Saturday, May 30, 2015

Death at the Studio at Webster Hall

Bobby Hackney
In 1964 Detroit, Michigan, a man sat his three young sons in front of a television to watch the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show. The next day, one of those sons, David Hackney, found a discarded guitar in an alley and began learning to play it. Soon, Bobby Hackney learned to sing and play the bass and Dannis Hackney learned the drums. By 1971, the sons had a funk band called RockFire Funk Express. The trio switched to hard rock after seeing concerts by the Who and Alice Cooper. The band changed its name to Death in 1973 and circulated demo songs, but broke up by 1977. The brothers then moved to Burlington, Vermont, and released two gospel rock albums as the 4th Movement in the early 1980s. David moved back to Detroit in 1982, and died of lung cancer in 2000, while Bobby and Dannis remained in Vermont and led the reggae band Lambsbread. Renewed public interest encouraged Bobby and Dannis to reform Death with Lambsbread guitarist Bobbie Duncan in 2009. Death released N.E.W. on April 21, 2015.

Death was originally scheduled to headline Irving Plaza tonight but a few days ago the show was downsized to the Studio at Webster Hall. Even so, attendance at this much smaller venue was sparse. The trio played its loud, fast, scrappy, high-energy catalogue from the early 1970s which can be described best as punk rock, except that genre did not exist for another five years. By today's standards, the band sounds like an indie band that has been everywhere -- a bit garage, pop, psychedelic, experimental, metal and punk. The  mix also flirted lightly with funk and reggae, but the rock foundation was louder and clearer than anything else. Death was a curiosity more than anything else, but going forward the band could appeal to those rock fans seeking something left of center in the indie world.

Visit Death at www.deathfromdetroit.com.

Sepultura at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Paulo Pinto Jr. (background)
and Derrick Green
Guitarist Max Cavalera and his brother, drummer Igor Cavalera, formed Sepultura in 1984 when they were teenagers in Belo Horizante, Brazil. Max heard the album Black Sabbath Vol. 4 and inspired his brother to form a band the very same day. Originally, they wanted to call their band Tropa de Choque (Shock Troops), but found that the name already had been used. They chose the name Sepultura, the Portuguese word for "grave," when Max translated the lyrics of the Motörhead song "Dancing on Your Grave." Sepultura relocated in 1986 to the larger city of São Paulo, Brazil, and in 1990 to Phoenix, Arizona. The band was a major force in death metal, thrash metal and groove metal during the late 1980s and early 1990s, selling almost 30 million recordings worldwide. Max quit the band in 1996 and Igor left in 2006; the two reunited as the Cavalera Conspiracy in 2007. Sepultura's present lineup consists of sole remaining member Paulo Pinto Jr. on bass, with American vocalist Derrick Green, guitarist Andreas Kisser, and drummer Eloy Casagrande. Sepultura's 13th and most recent studio album, The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart, was released in 2013.

Sepultura's current tour does not promote a current album, but rather a 30-year legacy. It was fitting that the band should perform at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall; the band's first U.S. concert 25 years ago was in the same venue's upstairs room. While not touching on every album tonight, Sepultura's set went as far back as two tracks from 1985, "The Curse" and "Bestial Devastation," and as far forward as one new and as-yet-unreleased song, "Under My Skin." Out of 16 songs, 10 were from the more popular Max Cavalera period and six were more recent, but they worked well together, energized by a band that meshed splendidly together. A baritone Green growled his lyrics, Kisser played lightning guitar leads, and the rhythm section kept it all fast and heavy, from down-tuned death metal and machine-gun thrash metal to hair-spinning groove metal and even blast-beat nu metal breakdowns. On several songs, Green beat rhythms into a tom tom for extra percussion. It was all metal, but even among the newer works the obvious flavorings of hardcore punk, industrial and tribal sounds kept each song distinct and interesting. The Cavalera brothers are gone, but Sepultura is not one.

Visit Sepultera at www.sepultura.com.br.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Billy Idol at Pier 97

William Michael Albert Broad, better known as Billy Idol, was born in Stanmore, England, and became part of the local punk rock scene in 1977, first in Chelsea and then in Generation X. Launching a solo career, he relocated to New York in 1981, and two years later, his blond spiky hair, leather jacket and curled sneer became prime fodder for MTV. Idol released his eighth studio album, Kings & Queens of the Underground, in October 2014. Billy Idol's self-penned autobiography, Dancing With Myself, also was released on October 7, 2014.

Now just a few months from his 60th birthday, at Pier 97 tonight Billy Idol's facial features looked a bit weathered and leathered, but he rocked like a young man. (Never mind that he showed off a six-pack when he removed his shirt later in the performance.) Yet beyond his iconic look, a listener could not overlook that he sang very, very well, seemingly a direct descendant of the late Jim Morrison's deep, masculine tone. His longtime guitarist, Steve Stevens, had many moments to shine, including an extended solo when all the other musicians left the stage. Steven's rampaging leads charged the songs like turbo fuel. The sole but significant drawback of the performance was that Idol's newer catalog of songs just was not as gripping as his 1980s material. Idol's many wardrobe changes and his compelling stage aura could not mask that much of the selections, although well sung and performed, was tepid filler. Idol performed an impressive take on the Doors' "L.A. Woman," thanks to Idol's powerful vocals. At the end of the night, however, the most memorable songs were the electrified renditions of "Rebel Yell", "Dancing with Myself", "White Wedding", "Mony, Mony" and "Eyes without a Face." Idol proved that he is still one of rock's best singers and performers, but is in want of new higher-grade songs.

Visit Billy Idol at www.billyidol.net.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Seinabo Sey at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Twenty-four-year-old Seinabo Sey (pronounced Say-na-bo See) was born of mixed ancestry in Södermalm, Sweden. Although born in her mother's homeland, she moved to her father's homeland of Gambia at age six, where she enjoyed her father's fame as a musician and where she learned to speak English. At age eight, she moved from an all-black community in West Africa to an all-white community in the small town of Halmstad, Sweden. At age 10, she attended a school for musically gifted teenagers, and at 16 she relocated to Stockholm, where she would launch a music career. A few false starts led to a string of soul pop hits, and Sey's profile rocketed in 2014: the Swedish Music Publishers Association named her Breakthrough of the Year; she performed at and won Best Newcomer at the 2014 Swedish Grammy Awards; she won Soul/R&B Artist of the Year at the 2014 Kingsize Awards; and she performed at the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize concert. Seinabo Sey's debut EP, For Madeleine, is now available in the United States.

Seinabo Sey is on her second tour of the United States so far this year, and the second stop was tonight at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall. While many female artists are inclined to wear revealing stage outfits, Sey wore the opposite -- a nearly formless burqa-like red frock that covered her from neck to wrist and heel. If anything was sexy, it was her sulky, alto Nina Simone-styled singing -- except that the plethora of heartbreak lyrics was not sexy either. Backed by a keyboardist, bassist and drummer who played a heady mix of bubbly electro-pop and down-tempo rhythm and blues, Sey sang almost motionlessly by her microphone stand. Her voice was big and passionate, saturating the sound waves and overwhelming the small room. Her lyrics were often raw with hurt and angst. Late in the set, Sey stepped to the front lip of the stage for an a capella song, booming her unvarnished vulnerability to the point where it almost crossed the line of defense in intimacy. The music felt weightless, but the vocal delivery could sink a ship. Perhaps Sey will usher in the age of unsexy songs, because what she did on that stage, she did extremely well.

Visit Seinabo Sey at www.seinabosey.com.

The Screaming Females at the Apple Store

Marissa Paternoster
Marissa Paternoster's father taught her to play the guitar. While in high school, she formed a band called Surgery on TV with bassist King Mike. Paternoster pursued this interest further in college in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where she and Mike formed the indie-rocking Screaming Females in 2006 with drummer Jarrett Dougherty. The band played on the local basement circuit, which allowed for audiences of all ages, and released a homemade debut album in 2006. Maintaining a DIY approach, the trio continues to book its own shows and handle much of the business internally. The Screaming Females' sixth album, Rose Mountain, was released on February 24, 2015.

Screaming Females made a promotional appearance tonight at the Apple Store in Soho, where friend and fellow musician Ted Leo interviewed the three musicians for a half hour and then the band performed for another half hour. The interview and the audience questions revealed little, but the brief live performance said a lot. Even with the volume turned down considerably for this venue, the Screaming Females rocked the store with howling vocals, wailing guitar and pounding rhythms. The stage was kinetic and frenetic, with band members shaking their heads and bodies like jack hammers to the dynamic thrust inherent in the songs. Raw energy made for music that was harsh and abrasive and yet honed musicianship reminded the listeners that this guitar-driven music was still shredding like mad. These scorching guitar leads, akin to Dinosaur Jr., were matched with an indie pop sense stripped more naked than the Pixies or Sleater-Kinney. The Screaming Females made no compromise on creating indie rock that was diamond hard and pure.

Visit the Screaming Females at www.screamingfemales.com.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Face to Face at the Bowery Ballroom

Trever Keith
Several bands have named themselves Face to Face, including a charting 1980s new wave band from Boston, Massachusetts, but the current touring outfit is a 1990s punk band from Victorville, California. Vocalist/guitarist Trever Keith formed the band in 1991 and, riding the West Coast punk rock renaissance of the early 1990s, Face to Face enjoyed success, thanks in part to the song "Disconnected," which appeared in the movies Tank Girl and National Lampoon's Senior Trip. After many personnel changes, Face to Face split in 2004, but regrouped four years later. Presently, the band consists of Keith, guitarist Chad Yaro, bassist Scott Shiflett and drummer Danny Thompson. The band's ninth and most recent album, Three Chords and a Half Truth, was released in 2013.

Face to Face has recorded and released two new albums since its 2008 reunion, but the band came to the Bowery Ballroom to celebrate its early years. Billed as their "Triple Crown" shows, Face to Face announced it would perform its first three albums across three nights: 1992's Don't Turn Away on May 22, 1994's Big Choice on May 23, and 1996's self-titled LP on May 24. Roughly 25 years later, the sets would include songs that were never before performed live. Tonight, Keith announced "We're Face to Face from southern California," then the band blasted through Big Choice with hardly a breath of air between songs. This was 90s hardcore punk: simple power chord changes, speedy and forceful delivery, and chant-along choruses characterized every song. Shortly after the stage diving began, Keith told the fans that if they were going to come on stage, here were the designated areas; in other words, do not interfere with the musicians' performance. This was understandable, as the band played with the thrust and energy of a speeding locomotive. Face to Face did not slow down until it concluded with the encores, which included songs from the Over It EP. This was punk the way it used to be.

Visit Face to Face at www.facetofacemusic.com.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Haste the Day at Irving Plaza

Jimmy Ryan (left) and Stephen Keech
Christian metalcore band Haste the Day formed in 2001 in Carmel, Indiana, and derived its name from a lyric in the 19th century hymn "It Is Well With My Soul." Haste the Day self-produced its first EP in 2002 and in 2004 released its debut album in the band's old high school cafeteria. The group disbanded in 2011, reformed in 2014, and released its sixth album, Coward, on May 19, 2015. The band presently consists of most of the musicians who ever played in the band: vocalists Jimmy Ryan and Stephen Keech; lead guitarists Scotty Whelan and Dave Krysl; rhythm guitarist Brennan Chaulk; bassist Mike Murphy; and drummer Giuseppe Capolupo.

Haste the Day's reunion tour consists of only four dates, launching tonight at Irving Plaza. As the band alternated between old and new songs, the personnel on stage changed. As the band opened with the title track from the current album, the line-up began with the newer members, Keech, Chaulk, Whelan, Murphy and Capolupo. Two songs later, as Haste the Day launched into the older "Fallen," Ryan, the band's original singer, came on stage to audience cheers. Krysl later played guitar on a few songs as well. Even Janell Belcher of the opening act, the Ember Days, sang on one of the songs. Despite all the traffic flowing on stage, Haste the Day turned in a very cohesive 17-song package covering highlights from its history. The high energy music was razor sharp, dense and bombastic, pleasingly contrasting aggressive breakdowns with softer melodies and guitar leads. Nevertheless, the critical spotlight largely fell on the exchange of vocalists, who sometimes reinterpreted the catalogue when both sang, barked, growled and screamed on the same songs to form a sonic wall. No one knows if this all-hands-on-deck lineup will ever reoccur beyond the current four concerts, but the uniqueness of tonight's event was a fitting celebration of all that Haste the Day has been.

Visit Haste the Day at www.hastetheday.us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TV on the Radio at Terminal 5

Tunde Adebimpe
Nigerian-born Tunde Adebimpe and his roommate, David Andrew Sitek, were visual artists; Adebimpe had worked as an animator on MTV's Celebrity Death Match and Sitek painted. They formed TV on the Radio as an indie rock band in 2001 in Brooklyn, New York. The duo's first music as TV on the Radio was a quirky, low-fidelity. self-released demo called OK Calculator (the title referencing Radiohead's album OK Computer). TV on the Radio became a critics favorite, with a series of albums that topped many year-end lists, and began headlining larger venues as indie rock became increasingly more popular. The band took a hiatus in 2009, and it seemed like its once-zooming popularity stalled. The band's sixth and most recent album, Seeds, was released on November 18, 2014. TV on the Radio presently consists of Adebimpe (vocals/loops), Sitek (guitars/keyboards/loops), Kyp Malone (vocals/guitars/bass/loops), and Jaleel Bunton (drums/vocals/loops/guitars). Adebimpe and Sitek now live in Los Angeles, California, while Bunton and Malone remain in New York.

At Terminal 5 tonight, TV on the Radio's hybrid music sounded as rich as it did a decade ago. Pivoted on indie guitar rock, the wall-of-sound songs generally cranked a steady rock and roll rhythm, with some songs accelerating to punk rock speed. The set also included many shoe-gazing electronic interludes (arguably too many) as well as brief flourishes of free jazz, funk, soul and a cappella doo-wop. Some of the band's experimental edges may have been sanded down over time, but captivatingly inventive arrangements were plentiful. Late into the set, the members of opening act Bo Ningen joined TV on the Radio on all available percussion, including drumstick-on-beer-bottle percussion. Some 14 years after forming, TV on the Radio continues to create music from and for the indie rock fringe.

Visit TV on the Radio at www.tvontheradio.com.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Courtney Barnett at the Bowery Ballroom

Courtney Barnett grew up in Sydney, Australia, although when she was 16, her family moved to Hobart, the capital city of the Australian island state of Tasmania. Barnett played second guitar in Melbourne-based garage grunge band Rapid Transit in 2010-2011 and sang and played slide guitar in Australian psych/country band Immigrant Union in 2011-2013. Barnett attracted international attention in 2013 with the release of two EPs and well-received performances at the CMJ Music Marathon. Her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, was released on March 23, 2015. Courtney currently lives in Melbourne with her girlfriend, fellow Australian singer-songwriter Jen Cloher, who is featured in some of Barnett's videos.

After working her audience in the past couple of years from the smaller Mercury Lounge and Webster Hall, Barnett headlined the Bowery Ballroom for three sold-out concerts. On her recordings, everything sounds slick and polished; live the same music took on a much scrappier and intense delivery. The guitar-slinging Barnett came in power trio mode with her backing rhythm section (the Courtney Barnetts), Bones Sloane on bass and Dave Mudie on drums. While she sang like a singer-songwriter, she jammed on the guitar like a loud solid rocker -- indie rock, that is, complete with numerous untraditional chord progressions. Singing clever, witty, wordy and rambling lyrics in a plainspoken deadpan manner, Barnett's observations on life and dry sense of humor were set to pleasing rhythms, melodies and well-crafted hooks. For Barnett, some songs were closed-eye sensitive, but other songs were so fierce that her flailing hair prevented a view of her face for minutes at a time. Barnett's flame is burning red-hot; she returns to headline the cavernous Terminal 5 on July 22.

Visit Courtney Barnett at www.courtneybarnett.com.au.

Primal Scream at Irving Plaza

Bobby Gillespie
Influenced by the punk rock movement in Scotland, Glasgow native Bobby Gillespie joined a local punk band, the Drains, in 1978, but the band was short-lived. He worked as a roadie for Altered Images and played bass in the Wake before starting Primal Scream in 1982. He also played drums in the Jesus and Mary Chain from 1984 to 1986. When the leaders of Jesus and Mary Chain asked Gillespie to choose between that band and Primal Scream, Gillespie chose the latter and left the former. Primal Scream became among the leaders of the indie pop movement of the late 1980s, but never achieved the popularity in the United States that the band received in Great Britain. The band's 10th and most recent album, More Light, was released in 2013. Primal Scream presently  consists of vocalist Gillespie, guitarist Andrew Innes, keyboardist Martin Duffy, bassist Simone Butler and drummer Darrin Mooney.

Over 33 years, Primal Scream changed its sound from jangly indie pop to more psychedelic, garage rock and blues before incorporating dance, funk and shoe-gaze elements. At Irving Plaza tonight, the band was primarily a rock and roll band, only hinting subtly at those sub-genres. "Swastika Eyes" and "Can't Go Back" leaned to dance-pop, "Movin' on Up" and "Loaded" were more Rolling Stones, and several songs were harder guitar-edged, perhaps Jane's Addiction-style. In all, the band performed 16 songs from nine albums, half of the set originating from the band's more successful albums, Screamadelica and XTRMNTR. Gillespie was an average singer and the musicians were average players, but the sum was far greater than the parts. Together as Primal Scream, the five members put on a fine rock and roll show.

Visit Primal Scream at www.primalscream.net.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

William Control at the Studio at Webster Hall

William Francis was born in Seattle, Washington, where in his younger drugs-and-alcohol-fueled years he led police on a high speed car chase and subsequently spent time in jail. He started playing guitar as therapy and in 2003 began singing for post-hardcore band Aiden. With Aiden on hiatus in 2008, William Control became his alter ego, an electro/new wave artist whose debut album told the story of a man's last night on Earth because he wished to kill himself. Control's fourth and most recent studio album, The Neuromancer, was released on April 4, 2014. Since late 2014, Control has performed with a band, the Neuromantic Boys.

At the Studio at Webster Hall tonight on his The Punishment Tour, Control projected an ominous aura somewhere between The Twilight Saga and Fifty Shades of Grey. Control was a dashing figure on stage, nattily dressed in button-down shirt, tie and matching vest and trousers, but with striking jet black slicked-back hair, pale features and dark guyliner. Crooning to pre-programmed synthesized tracks and augmented by a live bassist and drummer, the songs were gothic, deep-grooved industrial darkwave compositions whose lyrics often focused on fantasy, submission, evil, death and suicide. In the end, it was dance music, thick with bombastic beats and layered synthesizer melodies, topped with Control's speakeasy-styled vocals. But if a fan needed the sexual fetish theme, one could stop by the merchandise table and purchase underwear imprinted with Control’s logo and the words "Dominate", "Submit" or "Yes Sir."

Visit William Control at www.williamcontrol.com.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

36 Crazyfists at the Studio at Webster Hall

Brock Lindow
36 Crazyfists formed in 1994 from the remains of three local bands in Anchorage, Alaska. Musicians from the three bands jammed together to perform at a benefit concert and discovered that they were such an excellent fit that they stayed together. The new band took its name from the movie Jackie Chan and the 36 Crazy Fists and became a local favorite. After exhausting the Alaskan music club circuit, 36 Crazyfists relocated to the Seattle/Tacoma area of Washington and then further south to Portland, Oregon. The metalcore/nu metal quartet has released seven studio albums; the most recent, Time and Trauma, was released on February 17, 2015. The band currently consists of vocalist Brock Lindow, guitarist Steve Holt, bassist Mick Whitney and drummer Kyle Baltus.

Headlining the Studio at Webster Hall tonight, 36 Crazyfists performed a melodic metalcore that was fierce and crushing, at times almost to the point of extreme metal. Lindow growled like a beast, and the band's relentless pounding exploded mercilessly into a raging metal assault. Interestingly, the guitarists chopped on deep, coarse chords during Lindow's vocals, then spun into lighter, lyrical leads when Lindow stepped back from the microphone. Highlights included "I'll Go Until My Heart Stops" and "The Heart and the Shape." Concluding with a memorable audience connection, Lindow asked near the end of the set if anyone in front wanted to join the band for a song; a young male fan climbed on stage and helped sing "Destroy the Map." With song structures reminiscent of 70s hard rock bands but with the power of newer metal hybrids, tonight's performance showed that 36 Crazyfists has the potential to please a wide range of metalheads.

Visit 36 Crazyfists at www.36crazyfists.net.

Candiria at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Carley Coma
Candiria formed originally as a technical death metal band in 1992 in Brooklyn, New York. Over time, the band found its own sound by blending elements of metal, hardcore and hip hop with funk, jazz and ambient music. Candiria dubbed its sound "urban fusion." This unusual slant to hardcore and metal was gaining traction when a major traffic accident while on tour in 2002 hospitalized all of the musicians. Critical injuries resulted in a long, painful recovery period for the band. Since then, several members left and some later returned. The band's line-up is presently comprised of vocalist (and sole consistent member) Carley Coma, guitarists John Lamacchia and Eddie Ortiz, bassist Michael MacIvor and drummer Kenneth Schalk. Candiria's seventh and most recent album, Kiss the Lie, was released in 2009.

Candiria came out of hiatus and played its first proper New York show in nearly 10 years at the Black N' Blue Bowl at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight. The theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter played loudly on the public address system as Candiria took the stage, and the fans indeed welcomed back the band. Candiria performed 10 songs from its five middle albums -- curiously, the band performed no songs from the first or last albums. Coma spun and jumped as he barked dryly in near-rap syncopation to eclectic soundscapes. The riffs were hard and heavy and carried the bulk of the songs, but unexpected breakdowns interrupted the melodies with jazz-infused chord progressions. MacIvor played complex bass lines that sometimes took off on their own as Schalk's drumming subtly ventured into brief experimental polyrhythms. Nevertheless, the core of Candiria's set was Coma's meaty vocals and the band's seriously beastly grooves. Somewhere between technical metal and hardcore, Candiria's adventurous set energized the enthusiastic fans to an abundance of moshing and stage diving.

Turnstile at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Brendan Yates
Based out of Baltimore, Maryland, Turnstile formed in 2010 and is fronted by vocalist Brendan Yates, who is also the drummer in Trapped Under Ice and Diamond Youth (previously known as Diamond and DMND). Turnstile has released one demo, two EPs, one live tape, and one full-length album, Nonstop Feeling, released on January 13, 2015. The band is comprised of Yates, guitarists Brady Ebert  and Sean Cullen, bassist Franz Lyons and drummer Daniel Fang.

Turnstile was among the newer bands being showcased at the annual hardcore show known as the Black N' Blue Ball at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight. Unlike when he is confined to the drums in other bands, tonight Yates was all over the venue's large stage, working the crowd as he shouted bullets into the microphone. Some songs were eruptions of fast and frenzied energy, but many songs were slower and sludge-filled, almost like stoner rock, with deep, dark grooves. Turnstile embraced the New York hardcore sound of the 1980s, bypassing the more commercial West Coast adaption of the 1990s. This made Turnstile a promising new band on the hardcore scene.

Visit Turnstile at www.turnstilehardcore.com.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Laibach at the Gramercy Theatre

Milan Fras & Mina Spiler
Avant-garde music group Laibach was formed in 1980 in Trbovlje, a mining-industry town in Slovenia. The name "Laibach" is the German name for Slovenia's capital city, Ljubljana. At the time, Laibach collaborated with and provided the soundscapes for local art and theater groups. The musicians performed an industrial rock, and incorporated gramophones, radio devices and electronic instruments that they constructed. In a country tense with the struggles of nationalism, neo-fascism and communism, the militant-appearing Laibach was so on the edge that authorities shut down the band's performances and later forbid Laibach to exist. In 1984, the musicians moved to London, England, and worked as laborers. The following year, the group released a debut album, Laibach, but due to the ban, did not feature the group's name on the album cover. Slovenia's congress ultimately allowed the controversial group to use its name and perform again. Laibach describes itself as a collective, practicing anonymity, with membership hidden under four names: Eber, Saliger, Keller and Dachauer. Members of the group still use these pseudonyms and avoid the use of their individual names. Laibach's eighth and most recent album, Spectre, was released on February 28, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, artful, kinetic and cinematic images were projected onto screens behind Laibach, but the six musicians barely moved and the minimal verbal communication between songs was delivered through a pre-programmed synthesizer. Laibach's first hour-long set largely showcased songs from the Spectre album, compositions powered primarily by synth pop and ambient sounding electronic music. The synthesizer then announced a 10-minute intermezzo, and a clock on the screen began the countdown. Exactly 10 minutes later, the band was back on stage, ready to perform a collection of earlier album tracks for another hour. Many of these songs drew from a more aggressive and sometimes gothic-sounding industrial rock with neo-classical interludes. The layers of instrumentation cascaded as Milan Fras' sinister-sounding baritone and Mina Špiler's lighter, heavenly vocals made for a foreboding combination, often tamed by a percolating dance beat. Laibach encored with three better known songs, "Leben Heisst Leben", "Geburt Einer Nation" and "Tanz Mit Laibach."  While Laibach's concert was unable to capture the provocative and subversive mystique that it sports in Eastern Europe, the music was left of center enough to be compellingly interesting for American audiences.

Visit Laibach at www.laibach.org. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tremonti at the Highline Ballroom

Mark Tremonti
Mark Tremonti, originally from Detroit, Michigan, as a youth relocated to several states with his family, but it was in a Florida high school that he met vocalist Scott Stapp. They started Naked Toddler in 1993, which became Creed in 1995. Creed's 1997 debut album sold six million copies, and a 1999 follow up sold more than 11 million copies. The band disbanded in 2004, with Stapp starting a solo career and the rest of the band becoming another successful hard rock band, Alter Bridge. Creed reunited in 2009, so Tremonti presently plays guitar in three bands, including Tremonti, a heavy metal band he formed in 2012. The band Tremonti will release its second album, Cauterize, on June 9, 2015.

Tremonti would have had a platinum catalogue to choose from if it wanted to play the older songs live, but at the Highline Ballroom tonight, the show was about distinguishing this band from Creed and Alter Bridge. This band was comprised of Tremonti, guitarist Eric Friedman, drummer Garret Whitlock and bassist Tanner Keegan, filling in for Wolfgang Van Halen, who is on tour with the band Van Halen. After years of in the background of Stapp in Creed and Myles Kennedy in Alter Bridge, Tremonti was now the front man, singing and playing lead guitar in his new band. Perhaps he should continue leaving the singing to others, as his vocals were adequate but had very little range and often seemed forced. His guitar work, however, was masterful. The set was comprised of songs from the band's 2013 debut album, three songs from the forthcoming album and a cover of Big Wreck's "Prayer." Tremonti presented variety, in that some songs were melody-driven with anthemic choruses like they were designed for commercial radio, while others were an incendiary thrash assault meant exclusively for mega-metalheads. The focus always came back to Tremonti's lightning fast licks, enhanced by the band's thrusting, chugging backing. The show's main feature ultimately was that Tremonti's many extended guitar solos were now far heavier and more crunching than in his other bands. The band Tremonti may never win the popular acclaim of Creed and Alter Bridge, but it gives rock fans another place to witness guitar wizardry.

Visit Tremonti at www.marktremonti.com.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Robert Gordon at the Bowery Electric

Robert Gordon grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, where at the age of nine he heard the Elvis Presley song "Heartbreak Hotel" playing on the radio and decided to become a rock and roll singer. He made his recording debut at age 17 in 1964 with the Confidentials. Gordon moved to New York City in 1970 and in 1974 became the lead singer of a punk rock band, the Tuff Darts. Just as the band was about to sign a record deal in 1976, Gordon went solo and recorded his first love, rockabilly music, collaborating with guitarists Link Wray and later Chris Spedding. Gordon's 12th and most recent album, I'm Coming Home, was released on June 24, 2014.

The 68-year-old Gordon brought a retro set to the Bowery Electric tonight. Much of the repertoire was comprised of songs recorded by other artists in the 1950s and which Gordon has been singing since the 1970s. Even a modern song like Marshall Crenshaw's "Walk Hard" was given the same old-timey treatment that Gordon gave to Jack Scott's "The Way I Walk," Johnny Cash's "Sea of Heartbreak," the Everly Brothers' "So Sad," Johnny Horton's "I'm Coming Home" and Johnny Burnette's "The Fool." Almost 60 years after Gordon first had the dream of singing these songs, he still gave them the Presley-esque baritone, even when he messed up Presley's "Devil in Disguise" mid-song and wound up singing Presley's "Suspicion" instead. Accompanied by a simple but very able guitar-bass-drums trio led by Rob Stoner, Gordon proved he was not a throwback but a classic.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Damnwells at Irving Plaza

Alex Dezen
Vocalist/guitarist Alex Dezen and bassist Ted Hudson met at Bard College in 1996, played in a few bands, and then relocated to Brooklyn, New York. There they met guitarist Dave Chernis and ex-Whiskeytown drummer Steven Terry and formed the alt-country band the Damnwells in 2000. The quartet recorded a debut album in a Manhattan Mini-Storage and in Dezen's bedroom. Chernis and Terry left the band in 2007, and the band continued with other musicians, but the original quartet reunited in 2013 and recorded the Damnwells' fifth album, entitled The Damnwells, released on April 14, 2015.

The Damnwells opened a two-month tour at Irving Plaza tonight with 20 upbeat rockers and slow-simmering country-tinged ballads. Dezen led the music with thoughtful, poetic lyrics and understated passion. His singing was unusually limited, however, seeming to strain even within a narrow vocal range. The effect was a bland delivery. The arrangements clicked, however, providing plenty of hummable hooks somewhere between power pop and roots rock. The concert ended with the mid-tempo "Golden Days," featuring backing vocals from Dezen's sister, gospel singer Cameron Dezen Hammon, and opening acts Ari Hest and Julian Velard. It was all performed in good taste, but with an overarching mildness that begged for greater stand-out uniqueness.

Visit the Damnwells at www.thedamnwells.com.

Vicktor Taiwò at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village

Born in Nigeria, Vicktor Taiwò at a very early age relocated with his mother and two sisters to London, England. As a young adult, he intended a career in photography, but an opportunity to write and record music may have changed the course of his trajectory. Juno, Taiwò’s five-track debut EP, will be released digitally on June 16.

Taiwò made his U.S. debut tonight at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village. Backed by a bassist and a keyboardist, Taiwò’s music was a soft, soulful, dreamy synth pop. The set included songs he already recorded as well as new songs that were still under construction. Taiwò is a young man, but he sang both light and dark tunes about relationships as if he had both enjoyed and suffered a plethora of romantic experiences. Several songs were driven by pulsating rhythms, but he seemed most convincing on the slow jams, as he poured his vocals and his emotions over the audience surrounding  him.

Visit Vicktor Taiwò at www.vicktortaiwo.co.uk.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators at Terminal 5

Slash
Saul Hudson was born in 1965 in London, England. His mother left the family shortly after his birth to pursue her career as a costume designer, and so the boy initially was raised by his father and paternal grandparents in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He was about five years old when he and his father rejoined his mother in Los Angeles, California. There he was given the nickname "Slash" by a family friend. At age 14, Slash put aside his BMX bicycle in favor of a guitar, and began playing in bands two years later. Eventually he joined Hollywood Rose, which evolved into Guns N' Roses. Guns N' Roses' debut 1987 album sold 18 million copies in the United States, making it the country's all-time best-selling debut album. Slash formed Snakepit in 1994 and officially left Guns N' Roses in 1996. Snakepit folded in 2002 and Slash became a founding member of the supergroup Velvet Revolver. Slash and his current band, billed as Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators, is comprised of Slash, vocalist Myles Kennedy, bassist Todd Kerns and drummer Brent Fitz. The group's second album, World on Fire, was released on September 10, 2014.

At Terminal 5, Slash came on stage looking much like he did with Guns N' Roses, wearing his trademark sneakers, leather pants, sunglasses and top hat. Launching into "You're a Lie" from the band's 2012 debut album, the set quickly became more familiar with the second song, Guns N' Roses' "Nightrain," the first of seven Guns N' Roses songs in the two-hour 20-song set. Kennedy, who also leads heavy metal band Alter Bridge, sang well, and with the band, which included touring guitarist Frank Sidoris, worked the audience and performed a dynamic show. Midway through the set, Kerns sang two songs, "Dr. Alibi," originally sung by Lemmy Kilmister on Slash's 2010 solo album, and Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle." Ultimately, however, the spotlight was all about Slash's masterful guitar work. During "Rocket Queen," Slash played lead guitar for 15 uninterrupted minutes. The lights went dim after Velvet Revolver's "Slither," but Slash and company returned for a Jimi Hendrix-styled "Hey Joe" featuring The Voice contestant Kimberly Nichole, and ending with a high-octane performance of Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City," complete with confetti canons. With powerful vocals, dazzling guitar work and strong songs, this was as good as hard rock gets.

Visit Slash at www.slashonline.com.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Bush Tetras at le Poisson Rouge

Pat Place (left) and Cynthia Sley
Pat Place played guitar in James Chance & the Contortions in New York's No Wave movement in the late 1970s. By 1979, she left and formed the Bush Tetras with vocalist Cynthia Sley, bassist Laura Kennedy and drummer Dee Pop. The Bush Tetras dominated the local club scene and became forerunners of the indie movement, with quirky punky funky tunes like 1981's "Too Many Creeps." By 1983, the four members moved on to other bands but reformed in 1995 for live dates and an album released a year later. Kennedy left in 1997 and was replaced by Julia Murphy in 2005; after a two-decade battle with Hepatitis C-inflicted liver disease, Kennedy died in 2011. Cindy Rickmond replaced Murphy in 2013. The band's third and most recent album, Happy, was recorded in 1997-98 but shelved by the defunct record company; it was finally released in 2012.

The Bush Tetras performed a 35th anniversary concert at le Poisson Rouge tonight and revisited the sound that made the band unique three decades ago. As Place prominently played slicing, jittery guitar riffs in a Tom Verlaine style, Sley created a similar hypnotic monotony with sniping, repetitious half-spoken/half-sung phrases, and the rhythm section kept pace with a similarly sparse and jagged funk rhythm. Place's sometimes dissonant and distortion-filled riffs intensified the mesmerizing chaos. Opening with 1981's "Things That Go Boom in the Night" and 1982's "Cowboys in Africa," the Bush Tetras designed to revive an era long past. The band followed with a deep cut, "You Taste Like the Tropics," originally the b-side of an early single. The set also included a cover of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey," which the band originally recorded in 1983. The band was joined on stage for several songs by Felice Rosser of local band Faith. Bush Tetras ended with 2007's "Voodoo" and 1981's "Too Many Creeps." The band's scrappy funk style has been co-opted by newer bands like Savages, but tonight's performance accentuated that this is where it began.