Monday, June 30, 2014

Agalloch at Irving Plaza

John Haughm
One can wonder if a rock band truly exists when it seldom performs live and its albums are released in four-year intervals. Agalloch formed in 1995 in Portland, Oregon, and has released five albums, the most recent being the recent The Serpent & the Sphere, a concept album meditating the nature of creation and the substance of the universe. Agalloch presently consists of John Haughm on vocals and guitar, Don Anderson on guitar, Jason William Walton on bass and Aesop Dekker on drums.

As it has done at every show since its debut, Agalloch began the concert at Irving Plaza tonight with Haughm lighting incense at the foot of the stage. A moment of centering was accompanied by “(serpens caput),” a mesmerizing goth-folk guitar instrumental from the band’s current album, searing through the venue's speakers. Fog filled the stage and back lighting left the figures on stage looking like silhouettes (this continued throughout the show, such that much the audience never clearly saw the musicians' faces). Moments later, the band launched into "The Astral Dialogue," a dense, dramatic epic also from the band's current album, complete with growling vocals, progressive arrangements, clean and scorching guitar riffs and double bass drumming. Unlike typical metal shows, however, the band's music had movement that wrapped around passages of sludgy gothic doom, meditative shoe-gaze ambience and folk metal. Even when the music was slow, it roared. There was usually enough of a backbeat to keep the headbangers busy, but enough diversity in the music to keep progressive music lovers enthralled. Fantastical lyrics opened and closed many songs, but these extended compositions were primarily instrumental. Throughout the performance, Agalloch's musicianship remained tight and flawless. It was a shame that we could hardly see the band.

Visit Agalloch at www.agalloch.org.

Jex Thoth at Irving Plaza

Jessica Toth
Vocalist Jessica Toth started out in a band called Totem in 2005 in Slab City, California. After two years and one EP, the band evolved into Jex Thoth, which became Toth's new name as well as the band's new name, and relocated to Madison, Wisconsin. Jex Thoth released its second album, Blood Moon Rise, in 2013.

At Irving Plaza tonight opening for Agalloch, Jex Thoth opened with the ambient "To Bury" from the current album. Bathed in darkness, with only silhouettes to be seen, the vocalist walked center stage wearing a long cape over a black dress and seemed to hold a small fire in the palm of one hand. As she sang brooding, hypnotic vocals, the band played thudding, slow-burning doom metal. As the band jammed, she moved like a small flame, often covering her face with her long hair. She sang mysterious lyrics clearly with a soulful angst, the guitarist played thick, clear and fluid leads, and the organist played full-sounding rides on the keys like Deep Purple's Jon Lord. As the band alternated between droning riffs and sparkling leads, the singer repeatedly played with matches, at one point walking through the audience holding lit incense. The dense music was often slow and heavy, but as the music began to get interesting, the singer became a distraction, particularly because the stage was too dark for the audience to really view the musicians. Jex Thoth is a promising band seeking its path.

Visit Jex Thoth at www.jexthoth.net.

Seb Leon & the Flâneurs at Chez Andre

Sebastien Leon Agneessens, also known as Seb Leon or SL., is a New York-based installation artist from Orleans, France. For his day job, museums and fashion houses commission him for multimedia installations in which he directs sound, video, design, music, environment and performance concepts. In the evenings, however, Leon also moonlights as the leader of a jazz-pop band, Seb Leon & the Flâneurs. His musical explorations began in 2008 when he was commissioned by Bono's fashion label Edun to create a sound installation in collaboration with spoken-word artist Saul Williams and musician Kyle Fischer of Rainer Maria. Leon's second album is Jeux d’Artifices.

The noun "flâneur" in French tradition identifies a person who is a stroller, a lounger, or a loafer; it is the man of leisure, the idler, and the connoisseur of the street. The flâneur became the cultural symbol for scholars, artists and writers. The name was appropriate for Leon's performance tonight at Chez Andre in the Standard Hotel, East Village. Leon played guitar with a small band, singing songs in French and English, including a bare interpretation of the Moody Blues' "Knights in White Satin." The softly meandering music also played as backdrop for several guests who came on stage to sing a few songs or recite poetry.

Visit Seb Leon at www.studiosebastienleon.com.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Black Oak Arkansas at the Bowery Electric

Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum & Hal McCormack
Black Oak Arkansas, originally named the Knowbody Else, was formed in 1963 by a group of friends who attended high school in Black Oak, Arkansas. Early on, the musicians recruited raspy-throated James "Jim Dandy" Mangrum to sing their raw blend of southern rock, gospel, country and blues. The musicians allegedly stole a public address system from a local high school and converted an old grain bin at the edge of town into a rehearsal space. Members of the group were subsequently charged in absentia with grand larceny and sentenced to 26 years at the Tucker Prison Farm, a sentence that was later suspended. The band's name was changed to Black Oak Arkansas in 1970 and 10 albums charted in that decade; the latest album is 2013's Back Thar N' Over Yonder. Black Oak Arkansas presently consists of Mangrum on vocals and washboard, original member Rickie Lee ("Ricochet" or "Risky") Reynolds on rhythm guitar, Hal McCormack on lead guitar, George Hughen on bass guitar and Johnnie Bolin on drums.

Black Oak Arkansas was always known best for its live shows. Tonight at the Bowery Electric, the band played ragged rock and Mangrum kept the audience smiling with his unusual vocal style, his between-song chatter and his musical instrument of choice, the scrub board. Once the band's crotch-packed blond dynamo, Magnum is now a pot-bellied senior citizen; this made his sexual double-entendres and other on-stage antics even more amusing. Black Oak Arkansas performed "Hot and Nasty", "Lord Have Mercy on My Soul" and "Uncle Lijiah" from the band's 1971 self-titled debut album. Mangrum introduced another staple, "Hot Rod," as a song that was "not about cars." The band performed blues and country flavored songs from its latest album, and closed with its signature remake of LaVern Baker's 1957 hit "Jim Dandy." More than 50 years after the band started hollering, Black Oak Arkansas is still a hoot.

Visit Black Oak Arkansas at www.blackoakarkansas.net.

Daddy Long Legs at the Bowery Electric

Daddy Long Legs is an arachnid similar to a spider and a plant. It was also the name of a 1918 novel by Jean Webster that became a stage musical and several films. It is the name of a thoroughbred race horse. It is the name of a record company. Lastly, Daddy Long Legs has been the name of several rock artists. There was a California band around 1970 that relocated to England, another London-based pop trio, an acoustic/indie/soul duo from New Hampshire, a German folk/celtic band, and a four-piece blues band from Canada. It is the name of one of the co-founders of the hip-hop Bloodhound Gang. The newest musical act named Daddy Long Legs is a blues trio based out of Brooklyn, New York; Daddy Long Legs is also the name of this band's tall vocalist and harmonica player. Daddy the man moved from his native St. Louis, Missouri, to Brooklyn, New York, and learned to play the harmonica like an old blues man. He first collaborated with guitarist Murat Aktürk (from Ankara, Turkey) and stomped the beat, but later they recruited New York drummer Josh Styles. The band's second album is Blood from a Stone.

Opening for Black Oak Arkansas at the Bowery Electric tonight, the new Daddy Long Legs was a colorful trio. Daddy himself was a tall, imposing figure with bushy hair all over the stage as he threw himself into his howling harmonica. He sang his blues songs into a foggy-sounding vintage microphone. Aktürk similarly threw himself into slide and country blues guitar, and Styles played a simple drum kit with no cymbals, using a maraca in his right hand and some short of stick in his left. They had no bassist to hold down the bottom. The result was crude, harsh, punky, electrifying, stomping, blues-bellowing, soulful rock.

Daddy Long Legs returns to the Bowery Electric on August 25 opening for Eddie & the Hot Rods. In the meantime, visit Daddy Long Legs at www.officialdaddylonglegs.com.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Betty Who at Pier 26

Jessica Anne Newham was born in Sydney, Australia, where she trained since the age of four as a classical cellist. She taught herself to play piano and guitar, and moved to the United States in 2007 at age 15 to attend music school. By 16, she was performing as a singer-songwriter. By 2012, she moved to New York and reinvented herself as Betty Who, a dance music pop singer. She has worked hard, and perhaps has performed live in every major music club in Manhattan. Betty Who’s debut four-song EP, The Movement, was released in 2013.

Performing tonight at the New York City Pride Rally at Pier 26, Betty Who sang unabashed synth-pop songs largely made for the dance floor. Backed only by a keyboardist, bassist and drummer, she sang, danced and generally kept a light, fun vibe going through the audience. "Somebody Loves You", "Lovin' Start", "Alone Again" and "Heartbreak Dream" were wholesome songs, and Who's charismatic personality embraced them thoroughly. There is a world of teen girls waiting to hear this music.

Visit Betty Who at www.bettywhomusic.com.

Sharon Needles at Pier 26

Aaron Coady was born in Newton, Iowa, and as an adult moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to work as a female impersonator, Sharon Needles. Needles found national fame when she competed and was crowned "America's Next Drag Superstar" on television's RuPaul's Drag Race in 2012. Later that year, a ghostly Needles began hosting Logo TV’s weekly horror series FEARce! She played Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show in San Antonio, Texas, and was the lead actress in Silence of the Trans in San Francisco, California. Needles released a debut album, PG-13,  in 2013.

Performing tonight at the New York City Pride Rally at Pier 26, Needles downplayed her former dance club style and gave her macabre songs like "This Club Is a Haunted House", "Dead Girls Never Say No" and "Dressed to Kill" a gothic rock turn. She closed with a punk rock version of Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." She may be a novelty, but she played it live like a true rock star.

Visit Sharon Needles at www.sharonneedles.com.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mad Juana at the Bowery Electric

Sami Yaffa on guitar and Karmen Guy on melodica
Finish-born Sami Yaffa (born Sami Takamäki) had his first shot of international fame as bassist for Hanoi Rocks from 1979 to 1985. Yaffa moved to New York in 1990 to form Jerusalem Slim with Hanoi Rocks vocalist Michael Monroe and Billy Idol's guitarist, Steve Stevens, but the band split in 1992. Yaffa remained in New York and met his future wife, vocalist Karmen Guy, in 1994. Together, they started a short-lived band called Lewd Vagrant. Guy and Yaffa in 1995 relocated to Mallorca, Spain, where his parents lived, and were inspired by that country's traditional music. Returning to New York in the mid-to-late 1990s, they collected a changing cast of musicians and founded Mad Juana, named after the insane queen of Castile, Spain, known as Juana la Loca - or Juana the Mad. Mad Juana's fifth and most recent album is 2010's Kumpania.

Since forming Mad Juana, Yaffa has played in several other bands, including Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and the New York Dolls. Tonight at the Bowery Electric, he strapped on an acoustic guitar and committed himself to the odd blend of world music that defines Mad Juana. Guy sang sultry, soulful vocals and moved like a dancing gypsy. In the background, one could hear Spanish guitar, funk basslines and brassy horns. The band performed an energetic and hypnotic brew of gypsy-flavored rock, blending in blues, reggae, dub, flamenco, tango, mariachi and punk. Mad Juana may be one of the most unusual-sounding bands in the New York club circuit.

Michael McDonald at Town Hall

Michael McDonald played in several local bands while attending high school in Ferguson, Missouri. He moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and sang back-up vocals and played keyboards for Steely Dan. The Doobie Brothers then recruited McDonald when Tom Johnston became ill during a national tour in April 1975. McDonald's time with the Doobie Brothers proved so successful that he became a member from 1976 until the band split in 1982, singing lead on several hit songs. He then launched a solo career and collaborated with other artists. McDonald reunited with the Doobie Brothers several times and sang on the band's most recent album, World Gone Crazy. McDonald also joined Steely Dan on a summer 2006 tour, both as the opening act and as part of the band. McDonald has won five Grammy Awards.

Michael McDonald has not released an album of new songs since 2008 and he has not had a hit single since 1986. That did not seem to matter to his audience tonight at Town Hall, where he headlined as part of the month-long Blue Note Music Festival happening in various venues in Manhattan. He sat center stage at an electric piano, sang in his trademark soulful baritone, and pleased his fans with Doobie Brothers hits, including "Takin' It to the Streets", "Minute by Minute" and "What a Fool Believes," songs from his post-Doobies period including "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)" and "Yah Mo B There", and a series of rhythm and blues covers, including Marvin Gaye's ''I Heard It Through the Grapevine,'' Ashford & Simpson's ''Ain't No Mountain High Enough'' and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." McDonald was all about the music, as he hardly moved from his piano, spoke to the audience only about the music, and sang most of the time with his eyes closed. That was fine. He sang beautifully and his band provided some tasty jazz licks to season the old songs.

Visit Michael McDonald at www.michaelmcdonald.com.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Elvis Costello at Carnegie Hall

Declan Patrick MacManus began his musical career in the early 1970s in the folk and pub rock scenes in London, England. He supported himself by working at office jobs to support himself, including at Elizabeth Arden, where he worked as a data entry clerk. By the mid 1970s, he reinvented himself and morphed into Elvis Costello, one of the flagship leaders of the British punk rock movement. Since then, Costello has recorded more than 25 albums, and his music has crossed over to folk, country, cabaret, jazz and other genres. Costello has won multiple awards, including a Grammy Award. Costello and his former band, the Attractions, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

Costello performed two solo concerts at Carnegie Hall, tonight being the second night. His set lists were radically different over the two nights, with only a handful of songs making it to the stage both nights. Each night Costello performed for nearly three hours with no intermission, accompanying himself for the most part on amplified acoustic guitars. With a catalogue of hundreds of songs from which to curate, Costello balanced a repertoire of both old and the newer songs, many of which received standing ovations. Costello was a masterful showman, managing a lengthy acoustic set that whispered and roared. All of these songs sounded curiously odd in this stripped bare interpretation, but maintained their dignity as solid songs sung through Costello's distinctive vocals.

Costello began tonight's concert by performing side one of his 1977 landmark debut album, My Aim Is True. "Welcome To The Working Week", "Miracle Man", "No Dancing", "Blame It on Cain", "Alison" and "Sneaky Feelings" were reinterpreted; an angry young man recorded the original versions, but tonight they were more lonesome than rallies. He followed this suite with more than 30 additional songs. "Watch Your Step" and a heavily finger-plucked "Everyday I Write the Book" strayed even further adrift from the rocking original recordings. He later performed a dark and nearly dissonant version of "Watching the Detectives," which featured over-used looping guitar delays. Costello recalled his mentors with cover versions of George Jones' "Stranger in the House" and Nat "King" Cole's "Walkin' My Baby Back Home." Costello, nearly 60 years old, demonstrated his post-punk maturity with "My Three Sons," about his children. "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" brought Costello back to his early basics and encouraged an audience sing-along. At the end of the evening, Costello moved to the electric piano and performed two little-known compositions, "For The Stars" and "Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4.″ The final encores included a reworked and electric version of "The Last Year of My Youth," which Costello had written and performed in one day for Late Night with David Letterman, and a rousing "(What’s So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" ended the evening.

Visit Elvis Costello at www.elviscostello.com.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Septicflesh at the Gramercy Theatre

Spiros "Seth" Antoniou
Septicflesh (formerly known as Septic Flesh) is a symphonic death metal band founded in 1990 in Athens, Greece. The band recorded its first full-length album in April 1994. The group split up in October 2003, and its members moved on to different or existing projects, but reunited in 2007. Shortly thereafter, the band altered its name from Septic Flesh to Septicflesh to indicate a new beginning. The band remained mostly intact with original members vocalist/bassist Spiros "Seth" Antoniou (a.k.a. Seth Siro Anton), guitarist Sotiris Vayenas, guitarist Christos Antoniou and newer drummer Fotis Benardo. The band's ninth studio album, Titan, was released today.

Headlining the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Septicflesh followed Fleshgod Apocalypse, which played a similar brand of symphonic-infused death metal. Septicflesh's performance was more varied, however, with slower and darker songs and a performance more dependent on pre-recorded symphonic pieces. Wearing charcoal-grey, reptilian-looking faux body armor shirts, the band appeared ready for battle. Sound imbalances plagued the first songs, but the band lunged on with its guttural vocals, atonal guitar leads and complex neoclassical arrangements. Later in the set, Septicflesh diminished the aggression with a slower-tempo and more melodic interlude, though the howling vocals maintained the dark and doom-inspired cinematic mood. Overall, however, Septicflesh's performance might have been more effective if there had been a live musician performing the symphonic touches.

Visit Septicflesh at www.septicflesh.com.

Fleshgod Apocalypse at the Gramercy Theatre

Tommaso Riccardi
Fleshgod Apocalypse is a technical death metal band formed in 2007 and residing in Rome, Italy. The band is presently comprised of vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi, guitarist Cristiano Trionfera, pianist Francesco Ferrini , bassist Paolo Rossi and drummer Francesco Paoli. The band's third and most recent album, Labyrinth, a concept album about the myth of Labyrinth of Knossos and its analogies to modern times, was released in August 2013.

Opening for SepticFlesh on the Conquerors of the World Festival Tour 2014, Fleshgod Apocalypse came onstage at the Gramercy Theatre tonight resembling Victorian-era corpses, wearing pallid whiteface and dressed in tattered formalwear. The visuals included a masked female opera singer (whom we barely heard), an upright piano, and glasses of wine. The music was brutal technical death metal with strong symphonic elements. Occasionally between songs, Riccardi seemed to be narrating the storyline, but it was difficult to follow. In many ways, the growling vocals and blistering guitar leads were good yet standard death metal, but paired with the vast symphonic effects, the music became epic, bombastic and intriguing.

Visit Fleshgod Apocalypse at www.fleshgodapocalypse.com.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Musical Tribute to Paul Colby at the Bitter End

The Bitter End was established in 1961 as a small music club on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, and became the launching pad for the careers of hundreds of musicians and comedians. In its heydays in the 1960s and 1970s, the late Paul Colby provided a stage and an audience for the likes of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Neil Diamond, Hall & Oates, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Kris Kristoffersen, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Curtis Mayfield, Joan Baez, Sam & Dave, the Chambers Brothers, Phil Ochs, Peter, Paul & Mary, Randy Newman, Harry ChapinTommy James, and Donny Hathaway. He also booked many up and coming comedians, including Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Cheech & Chong, Ray Romano, Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman and Lily Tomlin. Later acts included Patti Smith, Blues Traveler, Rusted Root, Gavin DeGraw, Norah Jones, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Ingrid Michaelson and Jon Stewart.

Colby died in his home in Montclair, New Jersey, at age 96 on February 13, 2014. The club hosted a musical tribute to him tonight that included performances by John Sebastian, Peter Yarrow, Guy Davis, Josh White, Jr., Ronee Blakely, Eric Andersen, Willie Nile, the Persuassions, Aztec Two-StepTom Chapin and the Chapin Sisters.

Eric Andersen
Tom Chapin and his daughters, The Chapin Sisters
Josh White, Jr.
Neal Shulman of Aztec Two-Step.
Behind him, a slide show showed a photograph of a young Paul Colby with Linda Ronstadt.
Jen Chapin, the daughter of Harry Chapin
Dan Cazio
Willie Nile

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Meshuggah at the Best Buy Theater

Vocalist Jens Kidman in 1987 Sweden formed extreme metal band Meshuggah, adoptinging the Yiddish word for "crazy." The original band split and was reconceived with the addition of guitarist Fredrik Thordendal. Drummer Tomas Haake joined in 1990, and rhythm guitarist Mårten Hagström joined in 1992. The band has gone through numerous bassists, with the position currently being held by Dick Lövgren since 2004. Meshuggah has released seven studio albums, Meshuggah's latest studio album, Koloss, was released on March 23, 2012.

Meshuggah closed its 25 Years of Musical Deviance tour with a sold-out Best Buy Theater tonight. Prior to this 25th anniversary tour, Meshuggah invited fans to help curate the set list through an online poll where fans could vote on songs they would like to hear on the tour. As a result, Meshuggah performed songs that dated back to 1989. The band opened with "Future Breed Machine," and pleased the audience with "New Millennium Cyanide Christ", "Bleed" and a dozen other songs from the catalogue, closing with a three-song suite of "Minds Mirrors", "In Death - Is Life" and "In Death - Is Death" from the 2005 concept album Catch Thirtythree. The band fused death metal, thrash metal, progressive metal and jazz fusion elements with complex, poly-metered song structures, poly-rhythmic syncopation, asymmetrical signatures, rapid key and tempo changes and neo-jazz chromatics. Kidman's gutteral growls were spine-tingling, the music was abrasively harsh, and the seemingly discordant and cacophonous guitar leads made the songs even more avant-garde and experimental. The result was unique, challenging and very, very metal.

Visit Meshuggah at www.meshuggah.net.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sylar at Santos Party House

Vocalist Jayden Panesso began forming metalcore band Sylar via FaceBook in 2011 in Queens, New York. He first recruited drummer Thomas Veroutis, and then the two auditioned and added guitarists Dustin Jennings and Miguel Cardona (who also adds clean vocals) and bassist Travis Hufton. They named the band after the super-powered slayer character on the television show Heroes. Sylar has a debut full length album, To Whom It May Concern.

Sylar celebrated the release of the new album with a performance at Santos Party House tonight. Panesso grunted hip-hop-flavored screamo vocals that preached about what is wrong with the human race. His raw, anger-laced hardcore and clean melodic vocals soared over the band's bone-shattering guitar riffs and chunky, chugging breakdowns. All keys seemed to be dragged as low as possible for a loud and abrasive metalcore onslaught that pulsated with hypnotic electro and industrial flourishes. Fans formed such a fierce mosh pit that the more static members of the audience were forced to move onto the stage and surround the musicians as they played.

Visit Sylar at www.sylarny.com.

Radical Something at Santos Party House

Vocalist/guitarist Loggy (Alex Lagemann ) and vocalist/bassist/multi-instrumentalist Big Red (Michael Costanzo) met while attending University of California in Berkeley on football scholarships, and began their music careers recording hip-hop songs in their college apartments. The duo met another vocalist, Josh Cocktail (Josh Hallbauer), at a New York City recording studio in February 2011. The trio formed Radical Something, an independent band with self-described “Cali-vibes.” Radical Something's second album, Ride It Out, was released in September 2013.

At Santo's Party House tonight, Radical Something sounded like a hot summer escape to the beach. The three vocalists sang crisp vocals and rapped melodically to vibrant beats and easygoing lyrics about the desire for genuine love, friendships and happiness. The music's up-tempo kaleidoscope of textures often highlighted silky smooth pop or light reggae rhythms, punched with heavy bass lines and hip-hop drum samples. The energetic vocalists joyfully moved, danced and jumped so much on the small stage that taking a group photograph was nearly impossible. Most of all, however, the heart and soul of Radical Something's performance was how the three vocalists used their music as a vehicle to throw a mellow feel-good party, rallying its young head-bobbing fans to dance and groove with them.

Visit Radical Something at www.weareradical.com.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Joe Taino at Rodeo Bar

Joe Taino became interested in music after watching the Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night when he was nine years old and growing up in Puerto Rico. He had his first guitar in Puerto Rico when he was 11 and began learning to play everything he could. At 16, he assembled a band, and bought both a sound system and a truck. He was serious. While not a household name, he grew up to become a brilliant blues guitarist that received a NY Blues Hall of Fame Award in August 2013. His most recent album is Incognito.

At Rodeo Bar tonight, Taino played blues, rhythm & blues, Latin jazz, reggae, calypso and classic rock songs. He played a few originals as well, but his sets were dominated by covers of bluesy rock and country songs (Hot Tuna to Ronnie Milsap). It was not the songs that commanded attention, however; it was what his nimble guitar playing did to the songs that proved fascinating. Taino easily transitioned from what sounded like backwoods bluegrass picking to Jimi Hendrix-style stadium rock. Many local guitarists would do well to learn to play lead guitar at the feet of Joe Taino.

Joe Taino plays frequently at Rodeo Bar and Lucille's Grill. In the meantime, visit him at www.joetaino.com.

Dead Kennedys at Irving Plaza

Guitarist East Bay Ray (Raymond Pepperell) advertised for band mates in a local newspaper after seeing a ska-punk show. Dead Kennedys formed in June 1978 in San Francisco, California, and the band was among the leaders of the hardcore punk movement of the early 1980s, recording five albums. Vocalist Jello Biafra composed biting lyrics that tackled the sociopolitical concerns of the Reagan era with morbid humor and satire. As the early free-thinking avant-garde punk community became outnumbered by rapidly increasing numbers of skinheads and moshers, however, the band members became disillusioned with the scene it helped create and split apart in 1986. Payment-related legal issues and ideological premises further separated Biafra from the musicians; both sides remain vocal about these matters. Nevertheless, East Bay Ray reformed Dead Kennedys in 2001 with a replacement for Biafra. Dead Kennedys is presently comprised of former Wynona Riders singer Ron "Skip" Greer, guitarist East Bay Ray, original bassist Klaus Flouride and longtime drummer D. H. Peligro.

Dead Kennedys never quite overcame the absence of its central figure, Biafra, but at Irving Plaza tonight, the newer vocalist helped revived the spirit of punk rock's golden era. The band's early anger has aged, the experimental music period has ended, and so now the focus was on reliving a legacy. Greer and the veteran DKs opened the set with the theme from Rawhide, a 1960s television western series. "Let's Lynch the Landlord," "I Kill Children" and the final encore, "Chemical Warfare," satirized the extreme violence and conservatism that characterized 1980s American life. "California Über Alles" was a blistering attack on the former governor of California, Jerry Brown. "Holiday in Cambodia" matched yuppie-baiting lyrics with commentary on Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime. "Moon Over Marin," as close as Dead Kennedys ever came to a ballad, came with anti-pollution lyrics. "Nazi Punks, Fuck Off," was an anti-violence paean. A cover of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas" and "Jock-O-Rama," which parodied mainstream America, showed a much more whimsical side. The band played a reworked version of their song "MTV Get Off the Air", re-titled "MP3 Get Off the Web", with lyrics criticizing music piracy. Dead Kennedys brought few new ideas to the concert, but the audience reveled in punk rock nostalgia.

Visit Dead Kennedys at www.deadkennedys.com.

Reagan Youth at Irving Plaza

Singer Dave Insurgent (Dave Rubinstein) and guitarist Paul Cripple (Paul Bakija) formed Reagan Youth while attending high school in Queens, New York. The band's name was a play on Hitler Youth, comparing then-President Ronald Reagan to Adolf Hitler, and the songs were often satirical commentary about the evils of society. Reagan Youth was a leading band in the New York hardcore punk scene from 1980 to 1990, often performing at CBGB's hardcore punk matinees and recording one album; a second album was released after the band split apart. Insurgent's drug dealing led to a near-fatal beating in Manhattan in 1990, which began the demise of the band; he committed suicide three years later. Cripple in 2006 revived the brand name with a new singer and musicians to perform the band's songs from the 1980s. The present band consists of Cripple on guitar, vocalist Trey Oswald, bassist Tibbie X and drummer Stig Whisper.

Especially in recent years, Reagan Youth performances have been erratic, but the present incarnation of the band was at its best tonight at Irving Plaza. The music was as loud, fast, and anarchistic as ever,  performing the band's old catalogue including "Degenerated", "(Are You) Happy", "No Class", "Reagan Youth", "Heavy Metal Shuffle" and "I Hate Hate." Oswald did a fine job as front man and vocalist, but the subliminal star was Cripple finely playing dense guitar work replete with sonic experiments. Cripple is the band's secret weapon and is arguably the best lead guitarist in the local punk scene.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tesla at Irving Plaza

Jeff Keith and Frank Hannon
Guitarist Frank Hannon was 15 and bassist Brian Wheat was 20 when they formed a pop rock band, City Kidd, in late 1982 in Sacramento, California. Failing to get notice, they moved to melodic hard rock by 1986, and renamed the band Tesla after inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, who pioneered the radio. The redesigned band wound up selling 14 million albums. After the release of Tesla's fourth album, 1994's Bust a Nut, guitarist Tommy Skeoch's struggle with substance abuse caused him to leave the band. He rejoined after completing rehabilitation, but left again months later. The band marched forward as a four piece for a short while, then finally split apart. Tesla reformed in 2000, and the present line-up consists of four of its original members: vocalist Jeff Keith; guitarist Frank Hannon; bassist Brian Wheat; drummer Troy Luccketta; and new guitarist Dave Rude. The band released a new album, Simplicity, on June 6, 2014.

Packed with an arsenal of seven studio albums over nearly three decades, Tesla launched its summer tour tonight at Irving Plaza. The band gave the audience what it expected, playing a set that recalled vintage bluesy rocking bands like Aerosmith. The show opened with "I Wanna Live" from 2008's Forever More album, followed by "Hang Tough" and "Love Song" from the 1989 album, The Great Radio Controversy. So went the night, with old blasts and a few tracks from the current album, including the single "So Divine." Keith was in strong bluesy voice, and was an animated and charismatic stage presence Throughout the performance, even when the spotlight belonged to the guitarists. Meanwhile, the two guitarists kept the lead sounds clean, rich and modest. Bucking current trends, many songs featured acoustic and 12-string guitars, and yet the band rocked hard. After 15 songs, the band returned to the stage for a Hannon and Rude-led guitar dual and finally "Cumin' Atcha Live" from the band's debut album. Despite it being the first concert of the tour, Tesla was tight, polished and impressive.

Visit Tesla at www.teslatheband.com.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hank Williams III at the Gramercy Theatre

Shelton Hank Williams, also known as Hank Williams III and Hank 3, was born December 12, 1972, in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the grandson of Hank Williams, a country music icon who died at the age of 29 in the back seat of a car, and is the son of Hank Williams, Jr., a country music artist who reportedly left him at the age of four. Hank Williams III was country music royalty before he ever sang a note, but he did not immediately follow his forebears musically. Hank III lived the life of a nomadic rocker, getting loaded and playing drums in punk and hardcore bands. That changed when a court settlement decreed that he owed a backlog of child support, and the judge instructed Hank to find more reliable employment. It took a $24,000 child support suit and a $300-a-week pot habit to get Hank III to finally give up the $50-a-gig punk life and start playing country music. Since then he has done a balancing act playing both country music and punk-metal bybrids. His most recent albums are Brothers of the 4x4 (country) and A Fiendish Threat (punk), both released in 2013.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight Hank III opened a four-hour show with two hours of well-performed straight-up outlaw honky tonk country music, complete with banjo and fiddle. The audience responded with a mosh pit. He then unraveled his braid and stuck his hair under a painter's cap, put on a jacket, dropped two of the six band members and the remaining musicians became a punk-rock band called A Fiendish Threat. About 45-minutes later, Williams let his hair fall, changed his outfit and band a bit and they became a droning stoner metal band called A.D.D. (which stands for Attention Deficit Domination). About 45 minutes later, another change of look and band members and they became 3 Bar Ranch, a metal-ish band that was all about how much fuzz, distortion and noise could be produced by a power rock trio. With each band reconfiguration, the band lost more and more of the audience. By the end of the night, well past midnight, there were far more crushed beer cans on the dance floor than there were fans. Although Williams' heart may rest with the latter bands, the country music set was the best set, and the rest was throw-away musical exercise.

Visit Hank Williams III at www.hank3.com.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at Santos Party House

Buzz McCoy (background) and Groovie Mann
Frankie Nardiello fronted bands in the late 1970s in Chicago, Illinois. Marston Daley attended Berklee College of Music in 1979, but soon realized a formal education in jazz piano was not for him; he played guitar with art-punk groups in Boston, Massachusetts, before relocating to Chicago. Nardiello met the newly transplanted musician over drinks in a Chicago neighborhood bar in 1987. Inspired by a shared love of tabloid tales of sex, kitschy horror and exploitation films in the style of John Waters and Russ Myers, Nardiello and Daley began to conceive a shocking and lurid trashy B-movie. It was to be called My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult - a headline taken from a British tabloid that Nardiello had noted a few years prior when he lived in London. Yet without much film experience and access to video equipment, the film project was scrapped and never completed, but they continued work on its accompanying soundtrack with hard beats, distorted vocals and bizarre film samples.  They released the music as a three-track EP in 1988. Dubbing themselves Groovie Mann (Nardiello) and Buzz McCoy (Daley) in the spring of 1989, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (often shortened to Thrill Kill Kult or TKK) was transformed into an electronic industrial rock band. The band's popularity peaked in the 1990s with provocative titles like "Sex on Wheelz",  "A Daisy Chain 4 Satan" and "Sexplosion!" The band's 13th album, Spooky Tricks, was released on May 6.

Mann and McCoy have been performing sonic tales of sexcapades and kitschy horror for more than 25 years. At Santos Party House tonight, they were assisted by guitarist Westin Halvorson, bassist Mimi Star and drummer Justin Bennett. Unlike most rock bands, the guitar ironically was the least-utilized instrument. Mann fronted all the songs with his snarling singing, McCoy filled in most of the music's sonic curves and fills on his synthesizers, and the rhythm section powered the song's driving force with hard bass lines and percussion. The band performed electronic club music that crossed several genres with industrial beats and rock riffs that might be equally at home in a death metal band, amplified to an ominous and abrasive level.

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult's webpage seems to be deactivated. Visit the band on FaceBook instead.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Adore Delano at the Gramercy Theatre

Can the next rock star be a drag queen? Perhaps so. Danny Noriega of Azusa, California, has sung on stages as a drag star since the age of 14. Noriega became a national personality on the seventh season of American Idol and his drag alter-ego, Adore Delano, was among the contestants on the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. Delano's debut album, released on June 3, is Till Death Do Us Party.

Tonight at her record release party at the Gramercy Theatre, Delano sang a 50-minute set consisting of hard and heavy pop songs. Songs like "Party", "I Look Fuckin' Cool", "Calling All Goddesses", "Speak My Sex" and "My Address Is Hollywood" pointed to one objective -- there was indeed a heck of a party going on!  Nevertheless, the music was strong and dynamic. Delano showed that she is a serious rocker, and that she is quite good at it.

Visit Adore Delano at www.adoredelano.com.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Disco Biscuits at Irving Plaza

Jon Gutwillig
The Disco Biscuits formed as a jam band at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1995. The band is known for playing long sets in which songs segue into each other and sometimes even playing its songs backwards, in styles referred to as “inverted” and “dyslexic.” The band consists of guitarist Jon Gutwillig, keyboardist Aron Magner, bassist Marc Brownstein and drummer Allen Aucoin. The band's most recent album is 2011's Otherwise Law Abiding Citizens.

Normally a headliner at larger venues and festivals, the Disco Biscuits returned to the more intimate Irving Plaza for the first time in over a decade. The first night of a three-night run tonight, the band performed two sets for a total of more than three hours onstage. From beginning to end, the set was uptempo, borrowing imaginatively from a heritage of experimentation that traces back to the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa and to free-form electronic jazz improvisations. Amid a laser light show projected into the audience, with song flowing into song and only a small amount of vocals, the grooves were hypnotic and the musicianship of the compositions was stellar.

Visit the Disco Biscuits at www.discobiscuits.com.

DevilDriver at Stage 48

After moving from Orange County to Santa Barbara, California, Coal Chamber vocalist Bradley James "Dez" Fafara bonded with guitarist Jeff Kendrick and drummer John Boecklin and formed a new band in 2002, eventually recruiting guitarist Mike Spreitzer and bassist Chris Towning. The band was originally named Deathride, but there was another band and a sports team using the name, so this Deathride changed its name to DevilDriver, which refers to the bells that the old Italian Wiccans used to drive away evil forces. DevilDriver's sixth and most recent album, Winter Kills, was released in August 2013.

At Stage 48 tonight, DevilDriver opened with "End of the Line" and "Head on to Heartache (Let Them Rot)," defining what the rest of the night would be. Singing into a vintage-styled microphone, Fafara seemed to be more of a blue-collar colleague than an aloof rock star. He sang with authentic passion and grit. The band performed brutal thrash metal with a taste of melodic groove metal thrown in, demonstrating that extreme metal does not have to be blindingly fast and blurry at all times. From twin guitar riffs to guitar duels, powered by pounding drums and topped with great growling vocals, DevilDriver showed its potential to become a leading band in heavy metal.

Visit DevilDriver at www.devildriver.com.

Whitechapel at Stage 48

Singer Phil Bozeman and lead guitarist Ben Savage formed the deathcore band Whitechapel in 2006. Although based  in Knoxville, Tennessee, they named their band after the section of London, England, where the infamous Whitechapel murders in the late 1880s were allegedly committed by Jack the Ripper. The band is filled out by guitarists Alex Wade and Zach Householder, bassist Gabe Crisp, and drummer Ben Harclerode. The band's fifth album, The Endless War, was released on April 29, 2014.

Opening for Devildriver tonight at Stage 48, Whitechapel's set list leaned heavily on the band's current album and the previous album, 2012's self-titled album. Whiteshapel banged hard with growls and breakdowns, but failed to meet the promise of what three guitarists could bring to a band. The performance centered on Bozeman's stage dynamics and vocal arrangements, but why have three guitarists if there are hardly any extended solos?

Visit Whitechapel at www.whitechapelband.com.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dawn Landes at Chez Andre

Dawn Landes is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, but her career in music took form while living in France. Not limited to writing and singing songs, she relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and learned to engineer and produce music while working at Stratosphere Sound and at Philip Glass' recording studio. In 2009, Landes helped found Saltlands Studio in Brooklyn. Her fifth and most recent album, Bluebird, was released this year.

Tonight at Chez Andre in the Standard Hotel, East Village, Landes sang sweet poetic songs and love songs in a smooth and soft caliber. Among the highlights, she gave a slow, meditative twist on Roxy Music's "More Than This" and sang a song from the 1962 film Jules and Jim in French.

Landes is presently on a national tour opening for Bryan Ferry. The show comes to the Beacon Theater on October 1. In the meanime, visit Dawn Landes at www.dawnlandes.com.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The New Music Seminar 2014

In the late 1970s, the advent of punk rock, new wave and hip hop forever shifted the center of gravity in the music world from a corporate industry to do-it-yourself entrepreneurs. The New Music Seminar (NMS) was launched in 1980 to discuss and debate challenges in the music business and to be a catalyst for change. The initial conference drew more than 200 people to at a New York City rehearsal studio. The annual conference grew rapidly, extending to multiple days and featuring workshops, aisles of vendors, and performances by emerging artists at dozens of venues. At its peak, NMS attracted more than 8,000 participants from 35 countries. By 1995, it was over, however, and it looked like the music industry might be over as well. The much smaller New Music Seminar returned in 2009. This year NMS held three days of workshops at the New Yorker Hotel on June 8-10 and showcased breaking artists in only a handful of clubs. Here are some highlights from some of the live music stages.
Vlad Holiday of Born Cages
Born Cages/Webster Hall's Marlin Room/June 8, 2014
Born Cages hit the local New York club circuit as Electric Sun in October 2011, then as Born Cages a year later. At NMS, the quartet performed polished rock with a heavy dose of pop. Born Cages is comprised of Vlad Holiday on vocals and guitar, Amanda Carl on keyboards, Pete Malleo on bass, and Dave Tantao on drums. Born Cages released The Sidelines EP in June 2013 and will soon release its debut album.

Mayaeni
Mayaeni/The Studio at Webster Hall/June 8, 2014
Mayaeni (mah-YAY-nee) is a singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan. The daughter of a West African mother and an American father, a professional guitarist, Mayaeni sings with soul and plays guitar like a rocker. Mayaeni recorded a debut indie album in 2007. Songs like "Addicted to Trouble" at her NMS showcase indicated that her second album will be a sure-fire radio hit.

Meg Myers
Meg Myers/Webster Hall's Marlin Room/June 8, 2014
Meg Myers was originally from Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, but now lives in Los Angeles. She says she used to be a Jehovah's Witness, but now she celebrates her birthday and writes and plays rock. Her stage presence at NMS was powerful, as she sang fierce pop music with tons of raw angst and anger. Myers' second EP, Make a Shadow, was released on February 7, 2014.

Sam Gnonlonfoun, aka Jomion
Jomion & the Uklos/The Studio at Webster Hall/June 8, 2014
From Cotonou, Benin, in West Africa, Afro-jazz trumpeter and composer Sam Gnonlonfoun, also known as Jomion, and his brothers formed as a musical group (the Uklos) after singing and playing for years in church under the pastorship of their father. At the NMS showcase, the music was a blend of traditional spiritualist rhythms and contemporary hymns and harmonies. These qualities made for a distinctly Beninese groove that had the audience swinging its hips and shuffling its feet.

ASTR/Webster Hall's Marlin Room/June 8, 2014
Singer Zoe Silverman and keyboardist Adam Pallin met in a Manhattan yoga class and became an electronic dance music duo, ASTR. At the NMS showcase, the combination of multi-layered electronic music and vocals was at times eerie and captivating.

The Chevin/The Cutting Room/June 9, 2014
Four childhood schoolmates formed the alternative rock band Your Vegas in 2007 and released one album in 2008. They renamed their band in 2010 to the Chevin after a ridge overlooking their small home town of Otley, West Yorkshire. The band is composed of Coyle Girelli on lead vocals and guitars, Mat Steel on guitars and keyboards, Jon Langford on bass and Mal Taylor on drums. At the NMS showcase, Girelli demonstrated an amazingly large vocal range and timber while the band supported him with epic-sounding rock.

Soundwitch
Soundwitch/The Drom/June 10, 2014
SoundWitch was formed as a gothic/industrial/metal band in 2005 in Osaka, Japan, and has released two albums. Performing to a small audience at NMS, the band looked like rock stars and played like EDM producers.

Honduras
Honduras/The Cake Shop/June 10, 2014
Honduras formed in 2012 in Brooklyn, New York, and is comprised of Pat Phillips on vocals and guitar, Tyson Moore on guitar, Paul Lizarraga on bass and Josh Wehle on drums. At NMS, the quartet played energetic guitar-and-vocal-driven garage-pop music. Honduras released an EP, Morality Cuts, earlier this year.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ringo Deathstarr at Irving Plaza

Singer/guitarist Elliott Frazier formed the concept of Ringo Deathstarr in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas. Upon relocating to the more musically happening climes of Austin, he stabilized a final lineup with bassist Alex Gehring, and drummer Daniel Coborn. The name of the band is a parody of the names of the Beatles' drummer and the a fictional space station and super weapon in the Star Wars franchise. Ringo Deathstarr's most recent album is 2013's God's Dream.

Opening for Peter Murphy of Bauhaus at Irving Plaza tonight at Irving Plaza, Ringo Deathstarr performed a droning shoe-gaze set that was a loud and completely uninteresting wash of fuzzy sound with little if any dynamics. Just the fact that the trio performed this way was riveting. The music was a cleverly hypnotic groove that was completely forgettable upon regaining our senses.

Visit Ringo Deathstarr at www.ringodeathstarr.org.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mister Neutron at Otto's Shrunken Head

Guitarist Damian Fanelli, bassist Tony Fanelli and drummer Drew Paradine have been playing together in various bands since 1988. Nowadays they only seem to play once a year as Mister Neutron, at Unsteady Freddie's anniversary shows at Otto's Shrunken Head. The instrumental surf rock trio from Cranford, New Jersey, has a great challenge in that all songs have to be lead by lead guitar alone, and Fanelli kept it interesting tonight. His speedy and precise guitar playing was absolutely wicked.

The TarantinosNYC at Otto's Shrunken Head

The TarantinosNYC often is a featured band at Unsteady Freddie's Surf-Rock Shindig on the first Saturday of each month at Otto's Shrunken Head. Adapting the band name from film director Quentin Tarantino, the TarantinosNYC is a New York based instrumental quartet that plays surf rock and soundtrack-style music, most of which sounds like it originated from 1960s spy or spaghetti western filmsThe band is comprised of Tricia Tarantino on bass, Paul Tarantino on guitar, Brian Tarantino on keys and rhythm guitar, and Joey Tarantino on drums. The TarantinosNYC recorded a CD, 2009’s Super Sounds of the Cinema.

At Otto's tonight for Unsteady Freddie's 10th anniversary show, the TarantinosNYC once again revived an old sound with a fresh approach. On original songs and on covers, Paul's varied guitar work and Brian's keyboard intersected and blended solos to keep each song sounding different and engaging. The show was as much fun for the audience as it was for the musicians.

The TarantinosNYC's next Manhattan gig is as part of the Spaghetti Western Summit at Fontana's on July 3. In the meantime, visit the TarantinosNYC at www.tarantinosnyc.com.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fucked Up at the Bowery Ballroom

Pink Eyes, aka Damian Abraham
Fucked Up formed as a hardcore punk band in 2001 in Toronto, Canada, by high-school friends who were inspired by first- and second-wave hardcore bands. Fucked Up recorded dozens of releases, and despite having a name that cannot be printed in the New York Times and other media, won Canada's 2009 Polaris Music Prize for the band's second album The Chemistry of Common Life. The moniker is not the only controversy associated with the band, however. Several critics denounced the band's cryptic lyrics as flirting with fascist ideology. During concert appearances on MTV, the musicians and their fans tore apart a studio in 2007 and, given a second chance, did it again in 2008. Fucked Up lost a lawsuit against Rolling Stone and Camel in 2008 regarding an advertisement that implied that the band was promoting the tobacco product. A chaotic performance on a pedestrian bridge at South by Southwest in 2008 resulted in police action -- some called it a riot. The band has survived it all, and Fucked Up's present lineup consists of Pink Eyes (Damian Abraham, also known as Mr. Damian, vocals) 10,000 Marbles (Mike Haliechuk, lead guitar), Concentration Camp (Josh Zucker, rhythm guitar), Young Governor (Ben Cook, also known as Bad Kid or Lil' Bitey,  rhythm guitar), Mustard Gas (Sandy Miranda, bass) and Mr. Jo (Jonah Falco, also credited as G. Beat or J. Falco, drums). Fucked Up's fourth album, Glass Boys, was released on June 3, 2014.

While Fucked Up has experimented often in the recording studio, multi-layering guitar tracks to absurd excess, recording a 17-minute song that included five minutes of whistling, incorporating traditional instruments (flute) and female backing vocals, and recording a "rock opera" set in Margaret Thatcher's Great Britain. Nevertheless, tonight's performance at the Bowery Ballroom showed that the band is first and foremost an outstanding hardcore punk band. Abraham was a commanding and burly front man -- towering, bald, bearded, hairy, sweaty and half naked for most of the show (watch out below when he dives into the audience!). He aggressively growled the lyrics while constantly moving and grooving across the stage to the frantic music, frequently sharing the microphone with fans at the edge of the stage. The band's triple-thick wash of guitars was an incendiary and sometimes discordant wall-of-sound assault, with Haliechuk ripping leads that were sometimes more psychedelic than punk. The songs on the albums touch on political commentary, rants about organized religion, rebirth, and Tibetan mysticism, but in concert, who knew? The gruff, abrasive roar of the gravel-throated vocals, the massive guitar attack, the pummeling, tribal percussion and the "tension and release" energy were a thick, raw, messy and jarring locomotive. Forget the odd flourishes on the band's recordings; onstage, Fucked Up was straight forward hardcore punk at its nadir.

Fucked Up does not seem to have its own website. Visit Fucked Up through its record company website, www.matadorrecords.com/fucked_up, or the band's FaceBook page.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Old 97's at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Rhett Miller
Stewart Ransom Miller II , better-known as Rhett Miller, a solo artist and the lead singer of the alternative country band Old 97's, has been a storyteller since his youth. He earned a creative writing scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College, where he attended briefly before dropping out to pursue a music career. A native of Austin, Texas, but who later lived in New York City and Los Angeles, Miller started performing folk and pop story-songs on the bar circuit in Dallas, and released his first solo album of acoustic folk songs in 1989.The producer of that album was Murry Hammond, with whom Miller in 1990 would form an alternative pop trio, the short-lived Sleepy Heroes, which disbanded after one album. The Sleepy Heroes' mix of pop and Texas-styled twang helped lay the foundation for Old 97′s, however. Miller and Hammond recorded a demo tape with lead guitarist Ken Bethea, drummer Philip Peeples climbed on board shortly thereafter, and the quartet was established. Hammond’s childhood obsession with trains inspired the band’s new name, which paid homage to the country ballad “Wreck of the Old 97.” Since 1994, Old 97's has released 10 studio albums; Most Messed Up was released on April 29, 2014. Miller also is an author, whose work has been published in several books and in Rolling Stone and The Atlantic.

Country-rock in the 1970s was clean and California-polished. By the mid to late 1990s, the Dallas-based Old 97's was among the pioneer bands presenting a much more raucous shade of country rock. Old 97's became a cornerstone of the alternative country movement, blending country-rooted songwriting with punk rock energy and power-pop delivery. At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Old 97′s hard-charging rock ‘n’ roll continued to lean more toward loud and brash rock than traditional Americana sounds. Tender moments were few; instead, the muscular power of the music seemed to slap the face of the audience incessantly. Multi-part harmonies often softened the blow, but there was nothing gentle about the furious manner in which the instruments were played. Miller sang most of the set, with Hammond picking up the vocals on a few songs. One could pick out Miller's piercingly observant lyrics, but even when they turned serious, there was something about his swagger, the band's joyful pop arrangements, the twangy cowpunk stomp and the raw bar-band looseness of the music that kept it all light hearted. Old 97's may never reach the popularity of much slicker country rockers like the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt, but after listening to tonight's intense and no-holds-barred concert, who could insist that country music must sound nice?


Visit Old 97's at www.old97s.com.