Monday, November 30, 2015

Twin Fog at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village

Sebastian Blanck
Sebastian Blanck was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1998 from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Since 2002, he has shown his art in solo exhibitions and group shows. Blanck similarly captures his view of the world via songwriting. He released a folk-influenced solo album in 2010 entitled Alibi Coast. As Blanck was developing new songs to record for what he originally intended to be another solo album, he found his musical soul mates and instead formed the New York City-based Twin Fog in 2013. The band is comprised of Blanck on vocals and guitar, Chris Robertson on guitars, keyboards and vocals, Richard Baluyut on bass, and Joey Bouchard on drums. Twin Fog's debut album, The 8th Year, will be released in 2016.

Twin Fog performed its second concert ever, and the first in New York, tonight at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel. Blanck retained his signature pop sound in this band, but the input from the other musicians allowed for edgier song constructions, including augmented countermelodies and deeper grooves. The lyrics were canvases featuring portraits of people, capturing emotional relationships and animating them through driving pop rock music. The marriage of art sensibilities with musical rhythms charmed like a tender embrace, but the bottom line is that the listener would have to be a fan of pop music to enjoy Twin Fog's new art.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Salt Cathedral at the Ace Hotel

Vocalist/programmer Juliana Ronderos and guitarist Nicolas Losada are from Bogotá, Colombia, but are currently based in Brooklyn, New York. The duo used to play in a rock band called Il Abanico, but since 2011 are a dreamwave/chillwave band called Salt Cathedral, named after an underground church built in a salt mine in Zipaquirá, Colombia. Salt Cathedral's second EP, Oom Velt, was released on September 9, 2014.

Concluding a month of Sundays at the Ace Hotel tonight, Salt Cathedral performed an ethereal electro-pop set that was big on light, airy vocals along with synth and samples backdrops. Ronderos crooned into the microphone and spun dials on her electronic devices while her silent partner, Losada, strummed jazzy chords on an electric guitar. The flighty music featured layered arrangements and a few gripping hooks with gliding vocals for a trance-like effect. Presently, the indie music scene is glutted with electronica artists, but Salt Cathedral's forward-thinking compositions should help the duo stand out among its peers.

Visit Salt Cathedral at

Saturday, November 28, 2015

G.E. Smith, Chad Smith, Will Lee at Irving Plaza

G.E. Smith
George Haddad began playing guitar at the age of four in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. As a young adult, he left the Poconos for the New Haven, Connecticut area, and later moved to New York and became the guitarist for Gilda Radner's 1979 Broadway show Gilda Live. Now known as G. E. Smith, he went on to become the lead guitarist for Hall & Oates, Bob Dylan and Roger Waters, as well as the musical director of Saturday Night Live.

Chadwick "Chad" Smith was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but spent most of his childhood in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He started to play drums at age seven. Later, Smith moved to California to pursue his musical aspirations. He has drummed in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot and recorded with many artists.

William "Will" Lee IV was born in San Antonio, Texas, but started playing in bands at age 12 in Miami, Florida. Upon moving to New York, he played with several bands but is best known for his work on The Late Show with David Letterman. Lee also performs in a Beatles tribute band, the Fab Faux.

Hang around the New York music scene long enough and you will see all three of these musicians jam in various bands. Tonight the trio came together to headline at Irving Plaza, simply billed as G.E. Smith, Chad Smith, Will Lee. The set mostly consisted of covers and instrumentals. The cover songs were hardly meant to emulate their popular versions, however, but rather became the skeletons for extended jams, with G.E.'s vocals simply as bookends. The three musicians demonstrated exceptional skill at their craft and, with no album to promote, played simply for the love of creating music. For the audience, the thrill of the experience was in watching expert musicians ripping masterfully and passionately on their instruments almost spontaneously. Local music lovers need to encourage them to a repeat performance.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Morning Jacket at the Beacon Theater

Jim James
In 1998 Louisville, Kentucky, Jim James began writing acoustic songs that were not appropriate for his demising band, Month of Sundays. He recruited several former members of a Shelbyville-based emo-punk band, Winter Death Club, and the first line-up of My Morning Jacket was formed. James was inspired to name the new band after finding a tainted coat emblazoned with the letters MMJ. The band currently consists of vocalist/guitarist Jim James, guitarist Carl Broemel, keyboardist Bo Koster, original bassist Tom Blankenship, and drummer Patrick Hallahan. My Morning Jacket released its sixth album, The Waterfall, on May 4, 2015.

My Morning Jacket announced that it would perform completely different set lists at its four nights at the Beacon Theatre. Tonight was the second night, and like the first, it dug deep into the band's catalog. The set featured the band's earlier psychedelic side first before gravitating to newer, high energy anthems. My Morning Jacket started with "The Dark" from the band's 1999 debut album, The Tennessee Fire. Rooted in rock and country, the set occasionally hinted at dub and reggae influences and often drifted into experimental and psychedelic jams. In addition to songs not performed in a few years "You Wanna Freak Out" and "Movin Away," the set included several surprises. James' take on "Nothing to It" from the Bob Dylan tribute compilation, Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. Opening act Strand of Oaks (a.k.a. Timothy Showalter) returned to the stage to sing " Wonderful (The Way I Feel)." The set also included "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)," a song from James' solo album. Rather than assembling a slick greatest hits package for the masses, My Morning Jacket designed this show to please its hardcore fans.

Visit My Morning Jacket at

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre

Jack Casady & Jorma Kaukonen
Hot Tuna formed in 1969 as a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane while vocalist Grace Slick was recovering from throat node surgery and was unable to perform. Hot Tuna began by covering many Airplane tunes and adding traditional blues and folk songs. When Slick was ready to resume singing, the members of Hot Tuna returned to Jefferson Airplane. Hot Tuna performances were intermittent, sometimes even opening for the Airplane, until the demise of the Airplane in 1972. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady then turned Hot Tuna into a full-time band. Hot Tuna's most recent album is 2011's Steady as She Goes.

This weekend's Hot Tuna concerts at the Beacon Theatre celebrated Kaukonen's 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane. Tonight, the second night, the first part of the set consisted of Kaukonen, Casady and drummer Justin Guip performing mostly Americana tunes. Kaukonen used two electric guitars, one for the bluesy songs and the other for the folkie songs. Kaukonen's blues work was impressive, but when he played the folk songs, he was outstanding, perhaps the best in the field, with a busy finger-picking style hearkening back to Rev. Gary Davis. The set ended with two rockers, "Funky #7" and "Hit Single #1." The second set featured a larger ensemble performing Jefferson Airplane songs. Vocalists Jeff Pehrson, Rachel Price (Lake Street Dive) and Teresa Williams, and guitarists G.E. Smith (on a rare 12-string Telecaster!) and Larry Campbell joined the three core musicians. Kaukonen and Casady, the only Airplane members onstage, for the most part laid back, however, and let others direct the music. Here is where the evening began to tread water, as these covers paid tribute but reflected little of the magic of the original versions. Twenty-five songs after it all began, all 10 musicians jammed on the Grateful Dead's "Sugaree." Overall it was a pleasant show, honoring the vast history of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane.

Visit Hot Tuna at

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

!!! at the Bowery Ballroom

Nic Offer
Vocalist Nic Offer formed !!! (pronounced "Chk Chk Chk") as a dance punk band in 1996 in Sacramento, California. The band's name was inspired by the subtitles of the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which the clicking sounds of the Bushmens' Khoisan language were represented as "!". The band !!! is composed of Offer, Mario Andreoni (guitar), Dan Gorman and Allan Wilson (horns/percussion/keys), Tyler Pope (bass/various electronic devices), and Paul Quattrone (drums). The band currently is based in New York City, Sacramento, and Portland, Oregon. The band's sixth album, As If, was released on October 16, 2015.

!!! headlined at the Bowery Ballroom tonight and had its fans dancing from the first note until the last. Dressed in a plain t-shirt and short shorts, Offer also danced throughout the show, several times even in the audience. As the band played simple dance grooves, Offer sang in his best Sam Smith falsetto. It all seemed tongue-in-cheek, like faux disco to make the listener chuckle and dance simultaneously. Nevertheless, the trap house beats, the sinewy bass lines and the chigga-chigga guitar lines were real and thoroughly retro. It may be a novelty, but !!! revved up a party spirit very well.

Visit !!! at

Monday, November 16, 2015

Public Image Ltd. at the PlayStation Theater

John Lydon
In 1975 London, England, manager Malcolm McLaren was impressed by John Lydon's image and fashion style. McLaren invited Lydon to become the singer of the newly-formed Sex Pistols. Renamed Johnny Rotten, Lydon subsequently became the poster boy of the punk movement. The Sex Pistols disintegrated in 1978 and Lydon formed the more experimental Public Image Ltd. (PiL), which recorded eight albums under various line-ups and then went on hiatus in 1992. In subsequent years, Lydon performed in several Sex Pistols reunions, hosted television shows in the UK, US, and Belgium, wrote two autobiographies, and recorded a solo album. Lydon resurrected Public Image Ltd. in 2009 and recorded two more albums. The band's 10th album, What the World Needs Now..., was released on September 4, 2015.

In 1981, Public Image Ltd.'s first New York concert at the Ritz nearly caused a riot when the band performed new improvisational material live behind a projection screen while the band's albums played simultaneously through the speakers. Lydon taunted the audience from behind the screen and the public responded by throwing bottles at the screen. Tonight's two-hour performance at the PlayStation Theater was tame in comparison. Lydon turns 60 in January, and he looks like he is double the weight of his bad boy days of 35 years ago. Still spikey-haired, he wore two earrings in each ear and a black-and-white-striped prison-styled pants and top, partly decorated with safety pins. Instead of the snarl from ages ago, he frequently sucked his upper lip into his lower lip. Half of the set was comprised of newer songs and half were older songs given a new twist. Guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith hit on a funk or dub reggae groove, and Lydon sang his lyrics, barely moving away from his microphone and sheet music stands. He frequently became Patti Smith, extending many songs with what seemed to be stream-of-consciousness lyrics and acerbic social commentary. The uneven set shifted between the angry passion of Lydon and Edmonds' interplay and languishing tedium from repetitive trance-like rhythms. PiL's magnet was the legendary Johnny Rotten, even as Lydon these days evolves more into poet than performer.

Visit Public Image Ltd. at

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fuzz at the Bowery Ballroom

Charles Moothart
In 2011, Charles Moothart, the second guitarist in the Ty Segall Band, was looking to create a vehicle for his heavy guitar riffs. Segall moved from guitar to drums, and Fuzz was born. The garage-rock trio presently also features bassist Chad Ubovich, and all three musicians sing lead. Fuzz's second album, II, was released on October 23, 2015.

Fuzz was an appropriate name for the band's performance tonight at the Bowery Ballroom. While the three instruments were played clearly, there was an overall fuzz to the sound and even to the mood of the songs. Hearkening back to the bluesy acid rock sounds of early classic rock, Fuzz looked and sounded like Blue Cheer, a late 1960s mega-thrusting, ear-bleeding trio also from the Bay Area of California, but probably owed more to the heavy rock influence of Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. Powered by Moothart's riffs, riffs and more riffs, Fuzz was pure stoner rock with a  dash of punk vocals. The question remains whether Fuzz will continue as a side project or if it will disappear and melt its sound back into the Ty Segall Band.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lettuce at the PlayStation Theater

Erick Coomes
Lettuce began in 1992, when the members were teenagers attending a summer music program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1994, the musicians reconvened as undergraduates at Berklee and asked jazz club owners and other musicians if they would "let us play," giving birth to the name Lettuce. The core of Lettuce has remained intact since then. Its members consist of guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam "Shmeeans" Smirnoff, keyboardist Neal Evans, bassist Erick Coomes, drummer Adam Deitch, and the Shady Horns (saxophonist Ryan Zoidis and trumpeter Eric "Benny" Bloom). The funk band has since relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and its fourth album, Crush, was released on November 6, 2015.

Lettuce lit up the funk for two headline nights at the PlayStation Theater. Playing a mostly instrumental set, Lettuce specialized in uptempo grooves and plenty of symbiotic jams. Riveted in place by the solid rhythm section, the guitars, keyboards and horns provided the bright, melodic leads. Occasionally the music would drift towards psychedelia, but for the most part focused on its smooth, jazzy foundation. Sounding very much like an updated Average White Band, Lettuce kept the energetic jams warm and bouncy, inducing considerable hip-swaying in the audience. For the finale, the band was joined by rhythm and blues singer Nigel Hall, who sang a soulful medley of "Makin’ My Way Back Home", "Do It Like You Do" and a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up." For more than two decades, Lettuce has ignited dance parties by injecting rich textures and fiery vitality into classic funk rhythms; the closing night show at the PlayStation Theater was equally impressive and refreshing.

Visit Lettuce at

Friday, November 13, 2015

tobyMac at the Theater at Madison Square Garden

DC Talk was the hugely successful rap-rocking Christian equivalent of the Beastie Boys from 1987 to 2001. Between five DC Talk albums and six solo albums, Kevin Michael McKeehan, better known by his stage name tobyMac, has sold more than 10 million albums. His sixth studio album, This Is Not a Test, (stylized as ***This Is Not a Test***) was released on August 7, 2015. Originally from Virginia, tobyMac is presently based in Franklin, Tennessee.

TobyMac and his band, Diverse City, brought their signature mix of pop, rock, hip hop, Latin, and funk to the Theater at Madison Square Garden tonight. Utilizing a video backdrop and a stage that projected into the audience in a T shape, tobyMac opened with a new song, "Til The Day I Die," and finished the electrifying set 20 songs later. Looking and sounding at times like Justin Timberlake, tobyMac rapped, crooned, danced and even prayed to jumping, good-timey pop music. Each of the three opening acts (Hollyn, Colton Dixon and Britt Nicole) joined tobyMac on stage at various points, and one song, "Love Feels Like," reunited tobyMac via lyric video with Michael Tait and Kevin Max of DC Talk. Not only did tobyMac sing well, but each song was built colorfully and intriguingly around a thick and clever arrangement. This performance proved that if tobyMac could ever break through to the mainstream, he would amaze pop, rock and hip hop audiences.

Visit tobyMac at

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dir en Grey at the Gramercy Theatre

Dir En Grey formed as a metal band in Japan in 1997. The name was composed of words from several languages so that it has no specific meaning other than the band's name itself. Originally a visual kei band, Dir En Grey has opted for less dramatic attire in recent years. The five members each go by a single name: vocalist Kyo; guitarists Kauro and Die; bassist Toshiya; and drummer Shinya. That line-up has been since its inception. Dir En Grey released Arche, its ninth and most recent album, on December 10, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Kyo () wore a long white robe and draped his head in a low hanging black fabric that partially concealed his face mysteriously. Positioned over a bright light and fan for most of the show, Kyo swayed, squatted and spun, and the robe and drape billowed and created shadow effects. As Kyo unwrapped the shroud, the audience saw a man with bizarre face paint that included two eyes painted above his real eyes. Kyo's voice dynamics echoed his dramatic movements; alternating between a cower, a reach for the sky, and nearly every position in between, Kyo's voice similarly ranged everywhere from a whispering croon to a guttural scream. A listener frequently might not understand what he sang, but his movements and vocals were hypnotic and elegant. Behind him, the musicians sometimes played a simmering backdrop or played scraping industrial, progressive and experimental metal. Free from clichés and commercial hooks, the songs were innovative and daring, designed more to be experienced than heard. The concert was non-traditional and uniquely rarefied.

Visit Dir En Grey at

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dead & Company at Madison Square Garden

John Mayer and Bob Weir
The Grateful Dead formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, and while the core band enjoyed great success and stayed together over the next 30 years, it was haunted by many deaths. Following the death of guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia in1995, the remaining members formally decided to disband. These surviving members reunited in various combinations, however, including the Other Ones, the Dead, Furthur, and the Rhythm Devils. In addition, many of the musicians started their own bands, all of which played Grateful Dead music. In the summer of 2015, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart reunited for five stadium concerts called "Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead," stating that this would be the last time that the "core four" would perform together. The Grateful Dead's music would live on, however. Shortly after the stadium concerts, Lesh toured with his own band, Phil Lesh & Friends, while Weir, Kreutzmann, and Hart announced the formation of Dead and Company with guitarist John Mayer, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, and bassist Oteil Burbridge, playing 20 arena concerts from October to December 2015.

Dead and Company's third concert at Madison Square Garden was sponsored by American Express, and tickets were distributed free via lottery. Despite the mix of old and new musicians, the entire concert was comprised of songs that the core musicians had played in concert since at least 1978, with a couple of songs that stretched as far back as 1967. Mayer, an accomplished blues and pop artist, sang and played lead guitar well on songs largely composed before his birth in 1977. Mayer added a gritty, swampy layer to the songs, but otherwise the concert was yet another retread for the vast and undying Dead Head community. Dead & Company was not the Grateful Dead, but instead the remaining scraps of the Dead's legacy. For Dead Heads everywhere, Dead & Company will have to do, at least until the next inevitable combination of surviving musicians reunites.

Visit Dead & Company at

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Amaranthe at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Elize Ryd
Vocalist Joacim "Jake E." Lundberg and guitarist/keyboardist Olof Mörck had performed in various bands in their native Sweden when they joined forces to form a new melodic power metal band in 2008. This band, originally called Avalanche before changing the name to Amaranthe in 2009, was to be different in that it would alternate three types of lead vocalists. Amaranthe's present line-up consists of Lundberg on clean male vocals, Elize Ryd on clean female vocals, Henrik Englund on unclean vocals, Mörck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Løwe Sørensen on drums . Following three studio albums, Amaranthe released a compilation, Breaking Point - B-Sides 2011-2015, on October 30, 2015, consisting of b-sides and bonus tracks.

Amaranthe headlined tonight at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall as part of a 22-date North American Massive Collision Tour. Lundberg bowed out of the tour due to a family emergency, however, and Chris Adam Hedman Sörbye, the lead singer of Swedish rock band Smash into Pieces, replaced Lundberg on clean male vocals. The three vocalists frequently sang on the same songs, with the Ryd and Adam dual-gender clean-singing effect contrasting sharply with Englund's death growls. The band opened with newer songs, "Digital World" and "Trinity" before digging into the catalog with "Hunger" from 2011's debut album. Ryd then expressed approval of the intimate setting of the small venue; indeed, she had already reached out and touched many fans during the opening songs. While most of the music was radio metal for the masses, the band periodically hammered some crunching power chords, which were quickly offset by floating synth lines and Ryd's soaring vocals for an epic sound. The mix constantly hovered between light and dark, dwelling mostly on the sunny side. Perhaps more than any band before it, Amaranthe mastered the unlikely combination of commercial power metal with elements of underground metal in doses small enough to challenge without going over the edge. Marketed to the right audience, Amaranthe could be huge.

Visit Amaranthe at

Soldiers of Fortune at Max Fish

In 2004, bassist Brad Truax of Interpol and Spiritualized conceived of an anti-band in which several musicians would gather periodically to play together but never write songs, rehearse, tour, record or make any products for public consumption. Soldiers of Fortune came together as an anarchic improvisational collective, but a traditional convention snuck in and a debut album, Early Risers, will be released on November 6, 2015. The loose collective consists of Truax, drummer Kid Millions (Man Forever, Oneida), keyboardist Barry London (Oneida), and guitarists Matt Sweeney (Chavez ), Jesper Eklow (Endless Boogie), Mike Strallow (a.k.a. Mike Bones), and Patrick Sullivan (a.k.a. Papa Crazee of Oneida and Oakley Hall).

Soldiers of Fortune performed at a record release party in the basement of Max Fish tonight. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, Steve Malkmus & the Jicks), who contributed to the album, joined the core anti-band for the evening. The club had no stage, sound system or lighting system. Instead, instruments and amplifiers were lined lengthwise along a narrow hallway. Eventually, the musicians began gathering and tuning their instruments. At an undefined moment, the tuning evolved into the composition. The five guitarists, the keyboardist, the bassist, and the drummer turned toward the center of their grouping and mostly stared at their instruments or kept their eyes closed, never once looking up at the audience of about 50 people. No one seemed to be directing either the general compass or the solos. The octet played one improvisational piece for over an hour, slowing down and speeding up, with sporadic grunts, howls and chants from several musicians. For the listener, the experience perhaps was at times harrowing and grating, and at times magnetic and hypnotic. Spontaneous chaos rubbed against instantaneous creativity, swinging from unconstruction into lucid construction and then back into deconstruction. What happened tonight can never happen again -- at least not exactly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Blind Guardian at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Hansi Kürsch
Blind Guardian formed as a speed metal and power metal band in the mid-1980s in Krefeld, West Germany. Ten musicians have been a part of the band's line-up in its history, but since 2005 has consisted of vocalist Hansi Kürsch, lead guitarist André Olbrich, rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen, and drummer Frederik Ehmke. Barend Courbois is the band's new bassist. Kürsch and Olbrich compose the music, with Kürsch's lyrics frequently inspired by fantasy fiction authors, traditional legends and epics. As such, fans see the band members as travelling storytellers and have nicknamed Blind Guardian "The Bards." Blind Guardian released its 10th studio album, and the first in five years, Beyond the Red Mirror, on January 30, 2015.

Although Blind Guardian has existed for some 30 years, the current 22-date tour is only the band's fourth tour of North America. At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, Blind Guardian performed songs from all its albums except, curiously, A Night at the Opera. Throughout the set, the band's melodic metal featured solid use of Kürsch's expressive range and anthemic style of singing, Olbrich's stinging guitar work, and dense, epic musical arrangements. The use of European folk melodies deepened and helped authenticate the songs' fantasy-laden premise, and intricately-woven progressive metal arrangements brought muscle into the mix. The intense two-hour performance was recorded for a live album.

Visit Blind Guardian at

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Silent Film at the Bowery Ballroom

Robert Stevenson
From 2000 to 2005, Robert Stevenson (vocals/piano/guitar) and Spencer Walker (drums) played in a band called Shouting Myke in their native Oxford, England. In 2008 they formed a new band which they named A Silent Film after Stevenson wrote a song using the melody from a Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid; the band liked the style and chose the name as a reference to Chaplin's many silent films. A Silent Film released its third album, A Silent Film, on October 16, 2015.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Stevenson and Walker were assisted adeptly by three American musicians on bass, guitar, and keyboard. A vibrant and charismatic Stevenson fronted the band well, singing in a clear, strong voice, and enthusing the audience through animated movements at the edge of the stage. A Silent Film's set circled around unabashed big-energy pop hooks, perhaps too commercial and calculated to be deemed alternative or indie rock. Drawing from all three of the band's albums, the emotive songs were distinctive enough to be deemed related yet uniquely individual. The overall big sound echoed U2 and Coldplay, and appeared ready for radio play.

Visit A Silent Film at