Thursday, July 31, 2014

AM2 at Choga

Alan Merrill (nee Allan Sachs) is the son of jazz singer Helen Merrill and saxophonist/clarinetist Aaron Sachs of Earl "Fatha" Hines' band. Alan moved to Japan as a teenager and became a teen idol, singing in bands and acting in a soap opera. In 1974, he relocated to London, England, where he wrote and sang in the Arrows. The Arrows hit big in the United Kingdom with "Touch Too Much," "My Last Night With You" and "I Love Rock 'N Roll." (That last song became an international hit when it was covered in 1982 by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.) The Arrows had a weekly television series and even a cartoon strip. Moving back to the states, Merrill performed and recorded solo and played with Rick Derringer and Meat Loaf in the 1980s. Merrill's most recent album is 2013's Songer Singwriter.

Songwriter and bassist Amy Madden has played in New York bands since the 1980s. As a writer/poet, she maintains a website of essays, is completing her fourth novel, and plans to publish a compilation of her poetry. Her most recent album is 2012's Discarded Angels, written as an indie film soundtrack.

AM2 is a clever name for a duo when both members share the same initials. Performing tonight to a small audience at Choga, a relatively new nightspot in Greenwich Village, Merrill sang and played acoustic guitar and Madden played electric bass. The set highlighted Merrill originals, particularly the songs he sang in the Arrows, as well as classic covers (i.e. Beatles). Hearing these pop songs stripped down to basic arrangements was curious and engaging.

Visit Alan Merrill at www.alanmerrill.com and Amy Madden at www.amymaddenmusic.com.

Ursa Minor at the Bowery Electric

Michelle Casillas
Michelle Casillas worked as a sound engineer in the late 1990s and early 2000s at Tonic, the now-defunct home of New York's experimental music scene. On her second night she ran sound for Kim Gordon and later worked with Cecil Taylor, Marc Ribot and other cutting edge artists. As an artist, she sang on the scores of two films by Elliott Sharp. These days, Casillas can be found on stage playing keyboards for Jesse Malin and other local artists, but her main outlet is singing and performing in her own band, Ursa Minor. Ursa Minor's second album, Showface, was released in 2011.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, Ursa Minor showed noteworthy imagination. The set was grounded in Casillas' clever lyrics, soft melodies and fragile vocals. The songs often became suites, however, rock songs with subtle jazz dynamics that introduced odd time signatures, surprising bridges and experimental arrangements. Guitarist Tony Scherr injected warm, ethereal blasts for dramatic effect. Casillas and Scherr were joined tonight by bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Alex Wyatt. The songs featured skittering interplay between the four musicians. The four improvisers intriguingly blended singer-songwriter folk and experimental jazz with haunting indie rock for a thoroughly buoyant mix.

Visit Ursa Minor at www.ursaminor.info.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Imelda May at the Bowery Ballroom

At age four, Imelda May sang in church with her older sister. At home she listened to the record collection of her four elder siblings and by age nine, she was a fan of rockabilly and blues. She began singing in clubs when she was 16 years old and occasionally was barred from her own shows for being underage. May later formed her own band and married her guitarist, Darrel Higham. She recorded her 2003 debut rockabilly album under her maiden name, Imelda Clabby; the album was -issued under her married name in 2005. Her fourth album, Tribal, was released today.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, May was quick to redefine herself as more than rockabilly. Wearing a super-tight bare-shouldered black and white striped dress and red high heels, her ponytailed black hair accented with a thicket of blonde curled high above her forehead, May gave a contemporary spin to yesteryear's rockers and bluesy torch singers alike. Backed by Higham on guitar, Dave Priseman on guitar, trumpet and flugelhorn, Al Gare on bass and Steve Rushton on drums, May launched her set with full-throated sass on "Tribal." Higham's cutting guitar licks and the rhythm section's steady beat lent rockabilly authenticity. With the second song, "Wild Woman," the band accelerated the pace, as May's vocals became even more exuberant. "Big Bad Handsome Man" then had a Latin lilt. "It's Good to Be Alive" featured a country groove. Later songs showcased May's lush romantic side with smoky Billie Holiday-styled passion, especially with "Gypsy in Me" and the first encore, a low and slow cover of Blondie's "Dreaming." The Irish singer crooned impressively well through a grab bag of traditional American sounds which she threaded together with a rich rockabilly swagger.

Visit Imelda May at www.imeldamay.co.uk.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Subhumans at le Poisson Rouge

Dick Lucas
The British anarcho-hardcore punk band Subhumans enjoyed success as one of the more literate British punk bands between 1980 and 1985. Through five albums, six EPs and a plethora of D.I.Y. cassettes, the band challenged both governments and citizens to rage against the world and to improve it. Vocalist Dick Lucas' lyrics articulated both outrage and defiance at a system that he felt had betrayed its people and also philosophical perspectives on conformity and the individual's place in society. Lucas subsequently joined Culture Shock in 1986 and then formed the political ska punk band Citizen Fish in 1990. Subhumans reunited in 1991 and 1998. The band released the Internal Riot album in 2007 and has maintained a live presence ever since. (Note: there is also a semi-active punk band named the Subhumans based out of Canada; the only difference in the name is the article "the.")

Headlining le Poisson Rouge tonight, the high-energy Subhumans plowed through more than 20 songs to a moshing and stage-diving audience. Although the politics of the current age are radically removed from when most of these songs were composed in the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher years, the band seemed to have lost none of its original political venom, intensity and grit. Tall, thin, wearing unevenly-frayed cut-off trousers and sporting an uneven haircut, Lucas looked like a scarecrow, yet instead of flapping with the wind, he was all over the venue's broad stage. His singing projected anger, rebellion and anarchistic sarcasm and he took a few breaks between songs to profess his social commentary. The despair and negativity reached its climax with the four encore songs, "Society", "Work-Rest-Play-Die", "No" and "Religious Wars." Some 30 years after protest punk music began, Subhumans' show kept the genre raw and bleeding.

Sheer Terror at le Poisson Rouge

Paul Sheerer
Sheer Terror was formed in New York in 1984 when former Fathead Suburbia vocalist Paul Bearer answered a classified ad for a hardcore punk singer. The hardcore punk scene was prolific then, and Sheer Terror was among the circuit bands that played clubs like CBGBs. The band combined elements of heavy metal with a hardcore punk base, pioneering a heavier style of hardcore that would become popular in the following decades. The band went through many personnel line-ups, temporarily split up and reunited several times, and released a landmark debut album, Just Can't Hate Enough, in 1990. Sheer Terror formally broke up in 1998, reunited in 2004, and continues to reunite periodically. Standing Up For Falling Down is Sheer Terror’s first full-length release in 18 years.

Opening for the Subhumans at le Poisson Rouge tonight, Sheer Terror performed 10 old songs and two new songs, "Heartburn in G" and "The Revenge of Mr. Jiggs," closing with the band's most familiar song, "Just Can't Hate Enough." The axis of the set was spun on blunt, metal-style power chords and manic punk attitude, but what kept it spinning was Bearer's strong personality. Between almost every song, the musicians waited for Bearer to wind down his banter so they could forge into the next song. Relentlessly pacing the stage in circles between songs, Bearer was very much like an insult comic, ranting foul-mouthed decrees about seemingly anything that came to mind. He was as hard and heavy as his music.

Visit Sheer Terror at www.sheerterrorfya.com.

Mischief Brew at le Poisson Rouge

Erik Petersen
After four years screaming in the Orphans, a punk band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Erik Petersen went solo in June 2000. He confined himself to a basement with an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, a rickety drum kit, and some anarchistic ideologies inspired by the 1960s anti-establishment protest movement. He started performing this new music locally, finally gathering a rhythm section and, as Mischief Brew, performing DIY anarcho-punk music which incorporated elements of American folk, swing and gypsy-influenced punk. The band's most recent album is 2011's The Stone Operation. Mischief Brew is presently comprised of Petersen on vocals, guitar and mandolin, Chris “Doc” Kulp on guitar, Shawn St. Clair on bass, and Christopher Petersen on drums.

Opening for the Subhumans and Sheer Terror tonight at le Poisson Rouge, Mischief Brew seemed to have brought its own following, including many fans who came up on stage to sing along before diving off the stage for some crowd surfing. Petersen projected a struggling working class solidarity, dressed like a laborer and shouting lyrics fit for Occupy Philadelphia. Musically, Mischief Brew often sounded like a street corner busking ensemble or a late night Irish pub jam. Some of the punch in the songs even hinted at the oompah of polka. Filtering these diverse influences through punk energy, Mischief Brew successfully generated a riveting, rousing revelry. Somewhere between the Clash and the Pogues, there is Mischief Brew.

Visit Mischief Brew at www.mischiefbrew.com.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Delbert McClinton at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Delbert McClinton was born in 1940 in Lubbock, Texas, and at age 11 relocated with his family to Fort Worth, Texas. His first band, the Straitjackets, backed Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed at local roadhouses. McClinton in 1962 played harmonica on Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby." Playing in Chanel's band on a British tour with the Beatles, McClinton instructed John Lennon on the finer points of blues harmonica playing. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, McClinton first partnered with fellow Texan Glen Clark, releasing two albums of country/soul music before splitting and McClinton embarked on a solo career. McClinton enjoyed a hit single, "Givin' It Up for Your Love," in 1980, won three Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in March 2011. McClinton's 28th album, Blind, Crippled and Crazy, was released in 2013.

McClinton underwent emergency heart bypass surgery in April but, performing a two-and-a-half hour set only three months later at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill, the 73-year-old singer and harmonica player was in superb form. He said he felt better than ever and jokingly recommended this surgery for everyone in the audience over 65. Now more than three decades after his biggest hit, it hardly mattered what songs he sang; his rich Texas gumbo of hot electric blues, rousing honky-tonk country and smooth blue-eyed soul made every song enjoyable. Even when his yearning timbre seemed to be stretching to hit high notes, this made his drawling melodies sound even more soulful. Then he added more blues effect with his wailing harmonica as the band pumped a swaggering rhythm sprinkled with red Texas dust. Although the tables were pressed close together, audience members often were moved to stand and dance at their seats. McClinton has played more or less the same kind of nascent roots music for 50 years and it still sounded contemporary and celebratory.

Delbert McClinton returns to B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill on November 7. In the meantime, visit McClinton at www.delbert.com.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Veruca Salt at the Bowery Ballroom

Nina Gordon and Louise Post
A mutual friend in Chicago introduced Louise Post and Nina Gordon, and the two singer/guitarists began writing songs and playing music together. A year and a half later, in 1993, Gordon's brother, drummer Jim Shapiro, and bassist Steve Lack filled out the alternative rock quartet Veruca Salt, named after the spoiled rich girl in Roald Dahl's children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The band achieved success with its first two albums. Post and Gordon then had a still-undisclosed dispute in 1998, resulting in Gordon leaving the band to pursue a solo career. Post kept the name of the band, even as further personnel changes left her as the sole original member. Post had a baby in 2012 and Veruca Salt went on hiatus. The catalyst again is unknown to the public, but after 15 years apart, the original band members reunited in 2013, released a 10-inch vinyl disc containing two new songs, "It's Holy" and "The Museum of Broken Relationships," for Record Store Day 2014, and scheduled an album of new collaborations for fall 2014 release.

It was a good sign to the audience when Post and Gordon walked on stage (and similarly left the stage) holding hands at the Bowery Ballroom tonight. It signified that a rift was mended. The original Veruca Salt was all harmonies again. Veruca Salt began its set with "Get Back," the first track from the band's debut American Thighs album, and carried the old sound faithfully through 21 more songs. The band rocked hard, but the nut was not in Post and Gordon's sporadic guitar solos; it was in their engaging vocals and the pleasant melodies. Although the two new songs were performed, Veruca Salt did not move very far from home base. If you liked Veruca Salt in the 1990s, the band tonight was simply picking up where it left off. By the time the band encored with "Shutterbug", "Volcano Girls", "Victrola" and "Earthcrosser," they had pleased the audience with a full back-catalogue of grrrl anthems.

Visit Veruca Salt at www.verucasalt.com.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sarah McLachlan at the Beacon Theater

As a child in Canada, Sarah McLachlan studied voice, classical piano and guitar. When she was a 17-year-old high school student, she fronted a short-lived new wave rock band called The October Game and was offered a recording contract. McLachlan's parents insisted she finish high school and complete one year of studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design before moving to Vancouver and embarking on a new life as a recording artist in 1988. Since then, McLachlan has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, and has won eight Juno and three Grammy Awards. Her first album of new songs in four years, Shine On, was released on May 6, 2014.

At the Beacon Theater tonight, McLachlan performed two sets separated by intermission. While acknowledging that the songs on her new album were close to her heart, she also performed a cross section of songs from her career. Backed by a four-piece band, McLachlan opened with a new song, "Flesh and Blood," but followed quickly with the 1997 Grammy-winning "Building a Mystery." Throughout the evening, she moved from acoustic guitar to piano to electric guitar, sometimes standing before the microphone with no instruments, singing soft, emotional ballads in intimate mezzo-soprano vocal range. On occasion, McLachlan started solo on piano before being accompanied by her band. The charm of her music was that there seemed to be no deliberate attempt at commercialism; her vulnerable lyrics often were built on personal dilemma, the compositions were not structured to emphasize a catchy chorus, and her vocal range was not capitalized by spotlights. This was mature music, made for listening.

McLachlan introduced many songs by sharing events in her life that spawned the lyrics. Twice during the concert, McLachlan randomly fielded written questions from her audience by drawing them out of a top hat, and then invited social media contest winners to join her on a couch in a makeshift living room by the side of the stage. She invited her guests to ask her spontaneous questions and then posed with them for selfies. The evening was so homey that by the end of her two-and-a-half-hour concert, it seemed McLachlan had tucked her audience into bed.

Visit Sarah McLachlan at www.sarahmclachlan.org.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Michael Franti & Spearhead at Pier 97

Michael Franti was born a biracial child in 1966 in Oakland, California. At the University of San Francisco, Franti met a priest who taught him how to tell a story on paper, and soon he was writing poetry. He purchased a bass at a pawn shop and started creating music inspired by the hip hop, punk, and reggae that was being played on the campus radio station. Franti began his music career in 1986 as part of the industrial punk/spoken word band The Beatnigs. His next band, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, wrote politically charged lyrics that railed against the injustices of the world, set to a fusion of industrial music and hip hop. Franti in 1994 formed Spearhead, whose first album drew more from funk and soul music; later albums included more rock, hip hop and reggae elements. Michal Franti & Spearhead's most recent album is 2013's All People. The barefoot 6-foot-6 San Francisco-based singer-songwriter-guitarist is a vegan, an outspoken peace activist and environmentalist, and a philanthropist with links to several charities.

Pier 97 this evening had a festival spirit. The events began with a late afternoon yoga session, during which Franti played acoustic guitar. The concert portion began with several opening acts who shared his world vision. By the time Michael Franti & Spearhead hit the stage, the party was in full swing. Franti sang hope-filled songs about love and peace, leading his band into a light, bouncy pop mix  that blended rock, classic soul, hip hop, funk, reggae, jazz, folk, reggae, dancehall, bossa nova and Afrobeat, vitually anything that had a happy rhythm. Whether sung accompanied by a solo acoustic guitar or the entire band plus guests, the songs encouraged sing-alongs, and Franti extended choruses often to allow the audience to feel and feed the vibe. Franti sang several songs from the audience pit and throughout the show asked for participation through clapping, waving or singing. His pleas for world peace garnered heavy applause. The good-time show seemed to balance two dimensions; it seemed to have deep social meaning and was also an exciting channel of entertainment.

Visit Michael Franti & Spearhead at www.michaelfranti.com.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Scale the Summit at the Gramercy Theatre

Two guitarists, Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier, grew up in the same neighborhood in Houston, Texas, and reconnected in 2003 in a record store, discussing a common interest, Between the Buried and Me. The duo in 2005 enrolled in the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, California, mainly hoping to meet new people to join their band. They noticed Pat Skeffington wearing a Between the Buried and Me T-shirt with drumsticks protruding from his backpack, and found a bassist through a classified ad. Levrier coined the name Scale the Summit after seeing a photograph titled "The Summit" in a photography book. Initially, the band played technical metal behind a vocalist, but soon became an instrumental progressive metal band. Scale the Summit self-funded a demo CD, which was distributed at shows in Los Angeles. The band relocated back to Houston and in 2012 recruited Mark Michell as the current drummer. Scale the Summit's fourth and most current album is 2013's The Migration.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the crowd-surfing and moshing ended with Glass Cloud's set; the audience was riveted motionlessly to Scale the Summit's technical metal wizardry. Scale the Summit performed a full set of instrumental music accompanied by a video backdrop that introduced the title of each composition as it began and then looped moving images related to the title. Each member of the front line had extra strings on their instrument; the guitarists played seven strings and the bassist six. The band's soundscapes balanced intricate layers of shredding and melodic atmospheric pieces into a sonic harmony. Chugging "djent" guitar riffs led to clean jazz and classical-inspired movements, blending virtuosity with tastefulness. Letchford liberally peppered his trademark, fleet-fingered “tapping” style on the neck of his unusually-shaped guitar. Although many of the pieces featured complicated jazz-like structures, the progressive quartet seemed to play every song exactly as it was recorded, allowing no room for improvisation. Scale the Summit has reached the heights of Behind the Buried and Me, Animals as Leaders, Cynic and Protest the Hero.

Visit Scale the Summit at www.scalethesummit.com

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hollis Brown at the Drom

College friends Mike Montali  and Jon Bonilla wrote over 50 songs together before starting the band Hollis Brown in 2009 in Queens, New York. The band released a debut EP in 2012, and a debut album, Ride on the Train in 2013. For Record Store Day 2014, the band released the limited edition vinyl-only Gets Loaded, a track-for-track re-imagining of the Velvet Underground's 1970 album Loaded. After a few personnel changes, the band is currently comprised of Montali on vocals, Bonilla on guitar, Adam Bock on keyboards, Dillon Devito on bass and Andrew Zehnal on drums.

At the Drom tonight, Hollis Brown performed original songs as well as the Velvet Underground tracks. The original songs were built around heartfelt lyrics, sweet melodies  and country-styled harmonies to create a rustic and soulful rock sound. The musicians mixed a foundation of classic blues-based rock with southern rock guitar, honky tonk piano and a garage band rhythm section for a sound that felt familiar yet different. The Velvet Underground covers leaned more towards raw garage rock. Halfway through the performance, fellow local rocker Jesse Malin joined Hollis Brown on stage to sing the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane." Throughout the set, however, Hollis Brown showed that mainstream rock is alive and well.

Visit Hollis Brown at www.holiisbrown.com.

Cowboy Mouth at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Fred LeBlanc
Cowboy Mouth's founder, vocalist and drummer, Fred LeBlanc, has said that he was born deaf and with underdeveloped lungs. According to LeBlanc, his parents laid his head on stereo speakers when he was three years old, and baby Fred started to sing before he could talk. He played with local bands after high school in his native New Orleans, Louisiana, until he formed Cowboy Mouth in 1990, combining alternative rock with roots rock influences. Cowboy Mouth has recorded 10 studio albums, the most recent being 2014's Go.

Cowboy Mouth brings a bit of Cajun style and Mardi Gras to all its concerts everywhere. A Cowboy Mouth concert is an interactive experience, in that LeBlanc makes his audience work as hard as he does. At B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill tonight, the music existed for the show. LeBlanc sang well, the four musicians played well, and the high-energy songs were raucously joyful. LeBlanc was a large ringleader and projected an ever larger personality. This personality frequently overwhelmed the music. Even with the opening song, LeBlanc spent an extended time instructing his fans to dance, jump and "lose your mind." Then as the band continued playing a rhythm, LeBlanc descended from his drum riser on the stage and spent perhaps 10 minutes going through the club table by table demanding that the diners stand up. As the performance progressed, the rowdy music was enjoyable, many songs included repetitive hooks for audience shout-alongs, and the audience had fun being part of the spectacle. Nevertheless, LeBlanc's ongoing rants for audience participation were way over the top. Cowboy Mouth would do well to moderate a more manageable balance between quality song performance and party revelry.

Visit Cowboy Mouth at www.cowboymouth.com.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Future of What at the Standard Hotel, East Village

After touring on Die Young, her 2010 solo album in 2011, Blair Gimma desired to collaborate with a band rather than repeat the solo process. She met Sam Axelrod, formerly of Chicago noise band The Narrator and a fan of her solo album, in 2011 at a Thanksgiving party in Brooklyn, New York. Shortly thereafter, the two musicians began to play music together, eventually adding Max Kotelchuck to form Future of What. The band's demo tapes became its debut EP, Moonstruck. Pro Dreams, the trio's debut full-length of romantic pop songs, has reworked versions of the Moonstruck songs plus several more songs.

Performing tonight at the Annie O. music series at the Standard Hotel, East Village, Future of What played a 45-minute set of original synth-pop songs. The music was soft and dreamy, with Gimma singing in pillow-talk the whole time. The band's songs were a wave of bright yet somber sound. The synth beats were slow and light, and unlike most synth music, devoid of blips and effects. The key ingredient that meshed together the performance was its harmonic simplicity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

SomeKindaWonderful at the Studio at Webster Hall

In 2013, a disillusioned Jordy Towers left Los Angeles, California, where he was hoping to make it big as a singer. While visiting family in the small town of Olmstead Falls, Ohio, he met guitarist Matt Gibson and drummer Ben Schigel. Three hours later, they recorded the song "Reverse." Since then, the song generated nearly two million streams on Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud. The Cleveland-based trio added vocalist/percussionist Sarah Dyer and bassist/keyboardist Steve Basil. SomeKindaWonderful released its self-titled debut album on June 23, 2014.

Making its New York debut tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall, SomeKindaWonderful left an impression. Emotive singing with stinging guitar licks and funky bass lines made for a sparse rock and soul groove that propelled a series of radio-crafted pop compositions. One song had a reggae lilt, another felt like it was written in a gospel church, and several were born of Towers' hip hop roots. SomeKindaWonderful defied genres, but ultimately may find a home within the burgeoning neo-soul movement.

Visit SomeKindaWonderful at www.somekindawonderful.com.

Crush of Empires at Arlene's Grocery

Crush of Empires is a New York-based alternative hard rock band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Earl Drummond, guitarist Steven Cimino, drummer John-Paul Baker and new bassist Andrei Petrovitch. The band released a self-titled CD in 2012 and has been playing the local rock club circuit.

Playing a half-hour set at Arlene's Grocery tonight, Crush of Empires proved to be a promising contender in the local hard rock scene. The quartet performed songs that were rooted in the New York singer-songwriter vein, but then developed through the filter of progressive rock. These songs were not scream-and-boogie metal rock, but rather well-thought-out compositions with sensitive singing, clean and melodic guitar leads, occasionally complex rhythms and grunge like grooves.

Crush of Empires is performing a residency at Arlene's Grocery on Monday evenings throughout July. In the meantime, visit Crush of Empires at www.crushofempires.com.

Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash 2014 at the Bowery Electric

I knew Johnny Thunders when he was John Genzale, Jr. He was 16, I was 15. We both loved live rock music and very frequently hung around the back of the Fillmore East. We were on different paths, however; he dressed like a mod, I dressed like a hippie. Neither of us could really know where this love of live rock music would take us. I became a rock journalist, and he became the guitarist of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers.

Thunders died in 1991, but his legacy has been stamped over a generation of New York rockers. Every year around Thunders' birthday Barry Apfel and Steve Krebs pull together a pack of New York musicians for a Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash. Over a dozen artists performed. Tonight's concert at the Bowery Electric ended at 1 a.m.

Ivan Julian
Jesse Malin
Steve Krebs
Andy Shernoff (Dictators) & Walter Lure (Heartbreakers, Waldos)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Les Dudek at Hill Country Barbecue Market

Six years after Les Dudek was born in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, his father retired from the Navy and the family moved to Florida where he grew up. He built a reputation as a proficient guitar player, and after a fellow Florida musician, Duane Allman, was killed in a motorcycle accident, Dudek was invited to record with the Allman Brothers Band. He played guitar harmonies with Dickey Betts on "Ramblin' Man" and the intro acoustic guitar on "Jessica." Dudek became a guitarist for Boz Scaggs and the Steve Miller Band, so Dudek moved to California. Dudek was invited to play in the original Journey but declined in order to record as a solo artist, and moved to West Hollywood in the mid-1970s. He collaborated with Cher, Stevie Nicks and others. His public persona then went silent as he worked for NBC, ABC, ESPN, Fox Sports, and E! Entertainment Television. He can be heard on many television series, including Friends. He has since relocated back to Florida and his seventh and most recent solo album is 2013's Delta Breeze.

Les Dudek seemed like a promising artist during the heyday of southern rock, but after the genre faded, his name disappeared into obscurity. Nevertheless, his guitar playing has not waned. Tonight before a small audience at Hill Country Barbecue Market, Dudek led a guitar-bass-drums trio through a bluesy rock jam. When singing well-written southern-rock-sounding songs, Dudek played exacting rhythm chords over a basic driving beat, but as soon as he backed off the microphone his fret dancing and aggressive guitar attack took over. Dudek played full and rich single-string leads tirelessly on his Fender Stratocaster with sweet, melodic phrasing. He slipped on a bottleneck for a few songs and played slide as well. The Allman Brothers Band will be needing a spectacular guitarist soon; that band would do well to revisit Les Dudek.

Visit Les Dudek at www.lesdudek.com.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Village Voice 4 Knots Music Festival at the South Street Seaport

Synthesizers, samples and loops dominate radio and music sales charts, but at the Village Voice 4 Knots Music Festival today at the South Street Seaport it was the jangly, noisy guitar that ruled. In the past, the two stages were near each other, so as the music stopped at one stage, the music began at the next stage. This year the stages were two blocks away, so there was some overlap in time, but one could still catch a lot of great music by going back and forth.

Isaiah & Dee Radkey
Radkey
Radkey is a melodic punk rock trio of brothers from St. Joseph, Missouri. Lead guitarist Dee Radkey, bassist Isaiah Radkey and drummer Solomon Radkey range in age from 16 to 20. Despite a five minute interval where the sound suddenly shut down during the performance, Radkey kept it simple with hard, fast and loud music.

Crazy Pills
Crazy Pills
The Brooklyn/Queens-based Crazy Pills was conceived in 2010 by guitarist Amanda and currently features Eddie (pow wow!) on bass and Jim (Clouder) on drums. The music was raw and energetic garage pop.

Sadie Dupuis
Speedy Ortiz
While teaching songwriting at a summer camp in 2011, vocalist/guitarist Sadie Dupuis began recording her own music on laptop. This music evolved into Speedy Ortiz, an indie rock band from Northampton, Massachusetts. As Dupuis sang softly, the band played grunge-like power rock.

Juan Wauters
Juan Wauters
The Beets' stripped-bare indie rock accumulated a strong following and Uruguayan-born Juan Wauters is furthering his band's boney sound as a solo artist. He played solo and also was accompanied by two women musicians who gave his jangly North American folk music a South American folk twist.

Matt Flegel
Viet Cong
Viet Cong is an indie rock band formed in Calgary, Alberta in 2012. The group consists of two ex-members of the rock band Women, vocalist/bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace, as well as guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen. The quartet played a hypnotic psychedelic music charged with noisy guitars.

Nude Beach
Nude Beach
Originally from Long Island, now based in Brooklyn, Nude Beach was formed in 2008. Vocalist/guitarist Chuck Betz, bassist Jim Shelton and drummer Ryan Naideau played scrappy power pop.

Jessi Darlin
Those Darlins
Jessi "Darlin" Zazu and Nikki "Darlin" Kvarnes met in 2006 at the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. They formed Those Darlins and began by covering Carter Family songs, using traditional southern instrumentation, including washboard and clogging, as well as less traditional instruments like the baritone ukulele. Those Darlins is now a rock and roll band from Nashville, Tennessee. The quartet played garage band rock with more than a hint of Brill Building girl group sound, especially when the band covered the Crystals' 1963 hit "And Then He Kissed Me."

Mac DeMarco
Mac DeMarco
Canadian-born Mac DeMarco is at heart a guitar-strumming folkie. His songs are cute. He turned his songs into trance rock by playing with electronic effects.

J Mascis
Dinosaur Jr.

When the Julie Ruin, the original headliner, cancelled, Dinosaur Jr. came to the rescue. Dinosaur Jr was founded in 1984 by J. Mascis (guitar, vocals, primary songwriter), Lou Barlow (bass, vocals), and Murph (drums) in Amherst, Massachusetts. The band was one of the formative influences on 1990s American alternative rock. Showing a debt to both classic rock and punk rock, Dinosaur Jr played a fast and wild set of three-chord lead-guitar-infused turbo-charged rock. Mascis's drawling, whiney vocals could only be heard if you were standing near the mixing board, however; everywhere else, the instruments drowned out the vocals.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Procol Harum at Manhattan Center

Gary Brooker
The Paramounts, based in Essex, England, scored a moderate British hit in 1964. After splitting in 1966 and reforming as Procol Harum in 1967, the band immediately hit internationally with "A Whiter Shade of Pale." The song was unique in that it featured a structure reminiscent of Baroque music, a countermelody based on J.S. Bach's "Orchestral Suite N° 3 in D Major," soulful vocals and mysterious lyrics. Although Procol Harum never had a bigger hit, the development of the band's progressive rock and symphonic rock attracted greater rock audiences through the early 1970s. As popularity later waned, however, the band broke up in 1977. The brand has revived sporadically since 1991, with vocalist/pianist/composer Gary Brooker as the only original performing member.

Long-faithful fans welcomed the latest incarnation of Procol Harum to Manhattan Center tonight. The height of the band's creativity was 40 years ago, however, so fans basked in the nostalgia of a once-exciting band now far from its prime. Brooker's vocals were engaging but often sounded weak, perhaps due to several near-death accidents he suffered over recent years. "A Whiter Shade of Pale", "Conquistador" and a few other songs retained their muscle over the years, but most of the set sounded like filler. Once past the endearment showered on survivors of a creative period in classic rock, the fans faced old men who were revisiting old songs with old arrangements. Old, not classic.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Jesse Malin at John Varvatos

Jesse Malin was raised in Queens, New York, but found his calling at the hardcore punk shows in the East Village's iconic CBGB's club. At age 12, he became the front-man for a hardcore band, Heart Attack. Upon the group’s disbandment in 1984, Malin labored as a gas station attendant, a health food store clerk and a “man with a van” for Barbara Streisand and the Swans. In the early 1990s, Jesse and some childhood friends formed the popular glam-punk band D Generation and released three albums over eight years. Malin went solo in 2001 and his third album in 2007 featured a duet with Bruce Springsteen. Malin's next album will be released later this summer.

Introduced by Little Stevie Van Zandt, guitarist from Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Jesse Malin returned to his element tonight at the John Varvatos clothing store, the site of the former CBGB's. Malin also returned to his musical roots, playing garage-rock songs that included covers of the Rolling Stones' "Heartbreaker" and the Ramones' "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" Some of the stronger songs, "All the Way from Moscow" and "Burning the Bowery," were from his short-lived band, Jesse Malin & the St. Marks Social days. While playing an amplified acoustic guitar on many original folk-centered songs brought out his emo side, Malin's heart was in the energetic rockers that had him manhandling his microphone stand and seriously working both the stage and the audience.

Jesse Malin will perform at the Bowery Electric on August 6. In the meantime, visit him at www.jessemalin.com.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Fray at Pier 97

Isaac Slade
Lead vocalist Isaac Slade, guitarist Joe King and drummer Ben Wysocki attended school together in Denver, Colorado. Slade and King went on to lead a band that led worship in church, and Wysocki and lead guitarist David Welsh performed in another worship band. Slade and King in 2002 began forming a secular pop band, the Fray, and after a few personnel changes, drafted Wysocki and Welsh. The band members decided on a name after asking people to put band names on a piece of paper. They ended up picking "The Fray" randomly. The Fray's debut album in 2005 was certified double platinum in the United States; the band's fourth and most recent album, Helios, was released in February 2014. Bassist Jeremy McCoy has toured with the band since 2009.

Launching a summer concert series at the outdoor Pier 97 tonight, the Fray performed a set that was low on flashy stage moves and high on simple honesty and sincerity. From the opening breezy notes of the Helios track, "Closer to Me," the concert was built around songcraft. “Over My Head (Cable Car)” was inspired by Slade’s temporary estrangement from his brother. “How To Save A Life” was inspired by Slade’s experience as a mentor to a crack addicted teen. The performance of these songs never extended far from the lyric and melody. Slade's emotive yearning centered "You Found Me" and "Love Don't Die." The one surprise was a down-home country-gospel rendition of the traditional song "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," bringing the band members back to their church roots. The band picked up the pace a few times, but overall the show consisted of mid-tempo piano-driven pop rock tracks and power ballads more suited for radio than live performance.

Visit the Fray at www.thefray.com.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Control Group at the Mercury Lounge

Jeremy Parker, also known as Jack Plug, played numerous BBC Peel sessions with his British/American band Done Lying Down. He mixed an album by the band Audio Fiction, which included Darren Korb as bassist and producer. With Evan Reynolds, the three musicians formed the indie-pop band Control Group in 2011 in Brooklyn, New York. The band's single and video, "You Can be the Star," is now available, and a debut album, Hot Swap, will be released later this year.

At the Mercury Lounge tonight, all three members of the band wore white short-sleeved shirts and ties, with multiple pens clipped to their shirt pockets, blue jeans and sneakers. Was this an homage to the early pop bands or a comical throwback to a nerdy high school look? Probably both, but more the latter. They sang and switched instruments, but Parker was primarily the guitarist, Reynolds the bassist and Korb the drummer. Rooted in 1960s simple garage pop, the band stretched enough into modern experimental sounds to be labeled indie-rock. Songs were often light-hearted; while some lyrics sounded like they were jovial and jubilant reminiscences of youthful first loves, one song may have been about a love affair between a boy and an alien. All three musicians wore smiles throughout the 45-minute set, and they hopped along with their music. Their joy was easily spread through the small room.

Control Group performs next at Pianos on August 21. In the meantime, visit the band at www.controlgroupmusic.com.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Neon Trees at Rumsey Playfield

Tyler Glenn
Vocalist Tyler Glenn and guitarist Christopher Allen shared their childhood as neighbors in Murrieta, California, but when Allen relocated for college in Provo, Utah, Glenn followed. They formed Neon Trees in 2005, naming the band after the lighted trees on the In-N-Out Burger signs. After some personnel changes, they added bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley in 2006. (Guitarist David Charles joins the band on tours.) Campbell previously had played in a band with the Killers' drummer, Ronnie Vannucci, Jr.; Vannucci saw Neon Trees perform in a club in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was so impressed that Neon Trees opened a string of Killers concerts in 2008 even before Neon Trees had recorded an album. Neon Trees released its first album in 2010, and quickly became one of the most popular pop rock bands in America. The band's third and most recent album, Pop Psychology, was released on April 22, 2014.

Neon Trees first performed in Central Park in 2011, opening for Panic! At the Disco. Tonight the band returned as headliners. Despite the extreme heat, Glenn came on stage wearing a yellow suit and yellow top coat; this was for flash, not for weather conditions. Glenn announced that pop music is the music that lasts, and the night's performance was just that, pop music enhanced with a rock dance beat, amusing lyrics and a lead singer with seemingly unlimited energy and personality. Tongue-in-cheek songs like "I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)", "Teenager In Love", "Text Me In the Morning", "Sleeping with a Friend" and "Everybody Talks" appealed to the millennial fan base. Neon Trees' remake of the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" also received a similar response. The longest applause of the night, however, came when the music stopped and Glenn articulated at great length about how cathartic it was for him last year when he came out publicly as a gay man; this was followed by the night's softest song, "Voices in the Halls." Save for that serious moment, the rest of the evening was about having fun with bouncy, danceable radio rock.

Visit Neon Trees at www.fameisdead.com.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bill Popp & the Tapes at Otto's Shrunken Head

Bill Popp knew he wanted to sing since he was a five year old in Queens, New York. He became a musician as well when he received his first drum kit at age 11. After a few false starts and leaps into maturity, he began singing his songs in local clubs. It is now 35 years later, he has outlived the clubs (barely, but a quadruple bypass saved him) and he is still working parks and clubs. (Working can mean playing music or fixing pipes, as he is a plumber for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.) Popp is Bill's real last name, and the surname is fitting in that pop music is his passion. The title of Bill Popp & the Tapes' most recent CD, a four-song EP from 2013 called Popp Hits the 60's, also has a clever double reference in that Popp turned 60 years old last year and he is still playing music from or influenced by the 1960s.

At Otto's Shrunken Head tonight, Bill Popp & the Tapes played original soft-rock weepers and party songs, as well as covers of 50-year-old songs including the Moody Blues' "Knights in White Satin." Popp’s tenor voice delivered warm and singable pop songs and poetic lyrics as his band sweetly combined tight harmony, bright melodic hooks and an occasional dance groove. The light and airy music was ideal for those whose musical tastes are nostalgic for the simplicity of the mid-1960s.

Bill Popp & the Tapes perform next at the bandshell in Central Park on July 24 and August 7.In the meantime, visit Bill Popp & the Tapes at www.billpopp.com.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Del Rios at Otto's Shrunken Head

The Del Rios were formed in 2013 from the Del Rio Bandits, an instrumental cover band that had been playing since 2008 in the area around Cleveland, Ohio. Guitarist Dean Cohen and bassist Skylar Keffer formed the Del Rios to pursue their interest in writing and recording original music. They filled out the new band with drummer Austin Latare and guitarist/vocalist Will Robinson. The Del Rios ... Ride! CD features 11 original songs.

At the monthly Unsteady Freddie's Surf Rock Shindig at Otto's Shrunken Head tonight, the four members of the Del Rios came on stage wearing matching grey shirts, pants and vests. They played a lively set of surf rock instrumentals and garage rock vocal songs. Many of the songs were originals; others were covers of surf rock songs by the Sonics and the Shadows, as well as one-hit-wonders from the early 1960s, including Chris Montez's "Let's Dance." The performance was grounded in retro roots, but delivered successfully with a contemporary sound.

The Del Rios return to Otto's Shrunken Head on Sunday, July 13. In the meantime, visit the Del Rios at www.thedelrios.com.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rumble & Twang at City Winery

Rumble & Twang is an all-star rockabilly band comprised of guitarist/pianist Jimmy Vivino (music director of Conan O'Brien's television house band), bassist Lee Rocker (formerly of the Stray Cats) and drummer Anton Fig (from David Letterman's television house band), along with any variety of other notables, like Robert Gordon. Gordon was not among the notables tonight at City Winery, but the core trio of Rumble & Twang invited rockabilly guitarist Buzz Campbell and blues harmonica player Felix Cabrera on stage for most of the set. All of these seasoned musicians played extraordinarily well, and Vivino and Rocker alternated vocals on covers of songs originally recorded by the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and many other pioneers of country rock. Did the band play any new songs? If there were any new songs, they sounded like old songs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Threats at the Bowery Electric

There was a Scottish punk band in the 1980s with the same name; that band is due for a comeback, as most out-of-work musicians from that decade are finding that reunions are lucrative. This new band called the Threats is a punk trio from New York. Guitarist Jack Ridley and bassist Matt Hitt both play in a more popular band, Drowners, except that they switch musical roles in that band. Drummer Paulo Dell’Olio fills out the local Threats. The band has no recordings or website, but is playing the rock club circuit rather heavily.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, the Threats at first sounded like many other power punk trios, long on angry vocals, speedy guitar riffs and bad attitude. Then I heard progressive shifts of time signatures in the midst of the songs. Then I heard guitar leads that sounded like surf rock. Ridley was all over the stage, even on the floor, and in the audience. Between songs, hard-pounding Dell'Olio huffed deeply to catch his breath. The Threats became not just another local punk band, but a very interesting punk band, worth catching again sometime soon.

Seether at the Gramercy Theatre

Shaun Morgan
Seether formed in 1999 in Pretoria, South Africa, under the name Saron Gas (a name taken from the back of a sound effects CD) and released an album in 2000. The band was renamed Seether in 2002 and immediately achieved international success. The hard rocking band released eight albums in all, two of which achieved platinum sales and two more that were certified gold, along with a live concert DVD that has sold over 500,000 units, for total worldwide sales in excess of 4.5 million. The band amassed 11 #1 singles and 17 Top 5 multi-format hits resulting in singles sales that top seven million. A new album, Isolate and Medicate, was released today. Seether is comprised of Shaun Morgan on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Dale Stewart on bass, John Humphrey on drums and new member Bryan Wickmann on lead guitar.

Seether last performed at the Gramercy Theatre in 2011 and tonight's set was very similar, in that the show was a greatest hits package with the addition of five new songs. Seether opened tonight's set with a new slow-building but forceful Nirvana-esque song, "See You At The Bottom," but immediately followed with "Gasoline" and "Fine Again" from the band's debut album. Hardly a word was spoken to the audience; Seether instead played 14 songs in a workmanlike 80 minutes, and the space between songs was sometimes filled with metal riffs on loop. Morgan, positioned at stage right, alternated between smooth and raw singing while the band married crashing grunge to melodic metal so slickly polished that it sounded mainstream. New songs "My Disaster", "Crash" and "Save Today" sounded like they could have been vintage Seether, while "Rise Above This", "Tonight", "Country Song", "Fake It" and "Remedy" were in fact vintage Seether. Seether had the formula; they blended pop and noise into melodic, commercial rock.

Visit Seether at www.seether.com.

Southside Johnny & G.E. Smith at the Standard Hotel, East Village

G.E. Smith, Southside Johnny & David Broza
John Lyon of Neptune Township, New Jersey, first achieved prominence in the mid-1970s as Southside Johnny when Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes became the second act to emerge from the Jersey Shore music scene, following Bruce Springsteen. George Edward Haddad was born in rural Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and started playing guitar at age four. He became G.E. Smith and went on to play lead guitar in Hall & Oates, Bob Dylan and Roger Waters' touring bands and was the musical director of Saturday Night Live for 10 years.

In a living-room-sized glass-enclosed penthouse with a near-dusk view of the lower Manhattan skyline behind them, Southside Johnny sang and  G.E. Smith played acoustic guitar without a set list, deciding what songs to perform as they went along. In a departure from the music they normally play for large audiences, they instead sang obscure country and blues covers to an audience of less than 100 invited guests. They spontaneously invited singer-songwriter David Broza to play acoustic guitar with them for most of the set. Johnny sang and played harmonicas well, and Smith and Broza improvised beautifully on their guitars, so the impromptu half-hour jam turned out to be a delight for the chosen few who attended.