Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The London Quireboys at the Bowery Electric

Jonathan "Spike" Gray
At age 17, vocalist Jonathan "Spike" Gray moved from Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England to London in the south and formed a rock and roll band there in 1984. The group originally was named the Choirboys after the 1977 movie, but soon became the Queerboys. The Queerboys built a following, but by 1987 the band's controversial name resulted in the cancellation of too many engagements. The band was booked to perform at the Reading Festival under the obligation that the name would change. The Queerboys became the Quireboys and released a debut album in 1990; in the United States, the band was named the London Quireboys. The Quireboys broke up in 1993 but Spike assembled a new lineup briefly in 1995 and again in 2001. After more than 20 personnel changes, the band presently consists of Spike, guitarists Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin, keyboardist Keith Weir and drummer Phil Martini . The London Quireboys' 12th album, St. Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul, was released on March 30, 2015.

With guyliner around his eyes, a long kerchief covering his head and spilling down his back and stage moves a la Mick Jagger swagger, Spike looked like the leader of a glam band. Ironically, however, the London Quireboys performed an acoustic sit-on-a-stool set tonight at the Bowery Electric. Throughout the unplugged-style performance, Spike sang folky-bluesy songs with a Rod Stewart rasp, backed by two twanging acoustic guitarists and a keyboardist. Together they echoed 1970s British rock and roll outfits like the Faces and Mott the Hoople. The Quireboys performed acoustic honky-tonk renditions of its earlier catalogue, including "Roses and Rings", "Beautiful Curse", "Hates To Please" and "Monte Cassino (Lady Lane)," as well as some newer songs. The set ended with Steve Conte of the New York Dolls and Kyf Brewer of Company of Wolves joining the band onstage for "7 O'clock." Even within the unplugged setting, the London Quireboys rocked -- only it was a bit softer.

Visit the London Quireboys at www.quireboys.com.

Kamelot at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Tommy Karevik
Thomas Youngblood began playing guitar at age 15 and began playing in bands in 1988 in Tampa, Florida. He founded the progressive/symphonic power metal band Kamelot in 1991. Kamelot released its first album in 1995. Two later mid-period albums reinterpreted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragic play about the legend of Faust, a man who sells his soul to the devil, and the subsequent battle between good and evil. After many personnel changes, the present band consists of Youngblood, bassist Sean Tibbetts, drummer Casey Grillo, keyboardist Oliver Palotai and vocalist Tommy Karevik. Kamelot's 11th studio album, Haven, was released on May 5, 2015.

Kamelot headlined the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight with both straight ahead rockers and complex progressive compositions. The overall sound was epic, however, with each song seemingly building up to a blaring pinnacle. The hard-rocking songs were propelled by smooth vocals, melodic guitar leads and banging percussion, with flourishes added from a symphonic-sounding keyboard and an occasional female background vocalist. Opening with "When the Lights Are Down" from 2005's The Black Halo, followed by the title track of 2007's Ghost Opera album, the 16-song set often revealed a dynamic yet melancholy approach to cinematic melodies and aggressive thrust. Karevik engaged the audience with encouragements to raise fists and chant "whoa-o-o-os," at one point telling the fans that he would enjoy performing for them all night every night. Closing with the title track of the new album, Kamelot demonstrated that 24 years after it began, the band is still a creative entity performing with hungry integrity.

Visit Kamelot at www.kamelot.com.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dustin Kensrue at the Studio at Webster Hall

Guitarist/vocalist Dustin Kensrue founded the post-hardcore/experimental rock quartet Thrice in 1998 while in high school in Irvine, California. Early in its career, Thrice played fast, hard music based in heavily distorted guitars, prominent lead guitar lines, and complex time signatures, later incorporating electronic beats, keyboards, and more experimental and nuanced songwriting. The band is on hiatus, as Kensrue explores being a solo artist. Kensrue released, Carry the Fire, on April 21, 2015.

Dustin Kensrue appeared on stage tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall with only an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a microphone. The set included several songs from his solo albums, particularly the new album, but also included acoustic renditions of Thrice songs, including "Words in the Water." Until recently, Kensrue was a church elder, and so not surprisingly some of his lyrics alluded to his biblically-based ponderings. The acoustic performance was tame, nowhere near as inventive as a Thrice performance, and showed a more reflective and sensitive side to Kensrue. While the folk-styled concert was pleasant, one can only hope that Kensrue soon will return to the stage with a band.

Visit Dustin Kensrue at www.dustinkensrue.com.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Stone Temple Pilots at Irving Plaza

Chester Bennington (left) and Dean DeLeo
Stone Temple Pilots began in 1985 in San Diego, California. At first named Swing, then Mighty Joe Young, the group took the initials of STP motor oil and fielded many names with those initials until the members agreed on Stone Temple Pilots. Catching the grunge wave, the band's debut album in 1992 launched a successful career, and Stone Temple Pilots sold nearly 40 million records by the time the band split in 2002. Stone Temple Pilots reformed in 2008 for a reunion tour, then fired lead vocalist Scott Weilland in 2013 and continued with Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington. The band presently consists of Bennington and three original members, guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz. The band's only recording with Bennington so far has been a 2013 five-track EP, High Rise.

Stone Temple Pilots was unable to hide the elephant in the room at Irving Plaza tonight. Stone Temple Pilots' most notable product was written and sung by someone who is no longer in the band, and the band has recorded little new music since his departure. Stone Temple Pilots performed 22 songs, and only one, the comparatively unknown "Out of Time," was recorded after Bennington joined the band two years ago. How could a hard rock fan listen to the old songs and not compare the revamped band to the previous personnel? Bennington was a fine singer, and added his own spin to the old songs, but not enough to prove that the new lineup was a distinct and credible band moving forward. More than halfway through the show, Dean DeLeo interrupted "Big Empty" to demand that someone in the audience be removed; was the offender a heckler? DeLeo offered no explanation. The band started the song again. While the band ably played the hits and many deep cuts, there was no way around the big emptiness in the performance. Perhaps the band should record a substantial amount of new material and introduce these songs into the live set so that the live show does not sound like karaoke night.

Visit Stone Temple Pilots at www.stonetemplepilots.com.

Sixx:A.M. at the Best Buy Theater

In 2007 in Los Angeles, California, Nikki Sixx, bassist of Mötley Crüe, wrote music as a soundtrack for his memoir, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, thinking his book might become a movie. He recruited guitarist DJ Ashba and vocalist James Michael for the project. Although originally not intending to become a band, they gave themselves a moniker using Sixx's surname and the initials of the other two team members, Sixx:A.M. The hard rock band has now released three EPs and three albums. The most recent album, Modern Vintage, was released on October 7, 2014.

Fans hoping for a Mötley Crüe-styled band did not find that at Sixx:A.M.'s concert at the Best Buy Theater on Times Square tonight. Sixx A.M. plays a completely different brand of classic rock. While Mötley Crüe was high-volume rock and roll revelry, Sixx:A.M. juggled Queen-style concept rock with Journey-esque melodies. As the houselights dimmed, the audience heard the spoken word "X-mas in Hell" introduction from Sixx:A.M.'s debut album. Sixx:A.M., along with several touring members, took the stage as the audience cheered, and appropriately launched into "Let's Go." Michael sang with a soaring voice and Ashba ripped into melodic leads, but the music was rather saccharine from the start. Even through anthems like "This Is Gonna Hurt", "Lies of the Beautiful People" and the final encore, "Life Is Beautiful," the technically perfect set sounded like a rock musical that could have been staged at a Broadway theater around the corner. The songs were well-crafted, many with positive, hopeful messages, the sound was crisp and penetrating, and three principal band members remained energetic and engaging throughout the show. Devoid of elements of defiance and danger, however, the concert was smooth, safe and bland.

Visit Sixx A.M. at www.sixxammusic.com.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Fleshtones at the Bowery Electric

Peter Zaremba
The Fleshtones began in 1976 in the basement of a house in Queens, New York, where a previous tenant had left behind some musical instruments. Several neighborhood would-be musicians joined the new residents there and formed a band. The Fleshtones debuted at CBGB's on May 19, 1976, and quickly began headlining the local club circuit. The band's lineup changed many times but has remained stable since 1990, with original members Keith Streng (guitar) and Peter Zaremba (harmonica, keyboards, vocals), along with Bill Milhizer (drums & vocals), and Ken Fox (bass, vocals). The Fleshtones' 16th album, Wheel of Talent, was released on February 11, 2014.

Returning tonight for what seems to be an annual performance at the Bowery Electric, the Fleshtones polished traditional garage-rock with some slick antics and put on a pleasing performance. Often during the show, Zaremba announced "Let the wheel of talent spin," as he and the musicians twirled in place until Zaremba named the next song, pointing to the musician who would lead it. The band members remained playful throughout the set, with Zaremba leaning hard on his rhythm & blues call and response and the band members charging frequently into the audience. Opening with "Hitsburg, USA" and ending with "Remember the Ramones" and "My Kinda Lovin'," the Fleshtones' three-chord garage-rock, rallied with pop melodies and harmonies and a lot of sweat, made for a rocking party.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Agnostic Front at the Bowery Electric

Roger Miret
Guitarist Vincent Capuccio, formerly of the Eliminators, renamed himself Vinnie Stigma as he formed hardcore punk Agnostic Front in New York City in 1980. Agnostic Front went through several singers before settling in 1982 with Cuban-born Roger Miret, formerly the bassist of the Psychos. Agnostic Front's debut EP in 1983 and debut album in 1984 put the band in the forefront of New York's fledgling hardcore scene at CBGB's hardcore matinee series. Miret was imprisoned on drug charges for 18 months, during which time the band's popularity faded. Agnostic Front separated in 1992 with a final show at CBGB's. Stigma and Miret did a few reunion shows in 1996 and officially reformed the brand in 1998. Agnostic Front released its 11th studio album, The American Dream Died, on April 4, 2015. Thirty-five years after the band began, the present lineup consists of Miret, Stigma, guitarist Craig Silverman, bassist Mike Gallo and drummer Pokey Mo.

Agnostic Front returned one block north of where CBGB's stood, performing Friday night and Saturday matinee concerts at the Bowery Electric. Consistent with its critical commentaries listing government corruptions, Agnostic Front opened with the "The American Dream Died," with Miret grunting scathing but barely-discernible lyrics about multinational corporations and American imperialism. The song opened with a slow doom-metal introduction but quickly turned into a thrashing punk anthem. Throughout the set, the tempos fluctuated from fast to faster, but the sound was consistent; as Miret paced the small stage and spit lyrics, the band supported with punk in its crudest, most primal form -- crashing drums, pummeling bass and crunching guitar chords. Halfway through the set, the band paused to shoot audience footage for a video for a new song, "Old New York." Finally ending with "Gotta Go," Agnostic Front squeezed 24 songs, old and new, into an hour-long set and proved that old-school New York City hardcore still has some life left.

Visit Agnostic Front at www.agnosticfront.com.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

George Ezra at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Singer-songwriter George Ezra Barnett grew up in Hertford, England, where a youthful obsession with Bob Dylan's music prompted him to seek out the American folk and blues artists that influenced Dylan. His research helped him discover earlier artists like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. Steepened in this passion, Barnett moved to Bristol in 2011 to study and prepare for a music career. Shortening his name to George Ezra, he issued EPs in 2013 and 2014, and rose to international prominence with his single "Budapest." Ezra's debut studio album, Wanted on Voyage, was released on January 27, 2015.

Concluding a 55-city tour at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, George Ezra sang and played acoustic guitar and was backed by a three-piece band. Ezra's 55-minute performance was a curiosity, in that it showed what happens when music rooted from a half century ago is adapted by a 22 year old. "Blame It On Me" and "Did You Hear the Rain?" hinted at the blues. A solo acoustic "Leaving It Up to You" and a cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" recalled old time folk tunes. On the bulk of his material, however, including the opening song, "Cassy'O," and the aforementioned "Budapest," Ezra's compositions were built on light, easy-going pop melodies and breezy arrangements that seemed to have little in common with roots music. Ezra shared whimsical anecdotes to introduce several songs, while his bass-baritone vocal range injected a sense of gravitas. All this chemistry has worked for Ed Sheeran and tonight it clicked for George Ezra as well.

Visit George Ezra at www.georgeezra.com.

The Ruen Brothers at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

By the ages of 11 and 12, brothers Henry Stansall (lead vocals/acoustic guitar) and Rupert Stansall (lead guitar/harmonica/backing vocals) were on stage at pubs in their native Scunthorpe, England, performing songs by American music artists from the 1950s and 1960s. Following college, they relocated to London hoping to establish a music career. They conflated their first names to create a new name, the Ruen Brothers, and released a debut EP, Point Dume, on March 15, 2015.

Opening for George Ezra at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, the Ruen Brothers modernized an old sound and bridged eras. Looking like the Everly Brothers and sounding like early Glimmer Twins, the youthful Ruen Brothers mined early rock and roll and rockabilly but then added a robust dose of cuteness. The band balanced Elvis Presley-styled crooning and Buddy Holly-style rumbling but updated the music to the age of Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers. The Ruen Brothers may still be in the process of refining a sound, however; the cover of the Rolling Stones' disco-era "Miss You" seemed out of sync. Nevertheless, the potential for growth was visible, audible and impressive.

Visit the Ruen Brothers at www.ruenbrothers.com.

Monday, April 20, 2015

John Mellencamp at Carnegie Hall

John Mellencamp formed his first band in Seymour, Indiana, at the age of 14. Upon graduating from college in 1974, Mellencamp worked by day as a telephone installer but at night played in several local bands including the glitter-band Trash, which was named after a New York Dolls song. He traveled often to New York City hoping to land a career in music, but also to study painting as a back-up career. David Bowie's manager signed Mellencamp, renamed him Johnny Cougar and released a debut album in 1976. As the hits began amounting in the 1980s, the artist changed his name to John Cougar, then John Cougar Mellencamp and eventually to John Mellencamp. Mellencamp sold over 40 million records, helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert in 1985, wrote a musical with horror author Stephen King in 2000 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. He acted in films from 1992 to 2002. He released a book of his early paintings in 1998, and a touring exhibit of his paintings came to a New York art gallery in 2014. Mellencamp's 22nd studio album, Plain Spoken, was released on September 23, 2014. Mellencamp lives on the shores of Lake Monroe in Indiana.

It has been a long time since Carnegie Hall rocked like it did tonight. In recent years, the few rock artists that have performed the venue have performed solo and acoustic. Mellencamp brought his six musicians, with Miriam Sturm’s violin and Troye Kinnett's accordion and harmonica adding a particularly unique classical and country interpretation to the arrangements. Mellencamp opened with two songs from his most recent album, with vocals far raspier than in earlier times, giving these songs a gruff, scrappy texture. After performing "Small Town," Mellencamp announced that he was going to perform "songs you know, songs you don't know and songs you can dance to," and followed with a cover of Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway." The set frequently favored deep cuts over many of his hits; he did not even perform his first major success, "Hurts So Good." Other surprises included Mellencamp performing "Jack and Diane" solo and acoustic and harmonizing two songs from his Ghost Brothers of Darkland County musical with opening act Carlene Carter, Mellencamp stepping off stage during a violin and accordion instrumental medley of songs that included his very first single, "I Need a Lover," and the insertion of a rousing cover version of Cannibal & the Headhunters' 1965 song "Land of 1,000 Dances" within Mellencamp's "The Authority Song" -- yes, the song he promised the audience would dance to. Overall, the performance by Mellencamp and band brimmed with earnestness and integrity, and was worthy of a Carnegie Hall appearance.

Visit John Mellencamp at www.mellencamp.com.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Cavalera Conspiracy at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Max Cavalera
While still in their teens in 1984, two brothers formed a thrash metal band in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Guitarist Max Cavalera and drummer Igor Cavalera chose the band name Sepultura, the Portuguese word for "grave," when Max translated the lyrics of the Motörhead song "Dancing on Your Grave." Max left the successful Sepultura acrimoniously in 1996, formed Soulfly, and did not speak to his brother for 10 years. Igor left Sepultura in 2006, reached out via telephone to Max, and their 10-year feud ended. They formed a new band in 2007, initially called Inflikted, but quickly renamed the Cavalera Conspiracy. The band's third album, Pandemonium, was released on November 4, 2014.

Preparing the stage at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, roadies hung the Cavalera Conspiracy's logo on a backdrop and then draped the band's amplifiers with a Brazilian flag and an American flag. Perhaps this reflected the lineup of the touring band, which presently consists of the Cavalera brothers and two Americans, Soulfly guitarist Marc Rizzo and bassist Johnny Chow. Nevertheless, the American-based Cavalera Conspiracy set seemed at times to mimic a Sepultura reunion. The brothers remained faithful to the thrash sound of their youth, and mixed newer songs with older Sepultura songs, including "Territory", "Attitude", "Refuse/Resist", "Roots Bloody Roots" and a back-to-back triple header of "Beneath The Remains", "Desperate Cry" and "Troops of Doom." (Max invited José Mangin, a disc jockey on Liquid Metal [Sirius XM], onstage to sing "Desperate Cry.") The set also included a cover of Motörhead's "Orgasmatron," which Sepultura also covered. The Cavalera Conspiracy's own songs, including "Cramunhão", "Inflikted" and "Torture," fit comfortably with songs 20 and 30 years their junior. Throughout the set, the Cavalera Conspiracy combined primal vocals and speed-metal riffs with coarse grooves and savage beats. Resourcing hardcore punk and extreme metal roots, the Cavalera Conspiracy refined and upgraded a vintage thrash metal concept but played it raw. In interviews, Max has stated that his primary investment is Soulfly, but the Cavalera Conspiracy proved to be a very worthy side project.

Visit the Cavalera Conspiracy at www.cavaleraconspiracy.com.

Kate Pierson at Union Square

Kate Pierson was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, and raised in Rutherford. While in high school in the 1960s, Pierson sang protest songs with a folk band. She later relocated to Athens, Georgia, where she helped form the iconic new-wave band The B-52s in 1976. After 39 years in the B-52s, Pierson recorded her first solo album, Guitars and Microphones, released on February 17, 2015. The album led to controversy within her LGBTQ community, however, when the out lesbian was quoted as calling her new song "Mister Sister" a "transgender anthem." This self-proclamation raised the ire of many trans activists on social media.

The B-52s performed at an Earth Day event in Central Park in 1990, and 25 years later (and a week before her 67th birthday), Kate Pierson headlined a free concert at an Earth Day event outside Union Square Park. Claiming her commitment to environmental causes, Pierson introduced "Bring Your Arms" as a song about rescuing sea turtles. Singing behind her acoustic guitar for most of the set, Pierson's powerful voice rallied around high notes on new songs "Time Wave Zero" and "Throwing Roses." The approach of her new songs were stronger when they recalled the girl-group harmonies and minimal-guitar-led arrangements of the B-52s, but not as unique-sounding when she leaned toward singer-songwriter pop. The 60-minute set closed with a rousing version of the B-52s "Roam."

Visit Kate Pierson at www.katepierson.com.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

James McMurtry at the Bowery Ballroom

Alt-country singer-songwriter James McMurtry was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and lived in Houston until at age seven he moved with his family to a farm in Waterford, Virginia. His father, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry, gave him a guitar, and the boy's mother, a university English professor, taught him to play it. The young McMurtry started writing songs and later began playing live during his college years in Tucson, Arizona. He made his way to San Antonio, Texas, and one of his demo tapes made it to John Mellencamp, who produced McMurtry's debut album in 1989. McMurtry now lives in Austin, Texas, and released his 10th studio album (and his first studio album in seven years), Complicated Game, on February 24, 2015.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, James McMurtry's panoramic view of America was overshadowed by his country-rocking rhythms and sometimes muffled vocals. Normally, a listen to McMurtry's lyrics of small town life and common human struggles is an immersion into the craft of poetic songwriting. Tonight, however, if a listener was not familiar with McMurtry's lyrics, the rocking music on most of the songs likely prevented the listener from following the many curves in his cleverly-composed short-story songs. This turned out to be forgivable, as the music was solidly rooted in waves of engaging American sounds. The eloquent lyrics were more decipherable when the accompaniment was stripped down later in the two-hour set, as on the quieter "Long Island Sound" and on solo acoustic songs like "Lights of Cheyenne." McMurtry played the bulk of the instrumental leads and proved to be a talented guitarist. "No More Buffalo", "Too Long in the Wasteland" and "Choctaw Bingo" were opportunities for McMurtry to stretch both his guitar playing and his lyrics into six to 12-minute jams. To understand many of McMurtry's lyrics, however, one had to read the lips of the fans singing along near the edge of the stage.

Visit James McMurtry at www.jamesmcmurtry.com.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock at the Gramercy Theatre

Michael Schenker
In a town named Sarstedt near Hannover, West Germany, a six-year-old Michael Schenker learned to play his dad's violin and his mom's piano. At age nine, he discovered a guitar that belonged to his older brother, Rudolf Schenker. Michael quickly became a hard rock guitar virtuoso and at age 11 jammed on stage with his brother's band, the Scorpions. By age 15, he joined the Scorpions and wrote songs for the band's first album. At age 17 he joined UFO, learned to speak English and relocated to England. Beginning in the late 1970s, he formed groups under his own name, beginning with the Michael Schenker Group (MSG). This group evolved into Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock in 2011 with vocalist Doogie White (formerly of Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen), guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay and two former members of the Scorpions, bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell. Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock released the Spirit on a Mission album on March 24, 2015.

Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock performed a crowd-pleasing concert tonight at the Gramercy Theatre. The evening was both a retrospective with a sprinkling of newer songs. The band opened with UFO's "Doctor Doctor" and ended with the Scorpions' "Blackout." The set consisted of six UFO songs, six Scorpions songs, two MSG songs and five Temple of Rock songs. The performances were not intended to carbon copy the original versions, however; instead, they were given new life with White's strong vocals and the band's energizing arrangements. Schenker's extended guitar leads made the magic, however. As the band rocked hard behind him, Schenker's squeaky clean, lyrical, speedy and tasteful licks were impressively executed. The band performed the classic rock standards "Lovedrive", "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Rock Bottom," but it was Schenker's intriguing fretwork that powered the songs beyond the familiar radio versions. Schenker proved once again that he is one of hard rock's finest guitarists.

Visit Michael Schenker at www.michaelschenkerhimself.com.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

At the Gates at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Tomas Lindberg
At the Gates was formed by former members of the death/black metal band Grotesque in 1990 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Within a few years, At the Gates became a major progenitor of melodic death metal, sometimes called the Gothenburg death metal sound. At the Gates released its most commercially successful albumin 1995 but disbanded in 1996. The band reformed in 2007 for a reunion tour before splitting again in 2008, then reformed again in 2010. At the Gates presently consists of original members Tomas Lindberg (vocals), Anders Björler (guitar), Jonas Björler (bass), and Adrian Erlandsson (drums), with early member Martin Larsson (guitar). At War with Reality, the band's fifth album and its first in 19 years, was released on October 28, 2014.

At the Gates headlined the fifth annual Decibel Magazine Tour, which ended tonight at a sold-out Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom. The concert marked At The Gates‘ first performance in New York since a pair of sold-out concerts at Irving Plaza in 2008. The stage darkened as the band's pre-recorded spoken word track "El Altar del Dios Desconocido" played over the public address system. At The Gates then stormed into "Death and the Labyrinth" from the most recent album. A hearty eight of the 19 songs performed were from this album, the rest of the set culled from highlights of the band's 1990s catalogue. The stage show was a no-frills performance, with Lindberg pacing the stage, stopping at the lip with one foot on a monitor to growl lyrics into the audience, and the flashy guitarists and bassist similarly working the audience. While not breaking new ground, At the Gates stood above similar bands simply through the music itself. Lindberg's blood curdling grunts and growls were backed by smooth, melodic guitar leads. The melodeath masters blazingly demonstrated muscle and finesse without sacrificing heaviness or thrash, and the band's stripped-down ferocious aggression powered the fluid melodic structure well. In the 1990s as in the present, this is where uncompromising thrash and dark metal best meet.

Visit At the Gates at www.atthegates.se.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

OK Go at Terminal 5

Vocalist/guitarist Damian Kulash is from Washington, D.C., and bassist/vocalist Tim Nordwind is from Kalamazoo, Michigan. They met when they were 11 years old at a Michigan arts camp, where they had an art teacher who regularly said "Okay, go!" to launch their drawing lessons. Nordwind relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where he formed a band with drummer Dan Konopka. Kulash joined and the band was named OK Go in 1998. Three years later, OK Go relocated to Los Angeles, California, and guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Andy Ross joined in 2005. OK Go's fourth studio album, Hungry Ghosts, was released on October 14, 2014. The band is best known for its award-winning videos.

At Terminal 5 tonight, OK Go's show was filled with clever moves and masterful effects. As the houselights dimmed, a large sheet hung over the apron of the stage, obscuring the band. The show opened with a video montage of film clips of actors saying either "okay" or "go." Behind the screen, OK Go opened with "Upside Down & Inside Out." Thanks to cameras attached to the microphone stands, the audience watched massive close-ups of the musicians' faces as they sang the lyrics; during the later verses, the projections stopped and the audience saw through the screen to the band performing the song. Later, Kulash asked the audience to stamp feet, clap hands and hiss, recording these sounds on his cell phone and then utilizing these sounds as the percussion during "There's a Fire." Kulash crowd surfed during "This Too Shall Pass" and later sang "Last Leaf" solo from the middle of the audience. Three times during the show, OK Go fielded questions from the audience, who asked about shoe sizes, the inspirations for the videos, and working with Kermit the Frog. Confetti and soap bubbles were shot into the audience several times. For the encore, the four musicians wore white jumpsuits and performed a choreographed dance to "A Million Ways." For "White Knuckles," colored lights shone on the musicians and their white outfits mysteriously developed swirling neon green and red stripes. For the finale, OK Go invited members of the audience on stage for "Here It Goes Again." Throughout the evening, the quartet engaged the audience well, but overall the songs were lightweight pop songs with only intermittently interesting arrangements. OK Go's light-hearted antics and elaborate stage production proved more memorable than the songs.

Visit OK Go at www.okgo.net.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Devil Wears Prada at Irving Plaza

Mike Hranica
Founded in 2005 in Dayton, Ohio, the name of the melodic metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada came from the novel of the same name which was later made into a film; the phrase represented an anti-materialistic mindset that appealed to the musicians. The Devil Wears Prada presently consists of Mike Hranica (vocals), Jeremy DePoyster (rhythm guitar, vocals), Andy Trick (bass), and Daniel Williams (drums). The group has released five albums, the most recent being 2013's 8:18; the Space EP will be released this summer.

Following last month's departure of founding member and guitarist Chris Rubey, the Devil Wears Prada embarked on the Zombie 5 tour with the band's guitar tech, Kyle Sipress, taking on the guitar parts. The tour celebrates the fifth anniversary of the band's Zombie EP, and so the band performed all five songs from the EP, along with one to three songs from each of its albums, plus two new songs from a forthcoming EP. Opening with "Assistant to the Regional Manager," the Devil Wears Prada began its bludgeoning assault. The charm was in how amidst brutal metal licks, the band moved from dark lyrics and harsh vocals to lighter lyrics accentuated by clean vocals. While not a unique technique, these brief moments of balance were executed exceptionally well. By and large, however, the fist pumpers dominated the set and bristled with friction, maintaining melody over fierce breakdowns and torrential barrages of metal cavalcades. This was primal, pounding metalcore stitched together with refreshing interludes of brightness.

Visit the Devil Wears Prada at www.tdwpband.com.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Sonics at Irving Plaza

Rob Lind & Larry Parypa
In 1960, Larry Parypa, a teen-ager with a cheap guitar in Tacoma, Washington, started making music with his brother on saxophone, his mother occasionally on guitar or bass and later another brother on bass. Drawing to the ensemble vocalist/keyboardist Gerry Roslie and saxophone player Rob Lind in 1964, the garage-rocking Sonics started performing in local venues. Despite a strong local following, several singles and albums failed to get significant radio play, and after many personnel changes, the band fractured by 1968. The original Sonics reunited briefly in 1972 for a live show at Seattle's Paramount Theater, released as Live Fanz Only. In 1980, a new Sonics fronted by Roslie recorded the album Sinderella, which revisited the original band's material. In 2007, Roslie, Parypa, and Lind reformed as the Sonics with a new rhythm section for the Cavestomp garage rock festival in Brooklyn, the band's first-ever New York performance. The Sonics in 2010 released 8, an EP featuring both live cuts and four new songs. This Is the Sonics, the band's first album of new material in 48 years, was released on March 31, 2015.

History came alive when the Sonics headlined Irving Plaza tonight. Roslie, Parypa, and Lind, with bassist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson, walked on in black suits, white shirts and black ties. It was not long before they worked up a sweat. They quickly demonstrated how their raw, aggressive rock and roll band developed a cult following and became a major influence on punk, garage, and grunge music. This upgraded Sonics line-up was even more raucous and hard-edged than the original band, however. From the opening song, "Psycho," one of the first songs the Sonics ever recorded, the compositions built on simple chord sequences played harder and faster than ever. Roslie, Parypa and Dennis took turns singing lead on seven new songs, several vintage cover songs including Little Richard's "Keep a Knockin'", Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" and Richard Berry's "Louie Louie" and original signature songs including "Strychnine" and "The Witch." The set list was rooted in the 1950s and 1960s, but the torrid power they unleashed was pure, unbridled and timeless rock and roll mayhem. The Sonics brought back the boom, ready to teach a new generation of garage rockers how it all began.

Visit the Sonics at www.thesonicsboom.com.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The London Souls at the Bowery Ballroom

Tash Neal
New York City native Tash Neal sang and played guitar since childhood. At age 15, he discovered classic rock and this new passion for a basic guitar, bass and drums trio felt more engaging than the hip hop he heard on the streets of Harlem. He bonded with a bassist and a drummer from the local music scene who also had a passion for British hard rock bands. Together they formed a band in 2008, taking their name from the country of their influence. The London Souls performed for the first time on stage in 2008 after having only been able to rehearse via cell phones. The London Souls released a self-titled debut album in 2011, and recorded a second album a year later. Tragedy then struck. Neal was in a taxi that was hit by a drag racer. Neal woke up in a hospital bed in critical condition after a week-long medically-induced coma and multiple brain surgeries. Doctors believed it would take up to a year before Neal could walk and talk normally again. Less than five months after the crash, Neal was back on stage, playing a concert. The London Souls became a duo, pairing Neal with drummer/vocalist Chris St. Hilaire. The band's second album, Here Come the Girls, was released today.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the London Souls made more sound than one could expect from two musicians. The duo reached back to the very earliest days of hard rock, sounding very much like late 1960s Cream, the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The melodies sounded like what British bands did back then to American blues and pop, with fast and fierce guitar leads and whirling drum patterns filling out the songs bombastically between lyrics. The London Souls did this authentically, with all the volume, power and fuzzy distortion of the band's pioneering predecessors. No synthesizers, no pre-recorded tape loops; the only thing relatively new was the billowing dry-ice fog. Highlights included "Alone", "All Tied Down", "When I'm With You", the fast-then-slow medley of "The Sound" and "Sweet Thang," plus a reinterpretation of the Beatles' "Get Back" with a slice of the Who's "Magic Bus." Hard rock does not get more Woodstock-era than that.

Visit the London Souls at www.thelondonsouls.com.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Houndmouth at the Bowery Ballroom

Matt Myers & Katie Toupin
Based in New Albany, Indiana, a small suburban city across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, guitarist/vocalist Matt Myers crafted some songs in his bedroom using automated beats as backdrops. Houndmouth started coming together in 2011 when Myers recruited bassist Zak Appleby, with whom he had played in cover bands, and keyboardist/vocalist Katie Toupin, with whom he had worked as an acoustic duo. Drummer Shane Cody, in turn, had been a collaborator with Toupin since high school. Myers discovered that all three band mates also had songs for Houndmouth. Four months later, the four twenty-something pals had a homemade EP in hand. The band's second album, Little Neon Limelight, was released on March 17, 2015.

Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Houndmouth kept the show loose and natural. To call Houndmouth an alternative country band is to use the term very loosely. The quartet is comprised of four singer-songwriters who have harmonized their vocal and musical styles into something that falls somewhere between the Band, Dr. Dog, Lucero and Drive-by Truckers. Starting with "Black Gold," the music was from the heartland, telling melancholy hard luck stories to sturdy, bouncy rhythms rooted in soft, unpolished garage-rock musical arrangements and very polished vocal harmonies. A highlight was when Toupin switched to guitar and sang "Gasoline," a woeful country song that started softly and ended with a bang. The final encore ended with Houndmouth being joined on stage by opening artist Parker Millsap and his band for a rousing cover version of Dion & the Belmonts' "Runaround Sue." A fair amount of the audience sang along to most of the songs, hinting that this lyric-driven music may find a larger, loyal following in short time.

Visit Houndmouth at www.houndmouth.com.