Friday, July 31, 2015

Veruca Salt at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Based in Chicago, Illinois, guitarists/vocalists Louise Post and Nina Gordon were introduced to each other in 1991 and became fast friends. They wrote songs for a year and a half before being joined by Gordon's brother, Jim Shapiro, on drums and Steve Lack on bass. By 1993, they were Veruca Salt, named the spoiled rich girl from the children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Despite worldwide success, the original musicians started dropping out acrimoniously until Post became the only original member by 1998. Popularity faded and Veruca Salt largely went dormant by 2007, although Post did not announce a hiatus officially until 2012. That same year, Post and Gordon met and sang together for the first time in 14 years. They contacted Shapiro and Lack, and the original band reunited in 2013. Veruca Salt's fifth album, Ghost Notes, released on July 10, 2015, is the first to feature the band's original lineup since 1997's Eight Arms to Hold You.

At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Veruca Salt seemed to pick up where it left off almost 20 years ago, with perhaps even more enthusiasm than in its first life. Featuring a hefty eight new songs interspersed between 13 songs from the 1990s, Veruca Salt maximized use of its dual-female vocals throughout the set. Sometimes Post and Gordon alternated lead vocals, often they sang in harmony, all the while driving a guitar-led sonic aggression with melodic pop hooks. Halfway through the set, the musicians stopped for an a cappella version of "One Last Time," with the audience ending up shouting the refrain, but then the post-grunge rocking continued with "Volcano Girls," never to soften again. The music landscape has evolved considerably since Post and Gordon began working together nearly 25 years ago, but apparently riot grrls still rule.

Visit Veruca Salt at www.verucasalt.com.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Mavericks at Damrosch Park

Raúl Francisco Martínez-Malo Jr., known professionally as Raúl Malo, was born to middle-class Cuban parents in Miami, Florida. He started playing bass in high school and played in local bands until switching to guitar and vocals and forming the Mavericks in 1989. The Mavericks struck gold, combining neo-traditional country music, Latin, and rockabilly influences on six studio albums between 1991 and 2003, which led to a Grammy Award, two Academy of Country Music Awards and two Country Music Association Awards. After a drop in popularity, the band split in 2000, reformed in 2003, split again in 2004 and reformed again in 2011. The Mavericks released an eighth studio album, Mono, on February 17, 2015. The band presently consists of Malo, guitarist Eddie Perez, keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden, and drummer Paul Deakin; on tour the band hires additional musicians.

The Mavericks headlined a Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors concert at Damrosch Park tonight, and performed under a full moon for about 90 minutes -- a short set by Mavericks standards, but the outdoor venue had a curfew. Rooted in country swing, the band stretched out in many directions. Some songs sounded like they were meant for the ballroom and others for the billiards room. When Malo sang, his baritone was lush and supple; when the band jammed, the musicians provided a series of finely-orchestrated blasts to keep the audience swaying its hips. Songs were often punctuated by stinging guitar leads, rolling keyboards or a brassy horn section. Many songs were from the Mavericks' more recent albums, but the band delivered its better known songs as well. The cover songs reinterpreted Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou" (which included snippets of the Beatles' "Within You Without You" and Harry Nilsson's "Coconut"). Malo slowed the momentum when he started the encores with two songs solo on acoustic guitar, the first a Spanish ballad dedicated to his father and the second a Frank Sinatra standard, "Summer Wind." The band then returned for another 20 minutes of heartland-centered rock and roll. The evening was a timeless display in richly rooted American music.

Visit the Mavericks at www.themavericksband.com.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rise Against at Rumsey Playfield

Tim McIlrath
Rise Against was formed under the name Transistor Revolt in 1999 in Chicago, Illinois, and changed its name to Rise Against in 2001 for the debut album. In addition to its seven albums of melodic hardcore punk music, Rise Against is also known for its advocacy of progressive issues, supporting organizations including Amnesty International, Punkvoter and the It Gets Better Project. Three of the four musicians are straight edge, and all are PETA supporters and vegetarians. Rise Against's current line-up comprises vocalist/rhythm guitarist Tim McIlrath, lead guitarist Zach Blair, bassist Joe Principe and drummer Brandon Barnes. The band's most recent album, The Black Market, was released on June 24, 2014.

Rise Against tonight performed only two songs from its latest album at SummerStage Central Park's Rumsey Playfield. The remaining 16 songs were from five of the band's earlier albums (the debut album, 2001's The Unraveling, was ignored). Opening the show in early evening daylight on one of the hottest days of the summer, the band appropriately launched into "The Great Die-Off," and the crowd surfing commenced. Springing from raw and intense punk roots, each song seemed like a chant, and much of the audience responded by pumping fists in the air. McIlrath's forceful vocal style was rallying, Blair's swirling lead guitar work sounded raw and muscular, and the rhythm section pounded madly. It was coarse and yet masterfully calculated for maximum thrills. Early in the show, while sunlight still revealed the potentially dangerous crush within the audience, McIlrath paused the show and asked everyone to take three steps back. He paused more extensively when he saw what looked like someone who was sick or injured and needed assistance; after the person was escorted out of the crowd by security, the concert resumed with McIlrath exhorting the fans to care for one another. Just a bit over an hour after it began, Rise Against ended the main set with McIlrath and Blair on an acoustic "Hero of War" and McIlrath alone on "Swing Life Away" before the full band returned for two more rocking encores, "Dancing for Rain" and "Savior." Early fans have lamented that Rise Against has withdrawn from its hardcore infancy for a more mainstream sound; this evolution was evident tonight, but the result was that Rise Against married the best of both worlds.

Visit Rise Against at www.riseagainst.com.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Screeching Weasel at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Ben Weasel
Originally called All Night Garage Sale, Screeching Weasel formed as a punk rock band in 1986 in the Chicago suburb of Prospect Heights, Illinois. Since its formation, Screeching Weasel has broken up and reformed at least four times and has had dozens of line-up changes. Vocalist Ben Weasel has been the sole constant member of Screeching Weasel. The band presently consists of Weasel, guitarists Zac Damon and Mike Hunchback, bassist Zach "Poutine" Brandner and drummer Pierre Marche. Screeching Weasel recorded 13 studio albums; Baby Fat (Act 1), the first act of a two-act rock opera, was released on May 26, 2015, and Baby Fat (Act 2) is projected for a 2017 release.

Headlining tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, Screeching Weasel played a fast and primitive form of punk rock. Like the Ramones, most of the hyper-speed songs were under three minutes long and packed a tidal wave of barraging sound. Weasel, ever the showman in a colorfully beaded sports jacket, maintained a sneer and sarcasm throughout the set, with barely a pause between songs. Both the beauty and the problem with Screeching Weasel's performances was that despite all the personnel changes, the band's musical vision has changed little in concert over the past 30 years. Snotty attitude, pop melodies, double–time rhythms, hard chops and stinging buzz saw guitar licks were all proficiently impressive, but seemed trapped in 1986. "My Brain Hurts", "What We Hate" and "Cool Kids" and other signature songs spun on different riffs but registered similar listening experiences. Perhaps it was all a bit too familiar and could have been boosted by a freer presentation.

Visit Screeching Weasel at www.screechingweasel.com.

InCircles at Tompkins Square Park

Jewlee Trudden
Punk rock even originates in a remote hamlet of Southampton, Long Island. Vocalist/guitarist Jewlee Trudden and bassist Eric Ponto met there in elementary school and when they first jammed, they discovered that they knew how to play all the same covers. They formed InCircles in 2005. Bronx native Oscar Silva presently completes the trio on drums. The band has two albums, and released a five-song EP, Stable 8, on April 14, 2015.

Performing a free concert in Tompkins Square Park today, Trudden frequently related her East Village anecdotes between songs. Now she has another story to tell: this may have been the first concert filmed by a low-flying drone that hovered over the band and the audience. Singing in a clear voice remarkably similar to Chrissie Hynde, Trudden and her band made the Pretenders sound like they were pretending to be punk rock. InCircles played authentic high-energy punk rock with strong melodies, driving grooves, raw aggression and explosive guitar leads. Just when Trudden's vocals started to sweeten the sound, Ponto crashed the party to great effect with howling screams. InCircles took Screaming Females' sound one step further out. Suffolk County has never produced a band as rad as this!

Visit InCircles at www.incirclesmusic.com.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Shinedown at the Beacon Theatre

Zach Myers and Brent Smith
In the 1990s, vocalist Brent Smith fronted several local bands in his native Knoxville, Tennessee, and his last band there seemed poised for the big time. In the end, the record company retained Smith but dropped the band. Smith then formed Shinedown in 2001, based in Jacksonville, Florida. Shinedown has sold over 10 million records worldwide. The band's fourth and most recent album is 2012's Amaryllis, but on June 29, 2015, the band released a new single, "Cut the Cord," from an as-yet-untitled fifth album due for release in September 2015. Shinedown presently consists of Smith, guitarist Zach Myers, bassist Eric Bass and original drummer Barry Kerch.

Shinedown opened its concert at the Beacon Theatre tonight with its most daring move -- the melodic hard rocking quartet introduced "Asking for It," a mid-tempo banger from its forthcoming album. From there on, the 19-song set was loaded with radio staples. Smith recently recovered from three nodules on his left vocal chord and a fungus infection in his esophagus, but his vocal thrust was as powerful as ever, crystal clear and up front, leading the band through a series of chart-topping songs. Midway through the set, the band mellowed its stampede with a mini-acoustic set, featuring "I Dare You", "In Memory" and  "Through the Ghost"; later in the show, Smith and Myers would return to acoustic music for their duo rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man." On the other end of the spectrum, a second new song, "Cut the Cord," might have been the evening's hardest mid-tempo rocker. Shinedown's performance was ripe for fans of commercial radio rock; rock fans seeking something more adventurous or radical would have to seek elsewhere.

Visit Shinedown at www.shinedown.com.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Neon Trees at Irving Plaza

Tyler Glenn and Branden Campbell
Vocalist Tyler Glenn and guitarist Christopher Allen grew up in Murrieta, California, but in 2005 formed Neon Trees after both had relocated to Provo, Utah. Several personnel changes later, the band stabilized as a quartet in 2006 with bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley. Glenn took the band name from the lighted trees on a sign at a burger restaurant. Neon Trees hit with its debut album in 2010, and maintained a thriving career as a pop radio staple. The band's third studio album, Pop Psychology, was released on April 22, 2014.

Just hours after taping an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Neon Trees headlined a sold out concert at Irving Plaza tonight; the live show was part of a two-month fan-centered "An Intimate Night with Neon Trees" tour in which the band is playing smaller venues than usual. Neon Trees opened with its recently-released non-album single, "Songs I Can't Listen To," and then followed with 14 catalogue songs in near chronological order plus two cover songs. Much too intense and often blinding backlighting frequently left the band in silhouettes, but despite the obstacles Glenn was a charismatic and commanding front person, dancing in place, pacing the stage and talking to the audience between many of the songs. Aided by a touring guitarist, David Charles, Neon Trees performed a series of fan favorites, highlighted by Glen and Bradley singing duet on "Mad Love." The most humorous moment in the performance was after Glenn left the stage briefly during "Love in the 21st Century" and came back on stage with a shirt tied around his waist; after the song, he explained that the seam in his pants split during the song, then quickly turned around and lifted the shirt to flash his bare bottom under the split. Neon Trees then performed an Amy Winehouse cover, "Love Is a Losing Game." The 90-minute set ended with a not-so-faithful cover of Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen." The high-octane show presented big pop in all its pageantry, with rich vocals, catchy sing-along choruses and an energetic band performance. The performance was classy and rocking enough to appeal beyond Neon Trees' base audience of screaming teenage girls.

Visit Neon Trees at www.fameisdead.com.

Milky Chance at Rumsey Playfield

Clemens Rehbein
Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch met in an Advanced Music course in high school in Kassel, Germany. Until their graduation in 2012, they performed together in a jazz quartet. When the drummer left and the band disbanded, Rehbein and Dausch continued to collaborate, combining electronic production with acoustic guitar and their own vocals and lyrics. After performing only two live shows as Milky Chance over two weeks in 2013, the duo recorded songs in a simple home-made studio in Rehbein's childhood home. The group posted songs on Soundcloud and YouTube. A video for "Stolen Dance" became an immediate viral hit, attracting millions of views. Released as a single, the song hit number one throughout Europe. The debut album, Sadnecessary, was released in the United States on October 14, 2014, a year after its release in Germany.

At Central Park's Rumsey Playfield tonight as part of the SummerStage series, Rehbein (vocals and guitar) and Dausch (electronics and bass) were joined by Antonio Greger (harmonica and guitar). Breezes flourished in the outdoor venue, matching the easy-flowing summery sound of Milky Chance. Rehbein's soft but coarse vocals accompanied his nimble strides on the guitar, with Dausch and Greger providing gently supportive soundscapes. Rehbein's folk-style compositions, frequently reggae-infused, and his compelling melancholy vocals were the main ingredients; everything else was spice. Never overpowering or overwhelming, the set balanced poetic musings with subtly lilting grooves. Milky Chance harnessed a unique sound -- a majestic sound ironically lush in its very simplicity.

Visit Milky Chance at www.milkychanceofficial.com.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tuxedo at le Poisson Rouge

Funk-disco band Tuxedo is a side project for both vocalist Mayer Hawthorne (nee Andrew Cohen) and keyboardist/producer Jake One (nee Jacob Dutton). Hawthorne was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in 2006 relocated to Los Angeles, California. He has recorded three solo albums. One is from Seattle, Washington, where he started playing keyboard in 1992. Like Hawthorne, One also relocated to Los Angeles, issuing his first album in 2008. Tuxedo released its self-titled debut album on March 3, 2015.

Headlining tonight at le Poisson Rouge, the members of Tuxedo indeed wore tuxedos; the backing musicians wore white outfits, but Hawthorne and One wore a more garish powder blue suit with tails. Tuxedo looked like a band you might expect in a casino lounge, and the music was not far from that. Tuxedo specialized in light funk with smooth grooves, the kind that gets the disco ball spinning from the ceiling and the dancers on the floor. The slower songs were bedroom songs. Hawthorne sang softly and soulfully, and while One's synthesizer-heavy leadership seemed to be the glue that held the rhythms together, the guitarist occasionally broke into a stinging solo. Tuxedo recreated this retro sound respectfully well, but did not spark new enterprise with it like Daft Punk or Pharrell Williams. For further success, Tuxedo will have to do more than embrace this post-disco sound; the band will have to marry it to the 21st century.

Visit Tuxedo at www.tuxedofunk.com.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Owl at Lucille's Grill

Bassist Chris Wyse was born in Queens, New York, and soon relocated to the Albany area, where as a teenager he played in a local band with drummer Dan Dinsmore. Wyse later moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career, secured gigs both in bands and in the recording studio, and in 2006 joined the Cult. Wyse also started a side project with Dinsmore and recruited guitarist Jason Mezilis in 2007 to form a hard rock power trio called Owl. Wyse maintained his position in both the Cult and Owl, and also played bass for Ozzy Osbourne and Ace Frehley. Owl releases its third album, Things You Can't See, on July 28, 2015.

At Lucille's Grill tonight, Owl showed a healthy appetite for the irregular and unusual. With years of experience in popular bands, Wyse could have chosen to perform safe hard rock songs for a sure-fire audience. Instead, Owl performed an adventurous hard rock set, where imaginatively-composed songs had enough traditional structure to make them sound familiar, but always included some bold and ambitious left-of-center detours. These lush and lavish detours showcased instrumental intricacy with Mezilis playing dazzling extended guitar leads and Dinsmore hammering his drums ferociously. Wyse sang passionately, and commanded visual attention when he played a thin stand-up bass with a bow, often using delays and sound effects to further enrich the band’s ambitious sound. As the musicians moved between mellower singer-songwriter songs to heavier, noisier pieces, this was unbridled and ambitious rock for musically mature fans.

Owl opens for Philm at the Mercury Lounge on August 10. In the meantime, visit Owl at www.owltheband.net.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Ike Reilly Assassination at the Mercury Lounge

Ike Reilly
Michael Reilly was born in Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, and raised in nearby Libertyville, where he continues to live. He started writing songs and playing the harmonica while in middle school, booking his first paying gig at age 13. Reilly learned to play guitar while working summer jobs at a cemetery, where he cut grass and dug graves. As he began playing in bands, Reilly dropped the M from his first name and became Ike Reilly. He started recording in 1998 and released his debut album in 2001. His seventh studio album and first album in five years, Born on Fire, was released on June 16, 2015. The Ike Reilly Assassination presently consists of Reilly on vocals and guitar, guitarist Phil Karnats, pianist Adam Krier, bassist Pete Cimbalo and drummer Dave Cottini.

Performing the first of two nights at the Mercury Lounge tonight, Reilly was a bedrock storyteller who used dynamic rock music as his vehicle much like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Elvis Costello. Reilly favored his new songs rather than attempt to cover the breadth of his work; of the 12 songs he played, seven were from Born on Fire. Nevertheless, the selections revealed much about the identity of this working class American troubadour with street-poet swagger, as he chronicled episodes of despair, rage, irony and humor in rock, punk, blues and rhythm & blues-rooted music. The opening song, "Two Weeks-a-Work, One Night-a-Love," demonstrated his affinity for late 1960s Chicago-styled electric blues, loaded with gritty grooves, soulful vocals and a honking harmonica. Other songs sounded like beer-chugging chants for the late-night closing of an Irish pub. Reilly ended the set with a pile-driving head-banger, "When Irish Eyes Are Burning." In the end, the Ike Reilly Assassination sounded like Libertyville might be a musical suburb of Asbury Park.

Visit Ike Reilly at www.ikereilly.net.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Hot Sardines at the Bowery Ballroom

Fast Eddy, Miz Elizabeth and Bibs
Elizabeth Bougerol, born in Paris, France, was living in New York City, working as an editor at a travel website by day and attending jazz concerts at night. She occasionally asked the jazz bands if she could sing with them and was consistently rejected for not having any experience. One day in 2007, she slipped out of a holiday party from her day job to go to an open jazz jam. There she met Evan "Bibs" Palazzo, a New York-born pianist who longed to play stride piano and lead a traditional jazz band. After a brief conversation, he played and she sang a Fats Waller song and the bond was sealed. Months later at an open-mic night at Banjo Jim's, they teamed with a tap dancer, Edwin "Fast Eddy" Francisco, whose feet provided percussion along with Bougerol's washboard. This was the start of the Hot Sardines, a band that plays old jazz like it was contemporary pop. The Hot Sardines presently consists of Bougerol (renamed Miz Elizabeth), Palazzo, Francisco, Evan "Sugar" Crane (bass), Alex Raderman (drums), Nick Myers (reeds), Jason Prover (trumpet), and Mike Sailors (cornet/trombone). The Hot Sardines' debut self titled album was released on October 7, 2014.

Fitting for a Bastille Day celebration at the Bowery Ballroom, the Hot Sardines performed old tunes and originals in English and French. Followers of the band dressed in flapper-era outfits and danced in the aisles to swing, ragtime, boogie-woogie and Dixieland, all given a modern twist. The set was rich in standards from the Prohibition/Great Depression to World War II eras, but the intent was to present a contemporary rather than old-timey performance. Miz Elizabeth was a salty singer, unrefined enough to provide both grit and glamour to the songs. Miz Elizabeth looked and acted like Ellen DeGeneres, a genial host who danced joyfully to the music whenever she leaned away from the microphone. Meanwhile, Palazzo on the piano (draped in a French flag) played frenetically with his left hand while his right hand played syncopated melodies and improvisations. Layered in vintage New Orleans, Chicago and Harlem roots, the smoking horn section then blasted hot jazz and Latin fills. The Hot Sardines closed with a rendition of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," and then an encore which had the band play through the audience and onto the sidewalk outside the venue.

Watch for the Hot Sardines to roll in a new Roaring Twenties. In the meantime, visit the Hot Sardines at www.hotsardines.com.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash at the Bowery Electric

Fashioned after the long-running annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bashes, the Johnny Thunders Birthday Bashes are now in their fifth year. Thunders helped form a new sound and movement in New York music in the 1970s, first with the New York Dolls and then with the Heartbreakers. The Queens native died of drug-related causes in 1991 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The birthday bashes are meant to keep alive the spirit and the legacy of Thunders. Tonight's concert featured newer bands, many of whose members were barely alive yet when Thunders died. Each band was assigned at least three Thunders songs to reinterpret. The night ended with the a full set by the Waldos, led by Walter Lure of the Heartbreakers.
Rebel Factory
The Sweet Things
The Shakes
Krebs & the Maynard G's
The Waldos

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Rezillos at the Gramercy Theatre

Fay Fife
The Rezillos formed as a garage pop band in 1976 by art students in Edinburgh, Scotland. The band name was adapted from the name of a club called "Revilos" that appeared in the first issue of the DC Comics publication The Shadow in 1973. Although emerging during the punk rock movement, the Rezillos preferred a light-hearted pop approach rather than the nihilism and angry social commentary of the contemporaries. The band released its 1978 debut album, Can't Stand the Rezillos, received considerable attention, and then split apart four months later. Vocalists Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds formed a new band, the Revillos, which hosted an ever-changing line-up until that group split in 1985. The second wave of the Rezillos began with a reunion in 2002 for a hometown New Year's Eve concert. The band presently consists of Fife and Reynolds, guitarist Jim Brady, bassist Chris Agnew and original drummer Angel Paterson. The Rezillos' sophomore studio album, Zero, was released on March 9, 2015, 27 years after the first album.

The Rezillos headlined at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, only the band's third-ever New York concert (after CBGB's in 1978 and the Bowery Electric in 2012). The vocalists played up to the audience with dances, howls, and chatter, and the male/female vocal delivery was reminiscent of the grungier side of the B-52's, X and the Cramps. The garage-rock songs were guitar-driven, however, with Ramones-like chords powering the melodies and noisy leads filling between lyrics. With punk rock speed, volume and energy, the Rezillos performed most of its two albums, plus a cover of "River Deep, Mountain High," originally recorded by Ike & Tina Turner. The set ended with another cover, Fleetwood Mac's "Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight," the song that revived the Rezillos when it was featured in the soundtrack of a Jackass movie. The Rezillos' sound was rooted in 1960s pop, but it was raucous enough to jar a few heads in 2015.

Visit the Rezillos at www.rezillos.rocks.

tobyMac at the Great Lawn

Kevin McKeehan, better known by his stage name tobyMac, was born in Fairfax, Virginia, and grew up in nearby Falls Church. As a youth, he would frequently take the commuter train to Washington, D.C. so he could purchase the newest rap records. Inspired, he began experimenting with two turntables and a microphone. While attending Liberty College in 1987, he formed the Christian pop rap trio DC Talk; by the time the group split in 2000, DC Talk had sold eight million records. Launching a solo career in 2001, he quickly gained Billboard, Grammy and American Music Awards and sold another three million records. TobyMac's sixth studio album, This Is Not a Test, (stylized as ***This Is Not a Test***) will become available on August 7, 2015.

TobyMac headlined before 60,000 cheering fans at the closing event of Luis Palau's evangelic crusade in the Great Lawn of Central Park tonight. This was tobyMac's largest New York area audience since he opened for Pope Benedict XVI at a 2008 youth rally at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers. Backed by his seven-piece funk rock band, Diverse City, tobyMac sang and rapped an electrifying mix of pop, rock, hip hop, Latin, and funk on "Eye on it", "Boomin'", "Made to Love", "Lose My Soul" and "Speak Life." With lyrics that examined the intersection of life and spirituality, tobyMac sang passionately about hope and redemption, while his energetic band played crunching rock beats, possibly the loudest, hardest beats ever played in Central Park's Great Lawn. The live sound was spectacular, but thousands in the audience were a quarter-mile from the stage and so watched the performance via projection; fans in more than 100 countries, however, watched the concert close-up via simulcast but missed the bright live sound. TobyMac, with his uplifting songs and upbeat band, made for an excellent performance in the park.

TobyMac headlines the Theatre at Madison Square Garden on November 13. In the meantime, visit tobyMac at www.tobymac.com.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Rosie Flores at Hill Country Barbecue + Market

At age 64, Rosie Flores is still twanging her rockabilly guitar. She was born in San Antonio, Texas, but at age 12 moved with her family to San Diego, California. There, her brother taught her to play guitar and she formed her first band while in high school. In the 1970s, Flores played the local nightclub circuit in the alt country band Rosie and the Screamers, then joined an all-female "cow-punk" band called Screamin' Sirens in the 1980s. Flores went solo in 1987. Since then, her guitar playing has garnered feature stories in Guitar World, Premiere Guitar and Guitar Player magazines. She was also the first female Latina country artist to ever enter the Billboard country charts. She currently resides in Austin, Texas, where the Austin City Council declared Rosie Flores Day on August 31, 2006, and where she was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Flores' 13th and most recent album is 2012's Working Girl's Guitar.

At Hill Country Barbecue + Market tonight, Flores looked like a rockabilly queen, with her black cowboy boots and red sequined-and-fringed cowgirl vest, but her music was more than that. Her set included traditional country, honky tonk, western swing and even surf music. Adventurous? Well, she performed a countrified version of the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant." The neo-traditional vocalist sang heartily with an authentic although somewhat ordinary country lilt, yet on the guitar she unequivocally wailed. She alternated leads with her backup guitarist, frequently ripping boldly into sturdy solos and unapologetically bringing on the noise like a riot grrl. After the fiery licks, she always circled her songs back to their Americana roots. Flores rocked the house, locked within the essence of her down-home, old-time Texas twang.

Visit Rosie Flores at www.rosieflores.com.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Burlap to Cashmere at the Bitter End

Pictured left to right: John Philippidis,
Theodore Pagano and Steven Delopoulos
Brooklyn-based vocalist/guitarist Steven Delopoulos envisioned Burlap to Cashmere in 1994 as a theater project for a college final exam. He then recruited his 14-year-old guitarist cousin, John Philippidis, and drummer Theodore Pagano. As more members joined, the ensemble was transformed into a band. Delopoulos wrote the songs and their music drew heavily on American folk and world music influences, especially Greek folk music. By 1995, Burlap to Cashmere had become a septet and started electrifying audiences regularly at the Bitter End. Exhausted, the band split in 2001. In 2005, Philippidis was nearly beaten to death in a road rage incident near his home; an extended hospitalization, which started with a month-long coma and ended with radical facial reconstructive surgery, ultimately sparked a band reunion. Burlap to Cashmere's third album, Freedom Souls, was released on June 23, 2015.

Returning to the Bitter End tonight, Burlap to Cashmere once again proved that its music is singular and unique. Imagine Cat Stevens verses, Simon & Garfunkel harmonic choruses and the instrumentation of the Gipsy Kings. The rollicking Mediterranean-influenced melodies and Philippidis' flamenco-styled guitar picking, particularly on acoustic guitar, were exotic to American ears. Delopoulos' introspectively poetic lyrics called the listener to higher places and hopes, as in "The Other Country" and the new single, "I Will Follow." Burlap to Cashmere's warm rootsy textures and passionate tightly-woven harmonies, given the intriguing Greek troubadour twist, were triumphant in spirit and sound. There is no other music quite like Burlap to Cashmere's music.

Visit Burlap to Cashmere at www.BurlaptoCashmere.com.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Newsboys at Radio City Music Hall

Michael Tait
Newsboys (sometimes stylized as newsboys) is a Christian pop rock band founded in 1985 in Mooloolaba, Australia, and presently is based in Nashville, Tennessee. Newsboys released 17 albums, six of which were certified gold, and has had 33 #1 songs on the Christian charts. After many personnel changes, Newsboys currently consists of lead vocalist Michael Tait (formerly of DC Talk), guitarist Jody Davis, keyboardist and bassist Jeff Frankenstein, and drummer Duncan Phillips; no original members remain in Newsboys. The band's most recent album, Hallelujah for the Cross, was released on 2014.

Newsboys closed a free concert at Radio City Music Hall tonight as part of evangelist Luis Palau's weeklong NY CityFest. Due to the nature of the event, Newsboys showcased its more direct messages with hits including "God's Not Dead" and "We Believe." Tait sang the rallying songs with soulful vocals while the three musicians drove slick, energetic rock arrangements behind him. Radio City Music Hall has an enormous stage, and Tait used it well, constantly pacing the edges to connect with fans. Newsboys had an impressive stage presentation as well, with the musicians on risers and behind them a massive screen projecting lyrics and performance videos. The half-hour set did not give a full representation of what Newsboys would be like at a regular concert, but it was a short and sweet taste for a future full concert.

Visit Newsboys at www.newsboys.com.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Mudhoney at the Bowery Ballroom

Mark Arm
While in high school in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, Mark McLaughlin (later known as Mark Arm) started Mr. Epp and the Calculations, a joke band named after his math teacher, and performed from 1981 to 1984. Arm and his friend Steve Turner in 1984 formed a more serious band, Green River, which released an album and two EPs until its demise in 1987; members went on to form Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, while Arm and Turner formed Mudhoney in 1988. Arm and Turner named their new band after Russ Meyer's Mudhoney, a film neither had ever seen. Mudhoney presently consists of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Arm, lead guitarist Turner, bassist Guy Maddison and drummer Dan Peters; original bassist Matt Lukin left the band in 1999. Mudhoney released its ninth and most recent album, Vanishing Point, in 2013.

Mudhoney launched a seven-date east coast tour tonight at the Bowery Ballroom. The alternative rock quartet performed 24 songs from all but one of its albums but introduced no new material. The set reached back to the band's first single, "Touch Me, I'm Sick," and its b-side, "Sweet Young Thing (Ain't Sweet No More)," songs which even pre-dated the band's 1989 debut album. Mudhoney also resourced the band's early 1980s punk inspirations by covering songs by the Angry Samoans, the Dicks and Black Flag. Mudhoney's set demonstrated how the band converged the primal rage and energy of punk with the minor-key thud of heavy metal for a fuzzy, distorted, pre-grunge sound. Mudhoney performed like a garage band that exploded the garage walls. Whether it was a slow, sludgy song or a high-adrenalin rocker, Arm abused his vocal chords with a snarl and a screech as Turner played roaring leads with wah-wah, fuzz and other dark, heavy tones. When Arm put aside his guitar, he commanded even more attention as he writhed around the stage like Iggy Pop. With 27 years of experience, Mudhoney knew well how to work its music and its audience; all the audience needed was new songs.

Visit Mudhoney at www.mudhoneysite.com.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Bowery Boys at Otto's Shrunken Head

The original Bowery Boys were a mid-19th century nativist anti-Catholic and anti-Irish gang in New York. One hundred years later, the Bowery Boys were a comedic team of actors that made dozens of films in the 1940s and 1950s. The present day Bowery Boys is a band led by vocalist/guitarist Joff Wilson (often stylized as jOff wilsOn). Wilson started playing guitar left-handed as a youth in Rochester, New York. Upon relocating to New York City and settling into the East Village in 2005, he began teaching guitar lessons by day while at night he played behind the late Jim Carroll, David Peel, Puma Perl and other downtown luminaries. His primary musical vehicle now is his Bowery Boys, which presently consists of Wilson, bassist Dav McGauley and drummer Jeanne Carno-Rosenberg.

The Bowery Boys performed an unannounced set tonight in Frank Wood's Wind-Down Sundays concert series at Otto's Shrunken Head, and the small audience responded by abandoning chairs for the dance floor. The songs were fashioned after 1960s guitar-based garage-rock, with Wilson singing bubble gum melodies and playing Chuck-Berry-styled leads while the band powered the songs like the Ramones. Yes, it was a bit retro and a bit classic, but it was all about bringing the fun back into rock and roll.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

San Cisco at the Bowery Ballroom

Jordi Davieson
At age 13, guitarist/vocalist Jordi Davieson already had a working band in the small coastal resort of Fremantle, Australia. Davieson and Scarlett Stevens had known each other since early childhood; she had played drums in a band at age 10 and was attending a nearby college. While in high school in 2009, Davieson assembled a band with Stevens and two of his schoolmates, guitarist Josh Biondillo and bassist Nick Gardner. Initially called King George, the band changed its name to San Cisco after surveying friends and fans. San Cisco's second album, Gracetown, was released on March 6, 2015.

San Cisco ended its three-week 2015 North American tour with a return engagement at the Bowery Ballroom. The quartet opened with the title track from its debut EP, Golden Revolver. From beginning to end, San Cisco filled the air with light, breezy, upbeat songs, with a propensity for rhythm & blues-flavored verses, whispered bridges and falsetto choruses. The band may be marketed as indie, but unless jangly guitars qualify it as indie, the bright, bouncy delivery was classic pop. Except for a couple of songs where Stevens sang at the front of the stage, very little had changed by the time San Cisco performed its final encore, "Fred Astaire." San Cisco's simple melodies and beat had charmed its young audience.

Visit San Cisco at www.sancisco.com.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ceremony at the Bowery Ballroom

Ross Farrar
Ceremony originated as a punk rock band Violent World in 2005 in Rohnert Park, California. As the music became faster and faster, the band renamed itself Ceremony after a Joy Division song. Ironically, while the first album was a hardcore punk album, each subsequent album has been slower and more brooding, sounding closer to Joy Division each time. Ceremony's fifth album, The L-Shaped Man, was released on May 19, 2015. The band is comprised of vocalist Ross Farrar, guitarists Anthony Anzaldo and Andy Nelson, bassist Justin Davis, and drummer Jake Casarotti.

While Ceremony's five albums gradually moved from hardcore punk to increasingly ominous and discordant post-punk, the band interspersed all of those timelines at the Bowery Ballroom tonight. While the audience seemed to embrace it all, the older songs received the greatest response, demonstrated by pit-moshers, crowd-surfers and stage-divers. Yet, it seemed that once angry, the core of the band's has retreated to a simmering despair, a sadness that resounded Joy Division, the Smiths, Wire and Echo & the Bunnymen. The band performed this well, but by evolving from one retro epoch to another, the band did not break new ground. Nevertheless, a genuine sense of honesty prevailed, and perhaps it was this earnestness that helped the die-hard fans appreciate Ceremony's softer change of direction.

Visit Ceremony at www.ceremonyhc.com.