Saturday, November 30, 2013

NOFX at Irving Plaza

"Fat Mike" Burkett is the front man for NOFX
NOFX formed as a punk rock band by vocalist/bassist “Fat Mike” Burkett and guitarist Eric Melvin in 1983 in Los Angeles, California, later relocating to San Francisco. Drummer Erik Sandin joined shortly after, and after a series of lead guitarists, Aaron "El Hefe" Abeyta joined in 1991, rounding out the current line-up. Punk rock had a second wave of popularity in the mid 1990s with the success of Green Day, the Offspring, Rancid, Bad Religion and NOFX. NOFX’s biggest album, 1994’s Punk in Drublic, was certified gold in both the United States and Canada, even though the band never been signed to a major record company. The group has sold over six million records worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent bands of all time. NOFX has released 12 studio albums, 15 EPs and numerous seven-inch singles. The most recent studio album, Stoke Extinguisher, was released earlier this year. The band also broadcast its own show on Fuse TV entitled NOFX: Backstage Passport.

If punk rock makes yet another comeback, NOFX will be among its leaders, judging by the performance tonight at Irving Plaza. The band played fast and furious punk rock, but stood out among the pack by occasionally widening its berth with a dash of Caribbean rhythms and other sounds. With his hair now a blue Mohawk and wearing black jeans cut off below the knee, an energetic Burkett led the evening’s frenetic charge to revive the punk movement, and so the spirit of punk rock was fresh and alive for all of the 90-minute set. The set spanned the band’s 30 years of original music, with an occasional new song thrown in. In true punk rock tradition, many of the songs were under two minutes, some under one minute, so that some songs ended even before the audience could get the groove on. It was left unknown whether or not the band members still hold onto their earlier political activism (in 2003, Fat Mike organized the website www.punkvoter.com, compiled two chart-topping Rock Against Bush albums, and started a Rock Against Bush U.S. tour), because tonight this was simply a place to rock and mosh. The four musicians maintained their anti-rock-star stance, however, hanging a small sign with the band’s logo rather than draping the back of the stage with a huge backdrop, and also by commenting negatively about their musical prowess. The downside of the show, however, was that Burkett and Abeyta often took up way too much time between songs with nonsensical blabber, causing some fans to yell repeatedly “shut up and play music.”

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Wicked Messengers at Hill Country Barbecue Market

The Wicked Messengers is a rock and roll/country music quintet based out of Brooklyn. The musicians call their music “rock n' twang,” and have recorded two CDs, Livin’ Fast and Headtwangers Ball. Led by Allen Lee Backer, the band leads a “kuntry karaoke” on Tuesday nights at Hill Country Barbecue Market.

Tonight the Wicked Messengers performed a rare self-contained set (not centered around drawing karaoke singers from the audience) that featured original songs and cover tunes. The band’s performance was indebted to the 1960s, especially noted in their covers of early Beatles songs. The original songs similarly were rooted in simple early-pop-radio elements. The evening’s set showed that this was a band that was able to do more than fuel a karaoke party; if you like retro-pop, the band was worth listening to as well.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Emilie Autumn at Irving Plaza

Dancer Victoria Varlow (left) and Emilie Autumn
Emilie Autumn Liddell, who performs under the name Emilie Autumn, is a survivor. Born in 1979 in Los Angeles, California, she grew up in nearby Malibu and learned to play the violin at age four. Autumn became a victim of abuse beginning at age six, and is a survivor of rape. Autumn was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which caused her to experience drastic mood swings, insomnia, and auditory hallucinations, and for which she takes medication. As an adult, she attempted suicide, which led to her admission to the psychiatric ward at a Los Angeles hospital, where she was kept on suicide watch. After her release, she had her cell block number tattooed on her right arm as a way of remembering what happened to her and penned a novel, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, which was published in 2010. Autumn has recorded several vocal and instrumental albums, including 2012’s Fight like a Girl.

Autumn brought her novel to the concert stage at Irving Plaza tonight. The stage was set with odd structures and scaffolding, and Autumn appeared with two backup singers/dancers, all dressed in a combination of Victorian and burlesque wardrobe. Autumn began the performance with a highly choreographed “Fight like a Girl,” sung to prerecorded tracks, establishing that this would be a very theatrical show. All the music was prerecorded and at times it appeared that some of the vocals may have been as well. The first problem, however, was that Autumn’s lyrics were often difficult to distinguish. It seemed throughout her performance that a story was being told, but it was extremely difficult to follow the story line beyond the basic notion that it was about women in an asylum. No program was provided, and there was no narration between songs to clarify what was happening. For this listener, all the costumes, choreography and climbing on the scaffolds were meaningless and so became increasingly less enjoyable and more frustrating. Beyond that, the electronic industrial-style music and cabaret-style singing were cold and suffered from being left in a vacuum. Sorry, Emilie, I lost patience with your music and your show and found my way to the exit halfway through.

Visit Emilie Autumn at www.emilieautumn.com.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Foxes at the Gramercy Theatre

Three recording artists are presently using the name Foxes. Foxes can refer to an Australian heavy metal band, a British synth pop band that features a female singer, and a British synth pop singer. At present, all three acts are little-known, so confusion is inevitable. There is also a British indie band called the Foxes; never mind other bands with similar names like Fleet Foxes and For the Foxes. The British synth-pop singer was the one that performed at the Gramercy Theatre tonight – I think.  Twenty-four-year-old Foxes, born Louisa Rose Allen, is a London-based singer and songwriter who released a remixed Warriors EP on October 27. Her debut album, entitled Glorious, will be released in March 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre, Foxes was accompanied by two musicians far across the stage from her and from each other. Although the focus was on her, the two musicians were more than side players. The synthesizer player provided all the melodies and layers of sounds, and the drummer offered a full and steady beat. Nonetheless, Foxes poured herself on each song, showcasing an impressive vocal range with clear enunciation – how about that, a rock concert where one can actually hear the lyrics! Once an open mic singer-songwriter, the former troubadour has completely embraced electronica. Starting with the Eurythmics in the 1980s, there has been no shortage of sultry women singers fronting a wall of synth-pop; Foxes is entering a crowded field, so only a hit single could help her stand out from the crowd. By the way, Foxes, a 45-minute set with no encore is a cheat.

Visit Foxes at www.iamfoxes.com.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds at Irving Plaza

Arleigh Kincheloe was born and raised in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where she sang in her parents' band by the age of nine. Already a seasoned stage performer by 18, she began writing songs. She already had her harmonica-shredding brother Jackson by her side, but she imagined a large, powerful band playing her music. Their cousin Bram, a California-bred drummer, helped them fulfill that dream in 2008. Now based out of Brooklyn, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds is an eight-piece funk/soul band led by singer Arleigh Kincheloe, with Jackson Kincheloe on harmonica, Bram Kincheloe on drums, Josh Myers on bass, Sasha Brown on guitar, Ryan Snow on trombone, Phil Rodriguez on trumpet, and Brian Graham on baritone saxophone. The band released its second album, Pound of Dirt, in 2012, and a third EP, Fight, last month.

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds has worked its way up from playing small clubs like the Rockwood Music Hall. Headlining Irving Plaza tonight, the night was a celebration for the band’s long-standing Brooklyn and Catskills-based fans. Kincheloe is a small woman with a big voice, and she belted out soulful songs like an enraptured gospel singer. She was equally comfortable and equally able with rollicking rock songs and sultry torch songs. A small but powerful brass section set fire to the danceable grooves with hard driving New Orleans funk and Memphis rhythm and blues. All told, the band served a sassy blend of classic American blues, soul, funk, rock and jazz, and it was a red hot brew.

Visit Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds at www.sistersparrow.com.

Mindy Smith at SubCulture

Mindy Smith was born in 1972 on Long Island, New York, and was adopted at birth by a pastor and his wife. She developed a passion for music and began singing at an early age. After her mother's death from cancer in 1991, Smith moved to Cincinnati for two years and then to Knoxville, Tennessee and, in 1998, she moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. Smith gained popularity in 2003 when she covered "Jolene" on a Dolly Parton tribute album, Just Because I'm a Woman. Parton later added backing vocals to a new mix of the song for Smith's 2004 debut album, One Moment More. Smith has recorded five albums, the most recent of which was 2012’s self-titled album, and has just released a five-song holiday EP, Snowed In.

Old Long Island friends and family poured into SubCulture tonight and gave Smith a warm welcome home. Onstage, however, Smith accompanied herself simply, with only an acoustic guitar. The unplugged, no-frills mode stripped her songs back to their original manufacturer settings. No more country twang, no more retro Americana roots, her songs had to stand naked on their own. Thanks to her gutsy vocal delivery, she was able to pull it off. Smith came across as a reflective, candid, and perhaps mood-driven songwriter. The evening’s highlights included songs from her first album; despite the connotations of the title, “Come to Jesus” was not necessarily an evangelical song, but more a song of comfort, and “One Moment More” spoke tenderly of the aftermath of the death of a loved one. The one song she sang from her new Christmas EP, an original song called “Tomorrow Is Christmas Day,” was appropriately jovial. The performance was fine, but hopefully her next performance will be with a band.

Visit Mindy Smith at www.mindysmithmusic.com.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Metric at the Bowery Ballroom

Emily Haines
Although her parents were Americans, Emily Haines was born in New Delhi, India, lived her earliest years in London, England, and was raised in Ontario, Canada. She formed Metric with British-born James Shaw in 1998 in Toronto, Canada, and since then, the band also has based itself in Montreal, London, New York City and Los Angeles. The band consists of Haines (lead vocals, synthesizers, guitar, tambourine, harmonica, piano), Shaw (guitar, synthesizers, theremin, backing vocals), Joshua Winstead (bass, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Joules Scott-Key (drums, percussion). Although all of the members have recorded side projects, Metric as a band has five studio albums, the most recent being 2012’s Synthetica.

Metric has been performing in arena opening for Paramore, but tonight on a night off from that tour Metric headlined the more intimate Bowery Ballroom. Looking through the long blonde bangs covering much of her face throughout the performance, Haines told the audience that this was the first time the band had played the venue since 2005. With the freedom to play longer here, the band performed a 17-song set that featured songs from the two more recent and more popular albums, but also revived songs from the three earlier, less known albums. This included a rarely-performed “Love is a Place” from the band’s debut album. The set alternated between Haines singing in a pillow-talk voice while playing moody, ethereal runs on her two keyboard/synthesizer units to her rocking out to harder-edged synth-pop songs while dancing at the edge of the stage. Haines also spoke to the audience as a former New Yorker, acknowledging the recent mayoral election and dedicating the first encore, another older and lesser known Haines-James duet, “The Police and the Private”, “to the end of stop and frisk.” The concert ended with another duet, this one dedicated to the late Lou Reed, an acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy.” Altogether, Metric’s set was the pinnacle of very polished of indie rock.

Visit Metric at www.ilovemetric.com.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tori Kelly at Irving Plaza

Victoria “Tori” Kelly was born in 1992 in Wildomar, California, to a Puerto Rican/Jamaican father who is a singer and bassist and a German/Irish mother who plays piano and saxophone. Kelly began singing at age three and entered her first singing competition at age six. She began playing drums at age 12 and later moved on to guitar and piano. She began writing songs when she was 14 years old. Kelly appeared on the television talent shows Star Search and America's Most Talented Kids, and nearly became a contestant on American Idol. In time, she took her music online and, even without ever recording a full album, her YouTube channel has more than 55 million views and almost 700,000 subscribers. Her Foreword EP was released on October 22, 2013.

Kelly was the sole supporting act to Ed Sheeran at Madison Square Garden on November 1, and two weeks later headlined her own show at Irving Plaza. Just a month short of her 21st birthday, Tori Kelly is not old enough to enter a lot of music clubs, but Irving Plaza is an all-ages venue. In this more intimate setting, Kelly demonstrated how she would have been a natural for American Idol. The television series seems to specialize in white singers who sound Black, and Black singers who sound white. Here was Kelly, a mixed race singer, singing and performing solo on acoustic or electric guitar, belting like a soaring gospel singer and opening herself up like a poetic singer-songwriter. Especially in this bare-bones setting, Kelly’s music projected vulnerability, insight, vitality and conviction. Having a passionate, soulful voice made her songs that much sweeter. Her charm seemed to appeal largely to the below-drinking age women in the audience, but there is no denying that Kelly is a powerhouse of talent that can reach a wider audience.

Visit Tori Kelly at www.torikellymusic.com.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Johnny Marr at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Johnny Marr was born John Martin Maher in 1963 in Manchester, England. He had aspirations to be a professional soccer player, but his first band, the Paris Valentinos, at the age of 13, changed the course of his life. In 1982, at age 18, he and Steven Morrissey, formed the Smiths. Since leaving the Smiths in 1987, Marr joined the Pretenders, the The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and the Cribs, all for short periods, and performed as a session musician and soundtrack composer. In 2013, he released a solo album titled The Messenger.

Marr became known as a guitarist during the 1980s, when guitarists were falling out of fashion. With such a reputation in tow, one could have expected numerous extended guitar licks at his headlining concert at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom tonight. Instead, Marr kept the songs short and simple, even allowing his co-guitarist to play some of the leads. Marr performed "Getting Away with It" from his days with Electronic, and several selections from his solo album. Much of the audience came to relive the Smiths, however, and he performed six Smiths songs, including "Panic," "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before," "Big Mouth Strikes Again" and the final song of the night, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." Towards the end of the set, Marr introduced former Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, and performed together on "How Soon Is Now?" and "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want." The songs sounded noticeably rougher with Marr singing instead of Morrissey, and all in all, the show was more rocking than the Smiths concerts were. Marr has a long way to go, however, if he is ever to outdistance himself from his Smiths legacy.

Visit Johnny Marr at www.johnny-marr.com.

Meredith Sheldon at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

You won’t find much information anywhere on Meredith Sheldon. She is a secret. All we can say is that she was born 25 years ago in Berkeley, California, and presently is based in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. She started playing acoustic guitar at age six and electric guitar at age nine. While at dance school at age 18, she started to play guitar seriously. Sheldon was reportedly a member of both Family of the Year and the Ben Taylor Band, but confirmation is scant. Evan Dando of the Lemonheads discovered her solo music and had her open his band’s tour, and both Marina and the Diamonds and Johnny Marr more recently did the same. She has released an independent EP, A La Mar.

At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom tonight opening for Johnny Marr, Sheldon appeared on a dimly lit stage (why do opening acts get poor lighting?). She stood in tall black boots and a red shirt long enough to qualify as a dress. With no introduction, she began to sing original compositions and play electric guitar, accompanied on lead guitar by Marr’s son, Nile Marr. Perhaps having a full band would have given more identity to the genre of music she inhabits, but here Sheldon sang soft folkie pop songs with a strong alto voice, yet played muscular rhythm guitar chords loudly, like a rocker. Nile Marr filled in a few guitar leads, but often played the same chords and rhythms as she did. Although the lyrics were difficult to capture in this environment, they seemed to be a lot about “you,” the word I heard most often, and many songs were carried along by a lot of woooh-oooh-ooohs. A classically-trained singer, Sheldon’s passion projected as earnest and expressive. Despite the odd mix of sounds, or maybe because of it, Sheldon accomplished a difficult task; she caught the ears and the hearty applause of an unsuspecting audience that had come to see the headline act.

Visit Meredith Sheldon at www.meredithsheldon.com.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I See Stars at the Gramercy Theatre

Zach Johnson and Devin Oliver
Starting together in 2006 as teenagers in Warren, Michigan, the members of I See Stars are a rarity among metalcore bands in that they have pretty much maintained their original line-up. The band’s music has changed several times over four albums, however, at times lighter and more pop-oriented and at times heavy and aggressive. The band’s fourth album, New Demons, was released in October 2013. The band consists of Devin Oliver on clean vocals, Zach Johnson on unclean vocals, keyboards and electronic programming, Brent Allen and Jimmy Gregerson on guitars, Jeff Valentine on bass and Andrew Oliver on drums.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the band balanced its hard-edged approach often with pop vocal melodies, while also throwing in fair amounts of scream and electronic. The two vocalists were energetic and sometimes worked the songs and the audience independently, sometimes in harmony. They turned nearly every song into an anthem. The music was somewhat innovative as well. If metalcore is a sub-genre of heavy metal music, then I See Stars showed itself to be at the forefront of the sub-sub-genre referred to as electronic hardcore music (EHM) or electronicore. The band played metalcore breakdowns at times followed by unusual touches of techno/dub-step/electro music. The songs occasionally even mixed clean and unclean vocals with synthesized vocals. Like the evening’s co-headliner, The Word Alive, I See Stars’ youthful exuberance and high-energy performance did a masterful job of engaging a younger Warped Tour-type audience.

The Word Alive at the Gramercy Theatre

Telle of the Word Alive
The Word Alive formed as a metalcore band in 2008 in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally fronted by co-founder Craig Mabbitt of Escape the Fate, the band early on replaced him with Tyler "Telle" Smith, who was formerly one of the vocalists for In Fear and Faith and bassist for Greeley Estates.  The band currently consists of Smith, Zack Hansen on lead guitar, Tony Pizzuti on rhythm guitar, Daniel Shapiro on bass, and Luke Holland on drums. The band’s second and most recent album, Life Cycles, was released in 2012.

At the Gramercy Theater tonight, the Word Alive showed what a hard-touring metalcore band can do. The band showed as much range as one can find in the genre, balancing smooth melodies with harsh breakdowns, clean vocals with growls and screams, speedy guitar blasts and a power-pumping rhythm section, and giving an attention-deficit audience plenty of accolades and attention. While the performance was tight and executed well, the band sounded fairly standard for a metalcore band. That is not necessarily the fault of the band; there just does not seem to be a band that is breaking new ground in this genre anymore. The band speaks the language of youth, however, and will continue to do well with the Warped Tour generation.

Visit the Word Alive at www.wearethewordalive.com.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New York Junk at the Bowery Electric

The four members of New York Junk are survivors of the New York music scene of the early 1980s. This was the era when attention to punk rock had died down and local bands were playing basic rock and roll again. The musicians in New York Junk played in various bands during that era and now are reviving that music.

At the Bowery Electric tonight opening for the Waldos, at first New York Junk sounded like another band playing three chords fast in a garage rock way. Listening more carefully, one heard songs, real songs, songs from the soul of thinking, working class people. Guitarist/songwriter Joe Sztabnik sang with a limited range that simultaneously pushed his angst and his passions. The roar of the two guitarists then echoed those sentiments with raw and gritty rock and roll leads. It sounded simple, but it also sounded compellingly honest.

New York Junk will be opening for the Jim Jones Revue at the Bowery Electric on New Year’s Eve.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dir En Grey at Irving Plaza

Kyo of Dir En Grey
Since its inception in Japan in 1997, Dir En Grey has changed musical styles often, making its genre difficult to define, but the music is more closely associated with heavy metal and perhaps progressive rock than anything else. Originally a visual kei band, the band has opted for less dramatic attire in recent years. The name "Dir En Grey" is composed of words from several languages, so that people would not be able to attach a specific meaning to it other than the band's name itself. Since its inception, Dir En Grey has consisted of Kyo on lead vocals, Kaoru and Die on guitars and backing vocals, Toshiya on bass and backing vocals, and Shinya on drums. The band has recorded nine full-length albums, including 2013’s forthcoming Scream for the Truth.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Dir En Grey looked and sounded spooky. For several of the initial songs, Kyo sang through a dark shawl. After a few songs, he began to slowly reveal ghoulish makeup. Kyo’s face, neck and chest appeared to be painted (hopefully not tattooed) white with black skeletal markings. Throughout the show, he wrapped and unwrapped his head in the shawl as he sang, and on one song turned his back to the audience and sang to a camera that projected his zombie face onto the large screen behind the drummer. Kyo’s movements appeared to be interpretive expressions of the songs. He alternately whispered and screamed words and sounds hauntingly as the band alternated between ethereal and head-pounding music. The twin guitar attack of Kaoru and Die sizzled, distorted, reverberated and bashed while the rhythm section anchored the often thunderous music. Finally, rather than communicating with the audience between songs, the space between songs was usually filled with dark, atmospheric rhythms that may have been either pre-recorded or programmed, completing the setting. In all, Dir En Grey’s performance made for an interesting brand of hair-raising metal music.

Visit Dir En Grey at www.direngrey.co.jp/english.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Pretty Reckless at Irving Plaza

Taylor Momsen was a professional model at age two and a professional actress at age three. She was a teenager when she played the quick-witted, drug-dealing Jenny Humphrey on the television sitcom Gossip Girl. She also came very close to becoming Hannah Montana. Now 20 years old, she is committed to singing bluesy hard rock in her New York-based band, the Pretty Reckless. The band is preparing to release its second album, Going to Hell. The current members are Momsen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Ben Phillips (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums).

At Irving Plaza tonight, the Pretty Reckless stormed the stage with old school rock. For almost all of the set, Momsen unexplainably flung her long blonde hair in front of her face, to the point where glimpsing her countenance was flighty. As the band pounded out riffs, Momsen looked like Cousin It but she crooned like a blues singer, a style common in 1970s hard rock bands but very rare now. She expressively punctuated the angst in her lyrics and celebrated the joy of release in her melodies. Her softly-sung cover of Audioslave’s “Like a Stone” during the encores was a vocal highlight. Although still a fairly unknown guitarist, Phillips’ many lengthy and rampaging solos were impressively executed throughout the 75-minute performance. One can expect to see him featured in guitar magazines in the near future. The rhythm section hammered away, giving the band its identifying power rock structure. Still a young band after only three years together, the Pretty Reckless impressively laid the foundation for a potential classic rock revival.

Visit the Pretty Reckless at www.goingtohell.me.

The Green at the Gramercy Theatre

Fellow Hawaiian Kimie (left) offered guest vocals
with the Green on one song.
Virtually every tropical island has its own brand of reggae, and Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands is no exceptions. After cousins Caleb Keolanui (vocals) and JP Kennedy (guitar, vocals) ended their previous band, Next Generation, they recruited Ikaika Antone (keyboards, vocals) and Zion Thompson (guitar, vocals), who performed together in the band Stir Crazy, to form the Green in 2009. In time, they recruited Brad “BW” Watanabe (bass) and Jordan Espinoza (drums). The Green’s self titled debut album was released in February 2010, was named iTunes Best Reggae Album of 2010, and set a record by staying on the Billboard Reggae Chart for 69 weeks. The Green's second album, Ways & Means, spent four weeks at the top of Billboard's Reggae Chart in May 2011, and won Best Reggae Album at Hawaii’s 2011 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. The band’s third album, 2013’s Hawai’i ‘13, also topped the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart, selling 4,960 copies in its first week of release.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the Green featured four soulful lead singers, sometimes more than one per song, to good effect. The music was combined 1970s-style dub-heavy roots reggae with rock guitars, radio-friendly pop and even a bite-size taste of indigenous Hawaiian musical traditions and lyrical references.  Some songs punched and some songs swayed, some were made for dancing and many more were made for romance, but from the disparate composers’ styles simmered a cohesive and harmonious blend of island sounds. This smooth set may not have satisfied reggae purists, but the 50th State’s forefront reggae band impressed a broader audience with an ingenuous crossover mix of modern pop reggae, Hawaiian style.

Visit the Green at www.thegreen808.com.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

James Blake at Terminal 5

Twenty-five-year-old James Blake was born into a musical family. His father, James Litherland, was a singer and guitarist in Colosseum, a British progressive jazz-rock band, in the late 1960s, and then became a session musician and solo artist. London-based Blake is an electronic music producer and singer-songwriter, and is frequently heralded as a leading figure in the "post-dubstep" community. After a series of 12" singles and EPs, Blake’s eponymous debut album was released in 2011, and his second studio album, 2013’s Overgrown, won the coveted Mercury Music Prize in England on October 30th. He is also known as Harmonimix, particularly when releasing remixes.

Blake tonight performed his second of two nights at Terminal 5, and this was his second two-night run at the venue this year. This time around, he augmented his music with massive back lighting that rendered him and his two musicians as silhouettes for most of the concert. For most of the set, Blake sat almost shyly behind his keyboards and synthesizers, while guitarist/synthesizer player Rob McAndrews and drummer Ben Assiter sat across the dark stage from him like three figures in an eclipse. The set was comprised of a wash of innovative sounds that spanned many genres, including electronica, hip hop and blue-eyed soul. Whereas many newer jazz artists are using electronic sounds in their music, Blake’s often seemed to be the opposite, a foundation of synthesized effects seeking structure in laid-back jazz grooves. As a result, all of his compositions were radical, lyrical songs that served as launch pads for experimentation. Live, the commercial restrictions of his recorded work were stretched far with space jams, whether on original songs like “CMYK”, “Lindisfarne I &II”, “Retrograde” and “The Wilhelm Scream” or on his versions of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You .” The daring nature of the music was often difficult to digest, but it always sparkled with freshness and improvisation. The music world has something new in James Blake.

Visit James Blake at www.jamesblakemusic.com.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cherie Currie at the Gramercy Theatre

Every few years an all-female band rises high in the male-dominated rock music industry. Goldie and the Gingerbreads in the early 1960s, Fanny in the late 1960s, Girlschool in the late 1970s and both the Bangles and the Go-Go’s in the 1980s were among the pioneers. No all-female band was more famous than the Runaways, however.The Los Angeles-based band lasted only three albums, yet produced three solo artists in Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie. Currie joined the Los Angeles-based Runaways in 1975 when she was 15 years old. The band’s best-known song, "Cherry Bomb," was written for her at the audition. After the Runaways, Currie became an actress in numerous movies and television dramas, published her memoirs, recorded solo albums and became a chainsaw carving artist.


At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Currie relived her early history. Much of the set was comprised of Runaways songs, she spoke about the Runaways frequently between songs and she even wore a Lita Ford t-shirt. An unspoken truth was evident, however. Aside from her youthful punk-rock image in the Runaways, she was a bland singer then and tonight showed that she is still an unremarkable singer. Also, although her band did a fair job in adding a little juice to her songs, the set was weak. The newer songs were pleasant but forgettable time fillers, the covers of Tommy James’ “Dragging the Line” and David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” were uneventful and the Runaways songs – well, there was a reason why the Runaways sold more t-shirts than albums. The show deserved a chainsaw.

Visit Cherrie Currie at www.cheriecurrie.com.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Falling in Reverse at the Gramercy Theatre

Ronnie Radke of Falling in Reverse
Ronnie Radke was the lead singer in the heavy metal band Escape the Fate when he sentenced to two years in prison for failing to report to his probation officer in 2008. Previously, he had been charged with battery in the shooting death of an 18-year-old man. While in prison, Radke formed a band that later would be called Falling in Reverse. Falling in Reverse released its second album, Fashionably Late, on June 18, 2013. The band presently consists of Radke, lead guitarist Jacky Vincent, rhythm guitarist Derek Jones, bassist Ron Ficarro and drummer Ryan Seaman.

Falling in Reverse is on a short tour entitled “An Evening with Falling in Reverse—Unplugged & Uncensored.” A billing like that would give the impression that there would be no opening act because the band was going to play a long set. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, it was a shockingly short “evening with.” The band performed for only 50 minutes, and Radke spent quite a lot of that time fielding questions from the audience. The show itself was enjoyable though, watching the normally hard rocking quintet playing some of its best songs while sitting on stools, plucking and strumming on three acoustic guitars and slapping a little percussion. Radke sang very well, and in this acoustic mode more readily emphasized how his buoyant lyrics were more amusing than soulful. Radke introduced each song with a story of its origin; the narratives of "Pick up the Phone", “Bad Girls Club” and "The Drug in Me Is You" also leaned towards the whimsical. “An Evening with” was far from a comedy act, but it was refreshing to listen to an artist balance levity with good musicianship and intelligible lyrics.

Visit Falling in Reverse at www.fallinginreverse.com.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Attila at the Gramercy Theatre

Chris Fronzak of Attila
Vocalist Chris Fronzak formed Attila as a metalcore band while in high school in 2005 in Atlanta, Georgia. The band has recorded five albums, including 2013’s About That Life. The band is presently comprised of Fronzak on lead vocals, Chris Linck and Nate Salameh on guitars, Kalan Blehm on bass and Sean Heenan on drums. Fronzak and Heenan are the last remaining original members.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, most of the audience was made up of high schoolers, and during the performance it became apparent that this was the only demographic that would be interested in Attila. Fronzak played up the party rebel image in his lyrics and in his between-song chatter to the point where it seemed it was more image than substance. He spent considerable time and energy asking the audience to jump, scream or mosh, and the audience responded. Nevertheless, if the music had been strong enough, he would not have needed to request these behaviors. Musically, the compositions had decent breakdowns, the guitarists occasionally hit interesting leads, and Fronzak threw in a few raps for an interesting change-up, but the songs were hampered by stupid lyrics and lack of originality. Young metal fans will revel in Fronzak’s cursing and the band’s central devil-may-care message; older metal heads will be looking elsewhere for innovation and intelligence.

Visit Attila at www.attilaband.com.