Saturday, January 31, 2015

Alestorm at the Gramercy Theatre

Christopher Bowes
Piracy dates back as far as 14 B.C. and continues into the present day, but the golden age of pirates in the Caribbean Sea was from 1650 to 1720. Alestorm, a folk metal party band from Perth, Scotland, has capitalized on the image and legend of sea pirates rather than on performing the criminal acts of raiding and plundering. Originally formed in 2004 by Christopher Bowes (vocals, keytar) as Battleheart, the band changed its name to Alestorm in 2007 in time for its first album. Alestorm 's fourth and most recent album, Sunset on the Golden Age, was released on August 1, 2014. The band presently consists of Bowes, who is the sole remaining original member, along with guitarist Dani Evans, keyboardist Elliot Vernon, bassist Gareth Murdock and drummer Peter Alcorn.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Alestorm literally set the stage for the piracy premise with two cannons in the back center of the stage. A bearded Bowes came on stage wearing a black leather three-cornered hat, torn t-shirt and plaid kilt. As if the theme was not yet evident enough, the band's original songs began with the newer "Walk the Plank" and the older "The Sunk'n Norwegian" and "Shipwrecked." Written as if they were old folk lyrics with sea-shanty melodies, they were delivered with the thrust of power metal, even when Bowes's keytar sounded like an accordion. A sense of humor was mandatory to enjoy songs like "Nancy the Tavern Wench," "Wooden Leg!" and "Wenches & Mead," and there was a fair number of songs that celebrated alcohol, including "Drink", "Rum" and a cover of Taio Cruz's "Hangover." Bowes often spoke to the audience, encouraging the party spirit, and his introductions to the songs enhanced their swashbuckling mystique. All the songs were four-minute fist pumpers, with the musicianship strong enough to fire a persistent mosh pit. Bowes ended the set by crowdsurfing over the audience. Alestorm's songs were freshly innovative and unique, and their novelty never grew old or tiresome.

Visit Alestorm at www.alestorm.net.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Machine Head at Irving Plaza

Phil Demmel & Robb Flynn
Robert Conrad "Robb" Flynn (born Lawrence Matthew Cardine in Oakland, California) joined the thrash metal band Forbidden (originally Forbidden Evil) in 1985, while in his graduating year at high school. He left after two years and before the band's debut album was released in order to join local thrash metal rivals Vio-lence. Flynn felt musically unfulfilled with Vio-lence, however, and reportedly requested to start a side project. When his request was denied, he left the band. In 1991, Flynn became the lead vocalist and guitarist for Machine Head, one of the pioneering bands in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Machine Head has sold over 3 million records worldwide. The band's eighth and most recent studio album, Bloodstone & Diamonds, was released on November 5, 2014. The current lineup of the band comprises Flynn, who is the sole remaining original member, guitarist Phil Demmel, bassist Jared MacEachern and drummer Dave McClain.

"An Evening With Machine Head" at Irving Plaza tonight meant the band celebrated its 20th anniversary with an extended set and no opening act. Nineteen songs were drawn from all eight Machine Head albums, even one song from each of the two turn-of-the-century albums fans that hardcore metalhead fans deplored for being commercial hip hop-influenced nu metal. Tonight's pummelfest showcased an expert blend of traditional heavy metal with thrash and groove metal, even while two songs featured Flynn playing an acoustic guitar. Machine Head opened with "Imperium" and "Beautiful Mourning" before introducing "Now We Die," the first of five songs from the most recent album that were spread out through the set. Flynn's full-throated roars alternated between clean vocals, screams and death growls, and Demmel followed the dark verses and choruses by bringing fine melodic guitar leads to the front. Between songs, Flynn took every opportunity -- perhaps way too liberally -- to appreciate the audience and exhort the fans to sing, scream, jump, raise their metal horns or form a circle pit. He did not need to do any of that; the ultra-heavy music was strong enough that the fans would have freely offered those responses. After 20 years, Machine Head may be at its peak.

Visit Machine Head at www.machinehead1.com.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Billy Idol at the Beacon Theatre

William Michael Albert Broad was born in 1955 to a middle-class family in Stanmore, England. Throughout high school, he worked for his dad, delivering tools, and taught himself to play guitar and sang in local bands. In 1975, he attended Sussex University to pursue an English degree but left after one year. Immersing himself in the burgeoning London punk rock scene, he spiked his bleached blond hair and traveled around to Sex Pistols concerts. Eventually he picked up the guitar and joined a punk band himself, Chelsea, in 1976. Before the year ended, he left the band and, renaming himself Billy Idol, co-founded another punk rock band, Generation X. Generation X released three albums before disbanding in 1980. Idol then moved to New York City in 1981 and became a solo artist, with ace New York guitarist Steve Stevens at his side; Idol later relocated to Los Angeles and Connecticut. Idol's autobiography, Dancing with Myself, was published on October 7, 2014, and released his seventh and most recent studio album, Kings & Queens of the Underground, 10 days later.

At the Beacon Theater tonight, the 59-year-old singer was much like the 26-year-old punk who launched his solo career. The larger than life look, with blond spiky hair, rebel outfits and rocking sneer, almost disguised his increasingly leathery facial features. He opened with " Postcards from the Past," a speedy, driving rocker from his most recent album. In the prior week, Idol had cancelled several dates due to a cold and sore throat; tonight  Idol's Jim Morrison-styled vocals started with dynamic power. As the show progressed, Idol proved to be a riveting performer, and Stevens shone like a diamond on his guitar solos, but by the fourth song, "Dancing with Myself," Idol's voice started to sound as if his cold was smothering his voice. He made up for this loss with increasingly more guttural and more effective growls, emitted from deep within at maximum force. Idol's best songs were his better known songs from the 1980s. Even a cover of the Doors' "L.A. Woman" but engaging but not gripping. Nevertheless, he provided a rousing ending with "Rebel Yell", "White Wedding" and "Mony Mony." Idol played acoustic guitar on "Sweet Sixteen", shared a few anecdotes, had more between-song costume changes than Diana Ross and in the end wound up showing off his ripped chest. For one hour and 45 minutes, Idol captivated the audience with his magnetic swagger and attitude. Even when he is not at his best, Billy Idol is still the consummate rock star.

Visit Billy Idol at www.billyidol.net.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Liam Hayes at the Mercury Lounge

Milwaukee-based Liam Hayes, professionally known as Plush since 1992, grew up in Chicago, Illinois, where he began learning to play classical piano at age seven. Four years later he gravitated to the guitar, with rock stardom in his eyes even then. Yet, over the course of five albums beginning in 1998, his music has ranged from lush orchestral pop to singer-songwriter ballads and garage rock. Filmmakers have gravitated to his sound, however, and Hayes has appeared as himself performing "Soaring and Boring" in 2000's High Fidelity and "So Much Music" in 2013's A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, for which he scored the entire soundtrack. His most recent album, the stripped down pop-rocking Slurrup, was released on January 13.

At the Mercury Lounge tonight, Hayes presented a refreshed vision of his music as a guitar-based collection of short and scrappy power pop songs. Hayes' songs aimed left of center, however, a bit on the quirky side, less the Carole King of his past and presently more akin to Elvis Costello. Backed only by a simple rhythm section, Hayes' vocals and guitar lines fluctuated between seductive melodies and more intricate compositions. This direction could make Liam Hayes the new darling of the indie movement.

Visit Liam Hayes at www.liamhayesandplush.com.

John Splithoff at the Mercury Lounge

Born in Chicago, Illinois, John Splithoff recently earned a degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Miami, where he studied music theory and honed his songwriting skills. Early on, he shared the stage with Patti Austin, George Benson, Gloria Estefan, CeeLo Green, Dave Grusin, Bobby McFerrin, Jon Secada, Clarence Clemons, Take 6 and Ben Folds. Splithoff released an EP, The Move, in 2013 and moved to New York to see if he could give it some traction. He is teaching at the School of Rock.

Opening for Liam Hayes at the Mercury Lounge tonight, Splithoff presented an innovative mix of original songs with rhythm & blues vocals and pop melodies with jazz and rock backdrops. The impressive nature of his eclectic vocal style was that it was broad enough to have fit equally at a folk club, a big band stage or a discotheque. Velvety smooth, it went searching for a hook and then it grabbed it tenaciously. In time, John Splithoff will find his audience.

Visit John Splithoff at www.johnsplithoff.com.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Joe Bonamassa at Radio City Music Hall

Joe Bonamassa was born in New Hartford, New York. His parents owned a guitar shop, and so he started playing guitar at age four. His father exposed him to records by British blues rock guitarists. Bonamassa was finessing Stevie Ray Vaughan licks when he was seven and by the time he was 10, had caught the ear of blues legend B.B. King. When he was 12 years old, he had his own band called Smokin' Joe Bonamassa. The band gigged around western New York and Pennsylvania on weekends since he had school on weekdays. In 1989, at age 12, Bonamassa opened about 20 shows for B.B. King. Before he reached 18 years old in the early 1990s, Bonamassa’s recording career began with Bloodlines, a hard‐charging rock‐blues group also featuring Robby Krieger’s son Waylon and Miles Davis’ son Erin. Bnamassa's debut solo album, A New Day Yesterday, was released in 2000; his 15th and most recent album is 2014's Different Shades of Blue. At only 37 years old, after 25 years as a professional musician, Bonamassa is one of the most popular blues musicians in the country, with 11 #1 Billboard Blues Albums (more than any other artist), five consecutive “Best Blues Guitarist” wins and a top “Best Overall Guitarist” honor in Guitar Player’s Annual Readers’ Choice Awards, and recognition as Billboard’s #1 Blues Artist in 2010.

Bonamassa is 37 years old, but curiously most of his audience at Radio City Music Hall was much older than that. Towards the end of the show, Bonamassa brought out his mother because it was her birthday, and most of the audience was closer to her age. Perhaps the maturity of his audience was because the man in a three piece suit, open-necked white button-down shirt and sunglasses is not a pop star but a genuine latter-generation blues guitarist. In concert, Bonamassa's songs and musicianship fell somewhere between 1960s American blues guitarists and their British imitators, like a bridge between Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. The concert began promptly at 8 p.m. with an hour-long acoustic set, followed by an 80-minute electric set. Most of the performance consisted of original songs, but Bonamassa also covered Daniel Lanois and Robert Johnson in the acoustic set and Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush in the electric set. There was little show biz flash about the performance, and yet it was the ultimate in professionalism, sophistication and finesse. Bonamassa is a fine soulful singer and interpreter, and the acoustic and electric bands supported him solidly. During the acoustic set, he liberally allowed his band mates to share the spotlight, but for the electric set he gave the fans what they really seemed to crave, lots of wailing blues guitar. The clincher was the cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)" as the first of four encore songs. Bonamassa's show demonstrated that without moving in the pop direction of a John Meyer, a superb guitarist can impress a large audience.

Visit Joe Bonamassa at www.jbonamassa.com.

Friday, January 23, 2015

August Burns Red at Irving Plaza

Jake Luhrs
August Burns Red formed in 2003 when all five original members were attending high school in Manheim, Pennsylvania. The Christian metalcore band practiced in the drummer's old egg house on his family's farmland. Eventually, the band played shows around nearby Lancaster and recorded an EP in 2004. August Burns Red has released six studio albums, including a Christmas album; the most recent, Rescue & Restore was released in 2013. August Burns Red presently consists of vocalist Jake Luhrs, lead guitarist JB Brubaker, rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler, bassist Dustin Davidson and drummer Matt Greiner.

As the house lights dimmed inside Irving Plaza, the crowd cheered "A-B-R," strobe lights over the stage revealed that the musicians were taking their places and Greiner began pounding a rhythm. The remaining musicians kicked in and Luhrs began growling the lyrics to "White Washed." Fifteen songs performed in about 75 minutes meant that none of the songs were very long, but what happened within each song was epic. No song kept a straight or standard composition; all the songs weaved through odd meters, changeable paces, twists and turns or heavy breakdowns. Fast and furious, the technical riffing was blistering. Unlike other metalcore vocalists, Luhrs did not mix clean vocals with his high and low-pitched guttural howls. August Burns Red performed many of its signature songs, including "Thirty and Seven", "Marianas Trench", "Meridian" and "Composure", but also several songs that were rarely played live in the past, including "The Eleventh Hour" and "Up Against the Ropes." It seemed like the band never stopped for air, as song followed song in rapid succession. It has been nearly two years since the band has recorded new songs, however, and none were introduced at the concert. The constraints of metalcore in general are somewhat formulaic, to the point where it seems there are only two kinds of growls and a few more types of breakdowns; it will be interesting to see if the creativity continues to flow when August Burns Red leaves the road and enters the recording studio.

Visit August Burns Red at www.augustburnsred.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Savages at the Mercury Lounge

Jehnny Beth
In Poitiers, France, the theater director parents of Camille Berthomier would not let her watch television or do "kid things," she has stated. Instead, she tasted the entertainment world touring with her father's plays. In her late teens, she met Nicolas Congé, and in 2006 they relocated to London, England, adopting new names, Johnny Hostile and Jehnny Beth, to form the indie rocking John and Jehn. Gemma Thompson played guitar for them, but then had a concept for a band called Savages. Hostile declined being in the band, leaving Beth as the lone vocalist. With Ayse Hassan on bass and Fay Milton on drums, Savages became an all-female post-punk revival rock quartet, formed in October 2011 and debuted live in January 2012. The band's debut album, Silence Yourself, was released in 2013.

Savages started 2015 with an extended residency in New York City, playing nine shows in three music clubs, trying out before a live audience a collection of songs written since the band's world tour concluded in 2013. "Can you boo us if you don’t like it?" Beth asked the audience four songs into their second of three Wednesday nights at the Mercury Lounge tonight. The set consisted of six older songs and eight new songs. Fans, rejoice; the new songs, which will be recorded for a 2015 studio album, are as good or better than the band's earlier material. With the next album, Savages will be huge. The music is a barrage of noisy guitar sounds, held together by a somewhat sinister-sounding bass line, crashing drums and sultry, hypnotic vocals. Brash and biting, Thompson ripped through volatile thrashing chords, occasionally breaking through with a squealing lead. Beth apologetically said her voice was a bit hoarse, but vocal style was a greater asset than range in the throbbing thunder produced by Savages. She increased the intensity of the songs' adrenaline pulse by repeating lyric lines over and over again, each time more demanding and punishing. Although permission was granted earlier on, by show's end no one had reason to boo.

Savages return to the Mercury Lounge on January 28. Visit Savages at www.savagesband.com.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Papa Roach at Terminal 5

Jacoby Shaddix approached the audience
Papa Roach began in January 1993, when lead singer Jacoby Shaddix of Vacaville, California, and some schoolmates entered Vacaville High School's talent show, performing Jimi Hendrix's "Fire." In March 1993, lead guitarist Jerry Horton from nearby Vanden High School joined the new band. The band's name comes from Shaddix's step-grandfather, Howard William Roatch, who was nicknamed Papa Roach. The band started with a nu metal and rapcore sound and gravitated to a softer alternative rock over the 2000s, maintaining its fans and selling more than 20 million albums worldwide. Papa Roach's eighth studio album, F.E.A.R. (Face Everything and Rise), will release on January 27, 2015. Papa Roach presently is comprised of founding members Shaddix and Horton, bassist Tobin Esperance and drummer Tony Palermo.

At Terminal 5 tonight, Papa Roach performed almost all of the band's top radio songs; the only surprise was the omission of "She Loves Me Not" from Lovehatetragedy. Although the band has a new album, only the title track and the current single "Broken as Me" were in the set list. One surprise was starting "Broken Home" with the chorus from Eminem’s "Lose Yourself." The rest of the set was comprised of the more familiar songs, including "Getting Away with Murder", "Scars" and "Last Resort." The spike-haired and heavily tattooed Shaddix, wearing a t-shirt and a vest from his clothing line, Lovers Are Lunatics, took many opportunities to enthuse the audience by charmingly exhorting the fans about what a great audience they were or by asking them to bounce to the beat. This strong stage presence helped deflect attention away from his singing voice, which was not particularly strong tonight and frequently strained at the higher range. The band occasionally changed tempos and intensity, but Shaddix sounded consistently like Jon Bon Jovi -- commercial, catching and hard rocking without breaking any rules. Papa Roach brought energy and power to what essentially remained radio rock. For something a bit less standard, look elsewhere.

Visit Papa Roach at www.paparoach.com.

Seether at Terminal 5

Shaun Morgan
Seether formed as Saron Gas in 1999 in Pretoria, South Africa, renaming itself in 2002 after the song "Seether" by Veruca Salt. Saron Gas and Seether's initial sound was inspired by the American grunge bands of the previous decade, combining a hard sound with melodic vocals. Seether's eight albums have total worldwide sales in excess of 4.5 million. Seether's most recent album, Isolate and Medicate, was released on July 1, 2014. Seether presently consists of founding members Shaun Morgan (vocals/guitar)and Dale Stewart (bass), with Oklahoma native John Humphrey (drums). The band's former guitar tech, Bryan Wickmann, joined the current tour as lead guitarist.

Opening for Papa Roach at Terminal 5 tonight, Seether brought its large backdrop and hung a skull with antlers from one of the three microphone stands. As the houselights dimmed, Seether came on stage and launched into one of its first radio hits, "Gasoline," originally recorded by Saron Gas, and "Rise Above This," written in the aftermath of the suicide of Morgan's brother. The show boasted minimal surprises; in the one-hour set, Seether performed the band's 12 songs most often played on rock radio. Nevertheless, the quartet managed to make the songs more than auto-repeat; the songs come alive with a crisp sound, dynamic energy, solid musicianship and, most of all, Morgan's strong vocals. This quality was especially showcased on the quieter songs like "Broken." Even as the band returned to clobbering hard rock, Morgan's deep and darkly passionate vocals stood out.

Visit Seether at www.seether.com.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cracker at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

David Lowery
When the quirky alternative country rock band Camper Van Beethoven disbanded in 1990, vocalist/guitarist David Lowery began developing songs with his childhood friend, guitarist Johnny Hickman, in Richmond, Virginia. They recruited area musicians to form a more guitar-driven roots rock and country rock band with oddball lyrics, and chose the name Cracker by 1991. In 1992 Cracker issued a self-titled album, which featured the radio novelties "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)" and "Happy Birthday to Me." A year later, Cracker's platinum-selling 1993 album, Kerosene Hat, included the hit songs "Low", "Euro-Trash Girl" and "Get Off This," as well as a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Loser." The band has released 10 studio albums. The band's newest studio album, the double Berkeley to Bakersfield, was released December 9, 2014; Berkeley is the rock disc, and Bakersfield is the country disc. Camper Van Beethoven reformed in 1999 and opens for Cracker on tour; Lowery performs in both bands.

At B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill tonight, Camper Van Beethoven included four of its six members from the 1980s — Lowery, lead guitarist Greg Lisher, violinist Jonathan Segel and bassist Victor Krummenacher  — and performed old songs and new. After a brief intermission, Lowery returned on stage with Hickman, CVB's rhythm section and several additional musicians. Cracker revolved around Lowery's singing and Hickman's playing, although Hickman also sang a couple of songs. Unlike contemporary singer-songwriters, Lowery spent little time on vulnerable lyrics and crooned instead to largely light-hearted lyrics, including "Low", "Teen Angst", "Mr. Wrong" and the political satire of "March of the Billionaires." Cracker opened with about a half hour of country songs, showing its Bakerfield side, and then rocked the Berkeley side for another 45 minutes. The approach to the two genres was radically distinct. Both the country and the rock songs independently were standard fare party tunes, but the few songs that blended the two genres inclined towards innovation. Diehard fans were treated to a surprising encore, when the accomplished accordionist Kenny Margolis joined Lowery and Hickman to form a trio for "Dr. Bernice" and "Been All Around the World." Overall, enjoying the Cracker concert required a sense of humor and an openness to diverse music.

Visit Cracker at www.crackersoul.com.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Umphrey's McGee at the Beacon Theatre

Umphrey's McGee, special guest Joshua Redman,
and Jefferson Waful's lights.
Guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik and keyboardist Joel Cummins founded Umphrey's McGee in 1997 at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. In mid-1998, after only eight months together, the band released a debut album, Greatest Hits Vol. III, in order to get more local bookings. Although more of an improvisational jazz fusion band, Umphrey's McGee soon was discovered and embraced by jam band fans. The band's eighth and most recent studio album, Second Skin, was released in 2014, but the band has released several official live albums and also sells downloads of its concerts after every show. Umphrey's McGee presently consists of Bayliss, Stasik, Cummins, guitarist Jake Cinninger, percussionist Andy Farag and drummer Kris Myers.

Umphrey's McGee made its third annual pilgrimage to the Beacon Theatre, this time for two sold-out nights. The bill listed the band's friend, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman as a special guest for both nights. On the second night, Umphrey's McGee's two sets (separated by a 15-minute intermission) were largely instrumental, as music was presented in continuous waves and movements with few breaks between songs. Except for a few trippy guitar licks that seemed to borrow inspiration from blissful psychedelic Phish or Grateful Dead space licks, the rest of the show was more akin to the 1970s improvisational jams of Frank Zappa, the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report, albeit with a much harder edge. Umphrey's McGee used conventional song structures from which to launch into loose and extended progressive rock instrumentals only to regroup with a portion of another song which in turn led to more energetic free-form ensemble work, often with no pauses. At times the music shifted to hard driving rock, but then drifted back to smooth jazz grooves, calming to what could have been a George Benson concert. The second set even included a cover of Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way," which Umphrey's McGee played for the first time since 2007. Psychedelic effect was provided not so much from the musicians but from the lighting designer, Jefferson Waful. While Waful's lighting schemes were spectacular, they often left the band playing in complete darkness as Waful's ebulliently colorful lights swayed onto the walls, ceiling and audience. Nearly three hours after the band began, as if to remind the audience of its rock credentials, Umphrey's McGee closed near midnight with a faithful rendition of Derek & the Dominos' "Layla." The diversity of Umphrey's McGee's technical proficiency and genre-bending skills proved to be most unique.

Visit Umphrey's McGee at www.umphreys.com.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dr, Dog at the Bowery Ballroom

Toby Leaman (left) and Scott McMicken
Guitarist Scott McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman began writing songs and playing music together in the eighth grade in West Grove, Pennsylvania. After trying out a few band lineups, Dr. Dog began gaining a following in the Philadelphia club circuit. Over the course of eight albums since 2001, the band grew popular enough to headline New York's cavernous Terminal 5 last year. This year, rather than play the bigger venues, Dr. Dog headlined eight nights in two smaller New York venues, with four nights at the Music Hall of Williamsburg followed by four nights at the Bowery Ballroom, never playing the same set twice. On January 13, the one night off between that pair of gigs, the band's first live album, Live at a Flamingo Hotel, was released. Dr. Dog presently consists of McMicken, Leaman, guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Manos.

At the second night in the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the two principal members took turns as usual leading songs, with all members contributing harmonies. On this particular night, the set list featured only a few songs that appear on the live album, but included songs that dated as far back as 2005's Easy Beat album ("Easy Beat" and "Today"). To label the band as indie would be a misnomer, as much of the sound dated back to scrappy 1970s-style folk rock akin to the Band or Little Feat. At times Dr. Dog was a garage pop band with catchy hooks, at other times a psychedelic jam band, and at other times a groove-laden funk band. The unifying factor was the dynamic joviality and good-time spirit in which the bouncy music was presented. It is good that Dr. Dog has released a live album; their barnstorming concert experience is worth preserving.

Visit Dr. Dog at www.drdogmusic.com.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Veil of Maya at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Lukas Magyar
The Chicago-based deathcore band Veil of Maya faced a challenge when lead singer Brandon Butler left in September 2014 after seven years with the band. Veil of Maya had formed in late 2004 and Butler joined in early 2006, so his growl and his songwriting became a recognizable signature of the band as its popularity grew. On New Year's Day 2015, Veil of Maya released a new song titled "Phoenix" from the band's as-yet-untitled forthcoming fifth album featuring their new vocalist, Lukas Magyar, formerly of Wisconsin act Arms of Empire. The quartet presently consists of Magyar, founding members Marc Okubo on guitar and Sam Applebaum on drums, and Danny Hauser on bass guitar.

Veil of Maya brought its The Slow Your Troll and Know Your Role Tour to the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight. Except for the new song, all of the set was composed of songs originally sung by Butler. No two voices are ever alike, but Magyar did a masterful job of recalling Butler's growling vocals and yet adding a flair of his own. Behind Magyar, a scant three musicians created a wall of metal turbulence alternating between jagged guitar leads and Meshuggah-esque "djent" riffs, a heavy bottom from a seven-string bass and a swarm of blast beats. Opening with four songs from the most recent album before visiting the older catalogue, Veil of Maya mixed elements from an array of metal subgenres, from technical death metal and progressive metal to melodic death metal, with connections to classic thrash and hardcore brutality. By and large so far, the switch in singers changed the look of the band more than its sound.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Psychedelic Furs at the Highline Ballroom

Richard Butler
Vocalist Richard Butler and his brother, bassist Tim Butler, formed the Psychedelic Furs in their native England as the punk scene was beginning to take off in 1977. The band initially was called RKO, then Radio. The band later performed as both the Europeans and the Psychedelic Furs before permanently settling on the latter name. Although the Furs had some chart success in England, the band remained a cult band in America until film director John Hughes used their song "Pretty in Pink" for his movie of the same name in 1986. The Furs went on hiatus in 1991, and the Butler brothers formed a new band called Love Spit Love with guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer. Love Spit Love evolved back into the Psychedelic Furs in 2000. The current Psychedelic Furs touring line-up consists of the Butler brothers, guitarist Rich Good, saxophonist Mars Williams, keyboardist Amanda Kramer and drummer Paul Garisto.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, the Psychedelic Furs performed 18 songs that spanned the band's career, from Butler's early, cathartic and austere art-school poetry in motion to the later new wave pop tunes and even to an as-yet-unrecorded song. The band has not recorded a new album since its initial split in 1991, but "Little Miss World," which has been in the band's live set since 2012, hints at the possibility of forthcoming new music. Four decades in, the Furs maintained an intriguing and charming sound. Richard Butler's hoarse lower-register talky-style of crooning, the inclusion of bright saxophone riffs in nearly every song, and the poetic avoidance of catchy choruses offered depth to the uptempo rhythms and melodies. What changed was that the matured performance was tamer than ever, a clean middle-of-the-road rock delivery that was no longer driven by a aggressive, punk desperation. Dressed in large glasses, a dark three-piece suit, a white uncuffed shirt and a dark tie, the tall and thin Richard Butler appeared to be a class act, often bowing deeply to audience applause. In short time, he removed his jacket and loosened his tie, grinned widely to his cheering fans and started working the audience into a mellow spell. Although in their time "Pretty in Pink" and "Heartbreak Beat" were better selling songs, the audience seemed to respond more strongly to "The Ghost in You" and "Love My Way." The catalogue was solid, the performance was exuberant, but hopefully the Butler brothers will be inspired to write and record a new set of music or risk becoming an "oldies" band.

The Psychedelic Furs perform at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on January 18. In the meantime, visit the band at www.thepsychedelicfurs.com.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mae at the Highline Ballroom

Dave Elkins
In 2001 in Norfolk, Virginia, vocalist/guitarist Dave Elkins (born Dave Gimenez) and drummer Jacob Marshall began what would become the indie emo band Mae by writing their first song, "Embers and Envelopes," in Marshall's living room. The band's name is an acronym for "Multi-sensory Aesthetic Experience," a course Marshall took in college. Mae's third studio album, Singularity, was released in 2007, and after the album's release, the band played farewell concerts for several years. One brief hiatus later, the band reformed for a 2013 tour to celebrate the 10-year-anniversary of the debut Destination: Beautiful album. The band reformed again for a 2015 tour to celebrate the 10-year-anniversary of the The Everglow album. Mae presently consists of Elkins, Marshall, guitarist Zach Gehring, keyboardist Rob Sweitzer and bassist Mark Padgett.

Performing at the Highline Ballroom amidst a stage set made of hundreds of small clear light bulbs, Mae opened with three songs from its various albums and EPs, then performed the 14 tracks from The Everglow, and returned for an encore of four more assorted songs. Opening with the romantic "I Just Needed You to Know" from the (e)vening EP, Elkins's calm vocals were front and center. The second song, "Embers and Envelopes" from the Destination: Beautiful album, was about trying to fix a broken relationship. Part of Mae's charm was the youthful innocence in the lyrics, which wrestled with the complexities of relationships and the search for meaning, even if sometimes the messages seemed emotionally overcharged. Elkins frequently encouraged the audience to sing along, to loud response; evidently the Mae audience was spiritually aligned with these emotive phrasings. Throughout the evening, the music was driving, often featuring intricate arrangements. Glistening keyboards (and briefly a violin) intertwined with soaring guitar leads, building up to thick power chords. It sometimes sounded as if Billy Joel dipped into progressive rock. Mae's performance was intriguing and challenging in that song composition was non-linear and non-traditional. Mae's performance was more cerebral and heart-aching than that of the common-variety power-pop and emo artists.

Visit Mae at www.whatismae.com.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Gogol Bordello at Terminal 5

Eugene Hutz
Upon graduating from high school in the Ukraine in the late 1980s, Yevheniy Aleksandrovich Nikolayev-Simonov became active in Kiev’s burgeoning perestroika rock scene and started his musical career with the band Uksusnik (Vinegar Dispenser). The 1986 nuclear plant meltdown in Chernobyl changed the course of his life, however. His parents qualified as political refugees in 1990, and the family, descendants of Gypsies called the Servo Roma, began a seven-year trek through Poland, Hungary, Austria and Italy. He, his mother, his father and his cousin arrived in Vermont in 1992 as political refugees through a resettlement program. While in Vermont, he formed the Fags, which played what he called "Eastern European ethno punk metal." Later, he moved to New York, took on his mother's German maiden name and became Eugene Hütz, and formed the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. The collective presently consists of vocalist/acoustic guitarist Hütz, violinist Sergey Ryabtsev from Russia, accordionist Pasha Newmer from Belarus, guitarist Michael Ward from the United States, vocalist Elizabeth Sun from China and Scotland, bassist Thomas "Tommy T" Gobena from Ethiopia, drummer Oliver Charles from the United States and percussionist Pedro Erazo from Ecuador. Gogol Bordello's most recent album is 2013's Pura Vida Conspiracy.

A minority of rock fans might identify Gypsy music as their favorite music. On the second of two consecutive nights headlining at Terminal 5, Gogol Bordello showed Hütz's love of Gypsy music and the traditional music of the Hutsul people of the Carpathian Mountains, where his family had once lived. This was only the spine of the music, however. The cosmopolitan, multicultural, multilingual collective took instruments one might expect at a Russian wedding (accordion and violin as lead instruments) and performed a two-hour set of mad, raucous rock. The songs, sung in many languages, drew from numerous exotic world music rhythms and arrangements, and mixed them with punk and dub. The thread that held them all together was the exuberant feel-happy bounce of the rhythms. Hütz proved to be extraordinarily charismatic and entertaining, simultaneously leading the minstrels and the audience from varied ethnic roots into a universal camaraderie. The bulk of the set was comprised of later songs from the Trans-Continental Hustle and Pura Vida Conspiracy albums, but fans also heard "Not a Crime", "Mishto", "Alcohol" and other older material. In all, Gogol Bordello performed a rousing set of 19 frenzied ethnic-inspired rock songs unlike anything ever before played on the Terminal 5 stage.

Visit Gogol Bordello at www.gogolbordello.com.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Joseph Arthur at City Winery

Raised in Akron, Ohio, Joseph Arthur began writing and playing music in his early teens, after inheriting an electronic keyboard from his aunt and taking piano lessons. While in high school, at age 16, he played bass in a blues band. Days after graduation in 1990, he moved with the band to Atlanta, Georgia, supporting himself with day jobs at a music store and a tattoo shop along with night gigs playing local clubs. In the mid-1990s, a demo tape of Arthur’s songs made its way to Peter Gabriel, who liked the lyrics and released Arthur's first EPs and albums. Arthur released his 11th studio album, Lou: The Songs of Lou Reed, on May 13, 2014.

Arthur is a unique singer-songwriter, in that he often appears solo, adding backing tracks by playing a guitar lick and looping it. The stage is also often a gallery of his artwork, and he paints yet another on a canvas as he recites his lyrics. All of this he did over two hours during his fifth annual New Year's Day concert at City Winery, which was simulcast on Yahoo Live. Halfway through the set, he recorded then looped several layers of guitars, took off his hat, jacket and scarf and painted on a blank canvas as he sang "I Miss the Zoo," walked to center stage to create additional electronic sounds on his Theremin, and then returned to painting and singing. The set opened with "Robin," a tribute to Robin Williams, and included four songs by the late Lou Reed. The original 90-minute set ended with two duets with opening act Chuck Prophet. The 45-minute encore consisted of seven songs, including "In the Sun," which was covered by Gabriel for a Princess Diana tribute album and again a decade later by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Coldplay's Chris Martin in 2006 on a charity single to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. Arthur spent a lot of time chatting to the audience, some of that chats as long as the subsequent song. Overall, with such a long and varied presentation, some of Arthur's mix of poetic lyrics with a layered sonic palette seemed to click majestically; on the other hand, a lot of the set meandered. Some of it was pleasant, some was more abrasive and jarring. It was as if individual songs stood out impressively by themselves, but the whole course was too much for one sitting.

Visit Joseph Arthur at www.josepharthur.com.