Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Dictators NYC at the Bowery Electric

Handsome Dick Manitoba
The Dictators formed in New York City in 1973 with a raw and aggressive rock and roll crudeness. The raucous band built a live reputation and following that never resulted in significant radio play or record sales, however. The members frequently split to develop other projects, yet every so often the Dictators would resurface, albeit with different members. In 2011, three former Dictators, vocalist Richard "Handsome Dick Manitoba" Blum, guitarist Ross "The Boss" Friedman, and drummer J.P. "Thunderbolt" Patterson, recruited guitarist Daniel Rey and bassist Dean Rispler to form Manitoba for some live dates. Manitoba the band morphed into The Dictators NYC by 2013. A compilation album, Faster... Louder - The Dictators' Best 1975-2001, was released on April 15, 2014.

Regardless of the name of the band, the musical marriage of Handsome Dick and Ross the Boss will result in a set list filled with signature songs by the early Dictators and its affiliate bands. At the Bowery Electric on New Year's Eve, that set list was what the Dictators NYC knew and performed. The band rocked from the start with "New York, New York," originally recorded by Manitoba's Wild Kingdom for the Mondo New York soundtrack in 1988. "The Party Starts Now" said equal truths about the band and the audience. "Avenue A" concretized the band as a Lower East Side icon. (Ironically, years after the song was originally recorded, Manitoba opened and still operates a bar called Manitoba's a block away on Avenue B.) "Who Will Save Rock And Roll?" asked a still-relevant question. Manitoba the man sang about gritty city life and superficial junk culture, all filtered through an ironic sense of humor and a bigger-than-life WWE-type personality. His impromptu between-song rambles showcased this cartoonish Bronx-born persona, and it was like Comedy Central on the Bowery. Meanwhile, his hoarse singing voice and the band's locomotive blast delivered light-hearted songs with waves of frenzied punk energy. The Dictators NYC generated a loud, hard and fun New Year's Eve party.

Visit the Dictators NYC at www.thedictatorsnyc.com.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Patti Smith at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Michael Stipe caught a birthday balloon for Patti Smith
 Before Patti Smith became a New York poet and the "Godmother of Punk," she worked on a factory assembly line in New Jersey. Inspired by the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations, she moved to New York, worked in a book store, entered a romantic relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and later Blue Oyster Cult's Allen Lanier, and joined the St. Mark's Poetry Project, spending the early 1970s painting, writing, and reciting her poetry. By 1974, Smith began turning her poetry readings into rock readings, initially with guitarist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band. Mapplethorpe did the iconic cover of her first album, 1975's Horses. Smith's first four albums were attributed to the Patti Smith Group; the subsequent seven albums were attributed simply to Patti Smith. Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Her most recent album, Banga, was released in 2012.

Patti Smith headlined two consecutive nights at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, and the second night was her 68th birthday. The audiences discovered that a frequent Smith collaborator, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., came out of seclusion to perform an unannounced six-song opening set. After intermission, Smith came on stage with Kaye and Jack Petruzzelli on guitars, Tony Shanahan on bass, and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums. Opening with a brooding, haunting "Dancing Barefoot" from her second album and gliding into the more driving "Fuji-San," a song in tribute to the people of Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Smith was in fine voice and the band was tight and fluid, building on her nuances. Smith dedicated "This Is The Girl" in loving memory of the late Amy Winehouse, followed with the song Smith co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen, "Because the Night," and her version of "The Stable Song" by South African folkie Gregory Alan Isakov. Midway through the set, Smith walked off stage and let her band members cover a couple of songs originally recorded by the 1960s group Love. When she came back on stage, the band launched into a cover of the Beatles' "Birthday." Smith daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, brought out a cake with candles, followed by Stipe, television chef Mario Batali, actor Michael Pitt, and musician Andy York. All sang the traditional happy birthday song a capella, Smith blew out the candles and dozens of large white and silver balloons fell over the audience. The regular concert resumed with "Ain't It Strange" and a seven-minute surprisingly quiet and stripped down cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which included a couple of minutes of Smith's own poetry. Also surprising, perhaps, was that "Gloria" did not close the set. Instead, she donned eyeglasses and recited then sang from a book the lyrics to a nine-minute version of "Ghandi," much like how she started her music career. For the encore, Smith sang five songs with a choir composed of her celebrity guests, strapped on a guitar and ended the show by tearing each string. Even at 68, Smith proved to be a mighty feisty rocker.

Visit Patti Smith at www.pattismith.net.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Television at Irving Plaza

Tom Verlaine
Tom Miller and Richard Hell were friends as teen-agers in Hockessin, Delaware. They separately moved to New York City in the early 1970s, both aspiring to be poets. Miller changed his name to Tom Verlaine, after the 19th century French poet, Paul-Marie Verlaine. In 1972, the reunited friends formed the Neon Boys, a trio consisting of Verlaine on guitar and vocals, Hell on bass and vocals, and Billy Ficca on drums. In 1973, the group evolved into Television and added Richard Lloyd as a second guitarist. The band became regulars on New York's burgeoning punk rock scene at CBGB's and Max's Kansas City. Hell left the group in 1975 and was replaced by Fred Smith, briefly of Blondie. Television split after the release of a second album in 1978, reforming briefly in 1992 for an eponymous third album and a 1993 world concert tour. Television regrouped again in 2001, and performed sporadically. Lloyd left the band in 2007, and was replaced by Jimmy Rip. Television continues to perform live on an irregular basis.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Television proved to be the granddaddy of the indie movement. Just when the set started to sound a bit polished, Verlaine and Rip ripped into jarring, atonal and dissonant guitar licks. Verlaine's tenor voice sounded less strangulated than in olden days, perhaps because he was now singing less in favor of longer guitar jams. The frequently extended instrumental sections roared and soared, providing color and intrigue to an anchor of heady lyrics and steady rhythms. Television performed seven of the eight tracks on its debut album, "1880 or So" from the third album, the band's first single, "Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)," and an unrecorded song entitled "Persia" that has been in the band's live set for some time. The songs generously took their sweet time. Television ended its main set with a 13-minute jam on "Marquee Moon," and returned for a six-minute encore of "I'm Gonna Find You." Television was an original 40 years ago and although it has not released new music in more than 20 years, the band's unique sound remained relevant today. The loose but intense musicianship on these old songs kept them sounding fresh. The world needs new music from Television, however.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die at the Bowery Ballroom

Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak
In order to start a band, Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak pieced together a drum set, took Adderall, and taught himself to play by practicing every day in his basement in Willimantic, Connecticut. A band started to come together as a four-piece, and as more local musicians caught the vision and joined, Shanholtzer-Dvorak moved to guitar. The fluid collective was entitled The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die (sometimes shortened to TWIABP) and was finally a band in 2009. The atmospheric indie band is as one of the flag bearers for the 2010s emo revival. TWIABP released its first full-length album, 2013's Whenever, If Ever, and most recently released the Between Bodies EP on October 7, 2014. TWIABP has undergone several lineup changes since its inception, but at last count was an eight-piece lineup with Shanholtzer-Dvorak, vocalist David Bello, guitarists Greg Horbal, Chris Teti and Tyler Bussey, keyboardist Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak, bassist Josh Cyr and drummer Steven Buttery.

TWIABP's performance at the Bowery Ballroom cannot be simply described as emo. That limited description would not relate the depth and width of the performance. Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak and Buttery strived to take the music to paces and places uncharted, while Horbal seemed to inject a primal hardcore energy. The modulation of the songs started here and then traveled there, sometimes detouring slowcore through outer space. Songs started as a whisper and ended with a scream or vice versa, with a meandering, brooding shoegaze in between. Songs built and faded and then ended abruptly. It was a raw and more experimental art-school version of Pink Floyd. It was a cerebral landscape, like a soundtrack to psychedelic movies. TWIABP's performance was weird, yet captivating.

Visit TWIABP at www.theworldisabeautifulplace.com.

Friday, December 26, 2014

I Am the Avalanche at the Bowery Ballroom

Vinnie Caruana
Vinnie Caruana was the vocalist for Long Island-based melodic hardcore punk band the Movielife from 1997 to 2003. The Movielife released three EPs and two full length albums before disbanding. Caruana formed the Brooklyn-based post-hardcore outfit I Am the Avalanche in 2004, releasing a self-titled debut in 2005. Caruana rejoined the Movielife in 2010-2011 for reunion shows, released a debut solo EP in 2013, and provided the song "It's Been Way Too Long" to the soundtrack of the film Bridge and Tunnel in 2014. I Am the Avalanche's third album, Wolverines, was released on March 18, 2014. The band presently consists of  Caruana, guitarists Brandon "Aggro" Swanson and Cory Perez, bassist John Oliva and drummer Brett "the Ratt" Romnes.

Latter day punk rockers often do not look like their spikey-haired, leather-and-studs predecessors. I Am the Avalanche is a short-haired jeans-and-t-shirt kind of band. This also expresses something about where the band has taken punk rock, from angry rebellion to emotional introspection. At the homecoming concert at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, passionate vocals, smooth musicianship and thoughtful lyrics marked I Am the Avalanche. The band opened with "Where Were You?," which referenced the devastation brought by Hurricane Sandy but in a broader light saw Caruana accusing himself for not being present to his friends and family during hard times. Even while Caruana affected a sensitive emo guy who hurts, the band's rocking guitars and slamming rhythm section drove the music to volcanic eruption. It seemed like every song was a rallying anthem, designed for audience singalongs and stage diving, and both of these goals were well executed and accomplished. Tonight was the band's last concert for some time, and also the final performance with the band for Swanson. Swanson had announced earlier in the month that he was leaving the band amicably to pursue other interests. For this occasion, IATA's former guitarist Michael Ireland and bassist Kellen Robson joined the band for one song, appropriately "Gratitude." For the encore, Caruana came onstage with an acoustic guitar and started a solo version of "Symphony." Moments later, the other musicians joined him on stage and the song was completed as a band. The show ended with "Brooklyn Dodgers," and Caruana's final move was to dive off the stage into the crowd below. For IATA, maturity set in, but still retained a bit of wild side.

Visit I Am the Avalanche  at www.iamtheavalanchenyc.com.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Dickies at the Bowery Electric

Leonard Graves Phillips with hand puppet
Inspired by the first wave of punk coming out of New York and London, the Dickies formed in 1977 in Los Angeles, California. Within a few weeks, the Dickies played the small but growing local punk circuit and quickly earned a following with their zany live show, which featured costumes, puppets, and parodies of classic rock and cartoon theme songs. The Dickies became the first L.A. punk band to score a major-label deal in 1978 and may be the oldest surviving punk band still recording new material, albeit sporadically; the band's most recent album, All This and Puppet Stew, was released in 2001. The band's present line-up consists of two original members, vocalist Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee, with guitarist Little Dave Teague, bassist Edward Tatar and drummer Adam Gomez.

The Dickies' sense of humor was alive at the Bowery Electric tonight. The pop-punk band played a wall-of-sound at blur-speed, while the cartoon-voiced lead singer peppered the fast-paced show with silly cover song, goofy hand puppets and other humorous props. The 50-minute set was packed with mostly original blitz rockers. When the band played Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" at neck-snapping velocity, was Phillips really singing lyrics or was he simply singing "fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa" along with the melody? With the instruments booming, it was hard to tell. The band also covered the Who's "See Me, Feel Me," another opportunity to transform an arena-rock anthem to pop culture camp. The Dickies got away with these stage antics. Maybe it is the ever-present, overarching spirit of lightweight fun that has kept the band and its audiences vibrant for 37 years. The Dickies may well retain the title as the clown princes of punk.

Visit the Dickies at www.thedickies.com

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band at Madison Square Garden

Bob Seger was born in Dearborn, Michigan, and lived in the area until age six when his family moved to nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan. Seger's father played several instruments, so the younger Seger was exposed to music from an early age. While in high school in 1961, Seger hit the Detroit music scene fronting a three-piece band called the Decibels. Five years later, Bob Seger & the Last Heard had a local hit, "East Side Story." The Bob Seger System hit with "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" in 1969. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band had a local hit with "Katmandu" in 1975. Seger had a unique popularity imbalance; he was headlining arenas in Michigan but was barely noticed everywhere else. The Night Moves album in 1976 finally made him a national headliner; Seger now has 13 platinum and seven multi-platinum albums. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012. Ride Out, Seger's first studio album since 2006, was released October 14, 2014. Seger lives in Orchard Lake Village, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band pulled into Madison Square Garden tonight "a little bit older and a lot less bolder," as his lyrics proclaim in "Rock and Roll Never Forgets." Under the arena's bright lights, the 69-year-old Seger appeared white haired and white bearded, wearing glasses and an untucked dark button-down shirt that did not hide his paunchy belly. Quite a lot of the audience looked like that too. (His opening song, 1982's "Roll Me Away," could have another meaning now.) Seger's string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s had evocative lyrics reflecting on times gone by; in 2014 he and his audience have that much more nostalgia to ponder. For nearly two hours, Seger and his band relived the "Old Time Rock and Roll" with some fast rock ("Hollywood Nights", "Rock and Roll Never Forgets") and a whole lot of ballads ("Mainstreet", "Like a Rock", "We've Got Tonight", "Turn the Page") and mid-tempo songs ("Her Strut", "Travelin' Man", "Beautiful Loser", "Against the Wind", "Night Moves"). He also introduced five new songs, including two covers, Steve Earle's anti-gun violence statement in "The Devil's Right Hand" and John Hiatt's "Detroit Made," an ode to Seger's home state and its automobiles. For several songs, he sat on a stool center stage and strummed an acoustic guitar, for others he moved to a piano, but for most of the set he paced the stage, punching the air on the faster songs. Standing or sitting, Seger's burly and forceful baritone, rich with tone and shading, soulfully nuanced every ache and joy of his lyrics. Whether he was rocking or crooning, Seger's singing still retained "The Fire Down Below." His 14-piece band majestically powered the backup to drive the songs to peak after peak. For lovers of classic rock, this may have been the concert of the year.

Visit Bob Seger at www.bobseger.com.

The J. Geils Band at Madison Square Garden

In the mid 1960s, the J. Geils Blues Band was an acoustic blues trio featuring John Geils (vocals, slide guitar), Danny "Dr. Funk" Klein (standup bass) and Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz (harmonica). The band found a comfortable niche within the folk music circuit in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Peter Blankenfeld, better known as Peter Wolf, was a radio disc jockey and sang in the Hallucinations, a soul group that included Stephen Bladd on drums. The two entities merged as the J. Geils Band in 1967 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and added keyboardist Seth Justman in 1969. The band attracted attention for its innovative use of the harmonica as a lead instrument. At first playing soul and blues covers, Wolf and Justman began writing original songs that kept the party feeling going. The band earned a following throughout the 1970s and hit commercially via MTV in the early 1980s with the humorous "Love Stinks", "Centerfold" and "Freeze Frame." Wolf left the group in 1983 citing artistic differences and the group disbanded in 1985. The J. Geils Band began a series of reunions in 1999 and presently consists of Wolf, Dick, Justman and Klein with hired musicians and backup vocalists; Geils himself is not in the J. Geils Band and unsuccessfully sued to prevent the group from using his name.

Opening for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band at Madison Square Garden tonight, the J. Geils Band had a rushed 45 minutes to do what the band has always done -- start the party hardy. Fronted by the animated, fast-talking Wolf, the J. Geils Band led a strong and rowdy 45-minute set, playing with explosive energy from start to finish. With no fills and no frills, the band plowed through 11 hard, sweaty rock and soul songs that included "Give It to Me", "Centerfold", "Detroit Breakdown", "Must of Got Lost", "Love Stinks", "Lookin' for a Love", "Whammer Jammer" and ended appropriately with "(Ain't Nothin' But a) House Party." Although more than 30 years have passed since the songs were first recorded, the J. Geils Band put so much fresh gusto and drive into the set that it elicited several eruptions of cheers from enthusiastic Seger fans. Classic rock and roll songs never get old, and the J. Geils Band's timeless performance brought back the blast from the past that made it fun.

Visit the J. Geils Band at www.jgeilsband.com.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Billy Joe Shaver at City Winery

Outlaw country music began in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a gritty honky-tonk alternative to the slick commercialization of Nashville country. Few of its proponents were actually outlaws, however, except for Billy Joe Shaver. From Corsicana, Texas, the country music singer/songwriter made his mark in music with his 1973 album Old Five and Dimers Like Me, but also made his mark with the authorities in 2007 when he shot a man in the face with a handgun outside a tavern in Lorena, Texas. Shaver was acquitted in a Waco court in 2010 after testifying that he acted in self-defense. Nevertheless an accomplished songwriter, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and the Allman Brothers Band were among the numerous artists who covered his songs. In 2006, Shaver was inducted in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Americana Music Convention awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting. After 41 years of recording his own songs, Shaver finally saw his album on the country charts for the first time with 2014's Long in the Tooth, which featured a duet with Willie Nelson on "Hard To Be An Outlaw." Shaver lives in Waco, Texas.

Billy Joe Shaver nearly died in 2001 when he had a heart attack on stage during a show in New Braunfels, Texas, but at City Winery tonight the 75-year-old survivor showed how alive he was. He performed for two hours, told numerous stories between songs and even danced a hoe down to his music. Admittedly, however, he looked older than his age and his voice was feebler than in his younger days, but his charming joie de vivre gave his songs a sparkle. Shaver's panoramic lyrics conjured standard images of trains, trucks, Texas, bars and broken hearts. Highlights included "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)," a song Johnny Cash recorded that Shaver wrote after he give up drugs and booze and turned to God for help, "Honky Tonk Heroes," the song that launched Waylon Jennings' outlaw image, "Wacko from Waco", a song about the aforementioned shooting incident, "Georgia on a Fast Train", "Tramp on Your Street", "Try and Try Again", "Ragged Old Truck" and "Live Forever," a song that challenges death. The performance lacked pacing, and the lengthy stories and drum solo dragged the show at times, but Shaver will be remembered as a country classic and so was worth a live listen.

Visit Billy Joe Shaver at www.billyjoeshaver.com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fishead Stew at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Left to right: Camile Baudoin & Dave Malone
When the iconic New Orleans funk band the Radiators split in 2011 after 33 years together, vocalist/guitarist Dave Malone and guitarist Camile Baudoin were not ready to retire. In short time, they formed fluid collectives including Raw Oyster Cult and Fishead Stew to continue the tradition of the Radiators. Meanwhile, the original Radiators band is reuniting for three hometown shows in January 2015, and this could develop into another national tour.

A pre-Christmas jam at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall was billed as "A Dirty Ho Ho Ho Down." Although the name of the Radiators was featured prominently in the advertising, the band was most likely Fishead Stew. For this event, the band consisted of Malone, Baudoin, keyboardist Mark Rechler (Neville Brothers, the Meters, Soulive, Rebirth Brass Band, Icons of Funk), bassist Dave Pomerleau (Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes), and drummer Eric Bolivar (Anders Osborne, Pimps of Joytime). The sum of the parts resulted in a set of lengthy New Orleans-styled funk jams that moved and grooved. At least seven of the songs were from the vast Radiators catalog. The show opened with an eight-minute version of Raw Oyster Cult's "Work It," followed by the Radiators' "Confidential" and "Barnburner," and a 10-minute Grateful Dead-styled version of Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew." Opening act Jen Durkin joined the band for a Janis Joplin-styled "Piece of My Heart," the Band's "The Weight" and the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'." The second set opened with a nearly 11-minute version of the Radiators' "Papaya." Fronted by Malone's rhythm & blues singing, punctuated by the sparkling twin guitar work of Malone and Baudoin and backed by the bouncy, rocking funk improvisations from the whole team, this was solid music that even smelled and tasted like the swamps and bayous of Louisiana.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre

Left to right: Marty Balin, Jack Cassady,
Justin Quip, Jorma Kaukonen
Jefferson Airplane took a break from touring in 1969 while singer Grace Slick recovered from throat node surgery that had left her unable to perform. The remaining members of the band formed a spin-off group, Hot Tuna. Jefferson Airplane split in 1972, but Hot Tuna, led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Cassady, lived on. Hot Tuna tours annually and always performs a late fall concert at New York's Beacon Theatre. In 2010, the band celebrated Kaukonen's 70th birthday (which falls on December 20) with guest musicians Warren Haynes, Bob Weir, John Hammond, and Chris Smither. The 2014 concert was billed as Cassady's 70th birthday bash, a real stretch as his birthday was on April 13. Former Airplane vocalist Marty Balin, who has been touring the small club circuit with his own band, was named on the marquee bill.

The line-up of Hot Tuna always has been fluid. Tonight it included the reunion of Kaukonen, Cassady and Balin, along with several frequent collaborators, mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff, vocalist Teresa Williams, her husband, fiddler/guitarist Larry Campbell, guitarist G.E. Smith, and drummer Justin Guip. The evening started with Cassady on stage alone, improvising skillfully on the bass. Kaukonen came on stage with an acoustic guitar and the duo segued into "Hesitation Blues." Mitterhoff, Campbell, Smith, and Guip joined for the second song, the folk-rocking "I See the Light." Williams joined and lent a gospel bent with the third song, "Children of Zion." Balin came on stage and started an Airplane revival, leading on "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover." Williams returned to gospel with "Wade in the Water" before leading the Airplane's "Somebody to Love." After intermission, Balin came out with his two musicians, guitarist Chuck Morrongiello and bassist Lloyd Goldstein, for three low-key songs, then they were joined by the rest of the ensemble for a tribute song to the deceased Hot Tuna violinist "Papa" John Creach. Williams then gave her own vocal twist to the Airplane's "White Rabbit." The music stopped when what looked like Cassady's signature bass guitar was wheeled out. It was a birthday cake, however. Casady blew out the candles and then told the audience, "I want to see everybody back here in 10 years for my 80th birthday." Appropriately, Williams then sang the Grateful Dead's "Sugaree." Mitterhoff, Campbell and Smith sang lead on a few other songs as well. The concert ended four hours after it began with two encores, Balin leading a rocking version of the Airplane's "Volunteers" and everyone singing on "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning." The 27-song concert was packed with delightful surprises, so it was not a traditional Hot Tuna concert, but more like Jorma & Jack with friends. For the longtime fans in attendance, it was a joyous and unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime event.

Visit Hot Tuna at www.hottuna.com.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Figgs at the Bowery Electric

Mike Gent & Pete Donnelly in the audience
High school friends Mike Gent (guitar), Pete Donnelly (bass), and Guy Lyons (drums) formed the garage pop Figgs (originally the Sonic Undertones) in 1987 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Lyons temporarily left the band in 1989 and was replaced by Pete Hayes. Lyons returned in 1992, this time on lead guitar, to make the band a quartet, but left the band again in 1997. The remaining three Figgs forged on, recording nine albums and backing both Graham Parker and Tommy Stinson of the Replacements. The three band members now live in Boston (Gent), New York (Hayes) and Philadelphia (Donnelly), touring and recording only sporadically. The Figgs most recent album release is 2014's limited edition Badger LP, an expanded reissue of the earlier Badger six-song EP.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, the Figgs performed 29 songs in two sets. The band opened with three songs from its most recent album, "Three Times a Riff", "Smoking a Lot" and "Gone to Seed." In case anyone missed the Figgs' fondness for 1960s British Invasion songs, the band wore its influences well, covering the Kinks' "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" and the Who's "Christmas." A specialty in light-hearted  lyrics also became obvious with "Who's Your Mother Out With Tonight?", "Low Fi at Society High", "Favorite Shirt" and "Cherry Blow Pop." The soft melodies and sweet harmonies were backed by a rocking, stomping energy, but the set was less a display of amazing musicianship than it was a tribute to early pop sounds. Maybe it is this cheerful, upbeat center that has kept the Figgs endearing and enduring all these 27 years.

Visit the Figgs at www.thefiggs.net.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Thurston Moore Band at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Thurston Moore
Thurston Moore was born in Coral Gables, Florida, and was raised in Bethel, Connecticut. As a young adult, he enrolled at Western Connecticut State University, but instead moved to New York City to join the burgeoning post-punk/no wave music scenes. Once in the city, Moore sang and played guitar in many bands, the most successful being Sonic Youth and Chelsea Light Moving. The Thurston Moore Band was formed for his fourth solo album The Best Day, released on October 21, 2014. Moore currently lives in London, England.

There was a time when maybe this would have been unimaginable. Old punk Thurston Moore performed at a corporate-sponsored event tonight. Norton and Pandora teamed to present a concert by the Thurston Moore Band as part of the companies' BoldlyGo Concert Series. Select Pandora listeners were treated to an open bar and concert at the Marlin Room (capacity 500) at Webster Hall while silk-screen printer Hit and Run pressed free limited-edition souvenir posters in neon paint. Shortly after 9 p.m., the 56-year-old godfather of grunge, with mussed hair, sneakers, black trousers and plaid snap-button shirt, came onstage with his new band. The musicians tuned until it became their first song, an 11-minute version of "Forevermore," most of which seemed to be one droning chord being strum. Okay, well at least it was not feedback and dissonance; that would come later. The second song, an eight and a half minute "Speak to the Wild," similarly toyed with simplicity, fed into a more freeform arrangement, and then returned to the main structure of the song. "Thank you, nice to be here. We are who they say we are," Moore said to the audience before introducing his band: guitarist James Sedwards, bassist Debbie Googe (My Bloody Valentine,  Primal Scream) and drummer Ryan Sawyer. "This next song was written for and dedicated to Chelsea Manning, professional whistle blower. Please send your thoughts and wishes to her. It’s called 'Detonation' and it is also dedicated to our new friend Masha of Pussy Riot." The main set consisted of six of the eight songs from Moore's most recent album and the 30-minute encores of "Pretty Bad" and "Ono Soul" were from his first album Psychic Hearts. Moore's closing words: "See you around. Protest." Moore, a master of artistic freedom and aural distortion, often sang atonally and utilized unusual guitar tunings for discomforting timbres and drones. The band's performance was as driving and experimental as one would have expected from Sonic Youth or any of Moore's other bands, but we could have done well with shorter songs and less feedback and distortion.

Visit Thurston Moore at www.thurstonmoore.com.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pop Evil at the Gramercy Theatre

Leigh Kakaty
Leigh Kakaty was born in Kingston, Ontario, but grew up in North Muskegon, Michigan, a very white, conservative city. He enjoyed Tupac Shakur and Led Zeppelin and was not sure where he would fit in the rock world. Kakaty has been quoted as saying "I am too white to be a rapper and too dark to be a pop star." (He is biracial; his father was dark from India and his mother was white). His first job was as a studio tech, and he also worked as a studio engineer. In 2001, he set out to sing in TenFive, a band that would embrace radio pop and hard rock. That band evolved into Pop Evil, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pop Evil presently consists of Kakaty, rhythm guitarist and co-founder Dave Grahs, lead guitarist Nick Fuelling, bassist Matt DiRito and drummer Josh "Chachi Riot" Marunde. Pop Evil's third and most recent album, Onyx, was released in 2013.

Often on tour as an opening act, Pop Evil headlined the Gramercy Theatre tonight. Grinding guitars played in the darkness, followed by the mid-tempo pounding of drums before the lights came on and the five musicians appeared on stage, all dressed in black. Kakaty began singing "Flawed" from the band's most recent album, a song addressing the feeling of not being enough. Harmony vocals filled the choruses. The sound was big, yet tame enough for mainstream rock radio. Theatrics were minimal beyond a few risers at the edge of the stage, helping the performance emphasize the nature of the songs and the identity of the band, that of positive-minded blue collar Americans surviving the odds. The set specialized in arena-style classic rock, but softened somberly for the slower power ballads "100 in a 55", "Monster You Made" and Kakaty performing solo on acoustic guitar for a stirring take on "Beautiful." Other slower tempo songs featured full thrust rock, including "Hero." For 15 songs and 75-minutes, Pop Evil did an excellent job marrying sweet melodies, badass swagger and fist-pumping rock.


Visit Pop Evil at www.PopEvil.com.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

HIM at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Ville Valo
In 1991, several high school friends in Helsinki, Finland, formed a heavy rock band called His Infernal Majesty. In short time, the band abbreviated the name to HIM and became Finland's biggest rock act and musical export. HIM sold over 8 million records, including the best-selling single of any Finnish artist and five albums certified platinum in Finland. In 2006, HIM became the first Finnish band to have a gold album in the United States. HIM's current lineup consists of original members Ville Valo on vocals, Mikko "Linde" Lindström on guitar, and Mikko "Migé" Paananen on bass, with later members Janne "Emerson Burton" Puurtinen on keyboards and Mika "Gas Lipstick" Karppinen on drums. Him released four re-mastered albums and a limited edition box set, Lashes to Ashes, Lust to Dust: A Vinyl Retrospective ’96-’03, on November 25, 2014.

HIM opened an eight-concert tour at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, and performed a 22-song career retrospective. The large "heartogram" logo emblazoned on the amplifiers indicated both the sentimentality and metal edge of the band's make-up. Opening with the  dance beat and guitar riffs of 2003's "The Sacrament" and 1999's "Razorblade Kiss," HIM escorted metal far from its dangerous inclinations to explore and embrace its romantic potential, even as the vulnerable lyrics sometimes tasted the dark side. The band performed its anticipated better-known songs, including the foreboding sounding "Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly" and "Killing Loneliness," but surprisingly included "Love's Requiem," which never before had been performed live. "This Fortress of Tears" and "Heartache Every Moment" had not been performed live since 2005, and "Bleed Well" and "Killing Loneliness" had not been performed live since 2010. Valo was a rather ordinary baritone and front person, but seemed authentically cut from a melancholic, suffering-soul composition. When Valo backed off, the band charged through heavy riffs and melodic leads. As if to show that the band was not all about heart-tugging sensitivity, the set closed with an encore cover of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell," with Linde throwing his guitar to the fans at the end of the song. This kind of metal is not for everyone, but it did seem to be for a lot of people.

Visit HIM at www.heartagram.com.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Smashing Pumpkins at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Billy Corgan
Billy Corgan was born in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, and grew up with his blues guitarist father in Glendale Heights, Illinois. While in high school, he gave his savings to his father to buy him a used guitar, and the younger Corgan taught himself to play the instrument. He performed in bands in high school and in 1985 at age 19 he moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, to play with his first working band, a goth band called the Marked. The band dissolved, and Corgan moved back to the Chicago area, worked in a record store and formed the alternative rocking Smashing Pumpkins in 1988, writing Cure-inspired mope-rock. Corgan added personnel and the Smashing Pumpkins became one of the biggest selling bands of the 1990s, selling over 20 million albums in the United States alone. Internal disputes, drug use, and diminishing record sales led to a 2000 break-up, but Corgan began using the brand name again in 2007 with various line-ups. The Smashing Pumpkins' 10th album, Monuments to an Elegy, was released on December 9, 2014.

The last time the Smashing Pumpkins performed in New York, the band headlined the Barclays Center and released a DVD of the show. Tonight, on the eve of the new album release, the Smashing Pumpkins performed at the much smaller Grand Ballroom of Webster Hall. Comprised of Corgan, guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Killers bassist Mark Stoermer and Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk, the band performed an almost two-hour set that featured five songs from the new album, 10 older songs, a cover of David Bowie's "Fame" and concluded with an as-yet-unreleased song from a forthcoming album. With Corgan's snarly vocals way up front and a hard and heavy power-pop behind him, the band opened without fanfare with the new "One and All (We Are)" and "Being Beige." Often singing with eyes closed, Corgan sang angst-filled lyrics to a dense wall of sound driven largely by his and Schroeder's power chords. With pop melodies competing against loud guitars, much of the music seemed delivered by a raging bulldozer, such that the few softer moments provided temporary sonic relief. Audience response was greater to familiar songs like "Hummer", "Tonight, Tonight", "Disarm", "Zero" and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings." In all, the Smashing Pumpkins hosted a 1990s revival, grounded in re-tooled and refined alt-rock.

The Smashing Pumpkins will headline at the Brooklyn Bowl on December 13. Visit the Smashing Pumpkins at www.smashingpumpkinsnexus.com.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Celebrating Don Hill—A Night of Live Music" at the Hills NYC

Stephen Trask
After many years as the greeter at a popular mainstream rock music club, Kenny's Castaways, Don Hill started booking shows at the short-lived Cat Club in 1984. By 1993 he was ready to open his own club, Don Hill's, in Greenwich Village and later in SoHo, with a hit formula -- create a hot nightclub that would attract both trendy rockers and drag queens. Hill died suddenly in 2011, and the club closed a few weeks later.

Squeezebox was among several weekly theme nights at Don Hill's. At these drag events, composer Stephen Trask and artist John Cameron Mitchell developed a theater act combining live rock and drag, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Eventually moving out beyond Don Hill's, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was initially had limited success as an off-Broadway show and film. The film later developed a larger cult following through DVD circulation. The rock musical was revived on Broadway in 2014 and won four Tony Awards.

Meanwhile, the club of its genesis reopened in September as the Hills NYC, and Trask and the Broadway cast returned to where it all began to perform a tribute to the original club's founder on December 7. "Celebrating Don Hill—A Night of Live Music" featured Trask, who originally birthed the songs on that stage with his then-band Cheaters, and cast members Michael C. Hall, Lena Hall, Miriam Shor, and Shannon Conley. The house band was Tits of Clay (Tim Mislock, Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Peter Yanowitz), the off-stage alter ego of the band performing as the Angry Inch in the Broadway production. Most of the one-hour set was comprised of covers of punk rock songs, ending with a series of Hedwig songs. The concert also included guests David Johansen (who sang "Funky But Chic" from his days with the New York Dolls) and Fred Schneider (who sang "Planet Claire" by the B-52's). The event benefitted Road Recovery, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to helping young people battle addiction and other adversities by harnessing the influence of entertainment industry professionals who have confronted similar crises and now wish to share their experience, knowledge, and resources.
Fred Schneider

Lena Hall

David Johansen
Michael C. Hall

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Madball at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Freddy Cricien
Freddy Cricien, also known as Freddy Madball, lived in Florida when his older half-brother Roger Miret was in New York hardcore punk band Agnostic Front. Cricien was about seven years old when he relocated to New York and began to ride along with his brother on tour. Agnostic Front initially let Cricien sing along with their cover of the Animals' "It's My Life." In 1988, Agnostic Front formed a side band, Madball, around 12-year-old Cricien singing previously unused Agnostic Front songs. Several personnel changes later, Madball evolved into a separate band by 1994. In 2000, Cricien was charged with attempted criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to six months in prison. The band dissolved in 2001 but reformed in late 2002 with a new line-up. Madball presently consists of Cricien, guitarist Bryan "Mitts" Daniels, bassist Jorge "Hoya Roc" Guerra and drummer Mike Justian. Madball's ninth album, Hardcore Lives, was released on June 27, 2014.

In 1989, Cricien yelped "hardcore lives" on Madball's debut EP, Ball of Destruction. Twenty-five years later, he still means it. Madball's current tour celebrated the 20th anniversary of the band's iconic 1994 debut album, Set It Off. At the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, the Set It Off songs served as Madball's testament to New York's original hardcore spirit and legacy, and fans responded with serious stage diving and moshing. Focusing more on heaviness than speed, the energetic set plowed through the hall like a meteor scraping planet Earth. Now 38 years old, Cricien has spent nearly four-fifths of his life committed to hardcore and for this homecoming gig poured himself out onstage. He roared from the gut as he paced the stage perpetually. Between songs, he frequently developed camaraderie by pep-talking the community of fans, occasionally in Spanish. The band then rallied them with a catalog of Set It Off songs and new songs like the anthemic "Doc Marten Stomp" and the flag-waving "Hardcore Lives." Along with Agnostic Front, Madball is a cornerstone of the New York hardcore scene, and the band's live rumble embraced and gave new life to New York's rich hardcore tradition.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Relient K at the Gramercy Theatre

Matt Thiessen
Vocalist/guitarist Matt Thiessen and guitarist Matt Hoopes formed Relient K in 1998, their junior year in high school in Canton, Ohio. They named their pop rock band after Hoopes' automobile, a Plymouth Reliant K car, with the spelling intentionally altered to avoid trademark infringement over the Reliant name. The band released three studio albums in the Christian rock and punk market before hitting the mainstream in 2004 with MmHmm, which featured the crossover singles "Be My Escape" and "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been." Relient K has released nine studio albums, the most recent being 2013's Collapsible Lung.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Relient K celebrated the 10th anniversary of MmHmm by keeping the set list simple. The band performed the 14 songs from the album in order, walked off the stage and then returned for an eight-song encore drawing from five other albums and a forthcoming album. The set sparkled with the band's wry wit in songs like "The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse Is Betting on One" and "Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet," with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that had little to do with the titles. While there was always something amusing in the lyrics and the performance, the band demonstrated a more serious side as well with "More Than Useless" and "Let It All Out," and closing the main set with the emotional "When I Go Down," featuring vulnerable lyrics pondering an internal struggle with sin and reconciliation with God. The audience got it; the fans bounced, cheered and sang along to virtually every song. The revelry continued through encores that began with "Sadie Hawkins Dance," during which Robin (as in Batman and Robin) danced on stage and then dove into the audience for a bit of crowd surfing. Oddly, the band ended the concert by walking off stage to a blasting "Turn Down for What" by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, turning the wholesome Christian audience into ravers. As they exited the theater, many in the audience sang along to that hip hop standard as well.

Visit Relient K at www.relientk.com.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Red Dragon Cartel at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Jake E. Lee
Jake E. Lee was born Jakey Lou Williams in Norfolk, Virginia, and grew up in San Diego, California. His mother had him take classical piano lessons when he was six years old and he was playing Bach concertos and winning state competitions by age 10, but he gravitated to his older sister's guitar by age 13. Based on the formal training he had from piano, he became a self-taught rock guitarist. While in high school, he changing his name to Jake E. Lee and formed a popular local band called Teaser. He then played briefly in Ratt, Rough Cutt, and Dio. Lee is best known for his five years as Ozzy Osbourne's lead guitarist. After a break, Lee helped form Badlands in 1988; the band split 1993. Lee then quietly released solo albums and occasionally played on other people's albums, but basically withdrew to a quiet family life in Las Vegas, Nevada. He formed Red Dragon Cartel in 2013. The new band was culled from over a thousand submissions from a "Jake E. Lee needs a lead singer and drummer" Facebook page. They chose the name Red Dragon Cartel as a nod to Lee’s Japanese heritage. A self-titled debut album was released on January 28, 2014. Red Dragon Cartel is presently Lee, Darren James "D.J." Smith of Warmachine on vocals, Lee's former Badlands band mate Greg Chaisson on bass, and Jonas Fairley of Black Betty on drums.

Headlining the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, Chaisson, Smith and Lee began by facing Fairley as he pounded tribal rhythms. They turned to face the audience and performed "The Ultimate Sin" with Lee's trademark guitar riffs, but with Smith singing with bluesy soul , very unlike Osbourne's version. Drawing a set from three Osbourne, five Badlands and five Red Dragon Cartel songs, Smith did not copy the vocals of those who recorded the original versions, but sang in his own style, often sounding much like Paul Rodgers in his Bad Company days. Harmonizing the various epochs into one sound, Red Dragon Cartel more closely recalled the classic dark, heavy and raucous sounds of Dio and Blackmore's Rainbow, with melodic singing very much in front and guitar wizardry between lyrics. The night belonged to Lee, however, who remained off to the right of the stage most of the night. His dazzling, crushing guitar licks drove the songs to masterful levels. By his extended solo on the last encore, "Bark at the Moon" from the Osbourne era, the night had proved to be a showcase for Lee's superior talents. Red Dragon Cartel's concert was a time trip to classic, old-school, riff-rocking heavy metal.

Visit Red Dragon Cartel at www.reddragoncartel.com.

Killcode at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Tom Morrissey & D.C. Gonzales
Vocalist Tom Morrissey and guitarist Chas Banellis in 2008 had a vision of recreating a classic rock sound with a more modern metal edge and began recording original songs at Banellis' home studio in New York City. The duo shared the rough vision and recruited similar-minded guitarist Pat Harrington, bassist Erric Bonesmith and drummer Rob Noxious, who added form to this skeleton. The band began playing the local rock club circuit and helped establish an underground hard rock scene. Killcode released six-song EPs in 2008 and 2010, and a self-titled debut album in 2012. D.C. Gonzales replaced Harrington on guitar in 2013.

How does a band from New York wind up sounding like a southern rock band? It is a mystery that even Killcode may not understand fully. Opening for Red Dragon Cartel tonight at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall, Killcode again proved that New York is the mecca for hybrid rock music. Killcode's songs were hard rocking, as raw as punk and also as heavy as metal, smoothed with classic rock dueling guitars and southern rock vocal melodies. The band's deep bottom sound at times made the songs sound as sludgy as a four wheel drive in mud, but then Morrissey's melodic vocals cleared the dirt from the windshield for rallying hooks and choruses. After having played on every New York stage several times, the hard-working Killcode has refined its sound and is now ready to revive and save classic rock.

Visit Killcode at ww.killcode.net.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hot Tuna at the Highline Ballroom

More than 50 years ago, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady met as teen-agers living in Washington, D.C., and soon began jamming together. Casady was a lead guitarist and Kaukonen was a rhythm guitarist then. While in college, Kaukonen became enamored of Rev. Gary Davis' finger picking style and began imitating it, while Casady, still in high school, began applying his guitar style to the bass. Kaukonen moved to San Francisco, California, and performed in folk clubs. He was invited to help form Jefferson Airplane, and he recruited Casady as bassist. The Airplane, one of the most successful bands of the 1960s psychedelic scene, went on hiatus in 1969 while vocalist Grace Slick recovered from throat node surgery, so the remaining members began playing live as Hot Tuna. The early sets consisted of Jefferson Airplane songs and covers of American folk and blues songs. Although originally an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna's live album in 1970 helped establish the group as a fixed entity of its own, even as the group frequently changed personnel and alternated between acoustic blues and electric rock.

The two night engagement at the Highline Ballroom was billed as "Hot Tuna Acoustic Duo feat. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady." Tonight, the second night, Hot Tuna performed two sets of a dozen songs each. The two sat on stools as Kaukonen sang and played acoustic guitar and Casady played electric bass. The repertoire featured songs from Hot Tuna and Kaukonen solo albums and even two Airplane songs, "Trial by Fire" and "Good Shepherd." Leaning in the direction of Kaukonen's forthcoming acoustic solo album, the evening's set focused more on songs by Rev. Gary Davis (seven songs!) and other traditional folk and blues songs than on Hot Tuna originals. Virtually all of the songs were nearly a half century old and many of the songs, including "Hesitation Blues", "Mama, Let Me Lay It on You" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" were first recorded before any members of Hot Tuna were born. Their performances were classic, however. Kaukonen had a natural voice for down-home blues and his finger-picking skills were extraordinary. The only ambience missing was a wooden porch and a swing.

Hot Tuna returns to the Beacon Theatre on December 13, 2014. That show is billed as "Jack Casady's 70th Birthday Bash - Electric Hot Tuna w/ Marty Balin and special guests G.E. Smith, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams and Justin Guip." Visit Hot Tuna at www.hottuna.com.