Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Dictators NYC at the Bowery Electric

Handsome Dick Manitoba
The Dictators formed in New York in 1973 as a punk band before the punk scene existed. Glam rock ruled the local scene, and the Dictators' music was far more testosterone-driven compared to the tights, platform shoes and make-up that energized the more popular club bands like the New York Dolls and Kiss. The Dictators was a proto-punk band that gained a rabid following but sold virtually no albums and who were frequently booed when opening for more mainstream headliners in concert halls. After several near splits, the band finally ended in 1981, with members joining Twisted Sister, Manowar, the Fleshtones, the Del-Lords, Shakin' Street and Manitoba's Wild Kingdom. Many reunions later, a core Dictators lineup in 2011 became Manitoba, then in 2013 became the Dictators NYC; the band presently consists of vocalist Richard "Handsome Dick Manitoba" Blum, guitarists Ross "the Boss" Friedman (also known as Ross Funicello) and Daniel Rey Rabinowitz, bassist Dean "The Dream" Rispler and drummer J.P. "Thunderbolt" Patterson.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, the ever-verbose Manitoba told many stories between songs. At one point, he reflected on the band's disappointing lack of success in the 1970s, yet gave thanks that on New Year's Eve 2015/2016, the band was playing for 200 friends. Now past 60 years of age, he and the band rocked stronger and with more heart than bands one third of their age. Manitoba's outsized humorous personality dwarfed his limited vocal range and rallied the audience to chant along to the choruses. Rey and the Boss played fiery leads that powered the front of the locomotive and the heavy rhythm section exploded dynamite at the back end. The set ranged from old Dictators songs to several songs from Manitoba's Wild Kingdom and a cover of the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams"; the only new song was the recently released single "Supply and Demand." The Dictators NYC brought classic big fun back to New York rock and roll.

Visit the Dictators NYC at www.thedictatorsnyc.com.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Phish at Madison Square Garden

Trey Anastasio
Since forming at the University of Vermont in 1983, Phish has attracted an ever-multiplying cult following of Phish-heads. Originally known as Blackwood Convention, the band began by playing Grateful Dead songs on campus. By the time the band line-up solidified in 1986, vocalist/guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman had transferred that sound well onto original compositions. Tours and albums followed, and Phish went on hiatus in 2004, but was greeted by an even larger following upon its return in 2009. Phish released its 13th and most recent studio album, Fuego, on June 24, 2014.

Phish headlined four sold out concerts at Madison Square Garden to close out 2015 and welcome 2016. Tonight, opening night, the band performed for close to three hours as one song melted into another amid extended jams. Opening with "Sample in a Jar," Anastasio sang well and played dizzying leads on his guitar that were as spellbinding to hear as to watch. For nearly three hours, the interplay between his guitar and McConnell's keyboards was masterful, as if they were playing with one mind, whether it was a bass-triggered funky number or a dreamy interlude. Early in the set, as the band played "Simple," McConnell teased a bit of "Magilla," his piano-based jazz instrumental that was his first original song contribution to the band's repertoire. Phish surprised even the most die-hard Phish fans in the second set by suddenly dropping a bouncy new Dead-sounding honky-tonk boogie, "Can't Always Listen," in the middle of the funky "Ghost." Phish ended the second set with "Weekapaug Groove," which inserted an "What's the Use?" and into which Anastasio teased a bit of "Auld Lang Syne." By the end of the encore, a comparatively brief "Character Zero," Phish had proved that there has been no better jam band in the 21st century.

Phish's concert series at Madison Square Garden continues until January 2.

Visit Phish at www.phish.com.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Clutch at Terminal 5

Neil Fallon
As high school friends in Germantown, Maryland, the members of Clutch began rocking in 1991 under various names, including Glut Trip and Moral Minority. After an early change in vocalists, Clutch solidified as Neil Fallon (vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards), Tim Sult (lead guitar), Dan Maines (bass) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums). The band began as a hardcore punk band because those were the easiest gigs to get, but quickly transitioned into a hard rock band. Clutch released its 11th studio album, Psychic Warfare, on October 2nd, 2015.

Headlining at Terminal 5 tonight, fans were greeted by fans that insisted "no crowd surfing tonight; no exceptions." The sign worked. Maybe there should have been another sign that said no shoving or fighting, because the crowd near the stage was as aggressive as Clutch's music. Fallon's raspy vocals were deep and bellowing shouts that burst over ZZ Top-styled guitar power chords and a hard, driving rhythm section. Short-haired, full bearded Fallon commanded all the attention, pacing the stage and exaggerating postures; the other band members were efficient but stared at their instruments and barely moved. Fallon did not speak much, but introduced "Noble Savage" to the recently deceased Lemmy Kilmister, recalling that Clutch opened two tours for Motorhead. Like Motorhead, the fundamental core of Clutch's music was blues-rooted rock and roll, like 1950s Bo Diddley given maximum speed and volume and a gritty singer. In total, eight of the 18 songs were from Clutch's current album, and four were from the previous album, leaving six songs from four older albums. Clutch was grooving in the present, not dwelling in the past. Some 25 years in, Clutch performed better now than ever.

Visit Clutch at www.pro-rock.com.

Monday, December 28, 2015

As Tall As Lions at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Dan Nigro
In 2001 in Long Island, New York, several high school friends were playing in a band called Sundaze. As personnel changed, the remaining musicians in 2002 formed As Tall As Lions, a more adventurous band that mixed soft rock and ambient music through thoughtful lyrics and crisp harmonies. The new band recorded three albums and nurtured a cult audience before playing its final shows at the Highline Ballroom in December 2010. The musicians then worked on independent projects. After five years apart, however, the band announced a series of reunion gigs in Los Angeles and New York.

As Tall As Lions' first of two nights at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight saw many family members hanging over the balcony to welcome the band to its hometown stage. Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Nigro, guitarist Saen Fitzgerald, bassist Julio Tavarez and drummer Cliff Sarcona were joined onstage by a horn section and started the set with "Stab City." Throughout the set, the band's textured soundscapes were tight and so well-rehearsed that it was easy to dismiss that the band had not performed these songs in five years. The musicians have not written new songs, so the evening was a retrospective, with about half of the songs coming from the band's self-titled album. The musicians followed their old formula, backing Nigro's soft vocals with a powerful backup that repeatedly escalated and deescalated as the mood demanded. If Nigro was in danger of forgetting his lyrics, he had the support of the audience, which sang along loudly for most of the songs. When the band performed its farewell concerts in 2010, the showroom was the much smaller Highline Ballroom; the reality that the band now was playing its largest venue ever in New York indicated that its audience has only grown over time and As Tall As Lions' unique take on commercial alternative rock is more in demand than ever.

Visit As Tall As Lions at www.astallaslions.com.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Slim Kings at Hill Country Barbecue + Market

Born in New York City, Michael Sackler-Berner's career could have gone in many directions. His grandfather was psychiatrist/entrepreneur/ philanthropist Arthur M. Sackler, his dad was a television and film producer, and his mother was an arts and social justice activist. His sister, however, left a beat-up guitar lying around the house, and there an 11-year-old boy found his life path. He played in bands throughout his teen years, and studied Music Technology in Montreal, Canada, where he also founded a garage rock band called Hearts of Palm. Following university, Sackler-Berner returned to New York City and began performing as a solo artist under his initials, MSB, and recorded an album. In 2011, Sackler-Berner cold-called the first drummer he ever saw in concert, Liberty DeVitto, who played with Billy Joel for 30 years, and a band was born. The Slim Kings' album, Fresh Socks, was released in 2012. The Slim Kings recently became slimmer, trimmed from a quartet to a trio consisting of Sackler-Berner, DeVitto and bassist Andy Attanasio.

At Hill Country Barbecue + Market tonight, the Slim Kings performed two different sets, so the repertoire was expansive, including new songs. The Slim Kings borrowed from classic rock in that many songs seemed to originate from a modern interpretation of blues and then added flashy guitar and hard hitting rhythm from the bass and drums. Sackler-Berner's breathy, soulful vocal style was also from an earlier era, when lyrics were clearly heard over the instruments. Each song was distinct, well crafted, and consistent in that they remained true to the band's foundational rock and roll roots. While the band continues adjusting to the power trio format, the Slim Kings still command attention and deserve a listen.

Visit the Slim Kings at www.slimkings.com.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Los Lobos at City Winery

David Hidalgo
Vocalist/guitarist/accordionist David Hidalgo and guitarist/drummer Louie Pérez started writing songs together while in high school in East Los Angeles, California. By 1973, they enlisted fellow students Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, mandolin) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron). Originally, they called themselves Los Lobos del Este (de Los Angeles) ["The Wolves of the East (of Los Angeles)"], but the name was quickly shortened to Los Lobos. At first, Los Lobos played Top 40 rock and roll covers, but the band became a local favorite when the band members began experimenting with the traditional Mexican music they listened to as children. The band performed at hundreds of weddings and dances between 1974 and 1980. When Los Lobos added a rock sound, the band moved into the club circuit on the other side of the Los Angeles River. By this time the band also included saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin and drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzalez. Los Lobos gained international notoriety in 1987 with a cover version of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba." Los Lobos released its 24th album, Gates of Gold, on September 25, 2015.

At City Winery tonight, Los Lobos inventively combined rock and roll, Tex-Mex, country, folk, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional Latin music including cumbia, bolero and norteño. The attraction was not that the band did any one of these styles especially well; the mastery was in the mix. The versatile performance was a thick gumbo of rich Mexican and American roots and artistry. Cheers greeted Hidalgo halfway through the set when he strapped on his accordion for the first time, and the audience was transported south of the border. The band performed five songs from the current album and one song each from at least eight albums, and featured guest spots from vocalist Syd Straw and guitarist Marc Ribot. Los Lobos had won over the audience long before the closing cover of the Grateful Dead's "Bertha."

Visit Los Lobos at www.loslobos.org.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Todd Rundgren at the Gramercy Theatre

Todd Rundgren started playing in bands almost 50 years ago in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He first joined a blues rock band called Woody's Struck Stop in 1966 and then formed his own garage-rock band, the Nazz, in 1967. The Nazz had some near hits, but Rundgren left that band in 1969 and relocated to New York, where he formed Runt in 1970. Rundgren became a solo artist in 1972 and scored with a remake of the Nazz's "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw the Light." Rundgren's "Bang the Drum All Day" was a minor chart hit in 1983, but became more prominent in subsequent years and is now considered one of Rundgren's most popular songs. From 1974 to 1985, he led the progressive rock band Utopia, and later played in Ringo Starr's All-Starrs and in the short-lived New Cars. Since the mid-1990s, Rundgren has been based in Kauai, Hawaii. He released his 25th solo album, Global, on April 7, 2015 and an experimental dance electronica collaboration, Runddans, on May 3, 2015.

"An Evening With Todd Rundgren" at the Gramercy Theatre tonight was a retrospective concert of Rundgren's more mainstream work. In recent years, Rundgren has recorded or performed backed by disc jockeys, orchestras and computers. This time, he assembled a band of former compatriots, keyboardist John Ferenzik, bassist Kasim Sulton, guitarist Jesse Gress and drummer Prairie Prince, and contrasting some of his big productions of decades ago, this band played on a no-frills stage. Rundgren and band opened the show with "I Saw the Light" and moved through 24 songs, including two Nazz songs and five Utopia songs, and performed them more or less in original form. The earlier part of the two-hour concert majored in his more familiar 1970s-era catalogue, while the later part of the set explored the deeper cuts of some of his albums. The set balanced Philly-inspired blue-eyed soul , melodic power pop, and extended instrumental rock jams. The band was in full-on rocker mode for much of the set, but Rundgren made room for his rhythm and blues-styled ballads, including covers of the Impressions' "I'm So Proud," Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby," and Marvin Gaye's "I Want You." Rundgren's vocals were rough at the beginning of the set, but smoothed out after a few songs. Overall, this was the set that Todd Rundgren fans had been craving for decades.

Visit Todd Rundgren at www.todd-rundgren.com.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Foals at Terminal 5

Yannis Philippakis
Vocalist/guitarist Yannis Philippakis and drummer Jack Bevan disbanded their math rock band The Edmund Fitzgerald so that they could play in a band that was more fun. With guitarist Jimmy Smith, keyboardist Edwin Congreave, and bassist Walter Gervers, they formed the indie rock band Foals in 2005 in Oxford, England. Foals immediately became very successful in the United Kingdom. The band's fourth album, What Went Down, was released on August 28, 2015.

Headlining tonight at Terminal 5, Foals put on an energetic rock set that drew from the band's four albums and was as polished as it could be. Philippakis' vocals were clear and soulful, motivating the audience to chant along with him on verses as well as choruses. The quintet accentuated pop melodies and shoegaze instrumentation -- shoegaze in that they played extended instrumentals with no lead instruments. Some of these extensions were charged by heavy riffs, and some were buoyed by tranquil waves of mood-instilling softness. Foals ignited the audience with rallying vocals and repetitious chords rather than wowing the fans with the individual musicians' virtuosity. As a live ensemble, Foals' driving grooves electrified its audience, but the audience's most memory might be how Philippakis leapt into the audience three times, twice from the stage and once from Terminal 5's first balcony.

Visit Foals at www.foals.co.uk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Between the Buried and Me at Irving Plaza

Tommy Rogers
After the 2000 demise of their metalcore band Prayer for Cleansing, vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Rogers and guitarist Paul Waggoner formed a new band in Raleigh, North Carolina. Between the Buried and Me was named from a lyric in a Counting Crows song, "Ghost Train." Stabilizing its lineup in 2005, Between the Buried and Me presently consists of Rogers, Waggoner, guitarist Dustie Waring, bassist Dan Briggs and drummer Blake Richardson. The band's seventh studio album, Coma Ecliptic, was released on July 10, 2015.

Headlining at Irving Plaza tonight, Between the Buried and Me performed its brand of progressive metal, which took complex compositions from technical metal arcs and death metal grinds to jazz interludes. The band opened with "The Coma Machine" from the most current album, a science fiction opus which explores the dilemma of a man in a coma revisiting his past life and deliberating whether to stay or move on to a better life. If the concept alone was not mind-bending enough, the staggering tempos in the songs were prepared to complete the job. The band performed fan favorites from several albums, but the novices to this music may have been profoundly challenged to follow the jarring rhymes and reasons. That these diverse movements and musical styles could be performed together at all was very impressive.

Visit Between the Buried and Me at www.betweentheburiedandme.com.

Enslaved at Irving Plaza

Grutle Kjellson
Guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson (also known as Kjetil Grutle) formed extreme metal band Enslaved in 1991 in Haugesund, Norway, when they were 13 and 17 years old, respectively. The band name was inspired by an Immortal demo track, "Enslaved in Rot." Bjørnson and Kjellson are the only remaining original members, but by 2004 the line-up solidified with guitarist Arve "Ice Dale" Isdal, keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen and drummer Cato Bekkevold. They are currently based in Bergen, Norway. Enslaved's 13th and most recent album, In Times, was released March 10, 2015.

Opening for Between the Buried and Me tonight at Irving Plaza, Enslaved performed only six lengthy songs from five albums. Enslaved's performance was on the more gentle realm of the extreme metal spectrum. Chugging along in an almost shoe-gaze manner to odd chord sequences, shifting from loud to low and back to loud again, amid a few vocal screeches, Enslaved moved far from its death metal roots to a more epic progressive metal sound. The crashing drums and heavy guitar chords frequently contrasted the lighter keyboard fills, until they united for either harsh or mellow movements within the complex song structures. Much like Opeth, Enslaved bravely explored melody and noise and everything in between to create imaginative metal music.

Visit Enslaved at www.enslaved.no.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sting at Carnegie Hall

Gordon Sumner was born in Wallsend, England, where he helped his father deliver milk and later worked as a bus conductor, building laborer, tax officer and schoolteacher while playing bass in local jazz bands. A fellow jazz musician thought he looked like a bee in his black and yellow sweater with hooped stripes and nicknamed him Sting. Stewart Copeland, drummer with prog rock band Curved Air, persuaded Sting to leave his teaching job in 1977 and relocate from Newcastle to London where together they would form the Police. The Police became one of the world's most popular rock acts until its demise in 1983, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Solo and with the Police combined, Sting has won 16 Grammy Awards and has sold over 100 million records. Sting's 11th and most recent solo album, The Last Ship, was released in 2013.

Although Sting has performed in more than 20 multi-artist benefit concerts at Carnegie Hall, tonight's benefit was the first time he ever performed alone on the bill. For "An Evening with Sting: Symphonicities," Sting was backed by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, under the musical direction of conductor/musical arranger Rob Mathes. Sting began his set aptly with "Englishman in New York," with the enthusiastic audience singing along to the lyric, "Be yourself, no matter what they say." "I sincerely hope that THIS Englishman in New York has earned a place here," he said, revering Carnegie Hall for being a "hallowed, sacred venue." Sting's unique vocals carried the set, which included solo and Police songs and a cover of Frank Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" with Chris Botti on trumpet. Hearing Sting backed by an orchestra was majestic, even though the orchestral backing softened the catalogue so that often it seemed like Sting was singing all standards. The audience responded especially favorably to the Police songs: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," which Sting dedicated to his departing manager of 38 years; "Roxanne"; "King of Pain"; "Every Breath You Take"; and a final encore of "Message in a Bottle," which he played solo on acoustic guitar. The personable singer also shared amusing anecdotes about his life and his songs between most songs. The concert may have been among Sting's finest moments, and also raised over $2 million for music education programs at Carnegie Hall.

Visit Sting at www.sting.com.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Ludlow Thieves at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Danny Musengo, Bruno Esrubilsky & Laura Martin
New York-based guitarist Dan Teicher recorded a few original songs but was disappointed with his own vocals. He sought someone with a unique voice. He met Danny Musengo, who had relocated from Guttenberg, Iowa. Musengo had recently been the sole survivor of an automobile accident that claimed seven lives, and was seeking peace and purpose through music. After trial and error, the Ludlow Thieves by 2012 became a sextet featuring Teicher, Musengo, co-vocalist Laura Martin, violinist Amanda Lo, keyboardist Isamu McGregor, and drummer Bruno Esrubilsky. The Ludlow Thieves' third EP, Sing Me Back, will become available on December 18.

Although the band has no record contract or major distribution, the Ludlow Thieves has been headlining local venues, including the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight. Drawing from alt-folk, pop and a dash of gospel, the Ludlow Thieves opened a window to a fresh breeze of sunny sounds. Musengo often sang extended notes like Marty Balin, and with Martin singing along, the dual counterpoints recalled Jefferson Airplane. Teicher's jangly guitar work gave gravity to the structures and Lo's chamber violin ignited an earthy chime to many songs. Perhaps the Ludlow Thieves' cover of the Who's "Baba O'Reilly" was a nod to classic rock influences, but Teicher's songs and the Musengo-Martin vocal delivery impressively towered over any need for resonating tunes of the past. The Ludlow Thieves is an experiment in progress, but tonight's performance proved that the band's diverse components are very close to merging into a unified heartland heartbeat.

Visit the Ludlow Thieves at www.theludlowthieves.com.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fall Out Boy at Basketball City

Patrick Stump
Several musicians in Chicago's hardcore punk rock scene sought a pop punk side project and formed Fall Out Boy in 2001 in suburban Wilmette, Illinois. They took the name Fall Out Boy from the fictional character in The Simpsons and Bongo Comics. Success came rather quickly, with the band finding itself at the forefront of the "emo pop" movement in the mid-2000s. After selling millions of records, Fall Out Boy took a hiatus from 2009 to 2013, during which the members pursued individual projects. Fall Out Boy presently consists of vocalist/keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Patrick Stump, lead guitarist Joe Trohman, bassist Pete Wentz and drummer Andy Hurley. Fall Out Boy's sixth studio album, American Beauty/American Psycho, was released on January 20, 2015. Fall Out Boy also released a remix version of that album, Make America Psycho Again, featuring several rappers, on October 30, 2015.

Headlining the Pandora Holiday Live concert tonight on a makeshift stage at Basketball City, Fall Out Boy performed a high energy pop rock set whose unfettered intensity was the only element that hearkened to the band's punk roots. Otherwise, the songs were rich with agreeable melodies and infectious hook lines. The audience responded heartily to the string of hits, with Stump engaging the fans to sing the chorus of "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" and other songs. As Fall Out Boy performed "Immortals," scenes from Big Hero 6, the animated film that featured the song, were projected behind the band. Along with the originals, Fall Out Boy covered Michael Jackson's "Beat It," and "Uma Thurman" included the melody line from the theme to The Munsters. The dizzying pace of the stage lighting matched the frenetic all-out rocking performance for much of the show. Fall Out Boy excelled as a pop emo band and kept its young fans happy.

Visit Fall Out Boy at www.falloutboy.com.

Panic! At the Disco at Basketball City

Brendon Urie
Four high school friends formed Panic! At the Disco in 2004 in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin, Nevada. Panic! At the Disco started as a Blink-182 cover band. While the musicians were still in high school, Panic! At the Disco began posting original songs online, and the band was discovered by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. Two original members left shortly after the band began recording and touring, and a third member left in 2014, leaving vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Brendon Urie to continue Panic! At the Disco with hired musicians. Panic! At the Disco's fifth album, Death of a Bachelor, is scheduled for release on January 15, 2016.

Panic! At the Disco opened for Fall Out Boy the Pandora Holiday free concert tonight at Pier 36 Basketball City, played before contest winners and streamed live to Pandora listeners. The performance was centered on Urie's range of vocals and animated stage presence, with Urie charging forth and the musicians supplementing Urie's direction. Hook lines abounded, and Urie frequently left his station by his sequencers to work the crowd. The majority of the set sounded like a more dynamic 1980s new wave dance-pop, with faster songs approaching a rocking peak. The set leaned more on newer albums, including the singles from the forthcoming album, but all five albums were represented. The curious addition was a fairly faithful cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Panic! At the Disco presented a few curves and twists in the musical arrangements, but overall the performance was drenched in sparkling, bouncy, commercial fare.

Visit Panic! At the Disco at www.panicatthedisco.com.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tesseract at Irving Plaza

Daniel Tompkins
In 2003, guitarist Alec "Acle" Kahney sought to experiment beyond his band Mikaw Barish. He posted clips of his heavy and technical guitar work on online forums and the feedback helped him improve his technique. He formed progressive metal band Tesseract in 2007 in Milton Keynes, England. Due to Kahney's new guitar style, Tesseract became one of the pioneers of the djent movement in progressive metal. Tesseract has released three studio albums, a live album, and two EPs. The most recent studio album, Polaris, was released on September 18, 2015. Tesseract presently consists of Kahney on lead guitar, returning vocalist Daniel Tompkins, rhythm guitarist James 'Metal' Monteith, bassist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones.

Tesseract concluded its North American tour tonight with a headlining engagement at Irving Plaza. Daniel Tompkins, who was Tesseract's vocalist from 2009 to 2011, returned to the band in 2014, and the reunion proved a fine match. Tompkins' clean vocals frequently soared like a melodic power metal anthem with an emphasis on long, drawn out notes, but when the music transitioned to gritty, he brought back the harsh growl that had been missing from Tesseract in recent years. While Tompkins was the main focal point, Kahney's djent guitar style was coarse and gave the band its guts. Polyrhythmic riffs and odd time signatures gave the band its progressive credentials, but expansive atmospheric interludes quieted the swirling music with ambient layers that contrasted the djent. Tesseract combined technical, progressive metal with a crooning vocal style and cranking, headbanging djent for interesting results.

Visit Tesseract at www.tesseractband.co.uk.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Over the Rhine at the Highline Ballroom

Karin Bergquist
Vocalist/guitarist Karin Bergquist and pianist/guitarist Linford Detweiler met in 1989 while attending college in Canton, Ohio. Detweiler had been playing in a band called Servant. Bergquist and Detweiler formed Over the Rhine as a folk quartet, but in time became a duo with support from various musicians. The band took its name from its home base neighborhood at the time, Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio. Karin and Linford married in 1996 and nearly a decade ago relocated to a pre-Civil War farm in Hillsboro, Ohio. Over the Rhine has released 13 studio albums, the most recent being the band's third holiday album, 2014's Blood Oranges in the Snow. Detweiler also has recorded and released three solo projects composed of home-recorded, piano-based acoustic music.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, Over the Rhine focused at last half of its set on Christmas or winter songs. These were not the cheerful songs one would hear at any holiday party, however. A cover of Merle Haggard’s "If We Make It Through December" and many other covers and original lyrics featured dark observations of isolation, loneliness and loss. "My Father’s Body" directly acknowledged the empty seat at the holiday table, for instance. The songs sometimes came close to the religious root of Christmas but then detoured, as in "Bethlehem," which explored the irony that the birthplace of Jesus became among the most conflict -filled areas of the world. The set also showcased non-holiday songs from albums such as 2013's double Meet Me at the Edge of the World. Bergquist sang with a lovely, aching inflection and her husband's harmonies made the songs even more graceful. A refuge from the noise and clutter of the season, the charmingly sparse arrangements were so light and airy that one could hear oneself breathe. This was "reality Christmas" and a very unique holiday concert.

Visit Over the Rhine at www.overtherhine.com.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Corrosion of Conformity at the Gramercy Theatre

Pepper Keenan
In 1982 in Raleigh, North Carolina, guitarist Woody Weatherman, vocalist/bassist Mike Dean, and drummer Reed Mullin formed Corrosion of Conformity (also known as C.O.C.) as a hardcore punk band. Many musicians came and went (Weatherman has been the only consistent member), but perhaps the best-known line-up consisted of the three original member plus vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan, who served the band from 1989 to 2006. By this time, Corrosion of Conformity had evolved into a heavy metal band. Corrosion of Conformity was on hiatus from 2006 to 2010, while Pepper recorded and toured with his hometown band, Down. Dean returned in 1993, Mullin rejoined in 2010 when Weatherman began reforming the band, and Keenan reunited the classic personnel in 2014. Corrosion of Conformity's ninth and most recent studio album, IX, was released on July 1, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, signs of Corrosion of Conformity's punk roots were nonexistent. To call Corrosion of Conformity a metal band was also a bit of a stretch, although closer thanks to the music's loud and powerful thrust. Tonight's performance was more a kin to old school hard rock, with most songs being mid-tempo brooders, with only a sliver of thrash or speed metal  sneaking in for spice. The 14 songs were all from the band's most successful period, in which Keenan was a member, and introduced no new songs or even songs from recent albums. Keenan's gritty vocals along with raging guitar leads from Keenan and Weatherman gave new life to the 10- to 25-year-old songs. The Deliverance Revival Tour marked the resurgence of vintage COC; now the public only needs new music.

Visit Corrosion of Conformity at www.coc.com.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear at City Winery

Madisen Ward grew up watching his folk-singing mother, Ruth Ward, play acoustic guitar and sing cover songs at coffee shops in Kansas City, Missouri. As Madisen matured, he gravitated from writing fiction to writing songs that blended old-world folk with a modern pop rock sound. Mother and son began performing these new songs together, with both singing and playing acoustic guitar. Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear's debut album, Skeleton Crew, was released on May 18, 2015.

As the set opened at City Winery tonight, Madisen and Ruth sat with only their acoustic guitars. They finger-picked and alternated lead vocals on the mid-tempo call-and-response of the opening song, "Down in Mississippi," setting the tone for a homespun back-porch performance. They were joined by a bassist and a drummer on the second song. Madisen sang husky lead vocals on most of the verses, while Ruth sang with a much lighter touch. Madisen and Ruth also balanced each other by finger-picking solos when the other strummed. Perhaps because they have been at each other's side since Madisen was born 26 years ago, there seemed to be intuitive chemistry between them as they supported each other in the music. Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear performed most of the debut album, but Ruth also sang a slow, sparse adaption of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams." The show ended with a rousing version of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear's soulful folk concert demonstrated a potential to reach far beyond the Americana circuit.

Visit Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear at www.madisenwardandthemamabear.com.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Sword at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Kyle Shutt & John D. Cronise
Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, John D. Cronise first wanted to become a comic book artist. Inspired by Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, however, Cronise started playing guitar at the age of 13. He joined local rock and roll bands but then made a career move in 1999 to Austin, Texas. Cronise wrote and recorded music on his own for a few years until in 2003 he formed the Sword, first as a trio and shortly after as a quartet. The heavy metal band currently is composed of Cronise on vocals and guitar, guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie, and drummer Santiago "Jimmy" Vela III. Vela continues to live in Austin, but Richie moved 40 miles north to Tyler, Texas, Cronise moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and Shutt is relocating to Brooklyn with his fiancée in January 2016. The band's fifth album, High Country, was released on August 21, 2015.

Headlining tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, the Sword performed a blues-based stoner metal that seemed to hearken back to the earliest days of hard rock, when it was still experimental and jam-based. The guitar chords and riffs came hard and heavy, backed by a low-tuned bass and crashing drums. Cronise's vocals gave the songs a lighter melodic structure, but stepped back in favor of dark riffs and soaring guitar leads on every song. Although the band has slowly moved from its original metal sound to a more hard rock sound, the band remains a bit too rough-sounding for mainstream audiences. Nevertheless, a swelling core base should sustain the band.

Visit the Sword at www.theswordofficial.com.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Twin Fog at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village

Sebastian Blanck
Sebastian Blanck was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1998 from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Since 2002, he has shown his art in solo exhibitions and group shows. Blanck similarly captures his view of the world via songwriting. He released a folk-influenced solo album in 2010 entitled Alibi Coast. As Blanck was developing new songs to record for what he originally intended to be another solo album, he found his musical soul mates and instead formed the New York City-based Twin Fog in 2013. The band is comprised of Blanck on vocals and guitar, Chris Robertson on guitars, keyboards and vocals, Richard Baluyut on bass, and Joey Bouchard on drums. Twin Fog's debut album, The 8th Year, will be released in 2016.

Twin Fog performed its second concert ever, and the first in New York, tonight at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel. Blanck retained his signature pop sound in this band, but the input from the other musicians allowed for edgier song constructions, including augmented countermelodies and deeper grooves. The lyrics were canvases featuring portraits of people, capturing emotional relationships and animating them through driving pop rock music. The marriage of art sensibilities with musical rhythms charmed like a tender embrace, but the bottom line is that the listener would have to be a fan of pop music to enjoy Twin Fog's new art.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Salt Cathedral at the Ace Hotel

Vocalist/programmer Juliana Ronderos and guitarist Nicolas Losada are from Bogotá, Colombia, but are currently based in Brooklyn, New York. The duo used to play in a rock band called Il Abanico, but since 2011 are a dreamwave/chillwave band called Salt Cathedral, named after an underground church built in a salt mine in Zipaquirá, Colombia. Salt Cathedral's second EP, Oom Velt, was released on September 9, 2014.

Concluding a month of Sundays at the Ace Hotel tonight, Salt Cathedral performed an ethereal electro-pop set that was big on light, airy vocals along with synth and samples backdrops. Ronderos crooned into the microphone and spun dials on her electronic devices while her silent partner, Losada, strummed jazzy chords on an electric guitar. The flighty music featured layered arrangements and a few gripping hooks with gliding vocals for a trance-like effect. Presently, the indie music scene is glutted with electronica artists, but Salt Cathedral's forward-thinking compositions should help the duo stand out among its peers.

Visit Salt Cathedral at www.saltcathedralmusic.com.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

G.E. Smith, Chad Smith, Will Lee at Irving Plaza

G.E. Smith
George Haddad began playing guitar at the age of four in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. As a young adult, he left the Poconos for the New Haven, Connecticut area, and later moved to New York and became the guitarist for Gilda Radner's 1979 Broadway show Gilda Live. Now known as G. E. Smith, he went on to become the lead guitarist for Hall & Oates, Bob Dylan and Roger Waters, as well as the musical director of Saturday Night Live.

Chadwick "Chad" Smith was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but spent most of his childhood in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He started to play drums at age seven. Later, Smith moved to California to pursue his musical aspirations. He has drummed in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot and recorded with many artists.

William "Will" Lee IV was born in San Antonio, Texas, but started playing in bands at age 12 in Miami, Florida. Upon moving to New York, he played with several bands but is best known for his work on The Late Show with David Letterman. Lee also performs in a Beatles tribute band, the Fab Faux.

Hang around the New York music scene long enough and you will see all three of these musicians jam in various bands. Tonight the trio came together to headline at Irving Plaza, simply billed as G.E. Smith, Chad Smith, Will Lee. The set mostly consisted of covers and instrumentals. The cover songs were hardly meant to emulate their popular versions, however, but rather became the skeletons for extended jams, with G.E.'s vocals simply as bookends. The three musicians demonstrated exceptional skill at their craft and, with no album to promote, played simply for the love of creating music. For the audience, the thrill of the experience was in watching expert musicians ripping masterfully and passionately on their instruments almost spontaneously. Local music lovers need to encourage them to a repeat performance.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Morning Jacket at the Beacon Theater

Jim James
In 1998 Louisville, Kentucky, Jim James began writing acoustic songs that were not appropriate for his demising band, Month of Sundays. He recruited several former members of a Shelbyville-based emo-punk band, Winter Death Club, and the first line-up of My Morning Jacket was formed. James was inspired to name the new band after finding a tainted coat emblazoned with the letters MMJ. The band currently consists of vocalist/guitarist Jim James, guitarist Carl Broemel, keyboardist Bo Koster, original bassist Tom Blankenship, and drummer Patrick Hallahan. My Morning Jacket released its sixth album, The Waterfall, on May 4, 2015.

My Morning Jacket announced that it would perform completely different set lists at its four nights at the Beacon Theatre. Tonight was the second night, and like the first, it dug deep into the band's catalog. The set featured the band's earlier psychedelic side first before gravitating to newer, high energy anthems. My Morning Jacket started with "The Dark" from the band's 1999 debut album, The Tennessee Fire. Rooted in rock and country, the set occasionally hinted at dub and reggae influences and often drifted into experimental and psychedelic jams. In addition to songs not performed in a few years "You Wanna Freak Out" and "Movin Away," the set included several surprises. James' take on "Nothing to It" from the Bob Dylan tribute compilation, Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. Opening act Strand of Oaks (a.k.a. Timothy Showalter) returned to the stage to sing " Wonderful (The Way I Feel)." The set also included "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)," a song from James' solo album. Rather than assembling a slick greatest hits package for the masses, My Morning Jacket designed this show to please its hardcore fans.

Visit My Morning Jacket at www.mymorningjacket.com.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre

Jack Casady & Jorma Kaukonen
Hot Tuna formed in 1969 as a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane while vocalist Grace Slick was recovering from throat node surgery and was unable to perform. Hot Tuna began by covering many Airplane tunes and adding traditional blues and folk songs. When Slick was ready to resume singing, the members of Hot Tuna returned to Jefferson Airplane. Hot Tuna performances were intermittent, sometimes even opening for the Airplane, until the demise of the Airplane in 1972. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady then turned Hot Tuna into a full-time band. Hot Tuna's most recent album is 2011's Steady as She Goes.

This weekend's Hot Tuna concerts at the Beacon Theatre celebrated Kaukonen's 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane. Tonight, the second night, the first part of the set consisted of Kaukonen, Casady and drummer Justin Guip performing mostly Americana tunes. Kaukonen used two electric guitars, one for the bluesy songs and the other for the folkie songs. Kaukonen's blues work was impressive, but when he played the folk songs, he was outstanding, perhaps the best in the field, with a busy finger-picking style hearkening back to Rev. Gary Davis. The set ended with two rockers, "Funky #7" and "Hit Single #1." The second set featured a larger ensemble performing Jefferson Airplane songs. Vocalists Jeff Pehrson, Rachel Price (Lake Street Dive) and Teresa Williams, and guitarists G.E. Smith (on a rare 12-string Telecaster!) and Larry Campbell joined the three core musicians. Kaukonen and Casady, the only Airplane members onstage, for the most part laid back, however, and let others direct the music. Here is where the evening began to tread water, as these covers paid tribute but reflected little of the magic of the original versions. Twenty-five songs after it all began, all 10 musicians jammed on the Grateful Dead's "Sugaree." Overall it was a pleasant show, honoring the vast history of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane.

Visit Hot Tuna at www.hottuna.com.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

!!! at the Bowery Ballroom

Nic Offer
Vocalist Nic Offer formed !!! (pronounced "Chk Chk Chk") as a dance punk band in 1996 in Sacramento, California. The band's name was inspired by the subtitles of the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which the clicking sounds of the Bushmens' Khoisan language were represented as "!". The band !!! is composed of Offer, Mario Andreoni (guitar), Dan Gorman and Allan Wilson (horns/percussion/keys), Tyler Pope (bass/various electronic devices), and Paul Quattrone (drums). The band currently is based in New York City, Sacramento, and Portland, Oregon. The band's sixth album, As If, was released on October 16, 2015.

!!! headlined at the Bowery Ballroom tonight and had its fans dancing from the first note until the last. Dressed in a plain t-shirt and short shorts, Offer also danced throughout the show, several times even in the audience. As the band played simple dance grooves, Offer sang in his best Sam Smith falsetto. It all seemed tongue-in-cheek, like faux disco to make the listener chuckle and dance simultaneously. Nevertheless, the trap house beats, the sinewy bass lines and the chigga-chigga guitar lines were real and thoroughly retro. It may be a novelty, but !!! revved up a party spirit very well.

Visit !!! at www.chkchkchk.net.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Public Image Ltd. at the PlayStation Theater

John Lydon
In 1975 London, England, manager Malcolm McLaren was impressed by John Lydon's image and fashion style. McLaren invited Lydon to become the singer of the newly-formed Sex Pistols. Renamed Johnny Rotten, Lydon subsequently became the poster boy of the punk movement. The Sex Pistols disintegrated in 1978 and Lydon formed the more experimental Public Image Ltd. (PiL), which recorded eight albums under various line-ups and then went on hiatus in 1992. In subsequent years, Lydon performed in several Sex Pistols reunions, hosted television shows in the UK, US, and Belgium, wrote two autobiographies, and recorded a solo album. Lydon resurrected Public Image Ltd. in 2009 and recorded two more albums. The band's 10th album, What the World Needs Now..., was released on September 4, 2015.

In 1981, Public Image Ltd.'s first New York concert at the Ritz nearly caused a riot when the band performed new improvisational material live behind a projection screen while the band's albums played simultaneously through the speakers. Lydon taunted the audience from behind the screen and the public responded by throwing bottles at the screen. Tonight's two-hour performance at the PlayStation Theater was tame in comparison. Lydon turns 60 in January, and he looks like he is double the weight of his bad boy days of 35 years ago. Still spikey-haired, he wore two earrings in each ear and a black-and-white-striped prison-styled pants and top, partly decorated with safety pins. Instead of the snarl from ages ago, he frequently sucked his upper lip into his lower lip. Half of the set was comprised of newer songs and half were older songs given a new twist. Guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith hit on a funk or dub reggae groove, and Lydon sang his lyrics, barely moving away from his microphone and sheet music stands. He frequently became Patti Smith, extending many songs with what seemed to be stream-of-consciousness lyrics and acerbic social commentary. The uneven set shifted between the angry passion of Lydon and Edmonds' interplay and languishing tedium from repetitive trance-like rhythms. PiL's magnet was the legendary Johnny Rotten, even as Lydon these days evolves more into poet than performer.

Visit Public Image Ltd. at www.pilofficial.com.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fuzz at the Bowery Ballroom

Charles Moothart
In 2011, Charles Moothart, the second guitarist in the Ty Segall Band, was looking to create a vehicle for his heavy guitar riffs. Segall moved from guitar to drums, and Fuzz was born. The garage-rock trio presently also features bassist Chad Ubovich, and all three musicians sing lead. Fuzz's second album, II, was released on October 23, 2015.

Fuzz was an appropriate name for the band's performance tonight at the Bowery Ballroom. While the three instruments were played clearly, there was an overall fuzz to the sound and even to the mood of the songs. Hearkening back to the bluesy acid rock sounds of early classic rock, Fuzz looked and sounded like Blue Cheer, a late 1960s mega-thrusting, ear-bleeding trio also from the Bay Area of California, but probably owed more to the heavy rock influence of Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. Powered by Moothart's riffs, riffs and more riffs, Fuzz was pure stoner rock with a  dash of punk vocals. The question remains whether Fuzz will continue as a side project or if it will disappear and melt its sound back into the Ty Segall Band.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lettuce at the PlayStation Theater

Erick Coomes
Lettuce began in 1992, when the members were teenagers attending a summer music program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1994, the musicians reconvened as undergraduates at Berklee and asked jazz club owners and other musicians if they would "let us play," giving birth to the name Lettuce. The core of Lettuce has remained intact since then. Its members consist of guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam "Shmeeans" Smirnoff, keyboardist Neal Evans, bassist Erick Coomes, drummer Adam Deitch, and the Shady Horns (saxophonist Ryan Zoidis and trumpeter Eric "Benny" Bloom). The funk band has since relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and its fourth album, Crush, was released on November 6, 2015.

Lettuce lit up the funk for two headline nights at the PlayStation Theater. Playing a mostly instrumental set, Lettuce specialized in uptempo grooves and plenty of symbiotic jams. Riveted in place by the solid rhythm section, the guitars, keyboards and horns provided the bright, melodic leads. Occasionally the music would drift towards psychedelia, but for the most part focused on its smooth, jazzy foundation. Sounding very much like an updated Average White Band, Lettuce kept the energetic jams warm and bouncy, inducing considerable hip-swaying in the audience. For the finale, the band was joined by rhythm and blues singer Nigel Hall, who sang a soulful medley of "Makin’ My Way Back Home", "Do It Like You Do" and a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up." For more than two decades, Lettuce has ignited dance parties by injecting rich textures and fiery vitality into classic funk rhythms; the closing night show at the PlayStation Theater was equally impressive and refreshing.

Visit Lettuce at www.lettucefunk.com.

Friday, November 13, 2015

tobyMac at the Theater at Madison Square Garden

DC Talk was the hugely successful rap-rocking Christian equivalent of the Beastie Boys from 1987 to 2001. Between five DC Talk albums and six solo albums, Kevin Michael McKeehan, better known by his stage name tobyMac, has sold more than 10 million albums. His sixth studio album, This Is Not a Test, (stylized as ***This Is Not a Test***) was released on August 7, 2015. Originally from Virginia, tobyMac is presently based in Franklin, Tennessee.

TobyMac and his band, Diverse City, brought their signature mix of pop, rock, hip hop, Latin, and funk to the Theater at Madison Square Garden tonight. Utilizing a video backdrop and a stage that projected into the audience in a T shape, tobyMac opened with a new song, "Til The Day I Die," and finished the electrifying set 20 songs later. Looking and sounding at times like Justin Timberlake, tobyMac rapped, crooned, danced and even prayed to jumping, good-timey pop music. Each of the three opening acts (Hollyn, Colton Dixon and Britt Nicole) joined tobyMac on stage at various points, and one song, "Love Feels Like," reunited tobyMac via lyric video with Michael Tait and Kevin Max of DC Talk. Not only did tobyMac sing well, but each song was built colorfully and intriguingly around a thick and clever arrangement. This performance proved that if tobyMac could ever break through to the mainstream, he would amaze pop, rock and hip hop audiences.

Visit tobyMac at www.tobymac.com.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dir en Grey at the Gramercy Theatre

Kyo
Dir En Grey formed as a metal band in Japan in 1997. The name was composed of words from several languages so that it has no specific meaning other than the band's name itself. Originally a visual kei band, Dir En Grey has opted for less dramatic attire in recent years. The five members each go by a single name: vocalist Kyo; guitarists Kauro and Die; bassist Toshiya; and drummer Shinya. That line-up has been since its inception. Dir En Grey released Arche, its ninth and most recent album, on December 10, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Kyo () wore a long white robe and draped his head in a low hanging black fabric that partially concealed his face mysteriously. Positioned over a bright light and fan for most of the show, Kyo swayed, squatted and spun, and the robe and drape billowed and created shadow effects. As Kyo unwrapped the shroud, the audience saw a man with bizarre face paint that included two eyes painted above his real eyes. Kyo's voice dynamics echoed his dramatic movements; alternating between a cower, a reach for the sky, and nearly every position in between, Kyo's voice similarly ranged everywhere from a whispering croon to a guttural scream. A listener frequently might not understand what he sang, but his movements and vocals were hypnotic and elegant. Behind him, the musicians sometimes played a simmering backdrop or played scraping industrial, progressive and experimental metal. Free from clichés and commercial hooks, the songs were innovative and daring, designed more to be experienced than heard. The concert was non-traditional and uniquely rarefied.

Visit Dir En Grey at www.direngrey.co.jp.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dead & Company at Madison Square Garden

John Mayer and Bob Weir
The Grateful Dead formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, and while the core band enjoyed great success and stayed together over the next 30 years, it was haunted by many deaths. Following the death of guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia in1995, the remaining members formally decided to disband. These surviving members reunited in various combinations, however, including the Other Ones, the Dead, Furthur, and the Rhythm Devils. In addition, many of the musicians started their own bands, all of which played Grateful Dead music. In the summer of 2015, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart reunited for five stadium concerts called "Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead," stating that this would be the last time that the "core four" would perform together. The Grateful Dead's music would live on, however. Shortly after the stadium concerts, Lesh toured with his own band, Phil Lesh & Friends, while Weir, Kreutzmann, and Hart announced the formation of Dead and Company with guitarist John Mayer, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, and bassist Oteil Burbridge, playing 20 arena concerts from October to December 2015.

Dead and Company's third concert at Madison Square Garden was sponsored by American Express, and tickets were distributed free via lottery. Despite the mix of old and new musicians, the entire concert was comprised of songs that the core musicians had played in concert since at least 1978, with a couple of songs that stretched as far back as 1967. Mayer, an accomplished blues and pop artist, sang and played lead guitar well on songs largely composed before his birth in 1977. Mayer added a gritty, swampy layer to the songs, but otherwise the concert was yet another retread for the vast and undying Dead Head community. Dead & Company was not the Grateful Dead, but instead the remaining scraps of the Dead's legacy. For Dead Heads everywhere, Dead & Company will have to do, at least until the next inevitable combination of surviving musicians reunites.

Visit Dead & Company at www.deadandcompany.com.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Amaranthe at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Elize Ryd
Vocalist Joacim "Jake E." Lundberg and guitarist/keyboardist Olof Mörck had performed in various bands in their native Sweden when they joined forces to form a new melodic power metal band in 2008. This band, originally called Avalanche before changing the name to Amaranthe in 2009, was to be different in that it would alternate three types of lead vocalists. Amaranthe's present line-up consists of Lundberg on clean male vocals, Elize Ryd on clean female vocals, Henrik Englund on unclean vocals, Mörck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Løwe Sørensen on drums . Following three studio albums, Amaranthe released a compilation, Breaking Point - B-Sides 2011-2015, on October 30, 2015, consisting of b-sides and bonus tracks.

Amaranthe headlined tonight at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall as part of a 22-date North American Massive Collision Tour. Lundberg bowed out of the tour due to a family emergency, however, and Chris Adam Hedman Sörbye, the lead singer of Swedish rock band Smash into Pieces, replaced Lundberg on clean male vocals. The three vocalists frequently sang on the same songs, with the Ryd and Adam dual-gender clean-singing effect contrasting sharply with Englund's death growls. The band opened with newer songs, "Digital World" and "Trinity" before digging into the catalog with "Hunger" from 2011's debut album. Ryd then expressed approval of the intimate setting of the small venue; indeed, she had already reached out and touched many fans during the opening songs. While most of the music was radio metal for the masses, the band periodically hammered some crunching power chords, which were quickly offset by floating synth lines and Ryd's soaring vocals for an epic sound. The mix constantly hovered between light and dark, dwelling mostly on the sunny side. Perhaps more than any band before it, Amaranthe mastered the unlikely combination of commercial power metal with elements of underground metal in doses small enough to challenge without going over the edge. Marketed to the right audience, Amaranthe could be huge.

Visit Amaranthe at www.amaranthe.se.

Soldiers of Fortune at Max Fish

In 2004, bassist Brad Truax of Interpol and Spiritualized conceived of an anti-band in which several musicians would gather periodically to play together but never write songs, rehearse, tour, record or make any products for public consumption. Soldiers of Fortune came together as an anarchic improvisational collective, but a traditional convention snuck in and a debut album, Early Risers, will be released on November 6, 2015. The loose collective consists of Truax, drummer Kid Millions (Man Forever, Oneida), keyboardist Barry London (Oneida), and guitarists Matt Sweeney (Chavez ), Jesper Eklow (Endless Boogie), Mike Strallow (a.k.a. Mike Bones), and Patrick Sullivan (a.k.a. Papa Crazee of Oneida and Oakley Hall).

Soldiers of Fortune performed at a record release party in the basement of Max Fish tonight. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, Steve Malkmus & the Jicks), who contributed to the album, joined the core anti-band for the evening. The club had no stage, sound system or lighting system. Instead, instruments and amplifiers were lined lengthwise along a narrow hallway. Eventually, the musicians began gathering and tuning their instruments. At an undefined moment, the tuning evolved into the composition. The five guitarists, the keyboardist, the bassist, and the drummer turned toward the center of their grouping and mostly stared at their instruments or kept their eyes closed, never once looking up at the audience of about 50 people. No one seemed to be directing either the general compass or the solos. The octet played one improvisational piece for over an hour, slowing down and speeding up, with sporadic grunts, howls and chants from several musicians. For the listener, the experience perhaps was at times harrowing and grating, and at times magnetic and hypnotic. Spontaneous chaos rubbed against instantaneous creativity, swinging from unconstruction into lucid construction and then back into deconstruction. What happened tonight can never happen again -- at least not exactly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Blind Guardian at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Hansi Kürsch
Blind Guardian formed as a speed metal and power metal band in the mid-1980s in Krefeld, West Germany. Ten musicians have been a part of the band's line-up in its history, but since 2005 has consisted of vocalist Hansi Kürsch, lead guitarist André Olbrich, rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen, and drummer Frederik Ehmke. Barend Courbois is the band's new bassist. Kürsch and Olbrich compose the music, with Kürsch's lyrics frequently inspired by fantasy fiction authors, traditional legends and epics. As such, fans see the band members as travelling storytellers and have nicknamed Blind Guardian "The Bards." Blind Guardian released its 10th studio album, and the first in five years, Beyond the Red Mirror, on January 30, 2015.

Although Blind Guardian has existed for some 30 years, the current 22-date tour is only the band's fourth tour of North America. At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, Blind Guardian performed songs from all its albums except, curiously, A Night at the Opera. Throughout the set, the band's melodic metal featured solid use of Kürsch's expressive range and anthemic style of singing, Olbrich's stinging guitar work, and dense, epic musical arrangements. The use of European folk melodies deepened and helped authenticate the songs' fantasy-laden premise, and intricately-woven progressive metal arrangements brought muscle into the mix. The intense two-hour performance was recorded for a live album.

Visit Blind Guardian at www.blind-guardian.com.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Silent Film at the Bowery Ballroom

Robert Stevenson
From 2000 to 2005, Robert Stevenson (vocals/piano/guitar) and Spencer Walker (drums) played in a band called Shouting Myke in their native Oxford, England. In 2008 they formed a new band which they named A Silent Film after Stevenson wrote a song using the melody from a Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid; the band liked the style and chose the name as a reference to Chaplin's many silent films. A Silent Film released its third album, A Silent Film, on October 16, 2015.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Stevenson and Walker were assisted adeptly by three American musicians on bass, guitar, and keyboard. A vibrant and charismatic Stevenson fronted the band well, singing in a clear, strong voice, and enthusing the audience through animated movements at the edge of the stage. A Silent Film's set circled around unabashed big-energy pop hooks, perhaps too commercial and calculated to be deemed alternative or indie rock. Drawing from all three of the band's albums, the emotive songs were distinctive enough to be deemed related yet uniquely individual. The overall big sound echoed U2 and Coldplay, and appeared ready for radio play.

Visit A Silent Film at www.asilentfilm.com.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Youth Lagoon at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Youth Lagoon
Trevor Powers was born in San Diego, California, and raised in Boise, Idaho. He started composing music while still in high school, and while in college in 2010 began recording his songs in his bedroom, a kitchen, and a four-car garage. Powers took Youth Lagoon as his alias in 2010 and in 2011 posted his dream-pop music online to positive response. He released his third album, Savage Hills Ballroom, on September 25, 2015.

At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Powers commanded the spotlight over his three backing musicians. Hunched tightly over his keyboard for much of the performance, periodically stepping away to work the audience from the edge of the stage, he whispered, crooned and belted songs from his three albums. Much of the music veered towards lo-fi experimentation, especially when the other instruments were near inaudible and Powers unraveled his psyche in a high tenor and falsetto over his electric piano and sampled dreamscapes. Even when the band gave the songs a skeleton of muscular beats or lilting rhythms, Powers' vocals rested in a spacey atmosphere, circling back for the choruses. Perhaps because most of the lyrics drew from his anxiety disorder and other struggles and troubles, the delivery of the performance seemed intimate and cathartic. If a music fan was looking for happy rock and roll, however, this was not the place to find it.

Visit Youth Lagoon at www.savagehillsballroom.com.

Combichrist at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Andy LaPlegua
Ole Anders Olsen, known professionally as Andy LaPlegua, was born in Fredrikstad, Norway, and started his music career there in hardcore bands. Phasing through various bands, he gradually explored hip hop, metal, industrial, trance, and psychobilly music. In 2003 he formed his most successful project, Combichrist, as a melting pot of many of these sounds, recording solo but performing live with a band. Combichrist specializes in aggrotech, an evolution of electro-industrial and dark electro that in the mid-1990s began fusing elements of EBM, industrial, noise, trance and/or techno music. Combichrist's sixth and most recent album, We Love You, was released on March 25, 2014. Combichrist is currently based in Atlanta, Georgia.

At the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, LaPlegua’s hardcore past and electronica present merged into a powernoise spectacle. Backing LaPlegua's frequently acidic vocals, Combichrist scraped an explosive barrage of industrial-led beats and buzz-sawing guitar riffs over prominent stabs of lead synth lines. The result was a marriage of dark, gothic singing intertwined with raw headbanging and floor -stomping rhythms. Throbbing and thrusting, it was a sonic battery with such bare-toothed aggression that it had the potential to loosen eye sockets and dislodge ear drums. With so many nu-metal bands sounding so alike these days, this metallic foray into industrial-techno music was as brutal as it was engaging.

Visit Combichrist at www.combichrist.com.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Misfits at the PlayStation Theater

Jerry Only
As the burgeoning punk rock scene was exploding in New York City in 1977, vocalist/pianist Glenn Danzig was in Lodi, New Jersey, formulating Misfits as a punk rock band similar to the Ramones. Danzig named the band after actress Marilyn Monroe's final film The Misfits (1961). Bassist Gerald Caiafa, later known as Jerry Only, replaced the original bassist early on and survived through dozens of personnel changes. In the early 1980s, Misfits evolved into a hardcore punk band (and later a heavy metal band), and along the way became increasingly committed to exploiting the horror movie angle, both in song composition and appearance. Misfits disbanded in 1983 and Danzig went on to form Samhain and then the eponymous Danzig. Misfits (and especially Misfits t-shirts) became even more popular after the band's demise. After a series of legal battles with Danzig, Only and his bandmate brother, guitarist Paul Caiafa (renamed Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein), regained the rights to record and perform as Misfits and formed a new version of the band in 1995. The band dissolved in 2000, but Only reformed yet another Misfits, this time taking on the lead vocals in addition to the bass. Misfits has recorded seven studio albums, the most recent being The Devil's Rain in 2011. The band presently consists of Only, his son Jerry Caifa, Jr. on guitar and Eric "Chupacabra" Arce on drums.

Misfits annually tours around Halloween, and with no current album to promote this year, the Static Age Revisited tour promised a return to the band's early punk roots. Select cities, including New York, were promised a revisit to 1982’s Walk Among Us and 1983’s Earth A.D. albums in their entirety. As the house lights dimmed at the PlayStation Theater tonight, the band's skeletal mascot, the Crimson Ghost, sauntered hauntingly past the graveyard motif displayed on the stage. Wearing zombie face paint, the three Misfits then walked on and performed an astounding 39 songs in about 90 minutes. In addition to most of the two promised albums, the set also included six songs from Famous Monsters, four songs from Static Age and a few other songs. Only also introduced Alicia Vigil, bassist of the She Demons, to play bass during a newer song, "Vampire Girl." As promised, this was a revisit to the band's hyperspeed blasts and bombastic assault. The music was not nearly as raw as it used to be, however: Only has taken vocal lessons, the younger Caiafa's guitar leads were impressive, and Arce skillfully played a decent drum kit. Despite the seeming limitations of continually creating fresh horror punk without exhausting the factory, Only so far has found a way to keep the franchise alive.

Visit Misfits at www.misfits.com.

The She Demons at the PlayStation Theater

Priva Panda
Jerry Only of the Misfits posted an audition notice in April 2015. He sought five women to form a band that, like the Misfits, would mix horror themes with punk, but also would cross the Ramones with the Ronettes. He selected vocalist Priya Panda, guitarists Constance Day and Kiki Wongo, bassist Alicia Vigil and drummer Jessica Goodwin, all of whom had played in bands in Los Angeles, California. Even without an album to promote, the She Demons, named after a low-budget 1958 horror film, then took to the road, opening for the Misfits.

At the PlayStation Theater, Only enthusiastically introduced his pet project. The She Demons then skillfully filled the huge stage with sight and sound. Visually, the youthful women were attractive, wore eye-catching rock star wardrobe, and worked the audience well. Sonically, the band brought punk energy and metal power to cute 1960s pop covers (the Ronettes' "Be My Baby", the Crystals' "He's a Rebel") and newer horror-themed compositions ("Fresh Blood", "Once Bitten", "She Demon"). Like the Runaways, Suzi Quatro, Girlschool, Fanny and many similar all-women rock bands, the She Demons took hard rock and roll and gave it a feminine touch. The musicians displayed impressive talents, but like actors interpreting a script, they were still working on building their own common voice. The newborn band needs time to live in its own skin, but already shows promise.

Visit the She Demons at www.shedemons.rocks.