Monday, June 29, 2015

The Melvins at Santos Party House

King Buzzo
While still a teenager in 1983, Buzz Osborne formed the Melvins with schoolmates from Montesano, Washington. Osborne named the band after a despised co-worker in a convenience store, thinking the Melvins was a ridiculous name for a rock band. Initially, the band played classic rock covers and fast hardcore punk, but gravitated to a more punk-metal-experimental sound. Since 1984, the core of the Melvins has been Osborne (also known as King Buzzo) and drummer Dale Crover, with frequently changing bassists filling out the trio. The Melvins' 24th and most recent album, Hold It In, was released on October 14, 2014.

Headlining at Santos Party House tonight, the Melvins included bassist J.D. Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers. The 19-song set began with 1993's "Hag Me," followed by 2010's "The Water Glass." Although the Melvins have been playing music through four decades, the set featured catalogue only from the 1990s and the present decade, plus a handful of covers. This time around, the covers consisted of the Butthole Surfers' "Graveyard" and "Moving to Florida," the James Gang's "Stop," the Wipers' "Youth of America," Pop-O-Pies' "Fascists Eat Donuts" and Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl." Droning vocals, distorted guitar leads, thick-bottomed bass, crashing drums and cymbals, this sludgy stoner rock hit like a tsunami, and the only way to survive was to float to the top. Whether fast or slow, the music was loud, harsh and heavy. Even the tamest songs grooved along a melody for a while and then were injected with coarse, amplified noise before they ended. The music scene needs radical concerts like this in order to keep the less extreme artists centered.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

King's X at Stage 48

Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor
Vocalist/bassist Doug Pinnick (sometimes stylized as dUg) was born in Braidwood, Illinois, then at age 14 moved to Joliet, Illinois. Guitarist Ty Tabor was born in Pearl, Mississippi. Drummer Jerry Gaskill was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey. In the late 1970s, each independently gravitated to Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri, and came to know each other through their respective bands. Together they formed the Edge, which became Sneak Preview in 1983 and then King's X in 1987. The new power trio relocated to Houston, Texas, and transitioned from radio rock to a more experimental and complex songwriting style. More than 30 years later, the original band is still together, although Gaskill was temporarily sidelined by heart attacks in 2012 and 2014. King's X's 12th and most recent studio album was 2008's XV; the progressive metal band has released only live albums since XV.

King's X returned to a faithful core of fans at Stage 48 tonight. The 15-song set touched on 12 albums, ending with "Goldilox" from the band's 1988 debut. With no new songs to introduce, the set list was comparable to previous tours. King's X injected fresh dynamics to the old catalogue, as with the now 12-minute version of "Over My Head." In many ways, King's X was the perfect power trio, with each member proficient and creative with his instrument. When Pinnick sang softly and soulfully, as in "Flies and Blue Skies," Tabor matched his passion with bluesy guitar fills, and Gaskill's drums rolled and crashed appropriately. When Pinnick picked up the energy, as in "Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something," the band accented the action. Then there were the brief but complex interludes in songs like "Go Tell Somebody" that were imaginative and innovative. King's X never achieved more than a cult following, but that small following has seen something the rest of the hard rock world should witness.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

The Cynz at Sidewalk

Cyndi Dawson & Henry Seiz
Cyndi Dawson left her New Jersey home for the bright lights of New York City to pursue acting and dancing. While bartending in downtown rock clubs, she was drawn increasingly to live music and played percussion in the short-lived Kamikaze Kitty & the Attack Kats. Meanwhile, she wrote volumes of poems and began to read at established poetry clubs. Long time musician friend Henry Seiz suggested she read her spoken word to his music. With that, they formed the Cynz in 2011. The band released The Original Cynz album in 2012, the Five Mortal Cynz EP in 2013 and several singles in 2014. The Cynz presently consists of Dawson, Seiz, bassist Anne Husick and drummer Bob Stockl.

The Cynz has been honing its chops in local clubs, and tonight at Sidewalk, normally more of a singer-songwriter venue, the band hit the back room with a canon-like rock and roll spirit. The band kept it simple: the charismatic and engaging Dawson fronted the band with the voice and the visuals while the power trio behind her played driving three-chord rock. Seiz, originally the band's rhythm guitarist, filled the breaks in the pop melodies with sharp and sting leads. This is the kind of thick and hearty garage-rock that spurred old-school punk rock.

Pansy Division at the Bowery Electric

In 1991 in San Francisco, California, Jon Ginoli was frustrated by both the lack of openly gay rock musicians and a stereotypical image of a gay culture that embraced dance music and show tunes over rock. He started performing solo sets under the moniker Pansy Division, the name being a pun on World War II Germany's Panzer division and the word "pansy." Intent on creating the first openly gay pop punk band, he placed an ad looking for "gay musicians into the Ramones, Buzzcocks and early Beatles." Chris Freeman joined as bassist, and with a series of drummers Pansy Division performed as a trio. Presently, the group consists of Ginoli, Freeman, lead guitarist Joel Reader and drummer Luis Illades. Pansy Division's sixth and most recent album is 2009's That's So Gay.

Pansy Division's first East Coast appearance in six years was a headlining engagement at the Bowery Electric during Pride weekend. It also happened to occur about 12 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was constitutional in all states. The musicians in Pansy Division triumphantly mentioned the court ruling, but the focus was more on cheeky gay humor in the between-song chatter and in their lyrics. The band opened with "Fem in a Black Leather Jacket," the first Pansy Division song ever written. "Twinkie Twinkie Little Star", "Bad Boyfriend", "Dick of Death", "James Bondage" and a poppy cover of the Pet Shop Boys' "It’s a Sin" were among the highlights. Ginoli also introduced new songs, saying that Pansy Division would be recording them in the coming weeks; these new songs also were similarly rooted in 1960s pop and 1970s punk. "Queercore" has yet to hit its peak in contemporary music, but the veteran Pansy Division may lead the march.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

John Fogerty at Radio City Music Hall

John Fogerty and his older brother Tom Fogerty began playing guitars together in the late 1950s when they were in high school in El Cerrito, California. With fellow schoolmates Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums, Tommy Fogerty & the Blue Velvets became The Golliwogs until in 1967 John took his brother's place as lead singer and the band became Creedence Clearwater Revival. In its four year career, Creedence Clearwater Revival had seven gold albums and 10 gold singles. Internal rifts doomed the band by 1972, and since then John Fogerty has started and stopped his solo career several times, winning a Grammy Award for best album in 1997. Fogerty's ninth and most recent album is 2013's Wrote a Song for Everyone.

Hearty Har, a Los Angeles-based rock quintet led by two of Fogerty's guitar-playing sons, Tyler Fogerty and Shane Fogerty, opened the night at Radio City Music Hall with an unadvertised 20-minute set. Shane would reappear after intermission as a member of his dad's band. For many years John Fogerty would not perform Creedence songs, but this tour was nearly entirely about Creedence songs. Fogerty titled the current tour as "One Extraordinary Year: John Fogerty Performs the Songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969," themed on the year when youth culture changed the world with Woodstock and Creedence enjoyed three Top 10 albums. A Broadway-styled production, the show began with a documentary video about 1969, with a soundtrack by several hard rock artists of the time; several similar videos would appear later in the show. The show was very much unlike 1969, however, a time when Creedence was a simple quartet playing a raw, swampy revival of old rock and roll structures. The new presentation was uber-slick, with a large band, LED light shows, fireworks, smoke and confetti. Nineteen of the show’s 26 songs were smoothly modernized reinterpretations of Creedence songs, and between many of these songs Fogerty shared extended and amusing memories of the band's early days, including the Woodstock appearance. Curiously, he never once named his former band mates and hardly ever the name of his previous band. The show went off-track several times, like when he brought out a rack of guitars and talked about his obsession for guitars and his wife's obsession with shoes, and when he played several new unlike-1969 songs. The saving grace of the performance was that most of the songs were rocking classics and Fogerty sang and played guitar super well. Despite the uneven mainstream-schlockiness of the production, one could never belittle John Fogerty's unique and extraordinary musical talents. Keep on choogling!

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Soul Asylum at the Bowery Ballroom

Dave Pirner
The roots of Soul Asylum began in 1981 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dave Pirner had been playing drums in Loud Fast Rules, but when he stepped away from the drum kit in 1983 to become a lead singer and rhythm guitarist, the revamped band changed its name to Soul Asylum. The band hit nationally in 1992 with its sixth album, the triple-platinum Grave Dancers Union, which included the Grammy Award-winning single "Runaway Train." The music video for "Runaway Train" featured photographs and names of missing children in a public service video style. The video reportedly was instrumental in reuniting several children with their families. The next album went platinum, but Soul Asylum had no more hits. Soul Asylum's 10th and most recent album is 2012's Delayed Reaction. Pirner is the band's sole original member; the current lineup also consists of lead guitarist Justin Sharbono, bassist Winston Roye and drummer Michael Bland.

Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Soul Asylum's set was comprised mostly of songs from the 1990s. This meant that except for two new songs, "Can't Help It" and "Supersonic," the rest of the set predated Pirner's bandmates, all of whom joined Soul Asylum in recent years. Pirner remained the key to the songs and their delivery, singing his angst from the opening song, "Somebody to Shove" to the stomping closer, "April Fool." Although Soul Asylum predated grunge, the sound was very akin, with soaring vocal melodies knitting with the crunching guitar power chords and harmonic guitar leads. Even the softer "Misery" built up momentum and dynamics to become a passionate rocker with a sing-along bridge of "frustrated incorporated"; Pirner threw in a curve, however, ending the song with a verse of Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs." Long before "Runaway Train," Soul Asylum proved that 1990s alternative rock can still sound relevant in the 21st century.

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Meat Puppets at the Bowery Ballroom

Curt Kirkwood
As teenagers in Phoenix, Arizona, Curt Kirkwood and his younger brother Cris Kirkwood aspired to a career in motocross racing until Curt injured himself in a motorcycle accident. Curt then began playing guitar and Cris had already begun to play banjo. They began to play together in 1977. Cris switched to bass and they became a trio with Derrick Bostrom, a punk rocking drummer from their high school. They formed Meat Puppets in 1980. The three musicians moved to suburban Tempe, Arizona,  where the two brothers purchased adjacent homes, one of which had a backyard shed that became a rehearsal space. Meat Puppets struggled until the alternative current of the 1990s gave the band's psychedelic cowpunk a new audience. The band was featured in Nirvana's classic MTV Unplugged performance, which led to a hit video on MTV, a gold-certified album and an opening slot on a sold-out tour with the Stone Temple Pilots. Then the band fell apart. Meat Puppets broke up twice, in 1996 and 2002, reuniting again in 2006. Meat Puppets' 15th and most recent album was 2013's Rat Farm. The band presently consists of the Kirkwood brothers and drummer Shandon Sahm. Elmo Kirkwood, Curt's son, has been playing rhythm guitar on live dates since 2011.

Opening for Soul Asylum at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Meat Puppets frequently alternated between hard rocking psychedelic jams and scrappy country influences. The music was anything but slick, and the raggedy texture added to its appeal. The concert began with an instrumental, "Seal Whales," but even by the second song, Curt's vocal range was very limited, and he made little attempt to improve its sound. The performance was more about what could happen when noodly psychedelia guitar leads and country-twisted vocal lines are played hard and loud. Early in the set, Cris and Elmo began bumping into each other while playing a 12-minute version of "Up On The Sun", at one point knocking into their amplifiers, tilting the stack back to where stage hands had to run out and prevent them from toppling. The band's choice of covers was curious as well: the Texas Tornados' "(Hey Baby) Que Paso"; Freddy Fender’s "Before the Next Teardrop Falls"; Willie Nelson and Ray Charles' "Seven Spanish Angels"; and the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B." Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, cup of beer in hand, joined Meat Puppets for a hard-on-the-ears cover of Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights." Musically the evening was all very uneven, but the wackiness of it all made it that much more fun.

Visit the Meat Puppets at

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Dillinger Escape Plan at Irving Plaza

Greg Puciato
The Dillinger Escape Plan originated in 1997 in Morris Plains, New Jersey. The original musicians chose the name while watching a documentary on the 1930s bank robber John Dillinger and his multiple escapes from jail. Over the years the band has received a reputation for wild live performances that have included fire-spitting, bleeding and even defecating onstage. After several personnel changes, the mathcore band presently consists of vocalist Greg Puciato, guitarists Ben Weinman and Kevin Antreassian, bassist Liam Wilson, and drummer Billy Rymer. The band's fifth and most recent album is 2013's One of Us Is the Killer.

The Dillinger Escape Plan performed a mutiny of the senses onstage at Irving Plaza tonight. The math-metal juggernauts' extreme music pushed every button and lever for a chaotic sound that was as raw and invasive as brain surgery. Puciato yowled and growled lyrics and manic guitars played crunching riffs and aerobic leads to punishing, pounding rhythms. To the common person, it was loud and intense moshpit noise, but for those who listened, the Dillinger Escape Plan performed technically savvy, intricate compositions. It sounded insane nonetheless. The unhinged nature of the band played out early, with members of the band diving dangerously into the audience from both the stage and a five-foot higher platform not even 10 minutes into the concert. Weinman frequently did spin kicks off the monitors and crowd surfed while playing his guitar. Puciato at one point climbed up and, holding onto the railing, walked along the length of the balcony perimeter on a ridge not more than a few inches wide, then daringly dove into the audience. Towards the end of the 65-minute set, he climbed up into the mezzanine, and then dove into the audience from the last possible vantage point, the sound booth. Metalheads must hurry and catch these guys while they are still alive.

Visit the Dillinger Escape Plan at

Mutoid Man at Irving Plaza

Stephen Brodsky
Vocalist/guitarist Stephen Brodsky and drummer Ben Koller have performed in so many heavy bands, including metallic hardcore bands Converge and Cave In, that distinguishing between main bands and side projects becomes a blur. In 2012, they jammed in a tiny practice space in Brooklyn, New York, and when it looked like it was turning into something, recruited bassist Nick Cageo, formerly of Bröhammer. Together they became Mutoid Man, and released a debut EP in 2013. The power trio's debut album, Bleeder, will be released on June 30, 2015.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Mutoid Man closed a brief East Coast tour opening for the Dillinger Escape Plan. Mutoid Man performed an experimental form of heavy music, investing primarily in hard guitar riffs and primal pounding rhythms, but avoiding all predictables. Brodsky alternated between death metal growls and more traditional metal vocals, and shredded extended guitar leads and riffs. Utilizing complex arrangements, particularly in the percussion, Mutoid Man performed a 45-minute metallurgy of progressive mathcore with fast and furious elements of hardcore, thrash, sludge metal, stoner metal and black metal. Sometimes it was melodic, but bursts of face-scraping distortion were common. It felt like Mutoid Man was at the beginning of forging an adventurous path in progressive metal.

After the Irving Plaza show, Mutoid Man went to Saint Vitus in Brooklyn to perform a free-admission late show. But Brodsky, please research before introducing your covers: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was not written by Eric Burdon; the song was written in 1964 for jazz singer Nina Simone and then covered by Burdon's band, the Animals, a year later.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Van Morrison at Forest Hills Stadium

Born and raised in postwar Belfast, Ireland, George Ivan Morrison, later to be known as Van Morrison, grew up listening to his father's vast collection of American blues, jazz, folk, country and gospel records. Morrison's father bought him his first acoustic guitar when he was 11. A year later, the still pre-teen Morrison formed his first band, playing skiffle in local cinemas in the 1950s. He later talked his father into buying him a saxophone and played in several local showbands covering the popular hits of the day. In the mid-1960s, Morrison fronted the British Invasion band Them, in which he frequently ad-libbed and created his songs live as he performed; the band's often-covered "Gloria" sometimes lasted up to 20 minutes. Morrison launched a solo career in 1967 with "Brown Eyed Girl." He has received six Grammy Awards and the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and this year was knighted Sir Van Morrison, OBE. Morrison's 35th studio album, Duets: Re-working the Catalogue, was released on March 24, 2015.

Morrison headlined the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens tonight, the only United States show on his summer tour. Despite the warm summer night, Morrison came on stage wearing a sports jacket and hat -- even an ascot poking out from the neckline of his button-down shirt. Eyes closed most of the time behind his tinted glasses, speaking minimally to the audiences and seldom moving from his spot, he seemed disconnected from everyone except his musicians. Morrison played saxophone, harmonica and guitar, but his mastery was in his singing. Morrison has an unremarkable tenor, but what he did stylistically with this voice was spectacular. While his band played a blend of jazz, blues and rock, Morrison sang pop songs with rhythm & blues inflections. Whether calculated or instinctual, Morrison's delivery, with its warbles, muffles, growls, hesitations, sudden starts and stops, silences, shifts in pressure and nasal tones, were all nuanced and yet were the majestic core of his two-hour 22-song set. He sang the hits, including reworked versions of "Moondance", "Wild Night", Them's "Here Comes the Night" and "Brown Eyed Girl," but also gave his musicians plenty of space to feed the arrangements. Perhaps too many songs were filled out with extended keyboard, guitar, bass and drum breaks, to the excessive point where for the final song, he walked off after singing about two minutes of "Gloria" and then let the band play for another eight minutes without him even present. In the end, the fine concert would have been exquisite if Morrison's mellifluous singing had been more the centerpiece of the performance.

Visit Van Morrison at

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

G.B.H. at the Gramercy Theatre

Colin Abrahall
Among the pioneers of the British street punk movement called "UK82," G.B.H. formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England. The initials originated from "grievous bodily harm," a term used in British courts. Upon learning that there was a metal band by that name, the punk band changed its name to Charged G.B.H. When the metal band split in 1984, the punk band resumed using the shorter name G.B.H. The band's most recent album is 2010's Perfume and Piss. The band currently features two original members, vocalist Colin Abrahall and guitarist Colin "Jock" Blyth, nearly-original bassist Ross Lomas and long-time drummer Scott Preece.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, G.B.H. changed the set somewhat from last year's tour, but with no new material in five years, there was not that much to change. Last year the band performed all 15 songs from its 1981 Leather, Bristle, Studs and Acne compilation album; this year the band stopped at nine tracks and then moved into the bonus tracks from 1982's City Baby Attacked By Rats and 1983's City Babys Revenge. Except for three songs from the band's 2010 album, the remaining 21 songs were from GBH's earliest period, from 1981 to 1983. Looking leathered and weathered, spiky blond Abrahall grunted lyrics mocking contemporary culture and politics. Meanwhile, the power trio behind him remained faithful to its original UK82 purist punk sound. Songs were wrapped in simple loud and fast three-chord power punches that induced moshing and crowd surfing. With very little talk or breathing space between short, no-frills songs, the pounding proved relentless. The one surprise was guitarist Shawn Smash of opening act Total Chaos joining G.B.H. on "Cadillac One," playing a more Chuck Berry-styled guitar lead. Otherwise, this was punk for purists.

Visit G.B.H. at

Monday, June 15, 2015

Otep at the Studio at Webster Hall

Otep Shamaya
Otep Shamaya has said that her first name originated from her mother's interest in Egyptian history; it is also an anagram for the word "poet." Shamaya grew up in Los Angeles, California, and formed the nu metal band Otep (also written as OTEP or OT3P) in 2000. The band's first big break came after only a few gigs when Sharon Osbourne caught the band's live performance and invited Otep to perform at Ozzfest. Otep has released six albums, the most recent being 2013's Hydra. In addition to Shamaya on vocals, Otep presently consists of guitarist Aristotle Mihalopoulos, bassist Corey Wolford and drummer Justin Kier.

At the Studio at Webster Hall tonight, Otep performed a fierce and primal set of hard, blasting nu metal with significant doses of alternative metal, goth metal, industrial metal and death metal. Shamaya was a performance artist with a mysterious aura, partly due to her red-and-white-colored contact lenses and the surrounding decapitated doll heads and blood-dripped masks. Appearing strong, fearless, defiant and dominant, Shamaya roared, growled, grunted, purred, rapped and sang aggressively while the power trio behind her split eardrums with music as raw and heavy as a cement mixing truck. The masked, bare-chested, gladiator-looking guitarist played precise, searing leads and crunching chords while the rhythm section pounded out fist-pumping tribal rhythms. Shamaya's magnetic personality and chilling shrieks consistently drew the audience back into a dark recess where unsettling madness reigned. Otep showed it has the potential to outdo Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie in the arena of horror art rock.

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The Heartless Bastards at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Ericka Wennerstrom
Erika Wennerstrom was born in Dayton, Ohio, but at age 18 she relocated to nearby Cincinnati, picked up a guitar, began writing songs, and started performing at open-mike nights. She sang in a local garage rock band called Shesus in 2012, but left in 2013 to form a new band, taking the name The Heartless Bastards from an incorrect answer on a multiple-choice trivia game. (The question was "What is the name of Tom Petty's backing band?") With vocalist/guitarist Wennerstrom as the only constant member, the band presently includes guitarist Mark Nathan, bassist Jesse Ebaugh and drummer Dave Colvin. The Heartless Bastards' fifth album, Restless Ones, will be released tomorrow.

Wennerstrom is now based in Austin, Texas, and it showed at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight. Once more of a garage rock band, the Heartless Bastards demonstrated how much its sound has matured. The band maintained an alternative roots rock core with an occasional taste of Texas-styled outlaw country. Far from a full-tilt twang, these southern elements simply informed the banging rock on songs like "The Gates of Dawn" and "Only for You." Wennerstrom crooned in a somewhat gnarled manner to simple, swaying melodies and easily predictable chord shifts. Later, when Nathan began distorting his guitar sounds, inducing feedback, one could easily forget the Americana influence. The Heartless Bastards drew from rock and roots traditions, and came close to stamping its own signature uniqueness; a little more cutting edge freshness could place the band in the big leagues.

Visit the Heartless Bastards at

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Everlast at the Bowery Ballroom

Ice-T welcomed Erik Schrody into his Rhyme Syndicate Cartel in the late 1980s and released Schrody's first album as Everlast in 1990. Born in Valley Stream, New York, the Irish-American rapper did not gain national attention until he formed the rap group House of Pain and hit with "Jump Around" in 1992. After three albums, Everlast left in 1996 for a solo career. He suffered a massive cardiac arrest stemming from a congenital defect, resulting in heart bypass surgery and an artificial valve implant. After recovery, recorded his second solo album, eight years after his first; Everlast reinvented himself with the multi-platinum-selling Whitey Ford Sings the Blues in 1998, which combined a largely acoustic base with folk, blues, rap and soul. In 1999, Everlast performed on Santana's Grammy-winning "Put Your Lights On," and later joined La Coka Nostra (2006-2012), but his solo career floundered through five more solo albums. Everlast's seventh and most recent solo album, The Life Acoustic, was released in 2013. He is now based in Los Angeles, California.

At a rare seated concert at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Everlast was accompanied simply by his acoustic guitar and a keyboardist. The two stools on stage were reserved not for the two musicians to sit, but one for Everlast's hard liquor and the other for his bottled water. Singing in a gravelly Tom Waits-styled rasp, Everlast tackled an acoustic set that was inspired by elements of folk, blues, and country. Despite his hip-hop roots, a mellower Everlast performed a lengthy block of deeply emotional ballads. On his older songs, while he faintly maintained the cadence of hip hop, parts that had once been rapped were now sung. The audience's acceptance of this transition to the new Everlast became pronounced when he received encouraging applause for his sweet take on Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Nevertheless, although House of Pain seems to be long in his past in favor of this softer acoustic approach, by the end of the set Everlast was still able to get his fans to "Jump Around."

Visit Everlast at

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Andra Day at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village

Singer/songwriter Andra Day began perfecting her powerful voice in the vocal track at the prestigious San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. Although trained in classical music, she worked in some rhythm & blues, rock, jazz, doo-wop, and blues. Stevie Wonder’s wife stumbled across one of her performances and shared it with Wonder, who referred her to a producer. Day’s jazzy, soulful interpretations of Muse's "Uprising" and Eminem's "Lose Yourself" were so successful on YouTube that Ellen DeGeneres offered to help Day gain recognition. Day's debut album will be released later this year.

Andra Day had the attention of the audience even before she sang a note at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel tonight. Her exaggerated mascara, bright lipstick, black sheer and velvet dress with silver chain accessories would catch double-takes anywhere. Once she began singing, however, nothing else mattered. The thin woman with a big sultry voice invoked Amy Winehouse, Rhiannon and Lauryn Hill, threw in some Nina Simone/Billie Holiday-styled jazz and even some reggae and hip hop inflections, and the results were riveting. The soft musical backup and the finely-crafted melodic pop songs, mostly about the complexity of love, perfectly fit her rich, classy voice. Given the right break, Andra Day will become a superstar vocalist.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Maccabees at le Poisson Rouge

Orlando Weeks
Prior to forming the indie-rocking Maccabees in 2004 in London, England, vocalist Orlando Weeks was a public-school-educated art student interested in naturalist broadcasts . He connected with left-handed guitarist Felix White while playing soccer together on their school's common. They recruited Felix's 16-year-old brother, Hugo White, also an guitarist. Rupert Jarvis was an automotive engineering student hoping to become a race car driver; he was recruited on bass because he could play Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" on guitar. The musicians selected their band name by browsing the Bible and picking out a random word; the original Maccabees were a second-century Judean army whose victory started the tradition of Chanukah. Drummer Sam Doyle joined the band in 2008. The band's fourth album, Marks To Prove It, will be released on July 31, 2015.

The Maccabees earned a large following in Great Britain, and success is promising on American shores. Currently on tour opening for Mumford & Sons, the band squeezed in a headlining engagement tonight at le Poisson Rouge, a much smaller venue than the tour allows. The Maccabees played a kinetic set of original songs whose key features were soft vocals backed by a vibrating wall of sound created by jangly indie guitars, wistful keyboards and often driving rhythms. Beginning with the title track from the second album, tonight's set included 12 songs from the band's first three albums as well as four new songs from the forthcoming album. Curiously forfeiting the dynamics of musical peaks and valleys, the music fell somewhere between Coldplay's soft center and Arcade Fire's thunderous delivery. It will be interesting to see if this blend of sounds will find an audience in the states.

Visit the Maccabees at

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Luigi & the Wise Guys at Otto's Shrunken Head

Frankie Rage & Luigi Scorcia
Back in the late 1970s, Brooklyn native Luigi Scorcia hit the New York club scene, frequently collaborating with Johnny Thunders, with both of them playing in each other's bands. Scorcia formed Luigi & the Wise Guys as a punky rock and roll band in 1978, with Scorcia's tough Italian-American attitude powering his lead guitar work. He recruited a Puerto Rican singer from the Bronx, Frankie Rage, who brought soul and even a taste of doo-wop to the mix. Luigi & the Wise Guys played Max's Kansas City and all the local dives until its breakup in 1980. Scorcia then pursued an acting career, appearing in We Own the Night (2007), Couples (2008) and 2 Days in New York (2012), and Rage underwent treatment for cancer.

After 35 years apart, Luigi & the Wise Guys reformed with bassist Lewis Mazzio from Queens and drummer Niki Fuse from New Jersey to perform in the Max's Kansas City 50th Anniversary shows at the Bowery Electric. The band then performed a second set a few nights later at Otto's Shrunken Head. Performing the Heartbreakers-sounding "Johnny Ace," the Ramones-sounding "Hot Piece of Merchandize" and the mellower "Born Loser" among other vintage tracks, the quartet returned to straight-up rock and roll form. Scorcia propelled the set with stinging guitar leads and riffs, but more importantly Rage demonstrated vivid proof of his victory over a life-threatening disease with strong vocals and stage presence. We do not know if Luigi & the Wise Guys will return to the local stages, but these performances revisited a classic page from the history of New York club rock.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Max's Kansas City 50th Anniversary at the Bowery Electric

Max's Kansas City was a primary New York hot spot for live music from 1965 to 1981. Located at 213 Park Avenue South, just off of Union Square, the street floor was a restaurant that catered to a business crowd in the day and an art crowd at night. The upstairs room featured live music.

Logistically, the upstairs room was awkward. The kitchen for the downstairs restaurant was situated in the side center of the upstairs room. Not only was it sometimes noisy there, but the kitchen significantly blocked the sight lines to the stage. Music fans wanted a table near the front, because there were perhaps only 50 good seats; as the seating area narrowed alongside the kitchen, the sight lines became poorer and poorer until you could see no more. Often it was better to stand in the aisle outside the kitchen.

Until the mid-1970s, artists usually were booked for a full week, Tuesdays through Saturdays, performing two sets each night. The historic shows were countless; Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band opening for comedian Martin Mull; Bob Marley & the Wailers later opening for Springsteen; Gram Parsons shortly before his death introducing a then-unknown Emmylou Harris in his band.

Concerts in general became more popular, and the much larger Bottom Line's opening in 1974 started to draw all the major acts. Max's then featured local glitter rock and glam bands like the New York Dolls, and Wayne County became the house disc jockey. Peter Crowley was hired to book bands at Max's, and he helped usher in the punk rock era with the Patti Smith Group, the Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Television, Suicide, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Dictators, the Cramps, Mink DeVille, the Misfits, the Fleshtones, the B-52's, Suicide, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, the Runaways, the Damned and Sid Vicious. In 1977, David Bowie introduced Devo there as "the band of the future."

Bad Brains and the Beastie Boys performed at the closing night at Max's in November 1981. The building then became a delicatessen.

The Bowery Electric celebrated Max's Kansas City's 50th Anniversary on June 4-7 with concerts booked by Peter Crowley. These four nights featured some of the surviving artists from the early punk rock years as well as newer artists that continue to live the spirit of that era. The photographs below represent only a few of the more than 25 acts who performed.

Jahn Xavier & the Bowerytones
Miss Guy of the Toilet Boys
Frankie Rage of Luigi & the Wise Guys
Joe Sztabnik & Cynthia Ross of New York Junk
Bill Popp
Sonny Vincent of the Testors
Walter Lure of the Waldos
Puma Perl
Ricky Byrd
Arthur Stevenson of Sea Monster
Preston Morris III & Kenny Gordon of Pure Hell

Modern Life Is War at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Jeffrey Eaton
Modern Life Is War formed in 2002 in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was applauded for taking hardcore punk music into a more progressive direction. MLIW often slowed down the music but maintained intensity while also avoiding standard song structures and including socio-political lyrics. The band released three albums in six years but after personnel changes split in 2008. The original band reunited in 2012 for a new album and tour. MLIW consists of vocalist Jeffrey Eaton, guitarists John Paul Eich and Matt Hoffman, bassist Chris Honeck and drummer Tyler Oleson. Modern Life is War released a remastered 10th anniversary version of its 2005 album Witness on June 2, 2015, and performed the album in its entirety on a nine-date North American tour.

Fans gathered at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall to hear Modern Life Is War perform Witness in its entirety, and that is pretty much all they got. MLIW performed the nine tracks plus four additional tracks and called it a night. With screamo vocals and screaming instruments, MLIW captured the youthful rage, despair and ennui of small town life, in the end simply encouraging the fans to simply be themselves and rise. The fans responded to the soundtrack to this message with heavy moshing and stage diving. After the album's nine tracks, the band performed two songs from the debut album and two songs from the later two albums, with a mention that the band is working on new music. Modern Life Is War gave new life to its watershed album, but with a set that lasted less than an hour and no encore, perhaps left its fans hungry for more.

Visit Modern Life Is War at

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Refused at the Bowery Ballroom

Dennis Lyxzen
When Dennis Lyxzén was a teen-ager in Umeå, Sweden, his classmates were listening to pop and heavy metal. Lyxzén, however, listened to hardcore punk, particularly from New York bands. Eventually he had to convince a few metal heads to share his vision and form a hardcore band. Today, Lyxzén sings in several bands in Sweden, including the hardcore AC4 and the more new wave INVSN (a.k.a. Invasionen). In America, his best known band is the recently reunited Refused, a band that morphed pop, punk and screamo. Refused formed in 1991 and released three albums before disbanding in 1998. The band reunited in 2012 for a world tour, then split again and recently reunited again for a 2015 album and tour. Refused will release its fourth studio album (and the first in 17 years), Freedom, on June 30, 2015. The band presently is composed of Lyxzén, guitarist Kristofer Steen, bassist Magnus Flagge and original drummer David Sandström.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Refused professed that it was a living, active band by starting the concert with a song from the forthcoming album. Like the rest of the set, the song featured strong, coarse guitar lines and raging screamo vocals. The second song was the title track of the band's best-known album, 1998's The Shape of Punk to Come; of the evening's 15 songs, nine would come from that album. Angry, aggressive and intense, the volatile dynamic never softened, even with detours to off-kilter beats and ambient sounds. While  Lyxzén worked the audience visually, Steen work the sound aurally, with guitar progressions that frequently squealed louder than Lyxzén's vocals. Refused did not come back to life for a nostalgia or throwback show; on the contrary, the band returned more dangerous than ever.

Refused will return to a New York stage on August 5 opening for Faith No More at Madison Square Garden. In the meantime, visit Refused at