a commitment of life. The band played straight-out unhyphenated metal music. No unrecognizable experimentation, no mysterious adventures into uncharted territory; the concert perhaps was simply a valiant attempt by Newsted to save raw metal as we have known it. The vocalist’s scowls and grimaces, the music’s Motorhead-type speed, the soaring guitar licks and the headbanging crunch of the rhythm section were all executed well. The same aspect that made it attractive, however, is also what prevented the concert from being very memorable. It sounded like we had heard it all before. There was no signature song to take home. Newsted has poured his dedication to the mission of this band, but even after waiting ten years to get it started, perhaps he is now moving too fast.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Portugal. The Man at Irving Plaza

The name of the band is three words with a mandatory punctuation. Portugal. The Man. Yes, there is a period after the word after the first word and a capital “T” in the word “The.” It is a rock band born in Portland, Oregon, in 2005, with a seventh album to its credit, Evil Friends, being released on June 4. The group is led by John Baldwin Gourley on vocals, guitar, organ and machines, and Zachary Carothers on bass and backing vocals. The two met and began playing music together in high school in Wasilla, Alaska, before relocating to Oregon to launch a professional career in music. The band also consists of Kyle O'Quin on keyboards and synthesizers, Noah Gersh on lead guitar, vocals and miscellaneous percussion, and Kane Ritchotte on drums and percussion.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Portugal. The Man’s music was challenging to grip. A wall-of-sound presentation was an ethereal and atmospheric wash at times, then a psychedelic jam experiment at other moments, and closed with several hard-thumping anthems. Gourley sang all the songs at a high pitch, and it is possible that the intention was for the vocals to be sound more than words, as the lyrics were often garbled or drowned out by the instrumentation. Among the evening’s highlights was an extended medley/jam that started with Gersh setting off a tribal beat by pounding on percussion, which led into a hard, bluesy funky song, “The Devil,” and wound its way into the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” Much like early pre-stadium Pink Floyd, the stage lighting was dim, and no spotlights were used, leaving the musicians in silhouettes throughout the show. Throughout the performance, colorful laser lights projected into the audience from beside and behind the band, and even when the stage brightened a bit, the fog machines were turned on, obscuring the stage activity once again. Even the fans in front could barely see the band members. All these innovations will win Portugal. The Man enthusiastic word of mouth, which in turn likely will build the band a larger and more curious fan base.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Owl at the Map Room

Chris Wyse, bassist of the Cult since 2006, has formed a new band, a Los Angeles-based rock trio called Owl. Wyse is singing lead and playing bass, and is joined by Jason Mezilis on guitar and vocals and Wyse’s childhood friend, Dan Dinsmore on drums. The band has released two albums, a self-titled debut in 2009 and The Right Thing, which was released a month ago.

Owl returned to New York for the second time in two months to perform at the Map Room of Bowery Electric tonight. The set was eclectic, from the Irish rocking style of “Rover” to melodic singer-songwriter songs to heavy progressive compositions. Wrapped in rock structures, the songs showcased a healthy combination of accessible hooks and harmonic phrasings, but the songs never stayed that way for long. Soon enough, the trio moved into crafty, instrumental intricacy, sometimes touching on experimental noise. For a few songs, Wyse led the band with an upright bass, sometimes jumping around with a bow, and later played the electric bass as a lead instrument. Mezilis played clear, stinging leads, but then bent the rules to produce rude sounds. Dinsmore changed the rhythms often as a jazz drummer would do. Overall, Owl impressed with the way that the musicians moved between polar opposites, from mellower rock songs to heavier, noisier songs. This music can easily open a concert at large rock stages and perhaps even experimental music venues like the Stone. For fans of adventurous music, Owl may be the band to watch.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tom Jones at the Bowery Ballroom

His name is Sir Thomas John Woodward, OBE, but we know him by his stage name Tom Jones. The 72-year-old Welsh-born singer, celebrating nearly 50 years in music, has ventured into pop, rock, soul, show tunes, country, dance, soul and gospel – and sold over 100 million records. He had his own television variety show, where he sang duets with Janis Joplin and many other legends, and headlined Las Vegas showrooms every year until 2011. Jones was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry, in 1999, and knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for "services to music" in 2006. Even after such a legacy, he continues to reinvent himself.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Jones played down the sex appeal that helped establish his casino showroom success. His hair is now silver, and the greatly receding hairline is apparent even from the back of the hall. (Nevertheless, women cheered as he took off his sports jacket.) So here is the good news: Jones demonstrated that he is still perhaps the greatest living full-throated pop baritone. Here is the bad news: he confirmed that he is now an old man singing mostly old songs for mostly old people. What happened to his recent connections to Prince, the Art of Noise and other cutting edge artists? His repertoire tonight consisted of songs by Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, Richard Thompson, John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, George Jones, Elvis Presley and other old-timers. Most of the songs were obscure. He did not even sing any of his own hits, except for “Green, Green Grass of Home.” This made the set list interesting, but not particularly praise-worthy. The good news again: for those who enjoy this very tame music, he interpreted those songs better than anyone ever will. What a voice!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kurt Vile and the Violators at the Bowery Ballroom

At age 14, Kurt Vile was given a banjo by his father. The young lad began writing songs on the banjo. Three years later, Vile created his first "mass-produced" tape at 17, forging what he knew would become a career in music. This began with musician and songwriter Adam Granduciel; the Philadelphia-based duo formed the indie rock band The War on Drugs in 2005 and released a debut album, Wagonwheel Blues, in 2008. Vile is now the 33-year-old leader of Kurt Vile and the Violators, which is comprised of multi-instrumentalists Jesse Trbovich and Rob Laakso, drummer Vince Nudo and, for the current tour, Steve Gunn on guitar. Vile has recorded five albums under his name, the latest of which is Wakin on a Pretty Daze.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Vile and the Violators’ modest onstage persona put the focus entirely on the music, not the show. For Vile, each song was its own epic, starting with lyrics that were often inaudible and filled out with ingenuous musical accompaniments. The music ranged from folky acoustic to thrashingly electric, from tender to raucous, and from psychedelic to noise. The performance borrowed elements from traditional folk rockers like Neil Young, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, but the soundscapes were often closer to more cutting edge artists like Pavement, Yo La Tengo and other indie bands. Vile’s concert was not for the mainstream, but for those who were willing to have their minds bent a bit.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Minor Cuts at Bowery Electric

After revolutionizing the rock music scene in the late 1970s, punk rock evolved in several directions in the 1980s. Some punk went pop and some went hardcore, while influencing heavy metal and progressive music to launch what some today call post-punk. The original punk movement disappeared, and very few true punk bands exist today. Meet the Minor Cuts, perhaps New York’s best punk rock band. Two best friends, vocalist Alysson Venom and guitarist Mohawk Dave, after performing in other short-lived New York bands, formed the Minor Cuts with bassist Ryan Nixon and drummer Bre Plaza in Queens, New York in 2010. The band is playing the local bar circuit.
At the Bowery Electric tonight, the Minor Cuts lived up to the band’s motto of being “loud, fast and fun.” Venom is a commanding front woman, using the entire room as her stage as she spat her angry and often vulgar lyrics. Dave enhanced her singing with lightning-fast power chords, volume and rock star posture. The rhythm section provided the band’s primal, speed-driven power. Together, the sound is explosive. Welcome back, punk rock. We missed you.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eric Burdon and the Animals at John Varvatos

Eric Burdon, who turned 72 while on an American concert tour last week, was among the leaders of music's British Invasion in the early 1960s. Nearly 50 years later, he ranked 57th among "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time" in a panel of 179 experts in the November 27, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone. Tonight, Burdon performed a guest-list-only show in the John Varvatos men's clothing store that once housed CBGB's. The store's merchandise was removed for the night and replaced by a stage, lights and sound system greater than CBGB's ever had. Although billed as Eric Burdon and the Animals on this tour, however, this was Burdon and a new band with no musicians from the group of that name that he led in the 1960s and reunited briefly in the 1970s and again in the 1980s.

At John Varvatos, Burdon's 75-minute set included several unremarkable songs from his bluesy 2013 album, 'Til Your River Runs Dry. Going back to his roots, this is the music that Burdon loves and in which he grounded his earthy rock vocals. The set also included the crowd-pleasers, several entirely reworked 1960s hits, including "It's My Life" and "House of the Rising Sun." Amazingly, although Burdon's signature gritty and utterly masculine voice was not nearly as powerful as it was in his earlier years, his vocal performance was still far stronger than that of most contemporary male singers. This was a classic performance by a classic artist. Eric Burdon and the Animals will be performing at the Highline Ballroom on May 15 and 16.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Twelve Ways to Die starring Ghostface Killah at the Gramercy Theatre

On albums, Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah has assumed personas from flashy playboy Pretty Toney to Ghostdini, a “wizard of poetry” who raps sweet nothings to his pregnant wife and unborn child. Now, in the midst of the Wu-Tang Clan's reunion tour, Ghostface Killah found the time to resume the role of Tony Starks and record and perform live Adrian Yonge’s Twelve Reasons to Die, a hip hop horror opera and comic book that takes place in an internecine mafia war in 1968 Italy. Starks, an aspiring young and ruthless black member of the white Deluca crime family, falls in love with the kingpin's daughter, then betrays the DeLuca family and forms his own syndicate. The family murders Starks, and his remains are melted in vinyl and pressed into a dozen record albums that, when played, resurrect him as the Ghostface Killah, a force for bloody revenge incarnate. The debut issue of the Twelve Reasons to Die comic will hit stores May 29 as the first in a six-issue monthly series, and new music and remixes will coincide with the release of each issue.

Live at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Younge and his strong band and vocalists, Venice Dawn, opened the live performance of Twelve Reasons to Die with rhythm and blues singers backed by thunderous rock. At least a half hour into the performance, Ghostface Killah, along with Wu Tang Clan affiliate Killah Priest, took to the stage. From there, on the program became less conceptual and more of a concert. This is where the production began to lose its focus. Ghostface came out wearing bland Cincinnati Reds souvenir merchandise instead of believable 1960s Italian gangster clothing. Ghostface rapped the Wu-tang Clan’s hits, and he rapped well, sharing the microphone with Killah Priest and mentor William Hart (of the late 1960s’ crooning Delfonics), even inviting on stage a random member of the audience to help him rap Wu-Tang Clan’s debut hit from 1993, “Protect Ya Neck.” Ghostface Killah gave the audience the rap concert that it came for, but by not building on the initial drama, somehow cheated himself of doing something extraordinary and unique.

Huey Lewis and the News at Irving Plaza

Huey Lewis was born Hugh Anthony Cregg III in New York City on July 5, 1950, and was raised in Marin County, California. As a young adult, he learned to play harmonica while hitchhiking across the country back to New York, unaware that this musical pastime between rides would lead to a career. His joined bands in the 1970s with limited success, but in the 1980s he finally tasted commercial success with Huey Lewis and the News. The band is presently touring in support of the 30th anniversary re-release of its Sports album, which yielded four Top 10 hits in 1983 and 1984.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Lewis sang and the band played Stax-Volt-influenced party songs better than the slickest, tightest bar band. Lewis’ singing and harmonica riffs, the soul-revue horns, the gospel-sounding backing vocals and the overall respect for the American musical canon gave integrity to the band’s hits from the 1980s, especially in “The Power of Love”, "Jacob's Ladder", "Do You Believe in Love" and "Workin' For A Livin.'" The festivities were sustained with spirited versions of two 1960s soul music standards, the Soul Brothers Six’s “Some Kind of Wonderful” and J.J. Jackson’s “But It’s Alright.” Huey Lewis and the News in concert tonight proved that feel-good music is timeless. It was a blast!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Bernie Worrell Orchestra at SubCulture Arts Underground

SubCulture Arts Underground is New York’s newest and best performance venue. The subterranean space at 45 Bleecker Street, corner of Lafayette Street, is elegant and is dedicated to the arts in its many forms. Unfixed seating (portable chairs) allow for flexible usage, and modern light and sound systems are in place for performances on the SubCulture stage. The room hosted its first concert performance tonight, featuring the nine-piece Bernie Worrell Orchestra.

George Bernard "Bernie" Worrell, Jr. , the 68-year-old keyboardist and synthesizer player from New Jersey and founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic, led his current band through a stunning array of funk, jazz and hard rock compositions. Although the frameworks of the songs were scripted, he allowed for considerable improvisation. He himself was the most spontaneous, introducing experimental electronic keyboard cacophony into the strong rhythms played by the other musicians. His lyrics were minimalistic and repetitive, almost mantra-like. As the evening progressed, the guitars rocked louder and the rhythm section grew funkier, driving more than half the audience to get out of the chairs in order to dance in the aisle, particularly when he launched into Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Mothership Connection (Star Child).” Worrell brought the funk and the music nearly tore off the roof of the new venue.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dead Skeletons at the Mercury Lounge

Dead Skeletons formed in Iceland in 2008 as an accompaniment to an installation for a show at the Reykjavik art museum by artist Jón Sæmundur Audarson. Looking for a spiritual battle hymn for the show, Sæmundur recorded a song, “Dead Mantra,” with Henrik Björnsson and Ryan Carlson Van Kriedt. The song became an underground hit, and led to the trio of musicians becoming the core of Dead Skeletons, resulting in the 2011 Dead Magick album.

Dead Skeletons continues to be an innovative visual art project set to accompanying music. As the performance was about to begin at the Mercury Lounge tonight, Sæmundur Audarson set a four-foot blank canvas center stage. As the six-piece band eased into a dark gothic-sounding groove, he lit six incense punks to create a spiritual mood. (Security promptly disposed of them in accordance with local fire codes, much to the chagrin of Sæmundur Audarson, who initially threatened to end the show if the punks were not returned to him.) As the trippy music punched in, Sæmundur Audarson crouched before the white canvas and with a brush and black paint quickly created what seemed to be a skull image, then sprayed it with water to make the paint drip and run. For the next 50 minutes, he sang inaudible mantras bathed in echo and reverb, while the band played hypnotic, monotonous droning songs. What language were they in? Maybe a few languages. It was hard to decipher. Meanwhile, many of the songs were driven by one musical chord played with different strums. What if Iggy Pop and Rob Zombie dedicated themselves to building an experimental psychedelic zombie rock experience? It would probably sound like Dead Skeletons.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Capital Cities at Irving Plaza

Capital Cities is Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, an electronic pop music unit from Los Angeles. The two jingle writers met on Craigslist and recorded the Capital Cities EP in 2011. The duo gained initial exposure on the Pop Up #1 compilation curated by Perez Hilton in 2012. Capitol Records will release a debut album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, on June 4.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Capital Cities demonstrated what happens when two jingle writers perform music for public consumption. Backed by programmed tracks and three musicians (guitar, bass and trumpet), Merchant and Simonian performed one song after another that were basically simple (often one line) choruses repeated again and again to throbbing electronic dance music. The formula seemed to be something like this: write a catchy hook as for a 30-second commercial, give it a slick beat, and then loop this combination repeatedly until it sticks in your head to the exclusion of everything else. Call it by any new name, but this performance was retread disco, right down to the five musicians’ matching 1970s-style black satin bomber jackets. In concert, Capital Cities was the antithesis of today’s indie or alternative music; this was flat out corporate pop for the masses. The show closed with the five musicians climbing down from the stage to join the audience in jumping to the rave.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Emery at the Studio at Webster Hall

Emery is a post-hardcore band formed in 2001 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, but which relocated to Seattle, Washington in search of a better musical environment. The band was named after a first grader that vocalist Toby Morrell met while working as a teaching intern in college. The band has recorded five albums and, after a series of personnel changes, presently consists of Morrell, vocalist/synthesist Josh Head, guitarist Matt Carter and drummer Dave Powell, plus additional musicians for the live shows.

At the Studio at Webster Hall tonight, Emery played a short but power-packed set; apparently there was not enough time allotted to include the band’s occasional acoustic mini-set, so the band stayed with a full-on set of hard and heavy, almost metalcore songs. While the band tempers much of its recordings with smoother pop hooks and melodies, on stage the band’s screams and breakdowns were rawer, louder and faster. The audience fed off of this. Emery’s core New York fans packed itself only about five deep by the edge of the stage, as the rest of the audience members took more relaxed positions throughout the small room. This core of devotees, however small, spent the show pushing, moshing, reaching for the microphones and diving from the low stage (even though the landing area was sparse after five feet) like it was a crowd of hundreds.

L.A. Guns at the Bowery Electric

The original L.A. Guns formed in Los Angeles in 1983 and gained popularity when the Sunset Strip was the rock center of America, producing Van Halen, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Skid Row, Poison, Faster Pussycat, Ratt, W.A.S.P., Warrant, Dokken and many other guitar-ripping and hairspray-drenched hard rocking bands. Since then, the L.A. Guns changed line-up an estimated 45 times, and for a while there were even two different bands simultaneously touring under the same name. The L.A. Guns recorded 10 studio albums.

The present roster of the L.A. Guns, led by vocalist Phil Lewis (who was in the band from 1987 to 1995 and then 1999 to the present), brought back the aura of the Sunset Strip heyday to the Bowery Electric tonight. New guitarist Michael Grant removed his shirt to put more muscle in his playing, while bassist Scott Griffin and drummer Steve Riley, both of whom have an on-and-off-and-on-again history with the band, rocked the rhythm section. The band played songs from the early albums and last year’s Hollywood Forever album with sheer rock and roll energy. In  true rock and roll fashion, most if not all of the songs were about women. Meanwhile, a dozen or so pretty women jockeyed for prime position at the lip of the stage, perhaps in the hopes of making an impression on the musicians. It was 1984 again and it was fun.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Various Cruelties at the Mercury Lounge

Various Cruelties is largely the project of Liam O’Donnell, a distant relative of Oscar Wilde. He met guitarist Adam Coney, bassist Beanie Bhebhe and drummer Dean Valentine in London in September 2010, and in December they performed their first concert. Various Cruelties received early recognition from a self-released single, “If It Wasn’t for You," which later was used in a Zales Jewelry holiday commercial in 2012. The band’s cover of Ian Brown’s “F.E.A.R.” is currently being used as the trailer for the HBO series Banshee. Various Cruelties is on its first US tour.

At the Mercury Lounge tonight, O’Donnell ‘s songs did not stray very far from his singer-songwriter roots, but he delivered his songs with a soulful delivery that made Various Cruelties’ music a pop and soul incarnation. The British quartet fused classic British guitar pop with Stax grooves to create a Motown-influenced pop. O’Donnell occasionally strummed an electric guitar, but more often he put it aside to crouch at the edges of the stage as he summoned the emotions he wanted to pour into his performance. This was a fine debut, and will draw attention from the fans of Arctic Monkeys, Train, Neon Trees and other radio-friendly music.

Sky-Pony at the Mercury Lounge

Sky-Pony is a Brooklyn-based pop band led by vocalist Lauren Worsham and her husband, keyboardist Kyle Jarrow. It also features backup singers Jessi Suzuki and Megan Stern, guitarist Kevin Wunderlich, bassist Eric Day, drummer Perry Silver, cellist David Blasher and assorted string section members. Jarrow is a writer for the stage, film and television, winning an Obie Award for A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant at age 24. As an actress, Worsham’s roles included Amy in Where's Charley at New York City CenterCunegonde in New York City Opera's Candide, and Olive in the first national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She is the co-founder and executive director of the downtown opera company, The Coterie. Sky-Pony has recorded two EPs, Say You Love Me Like You Mean It and Raptured Live.

I went to the Mercury Lounge tonight to see the headliner and was blown away by the opening act. Sky-Pony has worked on becoming more than music; the band served up entertainment. Singing wry songs that treat downer topics like death with tongue in cheek, wearing contrasting sexy outfits, dancing choreographed steps and using expressive hand movements and props in unison, the pop songs almost became cabaret; with a little more sexiness it could become burlesque. Could Sky-Pony be the new Madonna or Britney Spears? The band only needs to master the art of modulation, to turn down the volume and intensity of the instruments while the vocalists are singing, and then crank it up again between vocal interludes. At this stage, Sky-Pony is sugar in the raw. Sky-Pony will perform at Drom on Saturday, June 15.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hem at the Bowery Ballroom

As Brooklyn became the mecca of the 21st century indie-rock music scene, one group of musicians explored an alternate alternative. Instead of experimenting with new electronic sounds for the college crowd, Hem used the most traditional folk instruments to develop an old sound for mature listeners. Formed in 1999, the core band lineup consists of Sally Ellyson (vocals), Dan Messe (piano, vocals), Gary Maurer (guitar, mandolin, harmonica, vocals), and Steve Curtis (guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals), and is assisted by Bob Hoffnar (pedal steel guitar), George Rush (bass), Mark Brotter (drums), Heather Zimmerman (violin), and Dawn Landes (glockenspiel, vocals). Hem has released six albums (including the new Departure and Farewell CD) and four EPs, heard its music featured in Liberty Mutual and Tiffany advertisements and received a Drama Desk nomination for the music to the 2009 Public Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

How does a nine-piece band manage to play so softly? At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Hem’s original collection of dreamy, ethereal songs was almost trance-like. Even the evening’s cover tunes, the usually rousing Johnny Cash and June Carter standard “Jackson” and the Rolling Stones’ crescendo-building “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” have never been played softer or slower. Some songs were lullabies, some leaned to a country sway, but all were calming and peaceful songs with lyrics that reflected on the mysteries of life. This was fine grown-up music, but it may be best not to listen to Hem when driving long distances.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Clutch at Terminal 5

Clutch is a hard rock band from Germantown, Maryland, that since its formation in 1990 has released 10 studio albums plus rarities and live compilations. The band’s growth in popularity consistently made small but incremental gains, such that the group began playing tiny New York clubs like Coney Island High and tonight played the city’s largest club, Terminal 5. In March, the band’s Earth Rocker album entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at #15, achieving the band's highest chart position to date. Almost since the beginning, the band has included Neil Fallon (vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards), Tim Sult (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dan Maines (bass, backing vocals) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums and percussion).

At Terminal 5, Clutch demonstrated why the four-man band continues to cultivate a loyal fan base. Clutch is a rarity in that even after more than 20 years on stage and in the studio, it remains a trailblazing band. The music sounds familiar but really does not sound like any other band. Think of a blues-inspired high-decibel classic rock band like ZZ Top or AC/DC and we are closer than we will ever be. Fallon, one foot planted three feet in front of the other, crouching toward the audience, sang from the gut not with impressive range or dynamics, but with intensity and passion, almost like he was scolding in a fit of anger. The band played stomping, gritty and grooving melodies behind him. The band had no hip rock and roll appearance and almost no dialogue with the audience, but cranked out nearly 20 shout-along songs in about 90 minutes. Tonight’s concert proved Clutch is a refreshing return to pure no-frills well-crafted hard rock music.