Saturday, August 29, 2015

La Luz at the Bowery Ballroom

Shana Cleveland
A native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Shana Cleveland relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she developed the intricate finger-picking guitar style she would employ in 2009 with the indie-folk Shana Cleveland & the Sandcastles. After recording two albums in the Curious Mystery, the vocalist/guitarist formed the all-woman quartet La Luz in 2012 in Seattle, Washington. Adopting the name La Luz (Spanish for "the light"), the new group released a four-song EP before the year ended, and in 2013 issued its first full-length album. La Luz's second album, Weirdo Shrine, was released on August 7, 2015. La Luz presently consists of Cleveland, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, bassist Lena Simon, and drummer Marian Li-Pino, with all four sharing vocals.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, La Luz performed rock music that uniquely sourced girl-group harmonies, surf guitar and garage rhythms. Despite the vintage origins of these sounds, some 50 years passed before a youthful band to twist the classic sounds into this indie reinvention. While La Luz's attempt at eloping the sounds was sometimes fractured, it was consistently intriguing. A listener may have desired less sugar-sweetened vocals or more guitar reverb, but the band was finding its way to make the marriage work. Cleveland sometimes heightened the fuzz on her guitar twangs for a captivating "surf noir" sound. Sandahl followed with poppy keyboard leads. At times the fusion was vibrantly spellbinding, at other times it was trance inducing. Halfway through the set, La Luz added to the lively spirit of the music by requesting an audience "surf train," similar to a Soul Train dance lineup but for crowdsurfers. The center lane of the crowd moved more than a dozen bodies, mostly female, over their heads from the back of the room to the stage. La Luz stood out as a highly original band.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers at the Bowery Ballroom

Nicki Bluhm
Tim Bluhm, guitarist/vocalist of the Mother Hips, based out of San Francisco, California, was at a New Year’s Eve party when he heard a woman from nearby Lafayette sing. The woman was not a professional singer; she had teaching credentials and lived on a ranch in San Diego, caring for horses. He persuaded her to pursue a singing career -- with him as her mentor. In short time, he also persuaded her to become Mrs. Nicki Bluhm. He co-wrote his bride's first two solo albums, recorded a duet album with her, and now plays in her band, Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, along with guitarists Deren Ney and Dave Mulligan, bassist Steve Adams and drummer Mike Curry. Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers' second album, Loved Wild Lost, was released on April 21, 2015.

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers performed at the Bowery Ballroom tonight without guitarist Tim, who was touring with his primary band, the Mother Hips. Nevertheless, the Gramblers successfully presented a country-kissed rock set highlighting the soulful singing of Mrs. Bluhm. Bluhm stood before the microphone stand in a white low-cut jumpsuit, her hair dancing continuously due to a nearby floor fan; it seemed like the fan might blow away her tall and rail-thin frame as well. The band claimed its calling immediately with the countrified leanings of "Heart Gets Tough" from the current album. The 18-song set largely showcased the band's two albums, with just three songs from Bluhm's solo albums. Recognizing that the Gramblers first became known through internet-posted zero-budget videos of cover songs sung in a van while touring, the set tonight included impressive takes on surprising covers. Singing from the gut, Bluhm sang a credible version of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" early in the set. Later, the musicians gathered around a single microphone for a remarkably clever country-meets-funk acoustic take on Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That." Then as the musicians started to move back to rock positions, Bluhm called them back for a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Deal" (which had been crossed off the evening's set list). Opening act Andrew Combs and his band then joined the Gramblers to jam on Gram Parsons' rousing "Ooh Las Vegas." Still later, guitarist Andy Falco of the Infamous Stringdusters joined the Gramblers for an extended, guitar-driven "Jetplane." Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers' concert gravitated increasingly from record promotion to stage party, and that made the band's performance all the more engaging.

Visit Nicki Bluhm at www.nickibluhm.com.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bodeans at City Winery

Kurt Neumann
Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas met in 1977 while in high school in Waukesha, Wisconsin. They wrote songs together until Llanas entered college, but soon after Neumann persuaded him to pursue music with him. They began to sing and play guitar under the name Da BoDeans in 1980. By 1983, Da BoDeans were playing Milwaukee's music scene with a hired drummer and bass player. They shortened the band's name prior to the release of a debut album in 1986, and Bodeans achieved moderate success over the years. Bodeans' 12th studio album, I Cant Stop, spelled without an apostrophe, was released on April 21, 2015.

Bodeans is still recovering from the departure of Llanas in 2011, but Neumann continued to lead the band in stride. At City Winery tonight, Bodeans played it safe. Much of the set was comprised of songs from when Llanas was a Bodean, but now with Neumann as the sole front man. The band that in its early years straddled between country rock and pop settled into a comfortable middle ground. The problem with the middle ground was that tonight's performance also was very much middle of the road. Neumann sang well, the back-up musicians were polished, the arrangements were sweet, and the accordion was a very nice touch, but there was little bravado or ingenuity to propel the music beyond passive car-radio like-ability. Today's Bodeans is a quintet that sits comfortably in its history, and the concert was pleasant enough, but the performance would have been more interesting if it had been less predictable.

Visit Bodeans at www.bodeans.com.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The J. Geils Band at the Beacon Theatre

Peter Wolf
While attending college in the mid 1960s in Worcester, Massachusetts, vocalist/guitarist John Geils led an acoustic blues trio called Snoopy & the Sopwith Camels with bassist Danny "Dr. Funk" Klein and harmonica player Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz. In 1967, the trio recruited drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and Bronx-born singer Peter Blankenfeld, known professionally as Peter Wolf. They became the rocking J. Geils Blues Band, later dropping the word "Blues" from the band name. The following year, keyboardist Seth Justman joined the J. Geils Band. Since its initial break-up in 1985, the J. Geils Band several times has reunited briefly, beginning in 1999, but has not recorded new songs. The band presently consists of Wolf, Dick, Justman and Klein, with additional hired musicians for live shows.

Headlining a New York concert for the first time in more than 30 years, the J. Geils band stormed the Beacon Theatre with its 1970s rhythm & blues, pop and rock blend. The band opened its 90-minute set with a revue-styled instrumental, highlighting Dick on the harmonica as a lead instrument. Wolf then came onstage and both started and later ended with songs from the band's 1970 debut album; the band played seven of the 11 songs from that album during the 22-song set. Drawing from seven of the band's 12 studio albums, Wolf and the nine-piece band performed familiar originals and obscure blues and soul songs. Yet it was the integrity and the energy of the show that made it a grand comeback for the veteran musicians. Even as the 69-year-old Wolf seemed to grow a bit winded, the quick-moving and hyper-jiving front man still poured more octane into his performance than is ever found in classic rock bands. Tonight's high-energy set was very much like the shows the J. Geils Band performed some 35 years ago, and even without Geils and Bladd in the current line-up, the show retreaded 22 timeless treasures to great effect.

Visit the J.Geils Band at www.jgeilsband.net.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Delta Saints at the Mercury Lounge

Benjamin Ringel
The blues-rocking Delta Saints formed when a collective of college students started jamming in 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee. Louisiana-born singer/lyricist Benjamin Ringel co-founded the band with Kansas native bassist David Supica. Soon after, they were joined by Tennessee-bred guitarist Dylan Fitch and Kentucky keyboardist Nate Kremer. The band's second studio album, Bones, was released on August 7, 2015.

At the Mercury Lounge tonight, the Delta Saints brought a whole lot of Bayou to their blues rock. The weaving of Ringel's soulful singing and finger-picking on a resonator guitar, Fitch's slide guitar, Kremer's rolling organ and Supica's funk-infused bass lines gave the set its swampy sound. It brushed with genuine southern twang, but there was more Delta blues than backwoods honky tonk etched in its brow. While the roots of the music were a throwback to traditional American sounds, the band members gave the set a contemporary pulse with singer-songwriter sensitivities at one end and barroom bombast at the other. It will be fascinating to see where the modern road will lead the hybrid Delta Saints.

Visit the Delta Saints at www.thedeltasaints.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Afropunk Music Festival at Commodore Barry Park

The first Afropunk Music Festival in 2005, then held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, was the launching pad for New York's most alternative and multi-cultural annual music festival. Thousands of avant garde New Yorkers once again turned out for this year's festival in Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn on August 21-23. As in recent years, three stages featured live music alternating with disc jockeys. Between the stages, not-for-profit social action organizations and local craft workers sponsored tables and booths. Popular local food trucks were parked on the street outside the park. For the first time, the festival opened on Friday night with a gala affair starring Grace Jones. Then all day Saturday and Sunday, the Afropunk Music Festival was a place for the urban alternative culture to see and be seen.
Two long banners alongside the main stage declared the mantra of the AfroPunk festival.
Solana Rowe, better known by her stage name SZA, is a singer-songwriter from St. Louis, Missouri, later relocating to Maplewood, New Jersey. SZA sang a minimalist, ethereal rhythm & blues, with elements of traditional soul, hip hop, and chillwave.
letlive. is a post-punk group formed in 2002 in Los Angeles, California. Vocalist Jason Aalon Alexander Butler moshed in the pit with fans and ended the set by climbing a high tower.
New York native Kelis Rogers, better known mononymously as Kelis, sang cool, sparse rhythm & blues.
Suicidal Tendencies was one of the fathers of crossover thrash when Mike Muir started the band in 1981 in Venice, California. The quintet played hardcore punk with metal riffs.
Raised in South Orange, New Jersey, Ms. Lauren Hill, a former member of the Fugees, sat on a love seat with her acoustic guitar for most of her set, singing smooth rhythm & blues.
Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Grace Jones has been a radical force in American dance pop since 1977. At age 67, she is still on the cutting edge, performing topless for the entire set.
Virginia-born emcee GoldLink is piloting the “Future Bounce” genre. His raps were accompanied by polyrhythmic sounds.
Brooklyn-based Aligns was a trio when it won the Afropunk Battle of the Bands 2015. The band performed as a duo (guitar/drums) at the festival, however, playing White Stripes-type garage rock.
Kelela Mizanekristos, known mononymously as Kelela, is a first-generation Ethiopian American, born in Washington, D.C., and now based in Los Angeles, California. She performed low-key electronic dance music with touches of house, electro, R&B, techno, hip hop, and dubstep.
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Gary Clark Jr. is 31 years old but played blues guitar like the old southern masters, albeit with some distortion and other effects.
New York City native Lenny Kravitz played guitar-based rock well into the late night.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Blind Boy Paxton at Lucille's Grill

Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton's grandparents moved from Louisiana to California in 1956, and Paxton, born in 1989, grew up loving the old Cajun and country blues his grandmother sang. He started formal music training when I was 12, when his grandmother let him enroll in music school to learn the fiddle. Two years later he learned to play the banjo. Over time, he added piano, harmonica, accordion, ukulele, guitar, and the bones to his musical arsenal. While his schoolmates were listening to hard rock and hip hop, the young Paxton found he was uninterested in music composed after World War II. As he began losing his sight, he turned increasingly his attention to playing old time country blues, traditional folk, ragtime, Cajun music, hokum, French reels, and Appalachian mountain music. Paxton moved from Los Angeles to upstate New York in 2007 to attend college and soon began playing gigs in Brooklyn; he currently resides in Queens.

At Lucille's Grill tonight, 26-year-old Paxton took his audience on a musical time trip to the rural back porches of the 1920s and 1930s. Performing solo, he switched from guitar to fiddle and banjo, and also played harmonica and bones. Carrying the torch for traditional acoustic blues, Paxton mastered multiple blues styles and picks, shining particularly while finger-picking his acoustic guitar in the Piedmont tradition, with its ragtime and stride-piano influence. Listeners also could discover textures of Mississippi delta blues, which similarly originated in the 1920s and 1930s. Between songs, Paxton was charming, with a gleaming smile and a humorous twist he gave to captivating stories of American history. Paxton is an important modern-day minstrel that keeps alive an almost lost art form, and tonight's performance was equal parts entertainment and education.

Visit Blind Boy Paxton at www.blindboypaxton.com.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams at City Winery

Larry Campbell, Justin Guip & Teresa Williams
Larry Campbell was born in New York, New York, and Teresa Williams is from rural Peckerwood Point, Tennessee. They met when he was hired to play pedal steel guitar behind her at a New York gig over 25 years ago. They married in 1988 but did not perform together until they participated in Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble Band in Woodstock, New York. Otherwise, they seemed to travel in separate hemispheres, he backing Bob Dylan and others and she backing Emmylou Harris and performing her own music. They finally released a self-titled debut as a duo on June 23, 2015.

While Campbell has played many stringed instruments for other artists, at City Winery tonight he stuck closely to his electric guitar and mandolin. Joined by keyboardist Bill Payne of Little Feat, bassist Byron Isaacs of Amy Helm's band and drummer Justin Guip, the music ranged from straight country to honky tonk to gospel. While Campbell has spent the past 35 years as a side musician, he did well as a front person, a role he shared with Williams, and towards the end, with Payne, who led an eight-minute version of "Dixie Chicken" and also sang "Oh Atlanta." The set was casual yet rousing, bringing out the best in all the musicians. Williams was a graceful singer and Campbell finger-picked tastefully, and excelled in their joyous harmonies. They gently moved the set from heartfelt songs to rowdy barroom rockers with class. They were a case student of what happens when a city boy partners in music with a country girl: the songs featured the grandest elements of Americana's deep roots while fearlessly rocking the house.

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams return to New York next month opening for Jackson Browne at various area venues. The duo also will perform in his band.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Santana at Forest Hills Stadium

Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico. There he learned to play the violin at age five and the guitar at age eight under the tutelage of his father, a mariachi musician. The family moved to Tijuana, Mexico, and then San Francisco, California, and Santana became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1965. After several years working as a dishwasher in a diner and busking for spare change, Santana decided to become a full-time guitarist. In 1966, he formed the Santana Blues Band with fellow street musicians. Pioneering a blend of Latin-infused rock with jazz, blues, salsa and African rhythms, the band (which then adopted their front man's name, Santana) gained a following on the San Francisco club circuit. The band's early success was capped at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. Since then, Santana has sold over 100 million records, has won 10 Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. The band's most recent album is the Spanish language Corazon, released on May 6, 2014. Carlos Santana currently lives in Las Vegas.

Headlining the Forest Hills Stadium tonight, Santana performed a two-hour set of the band's signature Latin rock. The evening opened with a video montage showing a younger Carlos' performance at Woodstock as the current line-up took the stage and launched into "Soul Sacrifice," the Santana song that appeared in the Woodstock film and soundtrack album. Santana’s two current lead vocalists, Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay, came onstage and sang newer songs and covers. From the beginning, however, the music was all about Carlos' uncanny guitar work and its trademark percussive backdrop. Whether this backdrop was informed by African rhythms, salsa, samba, cha-cha or hard rock, it was advanced by Santana's guitar solos, richly fluid and played with such clarity that they sounded lyrical, even when they lasted over five minutes. About a half hour into the set, the mostly-silent Carlos introduced his son, Salvatore Santana, and the younger Santana came out to sing three urban pop originals as the elder Santana played backup. Overall, the bulk of the material may have been new to the audience but, as many of the songs were dominated by extended instrumental jams, it hardly mattered what song was being performed. "Smooth" closed the regular set, and the encores began with older songs "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" accompanied by more video highlights of Santana's career. Nearly 50 years in music, Santana live remains a top jam band.

Visit Santana at www.santana.com.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Coal Chamber at Irving Plaza

Dez Fafara
Vocalist Bradley "Dez" Fafara and guitarist Miguel "Meegs" Rascón formed the band She's in Pain in 1992 in Los Angeles, California. A year later, they formed the hard-rocking Coal Chamber, which recorded three well-received albums before disbanding in 2003. Fafara went on to lead Devildriver for six albums and also sang on movie soundtracks, while the other members tried unsuccessful music paths. Coal Chamber reunited in 2011 and presently consists of the familiar line-up of Fafara, Rascón, bassist Nadja Peulen and drummer Mike Cox. Coal Chamber's fourth studio album, Rivals, was released on May 19, 2015, and is the band's first studio album in 13 years.

Headlining at Irving Plaza tonight, Coal Chamber appeared on the dark stage to the sound of eerie sound effects. Once the four members were in position, Fafara greeted the audience, Cox started a hard drum beat, blinding strobe lights flashed into the audience from behind the band, a fast moving video image displayed on a large screen behind Cox, and the band was on its way to launching the set with the industrial rock sound of its oldest hit, "Loco." The band followed quickly with the heavy thudding "Big Truck." Starting with two older songs meant the veteran band was back, but then the blistering new track "I.O.U. Nothing" indicated that the band also came with a present and a promising future as well. Fafara's harsh growl and lion-like roar, along with Rascón's coarse and crunching guitar tones, crossed between brutal nu metal and industrial goth. The songs worked gritty headbanging grooves so fluidly that song endings seemed abrupt. The band commanded visual attention as well: the heavily tattooed, face-painted and nose-ringed singer worked the audience while howling into a vintage-looking microphone (and a digitally-lit megaphone on "Rowboat"), the mascaraed guitarist played to the edge of the stage, the bassist in the sexy dress spun around in circles with her long red hair leading the way, and the muscled, bare-chested drummer often played standing up. Coal Chamber closed with a rousing version of its anthemic "Sway." Coal Chamber's raw performance was much more dynamic than the band's more polished recordings, so hopefully the band will remain together for a while and live out its potential.

Visit Coal Chamber at www.coalchamberofficial.com.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Philm at the Mercury Lounge

Dave Lombardo
When he was two years old, Cuban-born David "Dave" Lombardo immigrated with his family to South Gate, California, and was playing bongos at age 8. Shortly thereafter he played marching drum for his school band. By age 10, he had his first drum kit and learned to play by following along to Kiss songs. At age 16, he met guitarist Kerry King, and after recruiting other musicians, thrash metal band Slayer was born in 1981. Lombardo recorded seven albums with Slayer (although he quit the band three times, most recently in 2013) and has worked other projects and genres, including classical music and television soundtracks. His most recent project is Philm, a Los Angeles-based progressive rock trio formed in 2009 with guitarist Gerry Nestler and bassist Francisco "Pancho" Tomaselli. Philm's second album, Fire from the Evening Sun, was released on September 12, 2014.

At the Mercury Lounge tonight, Philm was a showcase for three musical architects. Left to right, Nestler, Lombardo and Tomaselli were positioned across the front edge of the stage. They spoke little even to each other; the music was the telepathic message. From the start, the polyrhythmic songs twisted and bent in nonconforming and unpredictable turns, not necessarily returning to where the song began. Pushing past all musical boundaries, was this experimental metal, was it extreme jazz, or was it cacophonic noise? The instrumental breaks dominated the set, and were a labyrinth, primitively raw and dangerously ferocious. Nestler muttered and growled as he played anarchic guitar leads, and Tomaselli intoned a deep, thick bass bottom. Inevitably, Lombardo shone as the fearless master, playing perhaps the most innovative and inventive drum patterns of his career. Monstrously aggressive and intense, yet shadowy, abstract and perplexing, Philm played some of the most complex progressive music to bleed the ears of heavy music fans.

Needtobreathe at Terminal 5

Bear Rinehart
William "Bear" Rinehart III and Nathaniel "Bo" Rinehart were raised in Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, and later moved to Seneca, where as teenagers the brothers began playing music together in church. They later performed publicly in coffee houses at Furman University, where Bear was a star wide receiver. In 1999, Needtobreathe took shape as a heartland rock band playing an ever-widening tour circuit. Initially releasing their music independently, the band now has five major-label albums. Live from the Woods at Fontanel is the band's first live album, released on April 14, 2015. Currently based in Charleston, Needtobreathe (stylized as NEEDTOBREATHE) is Bear Rinehart (lead vocals, guitar), Bo Rinehart (backing vocals, guitar), Seth Bolt (backing vocals, bass) and Josh Lovelace (backing vocals, keyboards), although additional musicians are used in live performances.

Headlining at Terminal 5 tonight, Needtobreathe emphasized the heart in the term heartland. Bear sang with a rich, emotive voice that beckoned audience response. Wrapped around well-written and meaningful lyrics, his distinctive voice felt warm, homey and personal. Softer songs weaved between harder blues and country-inflected rockers, all delivered with an honest small-town integrity. Bo played guitar for most of the performance, but when he strapped on a banjo, the band's southern calling became more than evident. Likewise, when Bear shouted soulfully, it recalled the brothers' roots in their dad's Pentecostal church. Needtobreathe specialized in rocking music that first moved the soul and then the hips.

Visit Needtobreathe at www.needtobreathe.com.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at Damrosch Park

Lyle Lovett was raised on his family's horse ranch in Klein, Texas, a small Houston suburb named after his grandfather. While in college majoring in both German and journalism, Lovett started writing his own music and performing in coffee houses. After recording his self-titled debut country music album in 1986, he began experimenting further in jazz, swing, blues, gospel, folk and pop within the country framework. He frequented landed roles on television and in movies, and is perhaps best known for eloping with Julia Roberts in 1993 after they met on a movie set; they divorced two years later. Lovett has recorded 11 albums, the most recent, Release Me, in 2012; he has won four Grammy Awards.

Tonight's free performance at Damrosch Park as part of Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors began with Lovett's band on stage and his back-up singer, Francine Reed, starting the opening song strolling slowly through the audience. Lovett's set opened and closed with accompaniment from His Large Band, a 15-piece ensemble that helped Lovett deliver swing, jazz and blues songs. The middle half of the two and a half hour set featured a reduced line-up (usually no horns, less percussion and no Reed) playing folk, country, bluegrass and gospel. That Lovett was able to lead all these genres convincingly was a masterful feat in itself. Lovett's singing highlighted an aching, yearning quality that was ripe for his blues and country songs of love and heartbreak; other lyrics revealed Lovett's wry wit. He was a generous bandleader, turning many of his songs into multi-level jams where every musician's talents were elevated. Beyond the sincerity and charm of his musical performance, Lovett's pleasing demeanor was casual, relaxed and chatty, inviting his audience into a cozy ambiance. The result was a modern and eclectic performance spanning the various sub-genres of Americana, executed with smarts, class and expert technique.

Visit Lyle Lovett at www.lylelovett.com.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Desaparecidos at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Conor Oberst
Vocalist/guitarist Conor Oberst formed the band Desaparecidos in 2001 in Omaha, Nebraska, but put the emo band on hiatus after one album as his other band, the indie folk band Bright Eyes, began to gain popularity. Charged with a political bent, the band took its name from the Spanish word "desaparecidos." which means "disappeared ones"; it is a reference to the political dissidents who mysteriously disappeared under Latin American dictatorships, particularly Augusto Pinochet’s right-wing dictatorship in Chile from 1973-1990. With Bright Eyes on hold, Desaparecidos reunited for a single show in 2010, and in 2012 embarked on its first tour since 2002. Desaparecidos released its second album, Payola, on June 23, 2015, 13 years after the debut Read Music/Speak Spanish. The band consists of original members Oberst, guitarist Denver Dalley, keyboardist Ian McElroy, bassist Landon Hedges and drummer Matt Baum.

Oberst recently concluded a solo tour promoting a solo album, but the singer is now committed to Desaparecidos. At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Desaparecidos performed 11 of the 14 songs from its new album, six of the nine songs from the debut album, and a cover of the Clash's "Spanish Bombs." If anyone came to see the folkie side of Oberst, that person was in for a surprise. This band rocked an intense wall of sound, many of the songs fit for crowd surfers and stage divers. Often the musicians' faces were covered with hair as they bounced to the hard and heavy rhythms. Rooted in loud tuneful punk, the melodies rode on escalating, anthemic cascades and were given drama by Oberst's angst-filled vocals. The thrust of the adrenalin-driven music felt like it was caught in a tornado. If anything, this was the fault of the set; there was little if any nuance in the mix. Many songs also took on a socio-political defiance, such as the anti-corporate, anti-CEO "Golden Parachutes" and the anti-racism "MariKKopa," adding to the vibrant urgency of the music. For the encores, Desaparecidos brought out their opening acts: the So So Glos on "Slacktivist" and the Band Droidz on "Spanish Bombs." The evening ended with the pro-worker "Mañana" and the anti-establishment "Greater Omaha." Rather than Bright Eyes, this was more like Angry Eyes.

Visit Desaparecidos at www.desaparecidosband.com.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

KMFDM at Irving Plaza

Lucia Cifarelli & Sascha Konietzko
German vocalist/programmer/keyboardist Sascha Konietzko founded the industrial band KMFDM as a performance art project in 1984 for an exhibition of young European artists in Paris, France. KMFDM is an anagram for the nonsensical and grammatically incorrect German phrase Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid, which literally translates as "no majority for the pity", but is typically given the loose translation of "no pity for the majority." KMFDM experienced many line-up changes before splitting in 1999. Konietzko resurrected KMFDM in 2002, and by 2005 he had assembled a consistent line-up that included American singer Lucia Cifarelli, British guitarists Jules Hodgson and Steve White, and British drummer Andy Selway. KMFDM has released 19 studio albums, with sales of more than two million records worldwide. Our Time Will Come, the band's 19th and most recent studio album, was released on October 14, 2014. After brief residences in Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington, Konietzko presently is based in his hometown of Hamburg, Germany.

KMFDM was one of the first bands to bring industrial music to mainstream audiences, pioneering the crossover between techno/dance and heavy metal with a signature techno-industrial sound. At Irving Plaza tonight, KMFDM backed the male and female vocals with a fusion of crunching heavy metal guitar riffs, electronic music, industrial beats, pre-programmed samples and dance floor sensibilities. Only a super-fan would have recognized the majority of the music; the band performed 20 songs from 13 albums. The Mohawked, sunglassed Konietzko growled the first song, "Money," alone; Long Island native Cifarelli received applause when she came out to howl with him on the second song, "Light." Koneitzko and Cifarelli each stood before a small synthesizer/programmer/sequencer, but often stepped away to sing at the edge of the stage, Cifarelli often dancing and slithering like a vertical cobra. Throughout the set, flashing lights and fog played with the dark and dense dance grooves (and with the auto focus on our cameras). If there are raves in hell, they might sound like this.

Visit KMFDM at www.kmfdm.net.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers at the Drom

Amy Helm
Amy Helm was born and raised in a musical conclave in Woodstock, New York. Her father, the late Levon Helm, was the drummer in the Band, her mother was singer-songwriter Libby Titus and her stepfather was Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. As a teenager, she played her first show in a Manhattan bar, then sang and played in several other bands until joining her father's band, the Midnight Ramblers, for 10 years. Her father passed away in 2012, and she is now leading Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers with guitarist Dan Littleton, bassist Byron Isaacs and drummer David Berger. After three albums with the alt-country collective Ollabelle, her first solo album, Didn't It Rain, was released on July 24, 2015.

Headlining at the Drom two nights after opening for Dr. John in Central Park, Helm showed that the roots of her music remain close to those of her father. As a formidable singer-songwriter, her lyrics explored the timeless themes of life, love and loss. The format of the catalogue pivoted largely on traditional folk and country, but stretched generously into blues and gospel. Helm played mandolin on a few songs, and sang soulfully and expressively whether the song simmered on bluegrass or rhythm and blues. Littleton played an acoustic guitar but curiously made it sound like an electric guitar; he and Berger brought the rock jam sound to many of the up-tempo songs. In all, Helm's heartfelt singing, choice of material and arrangements drew by the buckets from the many streams of Americana. Given proper exposure, Helm may revitalize the Woodstock sound.

Helm will perform with Ollabelle at City Winery on September 3. In the meantime, visit Amy Helm at www.amyhelm.com.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

X at City Winery

Bassist John Doe and guitarist Billy Zoom met through the musicians' classified page in a music newspaper in Los Angeles, California. Doe began bringing his poet girlfriend, Exene Cervenka, to their rehearsals and she began to share vocal duties with Doe. After trying out several drummers, they finally settled on DJ Bonebrake. The seminal line-up for the punk band X was completed in 1977. X released seven studio albums from 1980 to 1993 and, after a period of inactivity during the mid to late 1990s, X reunited in the early 2000s. X's most recent album of new songs is 1993's Hey Zeus!

On X's 2014 tour, the band concentrated on one album for each of four nights at City Winery; this time around they shuffled the set list and played the same songs in a revised order. This time, however, Zoom suddenly withdrew from the tour in order to seek immediate medical treatment for bladder cancer; the shows were partially a benefit for Zoom, with City Winery selling autographed bottles of “Billy Zoom” wine to support his medical bills. With little time for debriefing, Texas-based guitarist Jesse Dayton (Waylon Jennings, Supersuckers) sat in for Zoom, learning 28 songs in eight days. At City Winery tonight, the opening act, Dead Rock West, closed its set with a cover of the Staple Singers' "This May Be the Last Time" and were joined on stage by X members singing harmony. After intermission, X rocked 22 songs from the band's early 1980s catalogue plus an older song, 1978’s "Adult Books." Most of the set was high-speed punk rock; there was very little from the band's more subtle folk and country side. Doe and Cervenka's off-kilter harmonizing was riveting, Dayton added a punky twang and Bonebrake's propulsive percussion drove the songs home. X injected punk sensibilities into two cover songs, the Otis Blackwell–composed "Breathless" and the Doors' "Soul Kitchen." All the public needs is some new material, please.

Visit X at www.xtheband.com.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dr. John at Rumsey Playfield

Malcolm "Mac" Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, was born almost 75 years ago in New Orleans, Louisiana. Active as a session pianist since the late 1950s, he gained his own following in the late 1960s as Dr. John the Night Tripper, when he combined a theatrical stage show inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes and voodoo ceremonies with music rooted in New Orleans rhythm & blues, jazz, zydeco, boogie woogie and rock and roll. Over the years, the wild visual element has dissipated, but Dr. John continues to play New Orleans-informed music on his own and on other artists' recordings. Dr. John has recorded over 20 albums, winning six Grammy Awards and inductions into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His most recent album, a tribute to Louis Armstrong entitled Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, was released on August 19, 2014.

Dr. John & the Nite Trippers were supposed to perform a free Summerstage concert in Central Park's Rumsey Playfield last summer, but shortly before John was to come on stage, his doctor told him he was not well enough to perform. Apologies were made to the audience and the concert was cancelled. Last year he could not perform for five minutes, but this afternoon he performed for two hours. As the Nite Trippers played a revue-styled introduction, trombonist Sarah Morrow asked the audience if "anyone needed a doctor." Walking with a cane, Dr. John made his way to his piano. We may not know if he actually practices hoodoo or voodoo, but a skull decorated his piano. Before long, John was singing one of his many cover songs, "Iko Iko," a song about two tribes of New Orleans Indians clashing during the Mardi Gras parade. The syncopated rhythms of many similar and original songs kept the audience dancing in place for much of the concert. He brought the French Quarter to the stage with a rhythmic gumbo that featured his deep, dark vocals, his fast fingered piano runs and extended solos by his musicians. After a few of his better known songs, including "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" and "Right Place, Wrong Time," John recalled Satchmo with covers of "(What a) Wonderful World" and "Mack the Knife." For Dr. John, Mardi Gras is more than an annual event, it is a pervasive state of mind, and his performance today celebrated that festive life.

Visit Dr. John at www.nitetripper.com.