Monday, September 30, 2013

ZZ Ward at Irving Plaza

Zsuzsanna “ZZ” Ward was born in 1986 in Abington, Pennsylvania, and was raised in the small town of Roseburg, Oregon. There she grew up enjoying her father's blues collection as well as her brother's hip-hop records. At age 12, ZZ began singing in public with her father's blues band, and by 16 she was singing with hip-hop acts in Eugene. She wrote original songs, fusing blues, pop, rock, hip-hop and rhythm and blues. Finally, in search of her own music career, she moved to Los Angeles, California, and was “discovered.” She released her debut EP, Criminal, and debut album, Til the Casket Drops, in 2012.

At Irving Plaza tonight, ZZ Ward, looking girly in her dark fedora and shimmering tank top, showed maturity in her sound and her confident stage presence. Ward opened her set playing guitar and later moved to keyboards and harmonica, and was backed by a three-piece band that kept the music simple and at times funky. Sounding like a young Bonnie Raitt at times, and paying homage to the blues with songs by Son House and Howling Wolf, Ward let loose with a soulful singing voice and fierce harmonica. Ward rocked the house with uptempo songs and chilled with sensitive songs. "Rain on My Window," Ward’s stylized adaption of Ann Peebles', Missy Elliot's and Tina Turner’s "I Can't Stand the Rain," her piano playing focus on “365 Days,” and an acoustic mid-set interlude of "Last Love Song" and "Charlie Ain't Home" demonstrated how she had finely honed her ability to take her blues-pop niche in many directions. And yes, there was a bit of her rapping thrown in here and there. Altogether, Ward provided a formidable and unique showcase for her roots-driven voice and songs. The girly stood with the big boys of contemporary music.

Visit ZZ Ward at

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pink Martini at Indochine

China Forbes and Storm Large front Pink Martini
Thomas Lauderdale worked in politics during the early 1990s in his native Portland, Oregon, and was contemplating his own mayoral run. Attending political fundraisers frequently, he grieved that the music played at these events was so underwhelming. A pianist at heart, he responded in 1994 by forming Pink Martini, the “little orchestra” which was willing to provide a musical soundtrack for any good cause. Lauderdale recruited an old friend China Forbes to collaborate on songwriting in 1995, and then added Storm Large in 2010; both today share the band’s primary vocal duties. Pink Martini now performs on concert stages and with symphony orchestras around the world. The band’s seventh studio album, Get Happy, will be released tomorrow.

Last night Pink Martini headlined the Beacon Theater, but tonight Pink Martini performed for their friends and supporters during a private party at the much smaller Indochine restaurant. Party was the operative word, as several of the band’s friends, including National Public Radio’s White House correspondent Ari Shapiro, were invited onstage throughout the 90-minute set to sing with the 12-piece orchestra. Forbes and Large, the principle vocalists, were commanding, however, with dresses and moves reminiscent of sultry 1940s barroom divas, as the serendipitous violin, sparkling trumpet and joy-filled percussion drove home the party atmosphere. Pink Martini uniquely fused well-orchestrated musicianship and songs from around the world, ranging in style from swing jazz tunes and Latin dance grooves to easy listening pop, all served with class and glamour. While most of the songs were in English, I lost count of how many songs were in Spanish, French, German and other languages. The night ended with the audience forming a conga line and parading through the restaurant. It does not get better than that.

Visit Pink Martini at

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Metallica at the Apollo Theater

James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica
Since its beginnings in 1981 in Los Angeles, California, Metallica has been the world’s prime flagship banner-waving thrash metal band. At a time when hard rock bands were recording ballads in oreder to get played on rock radio stations, Metallica went in the opposite direction. Inspired by the likes of Motorhead, Metallica played faster and harder than any other band. The band’s third album, 1986’s Master of Puppets became one of the most influential thrash metal albums in music history. The band expanded its musical direction and reached a wider audience with its eponymous fifth album (fans refer to it as The Black Album), which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The concert film Metallica: Through the Never opens in movie houses next weekend; the soundtrack is available on CD.

Why did Metallica choose to perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem? I guess someone had one of those “ideas.” Fans who were able to score a ticket to the free Sirius/FM concert at the 1,506-seat theater benefitted, however, since the last time Metallica played in New York it was at the massive Yankee Stadium. At the Apollo, I sat in the first row of the balcony, which was the closest I have been to Metallica since I saw the band at L’Amour’s club in Brooklyn in the early 1980s. “I can’t believe they let us play this place,” singer James Hetfield told the audience shortly after the concert began. “This place has so much history. And now we’re going to mess it up — kidding.” No pyrotechnics, no LED screens, no high-tech lighting, just Metallica playing its greatest hits, distraction-free, on a small stage to a small audience. What a performance! Opening with the first song the band recorded as a demo, “Hit the Lights,” followed by “Master of Puppets”, “Ride the Lightning”, “Harvester of Sorrows” and others, ending with “Enter Sandman” and returning for a three-song encore that ended with “Seek and Destroy,” there was no better heavy metal concert ever. While Metallica has experimented with sounds on some of the most recent albums, at the Apollo, the set all sounded like the Black Album-era, Hetfield singing forcefully and crunching the heavy riffs, Kirk Hammett flying all over the stage playing fast but melodic guitar leads, Lars Ulrich playing drums like a volley of cannons and Robert Trujillo thumping strong bass lines. For those who thought Metallica lost its path in recent years – they were wrong. At the Apollo Theater tonight, Metallica proved that the band remains the reigning champion of heavy metal music.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Selecter at the Gramercy Theatre

Ska music originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, combining elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues, and dominated Jamaica’s music scene in the early 1960s. British bands during the punk rock period in the late 1970s adapted and revitalized the sound for a new audience. The Selecter formed in 1979 in Coventry, England, taking the band's name from the term "selector", which is Jamaican slang for disc jockey. The Selecter was one of the most successful ska bands of that era, with two hit albums and several hit songs in Great Britain before splitting in 1982. Pauline Black and Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson were the original Selecter vocalists, and while members have come and gone and the group itself has split and reformed several times, the two are back fronting the Selecter again, nearly 35 years after it all began for them. The Selecter recorded 11 albums, including 2013’s String Theory.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the Selecter were as genuine as could be. The eight band members dressed in shiny, narrow-lapelled, early-1960s-styled suits, with the men also wearing white shirts and skinny ties. From the beginning of the performance, every band member worked up a sweat in those suits as they jumped and moved to the strongly-emphasized rhythms. The band mixed and matched new songs with ska classics and the songs (written by former member Neol Davies) that popularized the Selecter. Black’s terrific British rude-girl singing style alongside Hendrickson’s raw Jamaican-style toasting made for outstanding chemistry and combined superbly with the musicians’ hopping keyboards, brass and percussion to great success. The effect was evident; in a very rare scene at the Gramercy, nearly everyone on the floor level danced, bounced or “skanked” intensely to the entire set.

Visit the Selecter at

Flag at Irving Plaza

Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski of Flag
Guitarist/songwriter Greg Ginn formed Black Flag in 1976 in Hermosa Beach, California. Black Flag was among the first West Coast punk bands and later became one of America’s first hardcore punk bands. Black Flag went through numerous line-up changes and recorded six albums by the time Ginn disbanded the band in 1986. Since then, with so many previous members available, various combinations performed occasionally as Black Flag. Earlier this year, Ginn announced he was reforming Black Flag with some of these previous members. Meanwhile, former members Keith Morris (vocals), Chuck Dukowski (bass), Bill Stevenson (drums), Dez Cadena  (guitar)and new member Stephen Egerton (guitar) formed a separate band simply called Flag, performing the music of Black Flag. Ginn is pursuing a legal battle over the use of the name and logo.

The last few years of Black Flag had the band moving in many different musical directions, yet remaining tied to its hardcore punk roots. Henry Rollins, the vocalist at the time, discovered he could entertain the audience simply by talking to them, and was becoming a Jim Morrison-styled front man. Ginn’s guitar playing was being influenced by slower psychedelic, free jazz and other styles uncommon to punk music. Black Flag’s increasingly unique approach to punk music influenced the grunge scene that was beginning to percolate in Seattle. Black Flag was about to break into the big time, then suddenly broke up. The new band Flag does not take any of this into account, mainly because most of its members were no longer in the band when this evolution occurred. At Irving Plaza tonight, Flag’s music was fast and furiously punk. Flag played as a retro tribute band, reminiscing an early stage when Black Flag was a leading hardcore punk band and before the more innovative ventures materialized. Flag performed no new songs, as Morris and Cadena sang 22 songs, including “My War”, “Wasted”, “Nervous Breakdown” and “Six Pack” from their time in the original band. Though the messages in these songs had more political and social significance when they were written during the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the audience responded to the familiar catalogue with mosh pits and crowd surfs. Flag provided enjoyable entertainment and a nostalgic return to the origins of hardcore punk, even if its content was less than the whole story of Black Flag.

Flag does not seem to have a website other than its FaceBook page,

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real at John Varvatos

Lukas Nelson first picked up the guitar at age 11 to honor a promise he made to his father, outlaw country giant Willie Nelson. Lukas taught himself the craft by playing along to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix recordings. Lukas Nelson moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles in 2007 to attend college but quit soon after meeting drummer Anthony LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert in 2008 and jamming together in Seal Beach, California. Lukas’ band, the Promise of the Real (also known as POTR) presently consists of Nelson on vocals and guitar, LoGerfo on drums, Corey McCormick on bass, and Tato Melgar on percussion. The band has recorded two studio albums; the most recent, Wasted, was released in April 2012.

Tonight at the John Varvatos clothing store (former home of CBGB’s), Lukas showed himself to be a rocking blues singer and guitar player. Highly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and other blues-based guitarists, it sounded as if Nelson’s record collection started in 1968 and ended in 1971. His set included covers of songs by the Rolling Stones and Neil Young, and some of his guitar licks were lifted from the Allman Brothers Band, Pink Floyd and other classic rockers. Nelson’s guitar style was not focused on speed or agility, but on feel, often hitting the same note or series of notes repeatedly to hammer the effect. Nelson’s pleasant singing had a warbling southern rock timbre, and he showed adequate songwriting chops, but he stood out more as a musician than as a singer-songwriter. Nelson was the band’s only lead instrumentalist and vocalist, so he ably carried the weight of leading and shining, and he did this well with a finely-rehearsed backup band. Nelson and the band are getting his music known by hitting the concert trail, often appearing on stage with his dad, but the 24-year-old blond is also handsome enough in a scruffy kind of way to moonlight as a Varvatos model; we will be seeing him in fashion ads soon.

Visit Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real and get free music downloads at

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Pixies at the Bowery Ballroom

Joey Santiago and Black Francis of the Pixies
The Pixies became perhaps the pioneer alternative rock band when formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986. Vocalist/rhythm guitarist Black Francis (born Charles Thompson IV) and lead guitarist Joey Santiago met when they lived next to each other in a suite while attending the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Francis and Santiago spent 1984 jamming in a warehouse, with Francis composing songs on his acoustic guitar and writing lyrics on the subway train. They recruited bassist Kim Deal (although she had never played bass before) and drummer David Lovering and began playing bars in the Boston area by 1986. Four albums later, the Pixies spearheaded and greatly influenced the alternative rock boom of the 1990s but enjoyed only modest success in the United States; the band was more successful in the United Kingdom and Europe. The group disbanded in 1993 under acrimonious circumstances, but reunited in 2004. The group currently consists of Francis, Santiago, Lovering, and new addition Kim Shattuck, who replaced founding member Kim Deal this summer. The Pixies released its first new music in 22 years on September 3 with an EP entitled EP-1.

At the packed Bowery Ballroom tonight, the Pixies’ music blended a range of pop and rock sounds, including indie, noise, psychedelia, punk and surf rock. Hardly saying a word to the audience, the musicians did not hesitate to rip into song after song, making the one-hour concert seem much longer. The uniqueness of the vintage Pixies remained intact, a peculiar yin-yang dynamic where the songs were simultaneously laid back yet rocking. Francis sang passionately without brooding or shouting, while Santiago’s psychedelic garage-band guitar lines added a little sting to the songs. Verses often led to catchy, singalong verses, especially in “Where Is My Mind?” Mixing the dreamy with the sweaty, the live performance showed how the Pixies influenced the 1990s sound of Nirvana, Radiohead, Pavement and others, with the music sounding vital enough to likely influence future bands.

Visit the Pixies at

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wax Tailor & the Dusty Rainbow Experience at Irving Plaza

Wax Tailor was born Jean-Christophe Le Saoût on July 19, 1975, in Eure, France. He found his calling in 1986 when he first discovered hip hop. After starting a career as a radio host in the Paris suburb of Mantes-La-Jolie, Le Saoût started the French rap band La Formule in the 1990s. He created his label Lab'Oratoire in 1998 and produced records from La Formule and collaborated with the Swedish band Looptroop. French rap gave way to other interests, and he developed projects based around instrumental or vocal productions with a cinematic influence. He began work on the Wax Tailor project in 2001 as a trip hop/hip hop producer mixing hip-hop, downtempo and trip-hop with samples extracted from movies. Wax Tailor’s fourth and most recent studio album, 2012’s Dusty Rainbow from the Dark, is a musical tale inspired by the enchanted world of children and is also an allegory on the escapist power of music.

A wave of French dance music artists is invading America. At Irving Plaza, Wax Tailor proved to be in league with compatriots Daft Punk and Phoenix in making light pop music with a danceable groove. Manning the turntables and the programming synthesizer on a raised platform center stage, Tailor featured an unusual band line-up below him that included a male rapper, a female singer, a guitarist, a cellist, a violinist/bassist, and a trumpeter and trombonist. Behind him, cinematic images played on a large screen, as each track was accompanied by its own custom video. In the audience, replanted French hipsters and American hip hoppers made a sea of heads bobbing to the rhythms created onstage. Surprisingly, although Tailor’s set was thick with samples and references to American hip hop songs and dance artists, a fair amount of the evening was not rave conducive. On a few songs, Tailor used prerecorded vocal tracks as he scratched and sampled and the band below him filled out the sound, but these moments became the weakest links in the concert.  Nevertheless, the multiple elements worked well together, catering to a smooth evening of trip hop grooving.

Visit Wax Tailor at

Monday, September 16, 2013

Waxahatchee at the Bowery Ballroom

Born in 1989 near Birmingham, Alabama, Allison Crutchfield and Katie Crutchfield are identical twins. The twins started their first rock band, the Ackleys, while in high school. Katie sang lead and played guitar; Allison started on drums and switched to keyboard. The band recorded an album and performed live for three years, until they entered colleges in different cities. The sisters later began a punk band, P. S. Eliot, releasing two albums and two EPs. The twins moved to Brooklyn together for a while, but recently relocated to a three-story row house in West Philadelphia, sharing a house and basement rehearsal space among seven musicians. The twins are now in separate bands, however; Allison is in Swearin’ and Katie is Waxahatchee.

Waxahatchee headlined the Bowery Ballroom tonight, where the guitar-bass-drums trio was the format chosen to exhibit Katie Crutchfield’s story-songs, primarily from Waxahatchee’s two low-key albums, 2012’s American Weekend, and 2013’s Cerulean Salt. She is an indie singer-songwriter, and the rhythm section was there to give her songs a punch where needed. Unlike her sister’s more rocking set, which graced the same stage two weeks ago, Katie’s songs were more sensitive and turbulent. For a 24-year-old singer-songwriter, Katie Crutchfield or Waxahatchee has many lyrical expressions. She sang these reflections with a hopelessly struggling-for-mercy persona, a vocal delivery so sensitive that it sounded like she would break and so unrefined that it could only be classified as indie, not traditional. She often accompanied herself solely with her loudly twanging electric guitar, and even when she used her backing musicians, they did not always play through an entire song. This sparse approach was endearingly novel, bringing in volume and intensity to emphasize the songs’ introductions, bridges and choruses. Caution, please: a close listening can make you feel naked..

Visit Waxahatchee at

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Angry Samoans at the Bowery Electric

Mike Saunders and Bill Vockeroth of the Angry Samoans
The Angry Samoans formed in 1978 in Los Angeles, California, during the first wave of American punk bands. The band’s first two albums gained a following through the mid-1980s, but never surpassed cult status. During the mid- to late 1980s, the band went on hiatus, with vocalist “Metal” Mike Saunders moonlighting in several electric/acoustic two-guitar duos (with no rhythm section), including the Clash Brothers, the Sons of Mellencamp, and the Gizmo Brothers, performing in small clubs in California. Saunders and original drummer Bill Vockeroth rebranded the Angry Samoans in late 1990s with new band members and so a new generation Angry Samoans now performs weekend gigs about once a month, usually at all-ages shows around Southern California.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, the Angry Samoans showcased what punk rock was like before the genre died out and morphed in two directions, power pop and hardcore punk. The sound was low fidelity and occasionally garage-rock, the songs were short and fast, the lyrics were sometimes deadpan satirical and often obnoxiously offensive, and the energy level was high. Saunders was an unusual front man; he seldom faced the audience, nearly always spacing his feet far apart, one foot in front of the other like a sprinter and facing to the right. When other band members sang, he sat on the floor facing the drum kit. His singing was frequently incomprehensible. The value of the concert was mostly as a bookmark in rock music history. The audience came to relive a snapshot of the original punk rock movement and received it well.

Visit the Angry Samoans at

The Acacia Strain at the Gramercy Theatre

Vincent Bennett of the Acacia Strain
Lead vocalist and songwriter Vincent Bennett formed the metalcore band the Acacia Strain in 2001 in Chicopee, Massachusetts. The band has undergone numerous changes in the member line-up, even at one point sporting a three-guitar assault. Bennett is the sole remaining original member. The current line-up is Bennett, drummer Kevin Boutot, bassist Jack Strong, and two new members, lead guitarist Devin Shidaker and rhythm guitarist Richard Gomez. The Acacia Strain’s sixth and most recent album is 2012’s Death is the Only Mortal.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, someone near me in the audience asked someone else if he was a life-lover. The responder answered negatively and the two shared a high-five. The inquirer then asked me if I was a life-lover and I said yes. His response was vulgar. The Acacia Strain later echoed his perspective, as surely as misery loves company. At first, the Acacia Strain sounded like yet another howl and growl band with down-tuned guitars, irregular breakdowns and groove patterns. Then between songs the band’s leader started preaching nihilism and fatalism, and just inflicted a plain old-fashioned miserable attitude, repeatedly concluding his speeches with instructions to his audience to live every day as if it were the last day. His lyrics delivered similar messages. Yet the band rejects being labeled as deathcore. There was enough diversity in their songs to keep the music interesting, however, and the band’s heavy crunch encouraged a large mosh pit. The show ended with an encore, which Bennett let the crowd know was reluctantly performed.

Visit the Acacia Strain at

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Anathema at the Gramercy Theatre

Vincent Cavanagh
Three brothers from Liverpool, England, vocalist/guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, guitarist Daniel Cavanagh and bassist Jamie Cavanagh, formed a death metal band called Pagan Angel in 1990. After the initial personnel changes, the band was renamed Anathema and released its first album in 1993. More personnel changes occurred and Anathema started moving in a gothic metal direction. Additional lineup changes gradually led the group to become a progressive rock band around 1999. The line-up presently consists of the three Cavanagh brothers, siblings John Douglas on drums and Lee Douglas on vocals, and keyboardist Daniel Cardoso, the newest member. With nine studio albums already in its catalog, Anathema's live DVD and CD, Universal, became available this month; the concert was recorded in 2012 at the ancient Roman theatre of Philippopolis, Bulgaria, where the band was enhanced by the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra.

Until this tour, Anathema had only performed twice as a full band in North America, at the Milwaukee Metal Fest in 2000 and 2001, so tonight’s sold out show at the Gramercy Theatre was its New York debut. Throughout the performance, however, Anathema showed little sign of its past as a doom metal or gothic metal band. Although the band rocked at times, most of the set was comprised of soft, atmospheric soundscapes. With compositions that were often slow and experimental in design, comparisons could continue to be made to Pink Floyd. Faithful to progressive rock tradition, each song was a suite of musical movements. Although some of the band’s albums have been held together with concept themes, the band played mixed selections from various albums, going as far back as 1999’s Judgment album, when the Anathema first solidified itself as a prog-rock band. Newer songs showcased how Lee Douglas’ light yet soulful vocals have assumed bolder significance. The band performed its intricate space-rock compositions well, offering the audience a showcase of musical talent as well as an excursion of the senses. In the end, the Cavanagh brothers acknowledged their fans’ decades-long wait to see them in concert, and so repeatedly promised that Anathema would return to the New York stage.

Visit Anathema at

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pinback at Irving Plaza

Vocalist/guitarist Robertdale Rulon “Rob” Crow, Jr., and bassist Armistead Burwell “Zach” Smith IV formed the indie-rock band Pinback in 1998 in San Diego, California. The band's name is a reference to a character in the 1974 film Dark Star. Since 1999’s debut album, the band has released only five studio albums. The band presently is touring off its Information Retrieved album, which was released a year ago. The live trio features Chris Prescott on drums.

At Irving Plaza tonight, part of the charm of Pinback’s music was that the melodic indie repertoire was not filled with predictable sing-along pop choruses. Performing before a large screen showing film clips (vintage cars, computers and toys and other visuals), Pinback’s performance brought back the art in art rock. The songs highlighted passionate vocals and oblique mind-melting musical arrangements over what felt like a cosmic landscape. Pinback’s music did not fit into any neat category. Ironically, not only were the songs unpredictable, their left-of-center compositions also made them unmemorable for those of us who came with only a marginal familiarity of Pinback’s catalogue. That was not necessarily a bad feature.

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Peter Hook and the Light at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Peter Hook (born Peter Woodhead in Lancashire, England, on February 13, 1956) is best known as the co-founder and bassist for Joy Division and New Order, but his history in the music business has included stints as a disc jockey, nightclub owner, record company mogul and the author of two books, one about his club management days and the other about Joy Division. Hook also launched a masters degree program in Music Industry Management and Promotion at the University of Central Lancashire in 2012. Hook left New Order in 2007 and New Order reformed in 2011 without him or his permission to use the brand name, according to him; this will be settled in the British courts. Hook is currently lead vocalist and bassist for Peter Hook and the Light, which is performing Joy Division and New Order songs exclusively.

The current tour has Peter Hook and the Light playing New Order’s first two albums, 1981’s "Movement" and 1983’s "Power Corruption and Lies" track by track, along with a few additional songs. At Irving Plaza tonight, this was a visit to a time when dance-beat rock was at its peak. The key to the set was monotony, as the band played each song’s groove for extended periods, with just a small amount of lead guitar work or layers of synthesizer sounds. The band started the songs with a rhythm, Hook sang a bit, and then he stepped back as the band continued the groove. Hook frequently interchanged between his bass and guitar, but they were mostly for show, as he hardly played either.  Most of the time Hook’s right hand was on the microphone stand, so much so that the musician on his right frequently played bass even while Hook slung his own bass from his shoulder. Occasionally Hook would also play, meaning there were two active bassists on stage, but Hook never played throughout a song. Ironically, the spotlight remained on Hook the entire show, even when the band did all the work and he did nothing. Hook was at best a fair singer. Nevertheless, for those who came to relive the glory days of new wave dance music, Hook and the Light’s performance provided a nostalgic trip to the past, performing no new songs and giving the audience two hours of exactly the songs they wanted to hear, live and upbeat.

Visit Peter Hook at

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Third Day at the Beacon Theatre

Peter Furler (in the black suit) joined Third Day onstage
Vocalist Johnny “Mac” Powell and guitarist Mark Lee were playing at Lee's church in Georgia the same night in 1992 that bassist Samuel “Tai” Anderson and drummer David Carr played with another band. By the end of the night, the southern-rocking Christian band Third Day was born. The band took its name from the biblical account of Jesus' rising from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion. The band sold over 10 million albums in the United States alone and won numerous Grammy and Dove awards. Its 11th studio album, Miracle, was released in 2012.
In the south, Third Day headlines in arenas. New York is still a soft market for Christian rockers, so Third Day headlined the smaller Beacon Theatre tonight. During the concert, Powell remarked on the beauty of the landmarked art deco theater and on its musical legacy that recently included performances by fellow Georgians Tom Petty and the Allman Brothers Band. Augmented by two touring musicians, Third Day performed a nearly two-hour set of songs spanning the band’s career, including a brief acoustic set in the middle which featured shortened versions of “Blessed Assurance”, “Cry Out to Jesus” and, by popular request, “Thief.” Peter Furler, formerly of the Australian Christian rock band the Newsboys, joined Third Day for three songs, a cover of Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World” and two Newsboys songs, “He Reigns” and “I Am Free.” Most of the Third Day concert was rocking, with Powell’s powerful, masculine vocals sounding like Bob Seger fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd. The quality craftsmanship of Third Day’s songs and its live musicianship matched the caliber of those two artists and many more. Were the band willing to disguise its Christian message, Third Day is such an impressive band that it would become one of the biggest bands in the world; hence, the integrity of band’s commitment to its evangelical cause becomes all the more admirable. Tonight, Third Day proved that it is a great rock band for those willing to listen.

Visit the band at

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

North Mississippi Allstars at Irving Plaza

The late Memphis musician and record producer Jim Dickinson inspired a musical interest in his sons, Luther Dickinson (guitar, vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums). The brothers founded North Mississippi Allstars as a southern blues and boogie band in 1996. The group’s first album was released in 2000 and the ninth album, World Boogie is Coming, was released this September 3. Luther also plays in the Black Crowes and Cody also performs in Hill Country Revue.
At Irving Plaza tonight, North Mississippi Allstars was joined by Lightnin’ Malcolm on bass. For two hours, the musicians traded vocals and instruments, but always stayed true to the sounds of Mississippi delta blues, one of the earliest styles of blues music. Delta blues is known for its slide guitar, and there was plenty of that tonight. The band took this traditional music and on a few songs even paired its cigar box guitar and washboard with funk and rock arrangements. At times it sounded like Dickey Betts had joined Hot Tuna. Since the musicians frequently traded instruments, each had an opportunity to impress with dizzying slides on the guitar frets. The band ably performed a tour of southern blues music, slow and fast, soft and loud, but even so, the slithering slide guitar did get monotonous on occasion. Towards the end of the show, however, the musicians put down the stringed instruments and paraded through the audience playing drums like a marching band. This was not fashionable music, it probably will not get played on many radio formats, but it was honest American music.

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Kate Boy at the Mercury Lounge

Kate Akhurst started out as a songwriter in her native Australia, where she received her first publishing deal at age 16. At 21, she moved to Los Angeles, California, for five years, then ventured to Stockholm, Sweden, for the first time in October 2011. The last two days she was there, she met writing/production team Rocket Boy (Hampus Nordgren Hemlin, Oskar Sikow Engström, and Markus Dextegen). Together they wrote and recorded “Northern Lights” that night. The synthpop quartet Kate Boy was born. Kate Boy released its debut EP, Northern Lights, in January 2013.
At the Mercury Lounge tonight, Kate Boy set out to do something unusual. The four musicians dressed in black sneakers with white soles, black shorts, black baseball caps, and black jackets with white straps that made them look like they were planning on parachuting out of an airplane. The club’s usual lighting system was dismissed for the most part; most of the dim stage lighting was generated from white light poles installed throughout the performance area and a few floor lights behind the musicians. Even those of us pressed against the stage hardly had a good look at the musicians’ faces. We heard and felt the music, however, and were impressed. Akhurst packed a punch in her Madonna-styled vocals and the band played layers of throbbing synthesizer and percussion-based dance music. While a lot of dance club music is based on repetitive loops, Kate Boy live had many more dimensions of sound going on in its musical panorama. Throughout the 40-minute set, the four musicians often changed instruments within a song in order to create a new effect. Kate Boy performed music for both dancing and marveling, pop music with a very sharp knife-edge.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Yellowcard at Irving Plaza

Yellowcard formed as a hardcore punk band in 1997 in Jacksonville, Florida. The members took the band name from a phrase they used while in high school. Whenever somebody did something stupid at a party, such as spill beer on a carpet, they enforced soccer rules and gave them a “yellow card” for committing a “party foul.” Yellowcard relocated to Los Angeles in 2000, became a successful pop band, went on hiatus in 2008 and then reformed in August 2010. The latest album is Ocean Avenue Acoustic, which celebrates the 10th anniversary of its breakthrough platinum album, Ocean Avenue. After many lineup changes, Yellowcard presently consists of original members Sean Mackin on violin and Longineu Parsons III on drums, plus Ryan Key on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Ryan Mendez on lead guitar and Josh Portman on bass.

At Irving Plaza tonight on the second of two headlining nights, Yellowcard performed two sets. The opening set was an acoustic rendering of the 13 songs from its pivotal album, track by track. The second set was comprised of songs from other albums, culminating with one of the band’s biggest hits, “Lights and Sounds.” The overall sound was exactly what one would expect from a group that achieved success largely through MTV’s Total Request Live show. This was a high energy but totally predictable pop rock concert. The band is unusual in that it uses a violin in every song, but the constant violin sound even grew annoying sometimes. During the electric set, the song “Here I Am Alive” featured a chorus where Key sang “They say you don't grow up, you just grow old.” These lyrics could explain why these maturing adults have not outgrown their own music and continue to write and perform songs that appeal to teens.

Visit Yellowcard at

Ro James at S.O.B.'s

Ro James (born Ronnie James Tucker in Stuttgart, Germany) grew up in a military family, living in Hawaii, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana and New York. His father was also a preacher, and compelled his children to sing in church. At age 19 (or XIX as he styles it), he wanted to leave Indianapolis, Indiana, and move back to New York City, where he spent most of his childhood living with his grandmother, to teach or do social work. He wound up in music again. He co-wrote two songs for Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream album and recorded his own EP series in three parts; the final portion, Cadillacs, features a track with Snoop Dogg and becomes available on September 13.
All the featured singers at the BET Music Matters showcase at S.O.B.’s tonight were given short sets. All were talented singers, but James may have been the most memorable. In his 15 minutes or so, he showed himself to be a young, contemporary rhythm and blues crooner, singing all slow jams. While his recorded music is soft, live he was backed by a loud, driving rock band that accentuated the passion in his tenor. His tattoos, pierced ears, gold-capped tooth and cigarette indicated bravado, but his singing revealed his vulnerability. The performance balanced gentility and aggressiveness. It was a riveting mix.

Visit Ro James at

Monday, September 9, 2013

King Krule at the Bowery Ballroom

Archy Marshall has an impressive music history for a teenager. He recorded and mixed his debut single, “Out Getting Ribs,” in his bedroom with a couple of friends in April 2010 and released it under the name Zoo Kid. The British singer songwriter then released an EP under the name King Krule in November 2011. Marshall also has recorded beat-driven mixtapes as DJ JD Sports and as Edgar the Beatmaker. He has since returned to his King Krule identity and released his debut album, 6 Feet beneath the Moon, on his 19th birthday in August 2013.

Headlining a sold-out Bowery Ballroom tonight, it appeared that word of mouth about Krule’s creativity has reached American shores. Multiply the punky snarliness of Elvis Costello times Graham Parker times Joe Strummer in the late 1970s to arrive at an approximation of Krule’s baritone delivery. The average listener was challenged to decipher his lyrics but the voice was expressive, easily shifting between muffled croons and growls. Krule played guitar on a few songs, and his chords sounded as if he was backing a soul singer, while his backing trio played sparse-sounding jazz arrangements. The band injected flecks of reggae, dubstep and punk rock, but the sum total was not any of these; it was something altogether original, gritty and intoxicating. Few if any of the skeletal song structures maintained a traditional 4/4 beat for long, aiming to entrance the listener with haunting vocals and odd compositions. The teenaged King Krule ruled with a royal innovation crowned by very few musicians.

Visit King Krule at

Jay Black at Town Hall

Jay and the Americans was one of the reigning American pop bands in the early 1960s before the British Invasion changed the music business forever. "Only in America", "Come a Little Bit Closer", "Let's Lock the Door (and Throw Away the Key)", "Cara Mia", "Some Enchanted Evening" and “This Magic Moment” featured the incredible vocals of Brooklyn native Jay Black (born David Blatt on November 2, 1938). Black completed bankruptcy proceedings in Manhattan in 2006, after he accrued a $500,000 debt in back taxes to the IRS as a result of his gambling addiction. To pay his debt, Black sold his ownership of the name "Jay and the Americans" to Sandy Deanne, Black's former band mate and original member of the group, for $100,000. Black now performs solely under his stage name, while Deane’s band has a new vocalist and performs as Jay and the Americans.

Black performed a free concert at Town Hall tonight at a John Catsimatidis rally. Black brought the mayoral candidate onstage at one point so that both Black and Catsimatidis could introduce the song “Only in America” as an opportunity to pitch for tomorrow’s primary elections. Looking back on his career, the 74-year-old Black related how a promising young songwriter, Neil Diamond, pitched songs to him. He shared stories of how Frankie Valli and Frank Sinatra challenged him, asking him how he was going to be able to sing the full range of vocals on “Cara Mia” into his older years. He told humorous anecdotes between songs, and sang his old hits so well that he received several standing ovations. In the 1960s, Black was known as "The Voice," and singing through a series of timeless classic pop songs tonight, he proved that he can still take ownership of that name.

Visit Jay Black at

Friday, September 6, 2013

Passion Pit at Pier 26

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit
As a student at Emerson College in Massachusetts, Michael Angelakos wrote and performed a few songs on a laptop computer as a belated Valentine’s Day gift to his then-girlfriend. He circulated these songs on campus and began singing them at venues in the Boston area. Before long, he collaborated with musicians from the nearby Berklee College of Music and Passion Pit was born in 2007. The band presently consists of Angelakos on lead vocals, Ian Hultquist on synthesizers and guitar, Jeff Apruzzese on synthesizers and bass, Xander Singh on synthesizer and Nate Donmoyer on drums. Passion Pit has two albums, 2009’s Manners and 2012’s Gossamer.
Angelakos expressed several times tonight his awe of headlining the final outdoor concerts at Pier 26 on the Hudson River. He acknowledged that the evening was wonderfully cool. Also, from his vantage point onstage, he had a majestic view of the lighted lower Manhattan skyline, including the new One World Trade Center, against a clear night’s sky. He came to sing and entertain, however, as behind him, the three men manning synthesizers and one at the drums counted on him to sing the band’s many popular songs. Angelakos proved very much the front man, commanding attention as he paced non-stop across the wide stage while singing happy synth-pop dance songs in a falsetto voice. Some have called the music “indietronica,” or electronic-based indie music, to distinguish it from dance-club-style EDM. Even when two of the synth players switched to guitar and bass, the sound of the remaining synthesizer was highly dominant. Nearly every song was built on a similar formula – throbbing, melodic verses led to bombastic choruses, with stage lighting similarly using softer-colored hues during the softer verses and turning brighter at the anthem-like choruses. Just when every note and every ray of light seemed precisely calculated, Angelakos announced that the song the band had just performed had not been played live in eight months. This may have been the only moment of improvisation all evening.

Passion Pit will close the summer concert series at Pier 26 tomorrow night; the venue will move to another location next summer. Meanwhile, visit the band’s website at

The Crüxshadows at Irving Plaza

Rogue shined light orbs from his palms into the audience.
The gothic/darkwave Crüxshadows formed in 1992 in Tallahassee, Florida. A decade later, the band had a few dance hits on the American dance charts. Lead vocalist and songwriter Rogue is the last remaining original member of the band. The band presently features Jen Jawidzik on synthesizers, Mike Perez on guitar, JoHanna Moresco and David Russell Wood on violin, Jessica Lackey on percussion, and two dancers, Stacia Marian Hamilton and Ally Knight. The Crüxshadows’ most recent album is 2012’s As the Dark against My Halo.
Event promoter Vampire Freaks opened its three-night Triton Festival at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, to be followed by two nights at Irving Plaza. Five or six gothic, industrial or similar underground music acts from around the world were booked for each night. The Crüxshadows headlined tonight’s show. Ironically, the Crüxshadows performed a set of music may have been too upbeat to be considered gothic. Although much of the audience sported gothic, punk, fetish or other alternative looks, the Crüxshadows looked and sounded much like a 1980s new romantic band. The Euro-dance-inspired songs featured male vocals, electric violin, guitar and synthesizers, and were more filled with pop bounce than dark mystery. The three men dressed in black, the five women in black and white striped outfits, and altogether they staged an elaborately choreographed stage show. The weak point was Rogue’s unrefined vocals.

The Triton Festival continues tomorrow night with the Birthday Massacre headlining and on Saturday with Combichrist as the top draw. Meanwhile, visit the Crüxshadows at

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Mission UK at Irving Plaza

Wayne Hussey of the Mission UK
Vocalist Wayne Hussey and bassist Craig Adams left the Sisters of Mercy in their native England in late 1985 with the intention of forming a new gothic rock band. They formed the Sisterhood in 1986, soon to be renamed The Mission. In the United States, that name was already taken by a Philadelphia-based band, so the British band was renamed The Mission UK on American shores. The band enjoyed some success in England, but lost its spark and split apart by 1996. Hussey assembled a new lineup under the same name in 1999, and lasted until 2008. Hussey repackaged another version of the brand in 2011. Altogether, the Mission UK recorded 12 albums including The Brightest Light, which becomes available on September 13.  The Mission UK presently consists of Hussey, Adams, longtime member Simon Hinkler on lead guitar and new member Mike Kelly on drums.

The Mission UK’s performance at Irving Plaza tonight was the first New York concert for the since about 1998, Hussey told the audience. Originally a gothic rock band playing a lot of industrial music, the band has morphed into a fairly mainstream band. As in the past, both old and new songs maintained a strong rock dance beat, but the former cutting edge sound was replaced by and large with a more conventional sound. The band included rocking covers of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” into its set. The band’s biggest problem, however, was that Hussey was unable to reproduce his former dark, hyper-masculine, Billy Idol-type vocals. The performance had enough of the old sound to enthuse its cult following, but now sounding more like a fine but somewhat ordinary rock band with few remarkable features, it may be challenging for the Mission UK to pick up a new audience.

Visit the band at

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Julie Ruin at the Bowery Ballroom

Kathleen Hanna is an icon in underground music, art, film and politics. Born in Portland, Oregon, on November 12, 1968, Hanna first became interested in feminism around the age of nine, after her mother took her to a Solidarity Day rally in Washington D.C. where feminist author Gloria Steinem spoke. Hanna became a musician, feminist activist and punk zine writer. Hanna founded the brief but influential Riot Grrrl movement, as chronicled in the 2006 documentary Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl. She became the lead singer of Bikini Kill in the early- to mid-1990s, released a solo album under the pseudonym Julie Ruin in 1998, and fronted Le Tigre in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As seen in the documentary film The Punk Singer, Hanna learned she was infected with Lyme Disease, and the recovery process forced her to take a nine-year break from music. She is back with a band called the Julie Ruin and a debut album, Run Fast, which was released today. The Julie Ruin is comprised of Hanna on vocals, Sara Landeau on guitar, Kenny Mellman on keyboards, Kathi Wilcox on bass and Carmine Covelli on drums.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Hanna showed that the Julie Ruin is a new beginning for her, in that the band sounds unlike her previous works. The foundations of the compositions were often propelled by the rhythm sections’ funk and rock chops, similar to Har Mar Superstar (who applauded from the audience). The songs were danceable yet sometimes as quirky as Devo. The ensemble arrangements were usually sparse until Wilcox stepped forward with her wall-of-sound surf-guitar leads, then giving the band a Bush Tetras flavor. The top and most prominent layer was Hanna’s snarly and squeaky vocals, reminiscent of the B-52’s. The Julie Ruin introduced an innovative platform for today’s indie market.

The Julie Ruin will be performing at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on October 25. In the meantime, visit the Julie Ruin (and get a free download) at

Monday, September 2, 2013

Jason D. Williams at Hill Country Barbecue + Market

Originally from El Dorado, Arkansas, Jason D. Williams claims to be the adopted son of Henry "Hank" Williams Jr. and Dorothy "Marie" Carpenter Williams. Jason started playing the piano at age two or three, and left his hometown at age 16 to perform with rockabilly artist Sleepy LaBeef. Jason eventually relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, and started a solo career. His hands were shown playing the piano in the 1989 bio-pic of Jerry Lee Lewis, Great Balls of Fire! Williams’ most recent album is his third, 2004’s Don’t Get None Onya.

At Hill Country Barbecue + Market tonight, there was no escaping the comparisons of Jason D. Williams to Jerry Lee Lewis. Backed by a bassist and a drummer, Williams sang country-rooted rockabilly songs as if he was Lewis’ double and even looked like a younger (and slimmer) version of Lewis. Like Lewis, Williams played the keys of his piano with an unbelievably blinding rock and roll speed, stood and kicked his stool behind him occasionally as he played, threw his booted onto the end of the keys and stood on the piano. Williams even closed his set with his version of Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” Always visually stimulating, Williams at times played his piano in reverse while sitting on the keys, played the piano strings with drumsticks, and played a frantic piece on the piano while balancing a plastic water bottle on his head. Many of the songs were covers, but even Williams’ original songs were based on old-time melodies and rhythms. While Williams’ presentation and the music was derivative, he proved to be a consummate and very entertaining showman.

Visit Jason D. Williams at

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Hipp Pipps at Otto's Shrunken Head

The Hipp Pipps is a trio featuring Matt Langone on guitar and vocals, Kevin Shaw on bass and vocals, and Frankie Pipps on drums, all of whom can be found playing in other local bands as well. The perfect description of the Hipp Pipps is that it is simply a rock and roll band. Use no adjectives and hyphens before the word “rock.”

At Otto’s Shrunken Head tonight, the Hipp Pipps’ original songs like “Hell’s Bells” sounded much like the Fats Domino and Bo Diddley tunes that the band covers. Langone’s string-twisting guitar leads sounded authentically like the early rock and roll pioneers, only faster and louder. The simple rhythm and punch of these rock and roll gems encouraged much of the audience to get off its chairs and bounce onto the dance floor. The Hipp Pipps’ set was proof that pure, basic rock and roll will never die.

The Hipp Pipps perform at Frank Wood's next Wind-Down Sunday at Otto's Shrunken Head on September 8. Visit the band at