Friday, January 31, 2014

Jason Aldean at Irving Plaza

Jason Aldine Williams was raised by his mother in Macon, Georgia. His parents divorced when he was three, and during the summer he would spend time with his father in Homestead, Florida. Before going to work each day, his dad would map out guitar chords on notebook paper to show his son where to place his fingers. Aldean practiced while his dad was at work. When his dad got home, he got out his own guitar and they played country music standards together. The youth performed at talent contests and local fairs and by age 15 joined the house band at a Georgia night club. He adopted the stage name Jason Aldean and in 1998, at age 21, Aldean moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where his career eventually flourished in 2005. His five albums have sold more than eight million copies and feature 18 Top 10 country hits. His most recent album is 2012's Night Train.

Jason Aldean was among the big-name entertainers playing corporate-sponsored private concerts during the nights leading up to the Super Bowl. In 2013, he headlined a sold out Madison Square Garden, but tonight he returned to his roots, performing at Irving Plaza, where the budding country artist played his first New York show in 2010. After selling millions of albums, headlining baseball stadiums and winning just about every industry award available to a country music artist, it appeared that his concert tonight at the rock venue was a hint of forthcoming ground to conquer. Seldom has a country artist had a heavy-bottomed, hard rocking band like what was heard tonight. Wearing his signature plaid shirt and cowboy hat, Aldean's singing and melodies remained faithful to contemporary country music trajectories, but his musicians often played with the dense gravitas of a grunge band. This seemed to be the Aldean's blueprint for the night -- sing it country, power it with a pounding rhythm section and fret-scraping guitar licks turned up to 11, and throw an occasional rap into the mix. The long catalogue of hit songs had the audience singing along, and the sheer vibrations of the uptempo music had the fans grooving. That he was able to keep this blended energy flying for an hour was epic.

Visit Jason Aldean at www.jasonaldean.com.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band at John Varvatos

Derek Trucks was born into a musical destiny in Jacksonville, Florida. His uncle, Butch Trucks, was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band about 10 years before Derek was born. Trucks was even named after Eric Clapton's band, Derek and the Dominos. At age nine, Trucks bought his first guitar at a yard sale for $5 and played his first paid performance by age 11. Even then, he began playing the guitar using a "slide" bar in order to aid his small, young hands. By his 13th birthday, Trucks had played alongside blues legend Buddy Guy. Derek formed the Derek Trucks Band in 1996, which recorded albums and won a Grammy Award. As a teen-ager, he played as a guest in the Allman Brothers Band and formally joined the band at age 20. He later played in Clapton's touring band.

Susan Tedeschi, born and raised in Massachusetts, played in bands by age 13. While attending the Berklee College of Music, she began sitting in on blues jams at local venues. She formed the Susan Tedeschi Band in 1993, whose albums were nominated for Grammy Awards.

Trucks and Tedeschi met in 1999 inNew Orleans, Louisiana, when she was the opening act on the Allman Brothers Band's summer tour.  The couple married in 2001. They combined their bands to form the Soul Stew Revival in 2007 and later formed the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band, soon to be renamed the Tedeschi Trucks Band, in 2010. In 2012, the Tedeschi Trucks Band won the Grammy Award for Best Blues Album for the band's debut album Revelator. The band's most recent album is 2013's Made Up Mind.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band headlined the Beacon Theater in 2013, but tonight returned to New York for a free invitation-only concert at the much smaller John Varvatos clothing store at the site of the old CBGB's. The set consisted of only eight songs, but lasted an hour due to extended jams on each song. First and foremost, the band proved it was an awesome blues band, with Tedeschi and Trucks complementing each other well. Both well rooted in southern blues, Tedeschi sang soulfully and powerfully like Bonnie Raitt or Etta James while Trucks played lead and slide guitar like, well, the Allman Brothers Band. Beginning with the title track of the most recent album, "Make Up Mind," and "Do I Look Worried" to the closing "Bound for Glory" and "The Storm," Trucks proved why his name appeared twice in Rolling Stone's list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time," and Tedeschi's vocals similarly soared and glided sweetly from the stage. Tedeschi and Trucks skillfully punctuated the musical framework, but also encouraged their fellow musicians to step up and shine for a full band sound. In all, the performance was a loose yet ingenuous blend of roots-based rock and soul, southern rock, blues and jam band, all wrapped with a loving kiss of Florida swamp magic.

Visit the Tedeschi Trucks Band at www.tedeschitrucksband.com.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Band of Horses at the McKittrick Hotel

Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses
Vocalist/guitarist Ben Bridwell washed dishes at the famed rock club, the Crocodile, in Seattle, Washington, all the while dreaming of playing in a band that would be better than the ones he saw perform there. He was promoted to line cook, but came to resent many of the promoters, managers and musicians who made him feel like a second class citizen. He formed a band, originally called Horses, then Band of Horses in 2004, and saved every tip he earned so he could record his music in a studio. Band of Horses soon circulated a demo and secured a recording contract. With increasing success looming with the first two albums and constant touring, Bridwell yearned for a genuine sense of home and relocated the band to his native Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

Bridwell is the sole remaining original member of Band of Horses, but today the quintet is comprised of reunited old friends. Bridwell and keyboardist Ryan Monroe played baseball together in grade school . Bridwell and drummer Creighton Barrett met at a party as teenagers, where they reportedly bonded instantly over a mutual obsession with Dinosaur Jr. Guitarist Tyler Ramsey and bassist Bill Reynolds knew each other from the music circuit in Asheville, North Carolina. This line-up of Band of Horses recorded and will release a 10-song unplugged album, Acoustic at the Ryman, on February 11.

Citi Presents Evenings With Legends continued into its second night tonight with a performance by Band of Horses during the New York/New Jersey area's week of pre-Super Bowl concerts and attractions. In advance of an acoustic tour to promote its acoustic album, the band performed a soft acoustic set at the McKittrick Hotel. The tables and chairs were removed from the area in front of the stage, allowing fans to draw very close to the performers. However, the stage was less than a foot high, so most of the audience had compromised views of the band, especially of the musicians who sat to do their work (keyboards, drums and pedal steel). Despite poor sight lines, the band gave its audience a personal and even intimate musical experience, in that the performance lacked traditional rock star pizzazz in favor of an unpolished front porch jam flavor. Between songs, Bridwell spoke informally with those pressed against the stage just a few inches away, adding to the homey atmosphere. The set of 13 songs began with "Neighbor," showcasing the band's easy vocal harmonies, now uncluttered by amplified instruments. For most of the set, these harmonies began and ended the songs; they were not relegated sparingly to the choruses. This became the strength of the show, and often made the band sound like the Grateful Dead's early 1970s acoustic period. Early on, the set featured a cover of A.A. Bondy's "The Mercy Wheel." The set then featured stripped-down reworkings of the band's catalogue, with some tempos and arrangements significantly altered for the new format. It turned out that the show indeed was better than most of the shows Bidwell saw at the Crocodile.

Band of Horses returns to New York to perform an acoustic set at Town Hall on February 28. In the meantime, visit the band at www.bandofhorses.com.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

John Legend at the McKittrick Hotel

Thanks to the Super Bowl's arrival in the New York/New Jersey area, live music fans in the area had the opportunity to enjoy corporate-sponsored performances by big-name artists in small venues. Citibank was among the sponsors, and during the week before the game hosted the series Citi Presents Evenings with Legends, featuring both musicians and athletes. Appropriately, the first music event in the legends series was John Legend, performing solo on a small stage at the McKittrick Hotel, where tickets sold for $400 apiece.

Born John Roger Stephens on December 28, 1978, in Springfield, Ohio, he began playing the piano at age four and performed with his church choir at age seven. As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, he led Counterparts, a co-ed jazz and pop a cappella group. He met Lauryn Hill and she hired him to play piano on a song from her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Upon his graduation in 1999, he performed in the Philadelphia area and released two albums independently, his self-titled demo  in 2000 and Live at Jimmy's Uptown in 2001, which he sold at his shows. He met an up-and-coming Kanye West and sang on his album. Legend made guest appearances on albums by Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, the Black Eyed Peas and others, while his own career blossomed. Legend received the Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007 and has won nine Grammy Awards. His most recent album is 2013's Love in the Future.

In a small and dimly-lit night club at the McKittrick Hotel, Legend walked on stage with no fanfare or introduction, sat at a grand piano and sang a 60-minute set of stripped-down versions of his popular songs and a few covers. No backing musicians or vocalists, no pre-recorded tracks, no electronic embellishments or effects -- in today's music world, this was a very daring challenge. This show would prove if the talent was real or manufactured. Legend easily passed the test. His soulful singing was superb, his piano-playing was extraordinary, and his song craft was masterful. The opening song, "Made to Love," set the tone of the evening, as Legend sang his love song with a supple tenor and a naked sincerity, periodically turning away from the microphone to view and smile at his audience. The set spanned his 10 years of best-sellers, along with a slowed-down interpretation of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and a bouncy version of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." For all their worth in traditional pop romanticism, the collection of songs was never excessively cliché nor trite. Perhaps this was because he never sacrificed his speedy yet articulate piano playing, which shifted throughout the set from his classical roots to jazz interludes. As performed tonight, the songs were more than catchy lyrics and melodies, they were richly integrated compositions performed by a talented pianist, lyricist and vocalist. This was a first class act for serious adult music fans.

Visit John Legend at www.johnlegend.com.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pillow Theory at the Mercury Lounge

Pillow Theory (often stylized as pILLOW tHEORY) formed in New York City as a power trio in 2001. The band has gone through various personnel changes, but Pillow Theory has remained the vehicle through which lead singer/guitarist Kelsey Warren has explored his songwriting and performance. Pillow Theory released two albums early on, but the most recent output is 2011's seven-song EP entitled Meltdown. The band is presently a quartet, comprised of Warren, lead guitarist Danos Ettrick, bassist Joaquin De Baca and drummer Howard Alper.

Kelsey Warren is exposed to a lot of live music. He works at one of New York's foremost rock clubs, the Bowery Electric. This constant exposure to new sounds has helped him refine what he wants from his band. At the Mercury Lounge tonight opening for the Suzan, Pillow Theory delivered high-powered dynamic rock while embracing a blend of musical tastes. Within the confines of short, tight songs, Pillow Theory packed in slivers of metal, punk, blues and soul. Warren admirably sang entirely from his gut; even his many screams came from somewhere deep inside. This gave the songs an urgency that commanded attention and respect. Ettrick's guitar leads were reserved yet energized the songs in crisp and sizzling blasts, an asset in making the set feel full and powerful. Why is this review so short? The band performed a mere 25 minutes tonight.

Visit the band at www.pillowtheory.com.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reagan Youth at the Bowery Electric

Singer Dave Rubinstein (Dave Insurgent) and guitarist Paul Bakija (Paul Cripple) met at Forest Hills High School in Queens, the same school that the Ramones attended. With two other fellow students, the duo formed a band that would become Reagan Youth in 1980, during the first wave of hardcore punk. Ronald Reagan was about to become America's president, and the musicians adapted his name for the band's name, employing a play on words with Hitler Youth. Reagan Youth incorporated political messages in its songs, and as committed political anarchists, the musicians became poster leaders of the anarcho-punk movement. The songs decried the evils of society and parodied Reagan's policies, the Republican party, the Religious Right and racism. Reagan Youth was among the most successful in the original hardcore scene, but by the late 1980s the extensive touring had taken its toll on the group. Despite the many shows played and the relatively large album sales for a hardcore punk band, they continually found themselves broke. When Reagan left the presidency in 1989, the band split up, and a series of tragic events led Rubinstein to commit suicide three years later. Beginning in 2006, Bakija reformed the band several times. The present configuration, Bakija with Trey Oswald on vocals, Tibbie X on bass and Stig Whisper on drums, has been together less than one year. Reagan Youth recorded only one album in its lifetime, 1984's Youth Anthems for the New Order, although several compilations and live bootlegs circulated during the band's years of inactivity.

Reagan Youth is living in a new era. At the Bowery Electric tonight, Bakija spoke frequently between songs on political themes, but these spontaneous rants on fracking and other issues were more incoherent outbursts than rallying cries. The audience was there for hard and heavy music, which the band provided. Years ago, the band's core fans sometimes expressed opposition to the band moving in a more heavy metal direction, but this continues to be part of the band's sound. The music was loud, fast and aggressive, occasionally sounding more Black Sabbath than Agnostic Front. Perhaps this inclination was necessary for the new lineup to remain relevant in today's music scene. Bakija played many more stinging lead guitar riffs than commonly found in the punk scene, while Oswald screamed, howled and maintained an urgent dynamic by singing most of the set from the mosh pit, often kneeling on his knees and leaning his sweaty bare back onto the floor. Reagan Youth's trademark anarchic vision struggled for air, however; the band's eponymous song, "Reagan Youth," which used a tongue-in-cheek rhetoric to draw parallels between Young Republicans who rallied to the cause of Ronald Reagan and the Hitler Youth during the Third Reich, was enjoyable sonically but the lyrics were less biting now in the Obama years. The small audience indicated that Reagan Youth has the potential to be a flagship for a marginal Occupy Wall Street remnant but may have to continue to reinvent itself to reach a larger audience.

Visit Reagan Youth at www.reagan-youth.com.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dr. Dog at Terminal 5

Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken first began writing songs and playing music together in eighth grade in West Grove, Pennsylvania. Over the next few years, they played together in a myriad of bands including Raccoon, Unleash the Bastards, and Beard. Eventually they recorded and released their first album in 2001 and began playing the Philadelphia club circuit as Dr. Dog. This band's eighth and most recent album, B-Room, was released in October 2013. Dr. Dog's lineup presently consists of Leaman on vocals and bass, McMicken on lead vocals and lead guitar, Frank McElroy on rhythm guitar, Zach Miller on keyboards, Eric Slick on drums and Dimitri Manos on percussion and electronic effects. All six members contribute to harmonies.

Dr. Dog's musical sound has gone from a low-fi scrappy sound in earlier years to a more polished and more rocking sound in later years, such that one might not believe the two were played by the same band. Live, however, it all came together like peanut butter and jelly. Several times during the band's performance at Terminal 5, the band played like a 1960s soul band with a summer sound that felt like a smooth ride in a convertible in southern California. Then the band would introduce something odd to interrupt the flow, like a coarse guitar solo. The sound went from Al Green to Guided by Voices in the snap of the fingers. Similarly, the band grooved on a sleepy melody, then raged into a darker rocker.  On two songs, the band welcomed on stage several members of Antibalas, making the songs more percussion-driven. It would be challenging to identify exactly what kind of music Dr. Dog played, except to say it was an unimaginable  amalgam of psychedelic jam band, guitar-riffing garage band and lead-heavy funk band. Somehow, the band was able to do all this and more without sounding too alien.

Visit the band at www.drdogmusic.com.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Bullys at the Bowery Electric

Joey Lanz of the Bullys
In 1997, Johnny Heff of the Rockaways was a firefighter in the East Village's Ladder 11 and moonlighted as the leader of a second generation punk rock band, the Bullys. The band recorded two albums and played local clubs. Heff was not scheduled to work on September 11, 2001, but was called help at the World Trade Center. He died there saving others. The remaining members of the band continued in Heff's honor and recorded a third album called BQE Overdrive in 2006. The band is presently comprised of Joey Lanz on vocals, Walt Stack on lead guitar, Danny Nez on rhythm guitar, Todd Feyh on bass and Gerry Tuohy on drums.

At the Bowery Electric tonight opening for the Dictators NYC, the Bullys seemed to proudly wave the flag of an early punk rock scene born some 35 years ago. The Bullys married the raw fiber of the garage-rock songs of the New York Dolls or the Dead Boys to the hard and driving power punch of the MC5 and the Ramones. The set included no love songs or reflections on relationships; instead, Lanz snarled working class songs about money (or the lack of it), lousy jobs, jail, and the traditional calls for sex, drugs and rock and roll. These dumb-it-down lyrics were designed to be fun, not poetry; while they were not meant to be taken too seriously, they worked well to rally the audience into an occasional shout-along. The music behind the lyrics was a strong collection of guitar riffs backed by a jackhammer rhythm section. The Bullys' energetic performance signaled an implied but important message, that if you came to the show you deserve to transported to an epoch where rock and roll was all about having a good time.

Visit the Bullys at www.thebullys.com.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Slim Kings at the Bowery Electric

Vocalist/rhythm guitarist Michael Sackler-Berner and lead guitarist Henry Geller knew each other in elementary school. Years later, Sackler-Berner was in New York recording music for the television shows Sons of Anarchy and Law and Order and Geller was living in San Francisco and playing live gigs. They connected on FaceBook by “liking” the same YouTube links to Black Keys tracks, Kinks B-sides, and obscure Jimi Hendrix bootlegs. They started sending each other video clips of Gary Clark Jr., Dave Alvin, and the Black Keys. Geller recorded riffs on his iPhone and sent them to Sackler-Berner. Sackler-Berner added melodies and lyrics to the riffs and sent them back to his childhood friend. They exchanged text messages about making a record. Sackler-Berner sent iPhone mp3s of Geller’s playing to drummer Liberty DeVitto, whom he connected with for a session via MySpace two years prior. DeVitto, who has played drums for Billy Joel for the past 30 years, signed on for a couple of days of recording. One month later, the band assembled in Brooklyn at Sackler-Berner’s home studio. Over the next two weeks, the newly named Slim Kings completed basic tracks for their entire debut album, Fresh Socks, and wrote half of the second album, Dirty Socks. In the following months, the band began playing concerts, had a song on the Songs after Sandy, Vol. 2 compilation album, and landed placements on the television series Army Wives, and in the upcoming Daniel Ratcliff movie, Horns. The band has since been rounded with bassist Andy Attanasio.

At the Bowery Electric tonight opening for Ricky Byrd, the Slim Kings showed that the band was more than computer magic. The quartet played modern rock and roll songs with more than a hint of blues influences in both the vocals and the guitar playing. The band paid its dues to classic rock without necessarily sounding derivative of any particular band or sound. By the second song, "Need Me Too," which was the band's own foray into YouTube land, the direction of the band was established; this was a garage band with some smooth finesse. Two songs later, "The Dime Is Mine," the opening track of the band's second album, exuded the confidence of a man who has secured a girlfriend that others want, but also possibly alluded to the confidence of a band in its own organic music. On "My Waterloo," the band worked tightly to achieve a pop sound driven by raw energy. Overall, the band showcased a fresh twist on a vintage backdrop -- bluesy vocals, a wailing guitar and drums pounded so hard that one could wonder how the sticks and skins did not break on every song. The Slim Kings will squeeze in and widen the royal court of rock.

Visit the Slim Kings at www.slimkings.com.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Elizabeth & the Catapult at the Mercury Lounge

Elizabeth Ziman
Elizabeth Ziman grew up in Greenwich Village, the daughter of an actor who had roles on the Broadway stage and on television's Mork and Mindy and All in the Family. As a youth, Elizabeth trained as a classical pianist. She wrote her first songs on an upright piano in the laundry room, using a running clothes dryer as a metronome. Later, she received a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she studied classical composition with plans to pursue film scoring. While there, she was awarded the 2001 ASCAP Leiber and Stoller scholarship for her song "Like Water Is to Sand." She moved to Brooklyn in 2005, and as Elizabeth & The Catapult performed in local clubs on the strength of two well-received albums. Upon being dropped by her record company, however, Ziman began teaching herself to play guitar and wound up busking her songs in subway stations for a year and a half. She and her band have since returned to performing in northeast music clubs and today released a third album, Like It Never Happened.

Friends and fans alike braved a blizzard and turned out at the Mercury Lounge tonight for Elizabeth & the Catapult's CD release celebration. The band started with "Thank You for Nothing" from the second album, the song that actress Anne Hathaway used to inspire her for her main scene in Les Miserables. Ziman's vocals were immediately arresting; for most of the set, she started her songs in a soft, almost conversational voice that built up and soared into a sultry, belting powerhouse. Much of the set was dedicated to introducing songs from the new album, including the tongue-in-cheek "Happy Pop," Ziman's response to the record company who terminated her contract for not producing radio hits. The set danced between singer-songwriter, pop singer and cabaret genres, but what was most compelling was Ziman's deliberate effort to often avoid the plain and add somewhat troublesome arrangements. There was not always a catchy chorus, and when there was, it was not always where one would expect it, and chord and meter progressions sometimes followed Ziman's jazzy vocals to adventurous structures. After performing perhaps her best known song from her early days, "Taller Children," the band ended the set at the opposite end of the musical spectrum with a cover of Harry Nilsson's Caribbean-flavored "Coconut," which had no chord changes at all. Elizabeth & the Catapult may get noticed for pop-flavored songs, but a closer listen will lead to more intriguing music.

Elizabeth & the Catapult will be performing at the Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 3, every Monday in February. Visit Elizabeth & the Catapult at www.elizabethandthecatapult.com.

Neulore at the Mercury Lounge

William T. Cook (in the background)
and Adam Agin of Neulore
Vocalist/guitarist Adam Agin of Anderson, Indiana, along with guitarist William T. Cook, a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, four years ago  formed a progressive folk band called Neulore in Nashville, Tennessee. The name Neulore derived from the German word for “New” and an abbreviation of the English word “folklore.” This past September, Neulore released a concept EP, Apples & Eve, which consists of seven songs that outlined the Garden of Eden story from Adam’s perspective.

Neulore opened for Elizabeth & the Catapult tonight at the Mercury Lounge and made an impressive New York debut. The indie band skillfully took the basic framework of American folk-rooted music to another dimension, sort of a John Mellencamp with the energetic and bombastic dynamics of early U2. Agin sang soulfully, and Cook provided resilient harmonies. Electronic keyboards and a rhythm section filled out the full sound and leaned towards a Jersey shore wall-of-sound effect. For the final song, Agin and Cook brought acoustic guitars into the audience as a duo and sang a final song unplugged, showcasing their folk roots and luscious harmonies in a more intimate, living room environment. In all, Neulore's rich vision for contemporary folk music was captivating and showed promise of a wider audience appeal.

Visit Neumore at www.neulore.com.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Suzanne Vega at Chez Andre

Suzanne Vega grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side and began to write poetry at the age of nine. She picked up a guitar at age 11 and wrote her first song at age 14. She later majored in English literature at Barnard College by day and began performing in the Greenwich Village folk revival circuit by night. Vega had an international hit with a song from her second album, Solitude Standing, "Luka," which she wrote from the point of view of an abused child. The a cappella "Tom's Diner" from this album was later a hit, remixed by two British dance producers under the name DNA, in 1990. Since then, some of Vega's albums introduced industrial sounds to her folk roots and became more critics' favorites than commercial successes. Vega's eighth album, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, is her first new studio album in seven years, and will be available on February 18.

Vega tonight performed a 45-minute set at Chez Andre, introducing eight songs from her forthcoming album and revisiting three older songs. Accompanied by Gerry Leonard on guitar, she opened with "Marlene on the Wall," an oblique autobiographical song about coping with loneliness and finding comfort by looking at a poster of Marlene Dietrich on the wall. Vega then performed eight of the 10 songs from her forthcoming album, pretty much in order, and closed with "Luka" and "Tom's Diner." Vega sang the songs in her trademark soft and vibrato-less voice. She did not bare the emotions of her heart, but rather her lyrics made her appear as if she were an old world philosopher trying to explain the workings of the world from her poetic perspective. Meanwhile, Leonard did the experimental work, starting Vega's songs by playing a bass line or rhythm on his guitar, capturing it on the electronic gear by his shoes and then playing lead guitar lines over the just-recorded backtrack. Leonard's feet pushed an array of buttons as much as his fingers played the guitar. This sometimes led to an eerie effect. Vega has never stayed within the safety zone, however, and her presentation tonight furthered her unique modernization of the traditional singer-songwriter folk genre.

Visit Suzanne Vega at www.suzannevega.com.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Trigger Presents Rock & Roll Reunion #5 at Continental

Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, D-Generation and the Dictators were among the hundreds of punk rock artists that graced the stage at Continental from 1991 until 2006. Towards the end of this era the owner, who goes by the singular name Trigger, realized he could actually make an income from the bar if he did not have bands play. Rock and roll remained in his veins, however, and now every January he has one all-day rock fest where he features his favorite bands. Today and tonight, he hosted his fifth annual "Rock and Roll Reunion." Here are a few of the highlights of tonight's bands.
C.J. Ramone
Christopher Joseph Ward, better known as C. J. Ramone, was the youngest member of the Ramones when he replaced Dee Dee Ramone as bassist  in 1989 until the group disbanded in 1996. He then played in perhaps the first Ramones tribute band, the Remains or the Ramainz, which was formed by Dee Dee Ramone, Marky Ramone and Dee Dee's wife, Barbara Zampini (Barbara Ramone). At the Continental tonight, C.J. had the audience moshing to "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend", "Do You Wanna Dance", "California Sun" and other staples of the Ramones' legacy.
Murphy's Law
Murphy's Law was born in 1982 while the hardcore punk scene was at its peak in New York. Murphy's Law released five full-length albums, of which the last was released in 2001. Murphy's Law was the last band to play at Continental when the amplifiers were unplugged in 2006. Vocalist Jimmy Gestapo has been the band's only constant member over its three decade history. The band tonight even included a saxophonist and a banjo player, both of whom were rendered virtually inaudible by the overpowering onslaught of guitar, bass and drums. Gestapo brought alive the spirit of hardcore punk, singing band anthems including "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In." He also encouraged the spirit of partying by bringing onstage a case of beer and passing the bottles to those fans near the stage, leading into the song "Beer Bath." The band was in fine musical form.
Lenny Kaye
More than 30 years ago, Lenny Kaye was a rock journalist and worked at the Village Oldies record store when he met poet Patti Smith. He first backed her on guitar at her reading at St. Mark's Church in 1971 and became her mainstay guitarist when she formed the Patti Smith Group in 1973. He joined the Jim Carroll Band in 1979, and also began playing the club circuit in his own Lenny Kaye Connection. In recent months, he has performed periodically at special events as a solo artist. Tonight, he started alone and was later joined by Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum on drums and Yv of Ingrid & the Defectors on bass. Kaye is a historian of early rock, and so performed several rock oddities tonight before closing with an extended Patti Smith-style "Gloria." He mentioned several times that the Continental was his favorite rock club.
Sea Monster
Trigger introduced Sea Monster tonight as his favorite band. Sea Monster started playing regularly at the local punk rock clubs in the mid-1980s, becoming almost a house band at CBGBs and the Continental. The band released a few albums, the latest of which is Here Come the Moon. Once more of a garage band, the five-piece band has maintained its scrappy sound, only it pounds with a harder rocking edge now. Vocalist Arthur Stevenson sang with a passion tonight, eyes often squeezed tightly shut, while guitarists Fred Wagner and Mike Rock played remarkable leads on their guitars.
The Waldos
Johnny Thunders formed the Heartbreakers from the ashes of the New York Dolls in 1975 and asked Walter Lure of the Demons to play guitar. Moving away from the Dolls' glam-rock garage sound, the Heartbreakers became a straight-ahead rock and roll party band. The Heartbreakers became a club favorite, with Lure writing or co-writing many of the band's best-known songs. The band split apart in 1977, but continued to play occasional "greatest hits" club dates until Thunders' death in 1991. Lure then started several bands, finally settling on the Waldos, whose Rent Party album in 1994 included songs Lure originally written for the Heartbreakers. The Waldos presently is comprised of Lure, Takto on guitar, EZ on bass and Joe Rizzo on drums.

The Waldos' concerts have not changed in decades. The set tonight once again consisted largely of fan favorites from the Heartbreakers history, including "One Track Mind", "London Boys", "Too Much Junkie Business", "Get off the Phone" and "Chinese Rocks." This was classic rock and roll, and it was a barrel of fun.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Stone Sour at Irving Plaza

Corey Taylor of Stone Sour
A stone sour consists of one part whiskey, one part orange juice, with a splash of sour mix. Naming the band after the alcoholic drink, lead vocalist/guitarist Corey Taylor named his new band Stone Sour in 1992 in Des Moines, Iowa. Through several line-ups, the band performed and recorded for five years, then disbanded in 1997, with Taylor and guitarist Jim Root joining Slipknot. Stone Sour reunited in 2002 and finally had commercial success, but then went on hiatus again in 2004, as Taylor and Root rejoined Slipknot. Stone Sour reunited in 2006 to more commercial success. Since 2011, the core of the band has been Taylor, Root, guitarist Josh Rand and drummer Roy Mayorga. Stone Sour 's five studio albums have sold more than four million albums worldwide. The most recent album is 2013's House of Gold & Bones – Part 2.

Four nights into its 2014 tour, Stone Sour performed a hard rocking 90-minute set to a very packed house at Irving Plaza tonight. Though there was no mention, the band's line-up was modified for this tour. Root is working on a Slipknot project, so Christian Martucci substituted on guitar, and the line-up was filled out with bassist Johny Chow. Taylor was still the focal point, however, and throughout the set the spotlight rarely shone on anyone else. Taylor sang, but also commanded attention by speaking to the audience nearly between every song, again and again complimenting the audience for its loud response, encouraging the audience to shout louder or jump to the music, holding the microphone out to the audience as the audience completed the lyrics to the songs he had started, or simply repeatedly opening bottles of water and spilling them over those in the front. Musically, Stone Sour has been known as a radio staple, but the band demonstrated that there was more to be offered. Granted, Taylor's vocals for the most part remained radio friendly, and many of the songs were super polished and easily digested, but the band also played newer songs that featured more edge. Taylor also sang a few songs accompanied solely on his guitar, including a cover of Alice in Chain's "Nutshell." In all, the band held its own, crossing between softer radio rock and harder metal while cheerleading the audience, ending with a rousing cover of Judas Priest's "Heading out to the Highway."

Visit Stone Sour at www.stonesour.com.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reserved for Rondee at the Bowery Electric

Reserved for Rondee was founded in New York in 2010 by guitarist Billy Magnussen and bassist Tom Degnan. They met on the set of the long-running but now defunct television soap opera As the World Turns, playing two super-buff brothers who hated each other. They  actually got along pretty well off the set and started a band with another buff man, drummer (and former preacher) Warren Hemenway. They recruited lead guitarist (and daytime history professor) Nick Fokas and lead vocalist (and fellow actor)Trevor Vaughn. They began playing rock venues, including Fontana's, Sullivan Hall, Arlene's Grocery and the Mercury Lounge, and opening for national bands at the Bowery Ballroom and Irving Plaza. The band has a self-titled 2012 EP and a 2013 album, Back in Velvet.

Reserved for Rondee attracted a sizeable crowd to the Bowery Electric tonight, the third time the band performed at the rock club. The band earned its following. Vaughn fronted the band as a unrestrained rocker sporting a strong 1960s-style rhythm and blues singing voice. The band performed as a tight and powerful classic rock-style band with an alternative and grunge edge. The band's secret weapon, however, was Fokas on guitar. While the other energetic musicians bounced around the small stage tonight, Fokas subtly and sweetly played lyrical guitar leads that sounded like the Beatles' George Harrison on some songs and slurring slide guitar like the Allman Brothers Band's late Duane Allman on other songs. Fokas grounded the high-flying band with outstanding nitty-gritty blues and rock licks. The band covered the Beatles' "Come Together," but otherwise played a diversified set of well-crafted and well-executed original songs. The band's fan base can only increase.

Reserved for Rondee will perform at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on February 7. Visit the band at www.reservedforrondee.com.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sasha Dobson at the Bowery Electric

Sasha Dobson grew up in a family of jazz musicians in Santa Cruz, California. Her father, Smith Dobson, was a pianist, her mom was a singer and her brother became a drummer. Sasha moved to Brooklyn at 17 and quickly assimilated into the local jazz scene, mastering the art of vocal improvisation and scat singing. Upon learning of her father's death in a car accident in 2001, she picked up guitar and started writing songs and performing in music clubs with her friend Norah Jones. Jones hit the big time and invited Dobson to sing background vocals and play guitar and percussion on her The Fall Tour. Dobson was also Jones' opening act. They now perform and record together as Puss N' Boots. Dobson second and most recent album is Aquarius.

Singer-songwriters in New York are as plentiful as traffic lights. One has to shine very bright to stand out among the others. Dobson has been able to do this. Tonight at the Bowery Electric, Dobson often avoided standard singer-songwriter vocal phrasings by injecting a jazz vocal styling. Experiences of love, loss, learning and recovery seemed to ignite her personal journey and her passions, and her jazzy inflections uniquely articulated these moments. This slurring, soulful singing made her lyrics difficult to decipher at times, but it was at those times that her songs seemed as if they were generated from a cathartic emotional release than a clever use of vocabulary. Guitarist Joel Hamilton then added brief jazz and guitar blasts to echo Dobson's vocal performance. Meanwhile, her four-piece backup band rocked more intensely than singer-songwriter bands usually do, making Dobson's performance that much more powerful. Dobson appeared tonight to be outgrowing the folk club circuit in favor of the rock circuit. Maybe it is there that her innovative approach will be discovered and appreciated.

Sasha Dobson performs at the Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 tomorrow, January 14. Visit her at www.sashadobson.com.

The Michael Pemberton Band with Lythion at the Bowery Electric

For the past two years, Michael Pemberton has been developing a rock opera based on The Master and Margarita, written by Mikhail Bulgakov. The novel  was a magical and humorous story about the devil visiting Moscow. Pemberton formed the Michael Pemberton Band to record and perform live some of his work in progress.

Shades of Bat out of Hell! Decades after Meatloaf recorded an album that combined rock and cabaret with a story line, Pemberton has advanced the concept to a magical land much like many of the operas at Lincoln Center.  At the Bowery Electric, Pemberton and his band, tonight featuring the two members of Lythion, brought the mystical story to life with a mix of hard rock, light cabaret and even a bit of western swing. Wait a minute, was that really a harp on the left side of the stage? Yes, indeed, plucked by Erik Heger sometimes as if he was picking a rock guitar. Between songs, Pemberton narrated Bulgakov's fantasy-laden story about unrequited love and a deal with the devil. Whether or not the story line appealed to the listeners, the fine craftsmanship of the composer and the tight execution of the musicians was extraordinary.

The Michael Pemberton Band will perform more parts of the rock opera at the Slipper Room beginning March 20. In the meantime, visit the Michael Pemberton Band on FaceBook or at www.masterandmargarita.eu/en/index.html.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rusted Root at the Gramercy Theatre

Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root
Singer/guitarist Michael Glabicki formed his first and only real band, Rusted Root, around 1990 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Even from the beginning, his vision was to make multicultural rock-and-soul music that fused American roots music with rhythms from African, Latin American, and Native American influences. The band sold more than 3,000,000 albums in the 1990s and then for the most part faded away from visibility in the 2000s. Rusted Root is comprised of Glabicki on lead vocals and guitar, Liz Berlin on backing vocals and percussion, Colter Harper and Dirk Miller on guitars, Patrick Norman on bass guitar and Preach Freedom on drums. The band has released seven studio albums, the most recent of which is 2012's The Movement.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Rusted Root performed an overview of its 24-year career of non-genre-specific polyrhythmic music. Balancing footholds in both jam band and world music but not comfortably confined to either genre, the band coasted on grooves rather than on predictable pop structures. Glabicki picked almost gypsy-sounding leads on his acoustic guitar, and harmonized old-world style with Berlin on numerous songs. The performance never really picked up steam, preferring to chill in trance-like rhythm patterns that flowed from one song to the next. The spell was broken with a three-song encore that jump-started with a left-of-center cover of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and ended with the band's two biggest radio hits, "Send Me on My Way" and a percussion-based groove that led into "Ecstasy." If nothing else, the band performed honest music, unrefined in that it was not packaged for commercial consumption and yet catchy enough to encourage the audience to free-form movement in the small theater's open floor.

Visit Rusted Root at www.rustedroot.com.

The Cherry Poppin' Daddies at the Gramercy Theatre

Following his high school graduation in 1981, Steve Perry left his hometown of Binghamton, New York, for Eugene, Oregon, to pursue track and field and a chemistry degree at the University of Oregon. Perry started a punk trio called the Jazz Greats in 1983, followed by the garage rock group Saint Huck, and the funky Mr. Wiggles, until finally establishing the Cherry Poppin' Daddies in 1989. Originally a punk, funk and ska band, the Daddies now embraces big band swing. The band's sixth studio album, a swing/rockabilly double album entitled White Teeth, Black Thoughts, was released in 2013. A tribute album to the music of the Rat Pack entitled Please Return the Evening will be released in 2014. Presently, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies is Perry on vocals, William Seiji Marsh on lead guitar, Dana Heitman on trumpet, Willie Matheis on tenor saxophone, Joe Freuen on trombone, Andy Page on alto saxophone, Dan Schmid on bass guitar and Paul Owen on drums. Only Perry, Schmid and Heitman remaining from the founding line-up.

Throughout the 1990s, when the Cherry Poppin' Daddies was a cutting edge punk and third wave ska band, the band's names drew controversy and even protests. The band fueled the protests with provocative stage shows, sometimes featuring a mock crucifixion, flag burning, go-go dancers or the "Dildorado," a penis-shaped modified ride-on lawnmower which mimicked ejaculation by shooting salvos of colorful fluids from its tip. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight opening for Rusted Root, the Daddies featured nothing cutting edge or controversial. Perry, smiling and dancing in his white tuxedo jacket, simply led the band through a collection of original songs and big band swing classics. This was the problem. The band played well as a unit, but it had little space for the jazz improvisations that makes swing great. Likewise, if the singer was going to sing Frank Sinatra, as in "Luck Be a Lady", "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "That's Life," he should be an outstanding vocalist, and Perry is not even close. While the audience enjoyed the novelty of hearing a swing band in a rock venue, the Daddies failed to meet the musical standards of even a lounge band. Unless it is going to try to do swing better than the average lounge band, the ensemble needs to get back to ska and skip the shtick.

Visit the Cherry Poppin' Daddies at www.daddies.com.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kareem Bunton & the Juggs at the Bowery Electric

Kareem Bunton is from Kentucky but has made the Brooklyn music scene his home. Perhaps inspired by the success his younger brother, Jaleel Bunton, was having as the drummer in TV on the Radio, Kareem assembled a band called the Kareem Bunton & the Juggs in 2008. The Juggs current line-up consists of Bunton on vocals and rhythm guitar, Konstance Patton on vocals, George Devoe on guitar, Charles Becker on bass and Vic Borocas on drums. Kareem Bunton & the Juggs' most recent release is the Midnight Shine EP.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, Bunton and his band combined a variety of sounds. The guitar player sounded like he was ripping in a grunge band, the bass player often played muscular funk grooves and the drummer pounded on the drums like a punk rocker. For most of the set, Bunton and Patton's vocals were nearly inaudibly buried in the mix, but they sounded like they were singing the Temptations during the classic Motown vocal group's "Cloud Nine" and "Psychedelic Shack" stage. It was an eclectic sound, sounding like a late 1970s British experimental blues-rock band, but yet loud and rocking enough to slam a body into the wall. The simple vocal melodies and two-vocal arrangements added a bit of sweetness to the overriding fierceness of the band, like honey over a hard pretzel. Time and experience will help bring  a unique cohesion to the band's live sound.

Visit KareemBunon & the Juggs at www.thejuggsmusic.com.

Butchers Blind at the Parkside Lounge

Butchers Blind formed in the Bellerose section of Queens in 2009 and is comprised of Pete Mancini on guitar and vocals, Christopher Smith on piano, Brian Reilly on bass and Paul Cianciaruso on drums and backing vocals. The band's debut album, 2011's Play for the Films, featured Mancini-penned tunes inspired by his father's travel journals as well as his own cross-country travels. The sophomore album, Destination Blues, also was released in 2011.

At the Parkside Lounge tonight, Butchers Blind creatively fit a piano in front of the small stage. At first listen, the band sounds like a pop band, with simple melody lines that lead to simple choruses. A finer listen unveiled cinematic lyrics presented like random pages of a quaint and charming screenplay. Mancini's soft and sensitive vocal style helped project the vulnerability of a young man wandering through a complex world that consumes him. His gentle guitar fills and Smith's piano frills occasionally lent a country and folk-rock touch to an otherwise pop structure, but live tonight these pop influences dominated over the Americana sound of the band's inspiration. Nevertheless, the band ended its set paying tribute to its musical roots by covering an Uncle Tupelo song.

Butchers Blind will perform at the Mercury Lounge on January 11 and at Pianos on March 8. Visit the band at www.butchersblind.com.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Zoë Sundra at Bowery Electric's Map Room

Zoë Sundra grew up in Connecticut and achieved a degree in sculpture and performance art in 2006 at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, Massachusetts. A different kind of art was coming into her life, however. She relocated to Brooklyn, New York , and began writing songs. Two years later she decided to pursue music and performance full time. Her latest two releases, the The Hunt album and the Out West EP, were released April 2012 and September 2013 respectively.

Sundra performed with just her voice and acoustic guitar before a small audience at Bowery Electric's Map Room tonight, singing a series of original songs that seemed like wind-blown postcards. Her picturesque lyrics captured wistful landscapes, family scenarios and turns of the hearts in poetic narratives that were simple but not bare-all. They dropped images without exploring them too closely before moving on, like flipping pages on a new calendar. No shrinking violet, Sundra projected boldly, her contralto voice deep enough to provide heat and yet feminine enough to inject grace. Sundra's closing song, a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," indicated a leaning towards country music, which apparently is more evident on her recordings than in tonight's performance. She is worth a listen.

Zoë Sundra will perform at Ceol in Brooklyn on January 22. Visit her at www.zoesundra.com.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wholebrain at the Delancey

Wholebrain is a singer/songwriter from Sicily, Italy, who has lived in various Italian cities and in Dublin, Ireland. Since 2010, he has doubled a career as a chess instructor with concerts throughout Europe and in the United States. He released a debut album, Brainstorming, in 2011.

At the Delancey tonight, Wholebrain performed alone on acoustic guitar and harmonica, accompanied occasionally by backing tracks with pre-recorded drums, cello, lead guitar and vocals. On some songs, Wholebrain finger-picked his guitar softly while singing tenderly, but other times he strummed his guitar so hard he nearly fell off his chair. He sang in English and Italian with a strong, husky and passionate voice, often sounding like Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. While his impromptu chatter between songs showed signs of an English mastery not entirely fulfilled, his lyrics were complex and articulate visages of life. Several songs earlier on were poetic works inspired by or dedicated to his wife. Later on, the most curious part of his set was his revival of an old folk music tradition with a series of protest songs in English and Italian. This portion featured original compositions along with songs by Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. Overall, the set was diversified enough to command interest. With some refinement, Wholebrain could become an act to follow.

Visit Wholebrain at www.wholebrainmusic.com.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Leon Russell at City Winery

Claude Russell Bridges was born in 1942 in Lawton, Oklahoma, began playing piano at the age of four, and performed at Tulsa nightclubs by age 14. He and his group, the Starlighters, which included the late J.J. Cale, were instrumental in creating the style of music known as the Tulsa Sound. At age 17, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he became part of an elite group of studio musicians called the Wrecking Crew, which played on hundreds of hit records throughout the 1960s. He renamed himself Leon Russell, and a new career emerged when Joe Cocker recorded Russell's song "Delta Lady" for his 1969 album, Joe Cocker! Russell organized and performed in Cocker's 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. His prominence in this spectacle led to a highly successful solo career in the 1970s. He has recorded more than 25 albums, including duet albums with Willie Nelson and Elton John; his most recent is 2013's compilation album, Snapshot. Russell was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2011.

Russell proved tonight that like many of City Winery's collections of wines, his music remains robust over decades of delicate care. Far from the worlds of alternative or indie, Russell played the music he knows and has lived. Backed by a trio (a very talented Beau Charron on guitar and pedal steel, Jackie Wessel on bass and Brandon Holder on drums), Russell sauntered onstage without fanfare, stood by his piano stool for a moment to acknowledge the audience appreciation, then sat at the white grand piano and played an energetic medley of non-stop songs for about 40 minutes. As he began to sing, Russell's signature drawl sounded familiar, and the honky-tonk and boogie-woogie flair of his piano playing gave new life to old songs. Russell performed many of his newer songs, but perhaps since he has been playing music professionally for nearly 60 years, a fair amount of his entire set was given to his favorite folk, country, blues and rock and roll oldies. These reinterpretations included Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall", the Beatles' "Falling", the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" and Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," as well as traditional songs like "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and "You Got Me Running." About halfway through the show, Russell spoke for the first time, mentioning that his wife suggested he talk more. He introduced the next few songs with anecdotes of his life and career, then played a medley of songs (including "Tightrope", "Sweet Emily" and "This Song Is Yours") alone on the piano while the band took a break. During these solo songs, it became evident that the small panel of blue lights on his piano provided him with some synthesizer embellishments. The band then returned for another half hour medley of rock and roll tunes. All in all, the show was by an old timer playing to old timers. Russell and band performed very well, but in such a conventional vein that it may not attract a younger and more adventurous audience.

Visit Leon Russell at www.leonrussellrecords.com.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mister Neutron at Otto's Shrunken Head

The first "wave" of surf music originated in southern California in the early 1960s and was largely instrumental. As pioneered by Dick Dale & the Del-Tones, an electric guitar or saxophone played the melody lines. The Beach Boys then commercialized the sound by adding vocal harmonies. The British Invasion ultimately led to the demise of surf music by 1966. Unknown to most live music fans, there are presently about 60 to 70 instrumental surf revivalist bands along the eastern seaboard, and perhaps hundreds more throughout the United States and around the world. Mister Neutron is not one of them anymore, except for once a year or so, when the New Jersey-based garage, surf and instrumental trio reunites for a gig. Formed in 1998 in Jersey City, the band presently is based in Cranford. Mister Neutron is guitarist Damian Fanelli, bassist Tony Fanelli and drummer Drew Paradine. The band's third and most recent album, Nor'easter, was released in 2008.

It is refreshing to hear a band play for the love of music, with no aspiration of forging a career in the spotlight. With little fanfare, Mister Neutron came out of the proverbial woodwork tonight to play at Unsteady Freddie Salzburg's birthday party at Otto's Shrunken Head. Years ago, the band included in its set a few vocal songs, and occasionally even tried a bit of blues and rockabilly, but Mister Neutron has been a pure instrumental band for many years, including tonight. Many of the songs appeared to be originals, but the set included covers of instrumentals by the second-wave surf revivalist band Slacktone and others. Whether or not one is a devotee of this under-the-radar music scene, one could appreciate the musical skills demonstrated by Mister Neutron on Otto's small stage. The power trio glided with amazing speed and clarity. Song after song, the Fanelli brothers' fingers impressively flew all over their respective fret boards in time with Paradine's adrenalin-boosted percussive rhythms. Surf music is often conducive for dancing; the technical skill employed in Mister Neutron's music was more suited for marveling. Unfortunately, however, there does not seem to be a way to convince the band members to start-jump its trajectory and perform on a more frequent basis.

Unsteady Freddie's Surf-Rock Shindigs are held on the first Saturday of each month at Otto's Shrunken Head. Admission is always free.