Friday, March 28, 2014

Children of Bodom at Irving Plaza

Friends since early childhood in Espoo, Finland, Alexi "Wildchild" Laiho and Jaska Raatikainen shared an interest in heavy metal, especially death metal groups. They formed a melodic death metal trio called Inearthed in 1993, but had little success until renaming the band Children of Bodom, recruiting new members and releasing a debut album in 1997. The band went on to become Finland's most successful music act and Laiho's speedy guitar technique has achieved international acclaim. Readers of Total Guitar voted Laiho the greatest metal guitarist of all time and Metal Hammer magazine voted Laiho the world's best guitarist of 2006. Guitar World magazine ranked Laiho among the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time, and also ranked him as one of the 50 fastest guitarists in the world. Laiho also received the Dimebag Award for "Best Shredder" at the 2008 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards. The group currently consists of Laiho (vocals, guitar), Roope Latvala (guitar), Janne Wirman (keyboards), Henkka Seppälä (bass), and Raatikainen (drums). Children of Bodom has released eight studio albums, two live albums, two EPs, two compilation albums and one DVD. The most recent album, Halo of Blood, became available in 2013.

At the first of two headlining nights at Irving Plaza tonight, fans chanted "Bodom, Bodom, Bodom" as the lights dimmed. Children of Bodom took the stage and began pounding "Sixpounder." Laiho strapped on his guitar, chugged some beer and then sprayed it into the audience from his mouth. Immediately, the crowd surfing became so relentless that within 10 minutes, security guards prematurely cleared the photo pit out of safety concerns. The music continued at the same power and intensity. The 16-song set, which included brutal crushers "Hatecrew Deathroll" and "Blooddrunk," was performed at a frantic pace, yet remained melodic. The band borrowed from many similar musical styles, particularly death metal, thrash metal, symphonic black metal, neoclassical metal, power metal, nu-metal and even industrial metal. Laiho often growled rough vocals, then stepped away from the microphone to focus on playing fast and furious guitar licks while the band thrashed behind him. The spotlight repeatedly gravitated on the guitar playing, which showcased a versatility that accented a twin guitar sound similar to Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, followed by Laiho moving forward with Michael Schenker or Yngwie Malmsteen-influenced technical skills. Wirman often then mellowed the overall sound on his keyboards with a loud and commanding power-metal gloss; this softened the abrasive thrust incited everywhere else on the stage. This balanced sense of melody and coarseness operating simultaneously within any given song made Children of Bodom stand out from among the many grunting, head-crushing bands on the metal scene.

Visit Children of Bodom at www.cobhc.com.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mac DeMarco at Other Music

Vernor Winfield McBriare Smith IV was born in British Columbia, Canada, and was raised in Alberta. He was named after his great-grandfather, Vernor Winfield Smith, who was the Minister of Railways and Telephones in Alberta in the 1920s. His mother changed his name to McBriare Samuel Lanyon DeMarco when he was five years old. It was not long before he was nicknamed Mac DeMarco.

DeMarco came from musical roots. His maternal grandmother was an opera singer in New York City and later became a teacher at the Alberta College Conservatory of Music. His grandfather played the saxophone, his aunt was a singer and his mother was a musician. DeMarco began playing music at the age of 14 and played in several bands while in high school. Upon graduating from high school in 2008, he moved to Vancouver, where he became a multi-instrumentalist and a multimedia artist. There he launched his recording career in 2009, calling himself Makeout Videotape. He also worked on what he called "psychedelic" video projects. DeMarco moved again to Montreal in 2011, but failing to find work as a musician. To earn cash, he participated in medical experiments and worked on a road paving crew. He persisted in recording and releasing singles, EPs and albums, however, and gained a small word-of-mouth following. He moved to Brooklyn in 2013 and released the Salad Days album on April 1, 2014.

DeMarco's early recordings included skits, slowed-down vocals and adventurous arrangements. His style of music has been described as "blue wave", "slacker rock" and "off-kilter pop", and his live shows were often spectacles that included off-color jokes, nudity and lewd acts. In recent years, he seemed like a candidate for the Jackass series. None of this was evident when DeMarco performed a free in-store appearance at the Other Music record store tonight. Accompanied only with his acoustic guitar, his songs were simplified to where he appeared to be a traditional singer-songwriter, albeit more jovial than self-revealing. One might think he was maturing, but he is still only 23 years old. There was a hint of a transition from his crazier days, however, as he sang the chorus to the song "Salad Days."
Oh mama, actin’ like my life’s already over,
Oh dear, act your age and try another year.

With an electric band, DeMarco might sound more unique. Solo tonight, the bare bones approach was enjoyable but less than riveting. Mac DeMarco will perform with a band at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom on April 9.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dum Dum Girls at the Bowery Ballroom

The New York-based Dum Dum Girls formed in 2008 as a solo recording project  in the Los Angeles bedroom of singer and songwriter Dee Dee Penny (aka Kristin Welchez). Penny released a five-song CDr in late 2008 under the name Dum Dum Girls. She named the project as a double homage to The Vaselines' album Dum Dum and the Iggy Pop song "Dum Dum Boys." Dum Dum Girls' debut album was released in 2010, and after its release, Penny assembled a touring band. After touring for the second album in 2012, however, she lost her voice. As she recovered, the third Dum Dum Girls album, Too True, was delayed and finally released on January 28, 2014. The band currently consists of Dee Dee on vocals and guitar, Jules on guitar and vocals, Malia on bass and vocals and Sandy on drums and vocals.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, one could not miss that Dee Dee Penny wore a shiny black low-cut latex mini-dress that looked like fetish wear. Stop. Stare. Move on. There was music too. The band cooked together its earlier low-fi garage style with the more recent synth-and-guitar pop. Much of the set was comprised of catchy pop songs, however, with just enough odd sounds here and there to earn a slot in the "indie" genre. Pop with a bit of an edge. Penny and her musicians opened with "Bedroom Eyes," and then immediately followed with a series of five songs from the band's five EPs. Two of the band's earlier buzz-worthy songs were not performed, “Bhang, Bhang, I’m a Burnout” and “Jail La La," and the band curiously ended its set (before returning to the stage for an encore) with an oddity, a cover of Pale Saints "Sight of You." Outside of a bopping beat and a few waves of instrumentation, the band's music lacked depth. It was all played on a surface level, with little root exposed. The band took a few moments here and there to capitalize on its present underground status, but as a whole, the performance sounded like the band's direction was moving towards arena rock. If this is true, watch the band attract an increasingly teenybopper audience.

Visit the Dum Dum Girls at www.wearedumdumgirls.com.

Los Lonely Boys at City Winery

The Falcones was a sibling band that played conjunto music in southern Texas during the 1970s and 1980s. After the Falcones split apart, Ringo Garza, Sr. went solo, backed by his three adolescent sons. The family relocated to Nashville in the 1990s, and gradually the sons emerged as a second generation sibling trio separate from their father, performing their own material as a trio. Guitarist Henry Garza, bassist JoJo Garza, and drummer Ringo Garza, Jr. formed Los Lonely Boys, playing a style of music they call "Texican Rock n' Roll." They combined elements of rock and roll, Texas blues, brown eyed soul, country, Tex-Mex, conjunto and tejano music. Los Lonely Boys moved back to San Angelo, Texas, and recorded an eponymous debut album in 2003. The debut single, "Heaven," was a number one hit on the Billboard adult contemporary chart in 2004 and eventually won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. In March 2010, the group was awarded Best Rock Band in the Austin Music Awards. During a 2010 tour, however, JoJo developed lesions on his vocal cords and his physicians recommended that he rest them. Later, on a 2013 tour, Henry fell and sustained a spinal injury, necessitating a lengthy recovery period. The band recently resumed touring in support of the most recent album, Revelation, which was released on January 21.

Ten years after their 2004 breakthrough, the Garza brothers sounded as fresh and lively as a hungry new band. They outlived the one-hit-wonder death trap because the brothers have much more to offer. At City Winery tonight, Los Lonely Boys specialized in feel-good songs, weaving melodies and close-knit three-part harmonies that sounded like a sunny California summer. Yet this was not merely a pop concert. The Boys' music sounded light, but it originated from deep roots. Each of the Garzas crooned like soft Lionel Richie-type rhythm and blues singers, but it was the chunky instrumental portions of the songs that saved Los Lonely Boys from sounding like a wedding band. Balancing Tex-Mex sounds and 1960s British blues traditions in a sparse power trio format, Los Lonely Boys were equal parts Los Lobos, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Henry played a splendid blues-influenced guitar, bending notes with his fingers and channeling textured wah-wahs with his feet, the leads always subtly nuanced and always appealing. JoJo played a thick-necked six-string bass guitar, maintaining the bottom range with heavy yet melodic funk lines, while Ringo sweetly punched the rhythms on his drums. Together, they grooved on rock, soul, blues and even one reggae song. Many of the songs were not especially memorable, indicating that the Boys' songcraft may need bolstering, but instrumentally the music was as tasteful as possible.

Visit Los Lonely Boys at www.loslonelyboys.com‎.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Boy & Bear at the Bowery Ballroom

Dave Hosking
Dave Hosking first gained local attention with a song he uploaded for a local radio station in his native Sydney, Australia. In time, he met another singer-songwriter, Killian Gavin, and the pair started jamming together. They met bassist Jake Tarasenko and drummer Tim Hart, both of whom had fronted their own groups, and they became Boy & Bear, an indie folk-pop band, in 2009. When Hart's brother, Jon Hart, joined on banjo, mandolin and keyboards, the quintet's line-up was complete. (Tarasenko was later replaced by present bassist Dave Symes.) The band's 2011 debut album, Moonfire, earned the band five prizes at the 2011 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Music Awards. The follow-up album, Harlequin Dream, reached the top of the ARIA Albums Chart in its debut week in 2013.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Boy & Bear provided a pleasant blend of folk, pop and light rock. The band opened with "Three Headed Woman," a raw rocker featuring a rousing guitar solo. The second song, "Rabbit Song," was more serious, a commentary about having to join the rat race. From there on, the show settled into a more leisurely flow. Dave Hosking, the mustachioed lead singer, was the band's focal point, and he was an engaging front man, interacting with the audience in a modest, homespun manner. The largely laid-back repertoire consisted of sunny, melodic anthems, infused with guitar, banjo, mandolin and keyboard riffs, but especially with plenty of lush vocal harmonies. The rich, delicious harmonies were critical to the sound of Boy & Bear, and Hosking enjoyed ample support from his four band mates. When all five band members sang, the songs breathed at their best. It was not quite Australia's answer to Mumford & Sons, nor was it a new Fleetwood Mac, but perhaps the music fell somewhere in between. Boy & Bear's presentation came across as sincere, sophisticated and seductively impressive.

Visit Boy & Bear at www.boyandbear.com.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Sound of Animals Fighting at the Best Buy Theater

Rich Balling of Rx Bandits gathered a collective of musicians in 2004 to record heavy, experimental and progressive rock music. Although the varying ensembles recorded three albums between 2005 and 2008 as The Sound of Animals Fighting, it was unclear whether such a band actually existed. The musicians used pseudonyms such as Nightingale, Walrus, Lynx, Swan and Raven, and publicity photographs showed them wearing animal masks to conceal their identities. As a live unit, 12 masked musicians performed as the Sound of Animals Fighting for only four West Coast shows in 2006. Since 2008, the concept remained silent until tickets went on sale for seven March 2014 concerts.

The Sound of Animals Fighting brought the second night of its brief tour to the Best Buy Theater tonight, and it was a spectacle. As the lights lowered, nearly invisible musicians took their places on the darkened stage. Vocalist Matthew Kelly of The Autumns then appeared before a microphone stand during "Overture." As he assumed his position, a long row of silent bodies covered head to toe in orange and gold body suits shuffled to center stage in single file, hands on the shoulder of the morph before him as if they were blind. These faceless bodies crouched below Kelly as he sang an a cappella version of "The Heretic," punctuating the line "don't be afraid." The morphs then left the stage in the manner in which they entered, single file with hands on the shoulders in front of them. Moments later, new colored bodies were led by roadies to the front of the stage, unrolling a banner which read "We Must Become the Change We Want To See" as the band performed "Act I: Chasing Suns." The suite continued with "Act II: All Is Ash or the Light Shining Through It" and "Act III: Modulate Back to the Tonic." The anonymous morphs returned to illustrate The Ocean and the Sun album; like waves, blue morphs hunched in a row at the end of the stage, and yellow morphs formed a sun in the middle of the stage. The band performed "I, The Swan", "Another Leather Lung", "Cellophane" and "The Heraldic Beak of the Manufacturers Medallion," all of which had never been performed live before this tour. The set moved into trip-hop with "Chinese New Year" and "My Horse Must Lose," and closed with yet another live debut, "On The Occasion of Wet Snow." The encores were "Skullflower" and "Act IV: You Don't Need a Witness."

Several vocalists alternated throughout the set. The ringmaster, Rich Balling, was joined on vocals by his first collaborator on this project, Anthony Green of Saosin and Circa Survive. Balling also reunited with three of his former Rx Bandits partners, guitarist/vocalist Matt Embree, guitarist/keyboardist Steve Choi and drummer Chris Tsagakis. Overall, the music was visionary, as its experimental origins prohibited it from sticking with one genre. Often the music was industrial and post-hardcore, inspiring crowd surfing. The music then gravitated to prog-rock, art-rock, and later moved in a ghostly psychedelic direction. The inventive music bent and swayed between raw power and mystery. This was the sound of musicians imagining a daring musical concept.

Visit the Sounds of Animals Fighting at www.thesoundofanimalsfighting.com. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Asking Alexandria at the Best Buy Theater

Danny Worsnop
Only one internationally-known heavy metal band can claim to have originated in the United Arab Emirates. Guitarist Ben Bruce started Asking Alexandria in Dubai in 2008, but that original line-up recorded only one album and quickly disbanded. Bruce returning to his native England and formed a new version of the band. The current line-up of Asking Alexandria consists of Bruce on lead guitar, Danny Worsnop on vocals, Cameron Liddell on rhythm guitar, Sam Bettley on bass and James Cassells on drums. The band's third album, From Death to Destiny, was released in 2013.

At the Best Buy Theater tonight, the staging was big; a large banner featured the band's name, many stage lights pointed to the audience, James Cassells' drums were on a very high riser, and there were two puzzling staircases at each end of the stage which were never used during the show. Asking Alexandria came on stage to blinding lights and pre-recorded industrial music. As the audience cheered, Asking Alexandria launched into a fiery repertoire that was equal parts screamo, metalcore and heavy metal. The five musicians opened aggressively with "Don't Pray for Me", "Run Free" and "Breathless," raised the intensity by the time they played "Reckless & Relentless" and " The Death of Me," and remained ferocious through to the encores, "Welcome", "Closure" and "The Final Episode." Much of the set was fast and frantic, with heavy riffs and bombastic drum explosions. A song would start, and there was an equal chance that, by the chorus, the song would either turn into a melodic hair-metal rocker or a choppy nu-metal breakdown. Danny Worsnop looked more like a lumberjack than a metal singer in his scraggly beard and torn flannel shirt (later removed to reveal a black t-shirt with a large white skull emblem), yet he effectively sang old-school clean-vocal metal and growled new metal. in parallel, the music ranged from raw to polished, often within the same song. In metalcore, so many bands sound indistinguishable, but Asking Alexandria married several familiar hard rocking genres to form something just a bit unique.

Visit Asking Alexandria at askingalexandria.com.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Drive-By Truckers at Terminal 5

Two longtime friends and former roommates, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, played together in various bands in the Shoals region of Alabama. Hood moved to Athens, Georgia, and in 1996 began forming what would become alternative country/Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers, with the intention of luring Cooley back into the fold. The band began releasing albums in 1998, but it was three concept albums that captured the interest and imagination of rock fans. Southern Rock Opera, a double album released in 2001, weaved the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd into a narrative about a fictitious rock band called Betamax Guillotine, whose story unfolded within the context of the South during the 1970s. Decoration Day in 2003 contained characters who were faced with hard decisions about marriage, incest, break-ups, revenge, murder, and suicide. The Dirty South in 2004 further explored the mythology of the South, with songs focusing on Sam Phillips and Sun Records, John Henry, and a three-song suite about Sheriff Buford Pusser. The band's 10th and most recent studio album, English Oceans, was released on March 4. The band presently is comprised of Hood and Cooley on guitars and vocals, Jay Gonzalez on keyboards, guitar and vocals, Matt Patton on bass and Brad Morgan on drums.

At Terminal 5 tonight, Hood and Cooley showed what long-term collaboration can produce. Eighteen years into Drive-By Truckers, the two leaders continued to trade lead vocals democratically and often augmented the other's vocals. This teamwork also allowed for a wider berth of musical possibilities, at times moving from country folk songs to rocking guitar jams like Neil Young, and at other times chugging a groove like Creedence Clearwater Revival, and at times producing chainsaw rock like a grunge band. Yet no two shows are alike, judging by the set lists posted on the web from various cities on the current tour. Tonight, DBT bucked a rock tradition of opening concerts with familiar songs, as the band opened with three new songs, beginning with "Primer Coat." It only took a few moments to learn that the new songs were special and reflected a rejuvenated partnership among the core players. The second song, "The Part of Him,” preached of the seemingly self-perpetuating procession of political scandals. The third new song, “Til He’s Dead or Rises,” demonstrated a new level of cooperation between the band’s two principals; Hood wrote the song, but Cooley sang it. Later on, another new song, “Made Up English Oceans” also provided social commentary, this time on Republicanism in the Reagan and Bush campaigns of the 1980s. The more familiar songs took on a vibrant edge as well. “Lookout Mountain” transitioned from Hood’s rough singing into a smoky, sludgy guitar jam. "Why Henry Drinks" was a bluesy reflection on the downtrodden. “Ronnie and Neil”, “The Living Bubba” and “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy,” with its sing-along chorus, seemed to breathe with revitalized breath. The final song, “Grand Canyon,” also from the new album, was an elegy for a longtime member of the band’s touring family, who died suddenly of a heart attack in January 2013 following the first night of the band’s three-night homecoming stand in Athens. In all, Hood and Cooley's rock and roll vision was executed cleverly and engaged its audience integrally.

Visit Drive-By Truckers at www.drivebytruckers.com.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pigeon John at the Highline Ballroom

John Dunkin, better known by his stage name Pigeon John, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and at age five moved with his family to Inglewood, California. Being a mixed-race child (half black and half white), Dunkin felt out of place in predominantly white Omaha and predominantly black Inglewood. Dunkin fund his solace listening to the radio while skateboarding. He wrote his first rap, "Inglewood Skater's Dream," when he was 12. Dunkin 's mother eventually moved her family to nearby city of Hawthorne, but for John, home was the open mic nights at the Good Life Café, a health food restaurant in South Central Los Angeles where striving hip-hop artists displayed their talent. Pigeon John and other like-minded young rappers formed the hip-hop musical collective known as L.A. Symphony. Pigeon John left L.A. Symphony in 1997 to pursue a solo career, and this year released his sixth album, Encino Man.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, Pigeon John performed to a small audience, but provided a unique vision of hip hop. Performing to pre-recorded tracks for a mere 30-minute opening set, John was backed by strong rock and pop beats, and his singing voice was better than that of most rappers. Flowing easily back and forth from song to rap, John kept the show feather-light. It was a far cry from a typical New York rap concert, in that John's persona was more California sunshine than mean street. He showed none of the boasting bravado that is almost signature in hip hop; on the contrary, some of his raps were mockingly self-deprecating. Other rhymes saw him sorting through the challenges of life. Like riding a skateboard, John's performance rolled along gently from couplet to couplet and his toothy grin communicated that his source of integrity came with a mature sense of moderation, not with 911 drama or adult-themed provocation. Hip hop does not come cleaner or more wholesome than this.

Visit Pigeon John at www.pigeonjohn.com.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Black 47 at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Larry Kirwan of Black 47
Larry Kirwan left Wexford, Ireland, for New York City at age 19 and played local clubs in several pub bands, including Turner and Kirwan of Wexford in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1989, he formed Black 47, named after a traditional term for the summer of 1847, the worst year of the Irish Potato Famine. The band built a local following by playing extensively at two Irish pubs in Manhattan, Paddy Reilly's and, later on, Connolly's. In short time, Black 47 attained international recognition through its albums and international notoriety for its outspoken political stances on British-Irish relations and the American invasion of Iraq after 9/11. The band is presently comprised  of Kirwan on lead vocals and guitar, Geoffrey Blythe on saxophones and clarinet, Fred Parcells on trombone and tin whistle, Joseph Mulvanerty on uilleann pipes, flute and bodhrán, Joe Burcaw on bass and Thomas Hamlin on drums. After 25 years together, the group is presently on a farewell tour. The band's final album, Last Call, was released on March 4th.

There was nothing more Irish than being at a Black 47 concert in Manhattan on St. Patrick's Day. At B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill tonight, the band rocked strong in the Bruce Springsteen school of rock, yet everything the band played had a touch of the Irish. Opening with songs from early in its legacy, "Green Suede Shoes" and "Big Fellah," Black 47 set out to please by playing many fan favorites. Yet even reggae, funk and hip hop-flavored tunes got an Irish workout thanks to the ever-present sound of traditional penny whistles and 18th century uilleann pipes. Even Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," Them's "Gloria" and the Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought the Law" never sounded so ethnically Irish. But powerful? How about how Black 47 reworked the traditional "Danny Boy" into a non-traditional interpretation that painted an ugly picture of anti-gay violence in New York? Political injustice sentiments similarly rallied the audience in "Fire of Freedom" and "James Connolly." Nevertheless, songs like "Desperate", "Rockin' the Bronx" and "Different Drummer" reinforced that this was a party and the band's excitement-infused music was the drive. The band punctuated the party atmosphere with three songs debuted from the new Last Call album, the Latin-inspired "Salsa O'Keefe", "Culchie Prince" and "The Night the Showbands Died." Midway through the two-hour set, the instrumentalists engaged in an extended jazz jam. While the Irish identity permeated the performance, the eclectic sound and the New York stories in the lyrics kept the band rooted on home ground. It will be hard for New Yorkers to let go of Black 47.

Black 47 will perform at Connolly's on May 10 and its final show ever at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill on November 15. In the meantime, visit Black 47 at www.black47.com.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Justin Townes Earle at City Winery

Justin Townes Earle grew up in South Nashville, Tennessee, with his mother, Carol Ann Hunter Earle. His father, alternative country music artist Steve Earle, gave Justin his middle name in honor of his mentor, Townes van Zandt. Justin's parents separated when Justin was two years old. Justin entered the music business playing in two Nashville bands, a rock band called the Distributors and a ragtime and bluegrass combo called the Swindlers. Earle later played guitar and keyboards for his father's touring band, the Dukes. Justin began releasing albums under his name own at age 25 in 2007 and received two Americana Music Awards, New and Emerging Artist of the Year in 2009 and Song of the Year for "Harlem River Blues" in 2011. In recent years, his recording career has stalled due to disputes with his record company; his fourth and most recent album is 2012's Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now.

From the balcony at City Winery tonight, Steve Earle watched his son perform a hybrid set songs mixing folk, country and pop. What did the elder Earle feel when he heard his son sing the lyrics to "Mama's Eyes?"
I am my father's son
We don't see eye to eye
And I'll be the first to admit I've never tried
It sure hurts me, it should hurt sometime
We don't see eye to eye
We cannot know what either father or son felt at that moment, but perhaps knowing that people would be looking for a reaction, dad seemed focused on his dinner throughout the song.

The younger Townes accompanied himself on acoustic guitar for most of his set. He had someone accompany him on electric guitar on many songs, although Earle performed a handful of songs solo. Earle's guitar style borrowed partly from blues finger-picking and partly from claw hammer banjo. Earle performed his songs well, at times mumbling like Van Morrison, other times yowling like an old blues singer, but most often simply sounding like himself, a man with an ordinary baritone singing well-crafted songs about ordinary life. He also engaged his audience with considerable chatter between songs, sharing anecdotes about his life and the inspiration of his songs. All the while, he drew his fans deeper into intimacy with the storyteller. Both his banter and sing lyrics showed him to be a mix of admirable confidence and sympathetic vulnerability. The gently flowing songs espoused the deep roots of Americana, but perhaps the two years he lived in Brooklyn also taught him how to insert a raw urban texture. He pushed the boundaries of traditional folk and country arrangements to forge his own brand of American roots music and create something slightly fresh. At certain moments, the combination was magnetic at certain moments. Nevertheless, many of the songs begged for a fuller sound. It would be interesting to hear them played by a rocking band.

Visit Justin Townes Earle at www.justintownesearle.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Queensrÿche at the Gramercy Theatre

When Queensrÿche formed as a progressive heavy metal band in 1982 in Bellevue, Washington, the original band members had no way of knowing that internal strife would develop some 30 years later to where two bands would be touring and recording under the same name. The original lineup consisted of vocalist Geoff Tate, guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield. The band fired Tate in 2012 and replaced him with Todd La Torre. The band fronted by La Torre then and continues to feature Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield, as well as guitarist Parker Lundgren, who joined in 2009. Tate also took the name of the band with him when he formed a band which presently consists of former Queensrÿche guitarist Kelly Gray, who was in the band from 1998 to 2002, guitarist Robert Sarzo, keyboardist Randy Gane, bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Simon Wright; vocalist Sass Jordan tours and sings on a few songs with the band as well. Although the band's personnel changed several times over the years, Queensrÿche recorded 12 studio albums, one EP and several DVDs before the split. Since the split, both variations of Queensrÿche tour, performing the full catalogue of Queensrÿche songs, and both bands released albums in 2013. The Tate version of the band released Frequency Unknown in April 2013 and the La Torre version released Queensrÿche in June 2013.

Geoff Tate's version of Queensrÿche headlined the Gramercy Theatre tonight and performed 17 of the band's better-known songs. Many of the songs harked back to the progressive compositions like "Operation: Mindcrime" that popularized the band in the metal and progressive scenes, and others, like "I Don't Believe in Love" and "Silent Lucidity," recalled the period in which the band sought a larger pop radio audience. Tate's new band played well, and was enjoyed by the fans who were hearing the original versions of the songs in their heads. There were a couple of problems, however. Firstly, Tate's vocals were fine, but less than stellar; he carried the songs, but was not an outstanding vocalist. Secondly, the progressive metal genre has, well, progressed since Operation: Mindcrime made Queensrÿche a headlining act. Dozens of newer bands have taken complex metal compositions to far more impressive levels, while Queensrÿche remained stagnant, nurturing a career on what now seems like primitive progressive music. Bands like Opeth, Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, Meshuggah, Periphery, Protest the Hero, Porcupine Tree, Anathema and even Animals as Leaders have elevated the bar from the era of Queensrÿche, Dream Theater and Tool. Tonight's Queensrÿche was a snapshot of a bygone era; the performance failed to enter the 21st century.

Visit Queensrÿche featuring Geoff Tate at www.queensryche.com.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mike Farris at SubCulture

Mike Farris was devastated after his parents divorced when he was 11 years old. Farris began using drugs and alcohol from an early age, a lifestyle that landed him in reform school.  He nearly died from an accidental overdose before he was 21 years old. Maybe this was his first wake-up call. He moved in with his father in Nashville, Tennessee, gradually freeing himself from his addictions, and began playing guitar and writing songs. Upon recovery, he formed the southern blues jam band Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies in 1990, but the endless touring through the bar circuit sent him back to his old habits. The band split after three albums, and Farris went on to sing in several bands, including a brief stint fronting Double Trouble, the former backing band for the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Finally, while attending the funeral of a friend, Farris decided he had enough. Farris moved from New York to Nashville and worked on getting himself cleaned up. He became a practicing Christian and rejected drugs and alcohol. Since 2002, Farris has released two solo albums, a live album as Mike Farris & the Roseland Rhythm Revue and a charity EP as Mike Farris & the Cumberland Saints. Since 2011, he has been promising to release a third solo album, Already Alright.

Mike Farris performs solo, as an acoustic quartet, a five-piece electric band or with the nine-piece revue. At SubCulture tonight, he sang accompanied solely by his acoustic guitar. As soon as he began a two-hour set, one feature became strongly evident; Farris sang with an amazing voice. The mesmerizing vocals were smoldering blue-eyed soul, but with house-shaking Sunday morning fervor. The gospel-fueled honeyed yowl showcased enormous range and unlimited passion.

Farris' diverse set was comprised of recently-written original songs, songs from his years with the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies, and obscure songs from America's songbook. Many songs were influenced by 1960s folk and soul music; others were rooted in early American spirituals and pre-war era blues; still others were inspired by early jug bands and old time country. He melded Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" with a Bob Marley song, and imaginatively redefined Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" into a very slow and dark reworking. For the last half hour or so, he solicited requests from the audience. Most of these requests were for Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies songs, and he gave these songs a new acoustic interpretation. All together, the set transcended genre and defied categorization. Farris brewed the classic ingredients and deftly blended all these classic American genres into something new, sweet, joyful, thrilling and uniquely his own.

Visit Mike Farris at www.mikefarrismusic.com.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Southside Johnny Lyon
In the early 1970s, the New Jersey shore's music club circuit provided audiences, stages and stipends for the local pool of musicians. These musicians formed countless variations of line-ups, as new bands formed and split faster than most locals could track. The bigger-than-life success of Bruce Springsteen in the mid-1970s brought media and public attention to the New Jersey music scene and forced the once-fluid musicians to solidify band memberships. Springsteen madness ruled the rock world, and fans saw his imprint on Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, led by John Lyon of Ocean Grove. Suddenly the Jukes rose from house band at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park to a recording act with international prominence. Nevertheless, the Jersey brotherhood remained intact; the Jukes' first three albums were produced by co-founder Steven Van Zandt, later to become a full-time Springsteen cohort, and featured many songs written by Van Zandt and/or Springsteen. Some 40 years later, the circle remains unbroken; the most recent album by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes is 2012's Men Without Women, which features songs written by Van Zandt and was recorded Live at the Stone Pony in 2011.

Tonight at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill , Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes consisted of Lyon on vocals and harmonica, Jeff Kazee on keyboards, John Conte on bass, Glenn Alexander on guitar, Tom Seguso on drums, John Isley on sax phones, Chris Anderson on trumpet and Neal Pawley on trombone. An urban legend speculates that over 100 musicians have been members of the Jukes over the past 40 years, including Jon Bon Jovi, who joined as a special guest during a 1990 Jukes tour. Regardless of whether that grand total is true or false, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes tonight sounded very much like the band sounded in its early days. The performance comprised a timeless collection of rhythm & blues songs, sung soulfully by Lyon and punctuated by a rally of guitar, keyboard and horn section spotlights. The set opened with a cover of the Zombies' "Time of the Season," with Lyon repeatedly asking his band mates and the audience for help remembering the lyrics. This schtick, whether it was genuine or fabricated, helped establish a light-hearted, good-time flair for the rest of the evening. Lyon led the band through many of the Juke's signature songs, including Van Zandt's "I Don't Want to Go Home" (in a medley with Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem") and Springsteen's "The Fever" (in a medley with Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools"), "Talk to Me" and "You Mean So Much to Me." Even the newer and less familiar songs felt like an escape to a time decades ago when soul music ruled the airwaves with sweet rhythms, sentimental lyrics, melodic bridges and smooth singing. Lyon's singing was significantly weaker than in his early career, but his enthusiasm and passion ably supplemented and sparked the festivities. Finally, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes appropriately ended two hours of great fun with a cover of Sam Cooke's "Having a Party," with opening act Ricky Byrd, former guitarist of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, returning to the stage to share the microphone.

Visit Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at www.southsidejohnny.com.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Animals as Leaders at Irving Plaza

Tosin Abasi
Oluwatosin Ayoyinka Olumide Abasi, better known as Tosin Abasi, is a 31-year-old self taught guitarist from Washington, DC. He was the guitarist for the metal band PSI, based out of Silver Spring, Maryland, then in 2002 joined the politically-minded technical metalcore band Reflux, which released an album, Illusion of Democracy, in 2004. Just as Reflux was about to split, Abasi was offered a recording contract as a solo artist. At first, he refused, calling it "egotistical and unnecessary," as he felt uncomfortable with his skill level. Frustrated that he was unable to reach his peak at guitar playing, he took a year off to study jazz and classical guitar at the Atlanta Institute of Music. Upon completing his course, he desired to explore the technical facilitation of guitar playing. He recorded the long-delayed "solo" project, which he entitled Animals as Leaders, the name loosely being derived from Daniel Quin's 1992 anthropocentric novel entitled Ishmael. Abasi related to the author's view of the world from an animal’s perspective, in which the author used a telepathic gorilla to critique human culture. He coined the name of the band as a reminder that "we are all essentially animals."

Abasi founded an instrumental progressive metal band to take the name Animals as Leaders in 2009. Abasi also formed T.R.A.M., a quartet that performs music that Abasi determines does not fit Animals as Leaders. Abasi has recorded three albums with Animals as Leaders: the self-titled "solo" debut in 2009; Weightless in 2011; and the newest, The Joy of Motion, which will be released on March 25. Animals as Leaders currently features Abasi along with guitarist Javier Reyes and drummer Matt Garstka.

Ibanez revealed Abasi's signature guitar, the TAM 100, at NAMM 2013, the annual convention sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants. This guitar is based upon the Ibanez RG2228 model, which Abasi had been using for some years, and contains his signature DiMarzio Ionizer pickups.

The audience at Irving Plaza tonight was treated to an unusual experience. First of all, it is uncommon for this rock stage to feature an instrumental band. It appeared that most of the audience was comprised of heavy metal fans, but the genre-defying music was not standard headbanging music. The compositions were guitar-driven progressive instrumentals, much like the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s, but far heavier, with jazz fusion, electronic and ambient flourishes. Circle pits would have been inappropriate when marveling at the musical intricacies was more in order, but an occasional crowd surfer made his way to the front. Secondly, two of the three musicians on stage played eight-string guitars for most of the performance. The eight-string guitars allowed for extended resources on the fret boards, as Abasi in particular utilized multiple techniques such as hybrid picking, sweeping, taping and slapping. Abasi's fierce riffs and fleet-fingered solos sharpened the edge of the band’s progressive metalcore as the band opened the set with a new composition, "Tooth and Claw." The audience received other new songs well, including "Lippincott" and "Physical Education," as well as the more familiar closing numbers, "To Lead You to an Overwhelming Question" and "CAFO." The live setting allowed Animals as Leaders' spontaneous innovations to be fluid and flashy, meticulous and melodic, technical and tasteful. The concert firmly placed Animals as Leaders as a trailblazing pioneer of modern heavy music.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bear's Den at the Mercury Lounge

Bear's Den is Andrew Davies, Kevin Jones and Joey Haynes, a trio of multi-instrumentalists that formed in the neo-Americana-style folk scene brewing in London, England. Jones was in a band called Hot Rocket with Ben Lovett (later of Mumford & Sons), and together Jones and Lovett launched the Communion record company, music community and concert series in 2006. Jones and Davie played together in a folk-rock quartet called Cherbourg in 2008; the band recorded two EPs before splitting in 2010. Seeking a more innovative vehicle for his music, Davie formed Bear's Den as a quintet in 2012, although the band since has decreased to three members. Bear's Den will release a second EP, Without/Within, on March 3. Bear's Den will unveil a full-length album later in 2014.

At the Mercury Lounge tonight, Bear's Den challenged the parameters of folk music. The set was comprised of confessional reflections in the common singer-songwriting vein. The majority of the songs were led appropriately by acoustic guitar and/or banjo, and often were powered by meticulous three-part harmony. These songs were sweet, warm and charming, reminiscent of Wilco, the Avett Brothers, City & Colour and even Crosby, Stills & Nash. A set of songs like these would have been sufficient for a positive review. Working fundamentally from a traditional-sounding home-spun country-folk-harmony core, Bear's Den also showed its adventurous side. For instance, Jones often played banjo, acoustic guitar or bass, but periodically used an electric guitar as a channel for a soft but coarse feedback and reverberation, employing various foot pedals for distortion and other effects. Haynes usually sat at his drum kit, but occasionally played bass or acoustic guitar as well as drums, both simultaneously and alternately. Integrity was at the base of the creative process, and recreating that experience for the stage amounted to very pleasing and refreshing results. Furthering the validity of Brits playing genuine American folk music, the trio descended with acoustic guitars into the center of the audience for a few unplugged songs near the end of the brilliant set. One could draw the conclusion that once again the United Kingdom is poised to conquer the United States using our own weapons.

Bear's Den performs as part of the Communion line-up at Rockwood Music Hall on March 4. Visit Bear's Den at www.bearsdenmusic.co.uk.