Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Dictators NYC at the Bowery Electric

Handsome Dick Manitoba
The Dictators formed in New York in 1973 as a punk band before the punk scene existed. Glam rock ruled the local scene, and the Dictators' music was far more testosterone-driven compared to the tights, platform shoes and make-up that energized the more popular club bands like the New York Dolls and Kiss. The Dictators was a proto-punk band that gained a rabid following but sold virtually no albums and who were frequently booed when opening for more mainstream headliners in concert halls. After several near splits, the band finally ended in 1981, with members joining Twisted Sister, Manowar, the Fleshtones, the Del-Lords, Shakin' Street and Manitoba's Wild Kingdom. Many reunions later, a core Dictators lineup in 2011 became Manitoba, then in 2013 became the Dictators NYC; the band presently consists of vocalist Richard "Handsome Dick Manitoba" Blum, guitarists Ross "the Boss" Friedman (also known as Ross Funicello) and Daniel Rey Rabinowitz, bassist Dean "The Dream" Rispler and drummer J.P. "Thunderbolt" Patterson.

At the Bowery Electric tonight, the ever-verbose Manitoba told many stories between songs. At one point, he reflected on the band's disappointing lack of success in the 1970s, yet gave thanks that on New Year's Eve 2015/2016, the band was playing for 200 friends. Now past 60 years of age, he and the band rocked stronger and with more heart than bands one third of their age. Manitoba's outsized humorous personality dwarfed his limited vocal range and rallied the audience to chant along to the choruses. Rey and the Boss played fiery leads that powered the front of the locomotive and the heavy rhythm section exploded dynamite at the back end. The set ranged from old Dictators songs to several songs from Manitoba's Wild Kingdom and a cover of the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams"; the only new song was the recently released single "Supply and Demand." The Dictators NYC brought classic big fun back to New York rock and roll.

Visit the Dictators NYC at www.thedictatorsnyc.com.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Phish at Madison Square Garden

Trey Anastasio
Since forming at the University of Vermont in 1983, Phish has attracted an ever-multiplying cult following of Phish-heads. Originally known as Blackwood Convention, the band began by playing Grateful Dead songs on campus. By the time the band line-up solidified in 1986, vocalist/guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman had transferred that sound well onto original compositions. Tours and albums followed, and Phish went on hiatus in 2004, but was greeted by an even larger following upon its return in 2009. Phish released its 13th and most recent studio album, Fuego, on June 24, 2014.

Phish headlined four sold out concerts at Madison Square Garden to close out 2015 and welcome 2016. Tonight, opening night, the band performed for close to three hours as one song melted into another amid extended jams. Opening with "Sample in a Jar," Anastasio sang well and played dizzying leads on his guitar that were as spellbinding to hear as to watch. For nearly three hours, the interplay between his guitar and McConnell's keyboards was masterful, as if they were playing with one mind, whether it was a bass-triggered funky number or a dreamy interlude. Early in the set, as the band played "Simple," McConnell teased a bit of "Magilla," his piano-based jazz instrumental that was his first original song contribution to the band's repertoire. Phish surprised even the most die-hard Phish fans in the second set by suddenly dropping a bouncy new Dead-sounding honky-tonk boogie, "Can't Always Listen," in the middle of the funky "Ghost." Phish ended the second set with "Weekapaug Groove," which inserted an "What's the Use?" and into which Anastasio teased a bit of "Auld Lang Syne." By the end of the encore, a comparatively brief "Character Zero," Phish had proved that there has been no better jam band in the 21st century.

Phish's concert series at Madison Square Garden continues until January 2.

Visit Phish at www.phish.com.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Clutch at Terminal 5

Neil Fallon
As high school friends in Germantown, Maryland, the members of Clutch began rocking in 1991 under various names, including Glut Trip and Moral Minority. After an early change in vocalists, Clutch solidified as Neil Fallon (vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards), Tim Sult (lead guitar), Dan Maines (bass) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums). The band began as a hardcore punk band because those were the easiest gigs to get, but quickly transitioned into a hard rock band. Clutch released its 11th studio album, Psychic Warfare, on October 2nd, 2015.

Headlining at Terminal 5 tonight, fans were greeted by fans that insisted "no crowd surfing tonight; no exceptions." The sign worked. Maybe there should have been another sign that said no shoving or fighting, because the crowd near the stage was as aggressive as Clutch's music. Fallon's raspy vocals were deep and bellowing shouts that burst over ZZ Top-styled guitar power chords and a hard, driving rhythm section. Short-haired, full bearded Fallon commanded all the attention, pacing the stage and exaggerating postures; the other band members were efficient but stared at their instruments and barely moved. Fallon did not speak much, but introduced "Noble Savage" to the recently deceased Lemmy Kilmister, recalling that Clutch opened two tours for Motorhead. Like Motorhead, the fundamental core of Clutch's music was blues-rooted rock and roll, like 1950s Bo Diddley given maximum speed and volume and a gritty singer. In total, eight of the 18 songs were from Clutch's current album, and four were from the previous album, leaving six songs from four older albums. Clutch was grooving in the present, not dwelling in the past. Some 25 years in, Clutch performed better now than ever.

Visit Clutch at www.pro-rock.com.

Monday, December 28, 2015

As Tall As Lions at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Dan Nigro
In 2001 in Long Island, New York, several high school friends were playing in a band called Sundaze. As personnel changed, the remaining musicians in 2002 formed As Tall As Lions, a more adventurous band that mixed soft rock and ambient music through thoughtful lyrics and crisp harmonies. The new band recorded three albums and nurtured a cult audience before playing its final shows at the Highline Ballroom in December 2010. The musicians then worked on independent projects. After five years apart, however, the band announced a series of reunion gigs in Los Angeles and New York.

As Tall As Lions' first of two nights at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight saw many family members hanging over the balcony to welcome the band to its hometown stage. Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Nigro, guitarist Saen Fitzgerald, bassist Julio Tavarez and drummer Cliff Sarcona were joined onstage by a horn section and started the set with "Stab City." Throughout the set, the band's textured soundscapes were tight and so well-rehearsed that it was easy to dismiss that the band had not performed these songs in five years. The musicians have not written new songs, so the evening was a retrospective, with about half of the songs coming from the band's self-titled album. The musicians followed their old formula, backing Nigro's soft vocals with a powerful backup that repeatedly escalated and deescalated as the mood demanded. If Nigro was in danger of forgetting his lyrics, he had the support of the audience, which sang along loudly for most of the songs. When the band performed its farewell concerts in 2010, the showroom was the much smaller Highline Ballroom; the reality that the band now was playing its largest venue ever in New York indicated that its audience has only grown over time and As Tall As Lions' unique take on commercial alternative rock is more in demand than ever.

Visit As Tall As Lions at www.astallaslions.com.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Slim Kings at Hill Country Barbecue + Market

Born in New York City, Michael Sackler-Berner's career could have gone in many directions. His grandfather was psychiatrist/entrepreneur/ philanthropist Arthur M. Sackler, his dad was a television and film producer, and his mother was an arts and social justice activist. His sister, however, left a beat-up guitar lying around the house, and there an 11-year-old boy found his life path. He played in bands throughout his teen years, and studied Music Technology in Montreal, Canada, where he also founded a garage rock band called Hearts of Palm. Following university, Sackler-Berner returned to New York City and began performing as a solo artist under his initials, MSB, and recorded an album. In 2011, Sackler-Berner cold-called the first drummer he ever saw in concert, Liberty DeVitto, who played with Billy Joel for 30 years, and a band was born. The Slim Kings' album, Fresh Socks, was released in 2012. The Slim Kings recently became slimmer, trimmed from a quartet to a trio consisting of Sackler-Berner, DeVitto and bassist Andy Attanasio.

At Hill Country Barbecue + Market tonight, the Slim Kings performed two different sets, so the repertoire was expansive, including new songs. The Slim Kings borrowed from classic rock in that many songs seemed to originate from a modern interpretation of blues and then added flashy guitar and hard hitting rhythm from the bass and drums. Sackler-Berner's breathy, soulful vocal style was also from an earlier era, when lyrics were clearly heard over the instruments. Each song was distinct, well crafted, and consistent in that they remained true to the band's foundational rock and roll roots. While the band continues adjusting to the power trio format, the Slim Kings still command attention and deserve a listen.

Visit the Slim Kings at www.slimkings.com.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Los Lobos at City Winery

David Hidalgo
Vocalist/guitarist/accordionist David Hidalgo and guitarist/drummer Louie Pérez started writing songs together while in high school in East Los Angeles, California. By 1973, they enlisted fellow students Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, mandolin) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron). Originally, they called themselves Los Lobos del Este (de Los Angeles) ["The Wolves of the East (of Los Angeles)"], but the name was quickly shortened to Los Lobos. At first, Los Lobos played Top 40 rock and roll covers, but the band became a local favorite when the band members began experimenting with the traditional Mexican music they listened to as children. The band performed at hundreds of weddings and dances between 1974 and 1980. When Los Lobos added a rock sound, the band moved into the club circuit on the other side of the Los Angeles River. By this time the band also included saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin and drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzalez. Los Lobos gained international notoriety in 1987 with a cover version of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba." Los Lobos released its 24th album, Gates of Gold, on September 25, 2015.

At City Winery tonight, Los Lobos inventively combined rock and roll, Tex-Mex, country, folk, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional Latin music including cumbia, bolero and norteño. The attraction was not that the band did any one of these styles especially well; the mastery was in the mix. The versatile performance was a thick gumbo of rich Mexican and American roots and artistry. Cheers greeted Hidalgo halfway through the set when he strapped on his accordion for the first time, and the audience was transported south of the border. The band performed five songs from the current album and one song each from at least eight albums, and featured guest spots from vocalist Syd Straw and guitarist Marc Ribot. Los Lobos had won over the audience long before the closing cover of the Grateful Dead's "Bertha."

Visit Los Lobos at www.loslobos.org.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Todd Rundgren at the Gramercy Theatre

Todd Rundgren started playing in bands almost 50 years ago in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He first joined a blues rock band called Woody's Struck Stop in 1966 and then formed his own garage-rock band, the Nazz, in 1967. The Nazz had some near hits, but Rundgren left that band in 1969 and relocated to New York, where he formed Runt in 1970. Rundgren became a solo artist in 1972 and scored with a remake of the Nazz's "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw the Light." Rundgren's "Bang the Drum All Day" was a minor chart hit in 1983, but became more prominent in subsequent years and is now considered one of Rundgren's most popular songs. From 1974 to 1985, he led the progressive rock band Utopia, and later played in Ringo Starr's All-Starrs and in the short-lived New Cars. Since the mid-1990s, Rundgren has been based in Kauai, Hawaii. He released his 25th solo album, Global, on April 7, 2015 and an experimental dance electronica collaboration, Runddans, on May 3, 2015.

"An Evening With Todd Rundgren" at the Gramercy Theatre tonight was a retrospective concert of Rundgren's more mainstream work. In recent years, Rundgren has recorded or performed backed by disc jockeys, orchestras and computers. This time, he assembled a band of former compatriots, keyboardist John Ferenzik, bassist Kasim Sulton, guitarist Jesse Gress and drummer Prairie Prince, and contrasting some of his big productions of decades ago, this band played on a no-frills stage. Rundgren and band opened the show with "I Saw the Light" and moved through 24 songs, including two Nazz songs and five Utopia songs, and performed them more or less in original form. The earlier part of the two-hour concert majored in his more familiar 1970s-era catalogue, while the later part of the set explored the deeper cuts of some of his albums. The set balanced Philly-inspired blue-eyed soul , melodic power pop, and extended instrumental rock jams. The band was in full-on rocker mode for much of the set, but Rundgren made room for his rhythm and blues-styled ballads, including covers of the Impressions' "I'm So Proud," Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby," and Marvin Gaye's "I Want You." Rundgren's vocals were rough at the beginning of the set, but smoothed out after a few songs. Overall, this was the set that Todd Rundgren fans had been craving for decades.

Visit Todd Rundgren at www.todd-rundgren.com.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Foals at Terminal 5

Yannis Philippakis
Vocalist/guitarist Yannis Philippakis and drummer Jack Bevan disbanded their math rock band The Edmund Fitzgerald so that they could play in a band that was more fun. With guitarist Jimmy Smith, keyboardist Edwin Congreave, and bassist Walter Gervers, they formed the indie rock band Foals in 2005 in Oxford, England. Foals immediately became very successful in the United Kingdom. The band's fourth album, What Went Down, was released on August 28, 2015.

Headlining tonight at Terminal 5, Foals put on an energetic rock set that drew from the band's four albums and was as polished as it could be. Philippakis' vocals were clear and soulful, motivating the audience to chant along with him on verses as well as choruses. The quintet accentuated pop melodies and shoegaze instrumentation -- shoegaze in that they played extended instrumentals with no lead instruments. Some of these extensions were charged by heavy riffs, and some were buoyed by tranquil waves of mood-instilling softness. Foals ignited the audience with rallying vocals and repetitious chords rather than wowing the fans with the individual musicians' virtuosity. As a live ensemble, Foals' driving grooves electrified its audience, but the audience's most memory might be how Philippakis leapt into the audience three times, twice from the stage and once from Terminal 5's first balcony.

Visit Foals at www.foals.co.uk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Between the Buried and Me at Irving Plaza

Tommy Rogers
After the 2000 demise of their metalcore band Prayer for Cleansing, vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Rogers and guitarist Paul Waggoner formed a new band in Raleigh, North Carolina. Between the Buried and Me was named from a lyric in a Counting Crows song, "Ghost Train." Stabilizing its lineup in 2005, Between the Buried and Me presently consists of Rogers, Waggoner, guitarist Dustie Waring, bassist Dan Briggs and drummer Blake Richardson. The band's seventh studio album, Coma Ecliptic, was released on July 10, 2015.

Headlining at Irving Plaza tonight, Between the Buried and Me performed its brand of progressive metal, which took complex compositions from technical metal arcs and death metal grinds to jazz interludes. The band opened with "The Coma Machine" from the most current album, a science fiction opus which explores the dilemma of a man in a coma revisiting his past life and deliberating whether to stay or move on to a better life. If the concept alone was not mind-bending enough, the staggering tempos in the songs were prepared to complete the job. The band performed fan favorites from several albums, but the novices to this music may have been profoundly challenged to follow the jarring rhymes and reasons. That these diverse movements and musical styles could be performed together at all was very impressive.

Visit Between the Buried and Me at www.betweentheburiedandme.com.

Enslaved at Irving Plaza

Grutle Kjellson
Guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson (also known as Kjetil Grutle) formed extreme metal band Enslaved in 1991 in Haugesund, Norway, when they were 13 and 17 years old, respectively. The band name was inspired by an Immortal demo track, "Enslaved in Rot." Bjørnson and Kjellson are the only remaining original members, but by 2004 the line-up solidified with guitarist Arve "Ice Dale" Isdal, keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen and drummer Cato Bekkevold. They are currently based in Bergen, Norway. Enslaved's 13th and most recent album, In Times, was released March 10, 2015.

Opening for Between the Buried and Me tonight at Irving Plaza, Enslaved performed only six lengthy songs from five albums. Enslaved's performance was on the more gentle realm of the extreme metal spectrum. Chugging along in an almost shoe-gaze manner to odd chord sequences, shifting from loud to low and back to loud again, amid a few vocal screeches, Enslaved moved far from its death metal roots to a more epic progressive metal sound. The crashing drums and heavy guitar chords frequently contrasted the lighter keyboard fills, until they united for either harsh or mellow movements within the complex song structures. Much like Opeth, Enslaved bravely explored melody and noise and everything in between to create imaginative metal music.

Visit Enslaved at www.enslaved.no.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sting at Carnegie Hall

Gordon Sumner was born in Wallsend, England, where he helped his father deliver milk and later worked as a bus conductor, building laborer, tax officer and schoolteacher while playing bass in local jazz bands. A fellow jazz musician thought he looked like a bee in his black and yellow sweater with hooped stripes and nicknamed him Sting. Stewart Copeland, drummer with prog rock band Curved Air, persuaded Sting to leave his teaching job in 1977 and relocate from Newcastle to London where together they would form the Police. The Police became one of the world's most popular rock acts until its demise in 1983, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Solo and with the Police combined, Sting has won 16 Grammy Awards and has sold over 100 million records. Sting's 11th and most recent solo album, The Last Ship, was released in 2013.

Although Sting has performed in more than 20 multi-artist benefit concerts at Carnegie Hall, tonight's benefit was the first time he ever performed alone on the bill. For "An Evening with Sting: Symphonicities," Sting was backed by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, under the musical direction of conductor/musical arranger Rob Mathes. Sting began his set aptly with "Englishman in New York," with the enthusiastic audience singing along to the lyric, "Be yourself, no matter what they say." "I sincerely hope that THIS Englishman in New York has earned a place here," he said, revering Carnegie Hall for being a "hallowed, sacred venue." Sting's unique vocals carried the set, which included solo and Police songs and a cover of Frank Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" with Chris Botti on trumpet. Hearing Sting backed by an orchestra was majestic, even though the orchestral backing softened the catalogue so that often it seemed like Sting was singing all standards. The audience responded especially favorably to the Police songs: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," which Sting dedicated to his departing manager of 38 years; "Roxanne"; "King of Pain"; "Every Breath You Take"; and a final encore of "Message in a Bottle," which he played solo on acoustic guitar. The personable singer also shared amusing anecdotes about his life and his songs between most songs. The concert may have been among Sting's finest moments, and also raised over $2 million for music education programs at Carnegie Hall.

Visit Sting at www.sting.com.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Ludlow Thieves at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Danny Musengo, Bruno Esrubilsky & Laura Martin
New York-based guitarist Dan Teicher recorded a few original songs but was disappointed with his own vocals. He sought someone with a unique voice. He met Danny Musengo, who had relocated from Guttenberg, Iowa. Musengo had recently been the sole survivor of an automobile accident that claimed seven lives, and was seeking peace and purpose through music. After trial and error, the Ludlow Thieves by 2012 became a sextet featuring Teicher, Musengo, co-vocalist Laura Martin, violinist Amanda Lo, keyboardist Isamu McGregor, and drummer Bruno Esrubilsky. The Ludlow Thieves' third EP, Sing Me Back, will become available on December 18.

Although the band has no record contract or major distribution, the Ludlow Thieves has been headlining local venues, including the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight. Drawing from alt-folk, pop and a dash of gospel, the Ludlow Thieves opened a window to a fresh breeze of sunny sounds. Musengo often sang extended notes like Marty Balin, and with Martin singing along, the dual counterpoints recalled Jefferson Airplane. Teicher's jangly guitar work gave gravity to the structures and Lo's chamber violin ignited an earthy chime to many songs. Perhaps the Ludlow Thieves' cover of the Who's "Baba O'Reilly" was a nod to classic rock influences, but Teicher's songs and the Musengo-Martin vocal delivery impressively towered over any need for resonating tunes of the past. The Ludlow Thieves is an experiment in progress, but tonight's performance proved that the band's diverse components are very close to merging into a unified heartland heartbeat.

Visit the Ludlow Thieves at www.theludlowthieves.com.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fall Out Boy at Basketball City

Patrick Stump
Several musicians in Chicago's hardcore punk rock scene sought a pop punk side project and formed Fall Out Boy in 2001 in suburban Wilmette, Illinois. They took the name Fall Out Boy from the fictional character in The Simpsons and Bongo Comics. Success came rather quickly, with the band finding itself at the forefront of the "emo pop" movement in the mid-2000s. After selling millions of records, Fall Out Boy took a hiatus from 2009 to 2013, during which the members pursued individual projects. Fall Out Boy presently consists of vocalist/keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Patrick Stump, lead guitarist Joe Trohman, bassist Pete Wentz and drummer Andy Hurley. Fall Out Boy's sixth studio album, American Beauty/American Psycho, was released on January 20, 2015. Fall Out Boy also released a remix version of that album, Make America Psycho Again, featuring several rappers, on October 30, 2015.

Headlining the Pandora Holiday Live concert tonight on a makeshift stage at Basketball City, Fall Out Boy performed a high energy pop rock set whose unfettered intensity was the only element that hearkened to the band's punk roots. Otherwise, the songs were rich with agreeable melodies and infectious hook lines. The audience responded heartily to the string of hits, with Stump engaging the fans to sing the chorus of "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" and other songs. As Fall Out Boy performed "Immortals," scenes from Big Hero 6, the animated film that featured the song, were projected behind the band. Along with the originals, Fall Out Boy covered Michael Jackson's "Beat It," and "Uma Thurman" included the melody line from the theme to The Munsters. The dizzying pace of the stage lighting matched the frenetic all-out rocking performance for much of the show. Fall Out Boy excelled as a pop emo band and kept its young fans happy.

Visit Fall Out Boy at www.falloutboy.com.

Panic! At the Disco at Basketball City

Brendon Urie
Four high school friends formed Panic! At the Disco in 2004 in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin, Nevada. Panic! At the Disco started as a Blink-182 cover band. While the musicians were still in high school, Panic! At the Disco began posting original songs online, and the band was discovered by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. Two original members left shortly after the band began recording and touring, and a third member left in 2014, leaving vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Brendon Urie to continue Panic! At the Disco with hired musicians. Panic! At the Disco's fifth album, Death of a Bachelor, is scheduled for release on January 15, 2016.

Panic! At the Disco opened for Fall Out Boy the Pandora Holiday free concert tonight at Pier 36 Basketball City, played before contest winners and streamed live to Pandora listeners. The performance was centered on Urie's range of vocals and animated stage presence, with Urie charging forth and the musicians supplementing Urie's direction. Hook lines abounded, and Urie frequently left his station by his sequencers to work the crowd. The majority of the set sounded like a more dynamic 1980s new wave dance-pop, with faster songs approaching a rocking peak. The set leaned more on newer albums, including the singles from the forthcoming album, but all five albums were represented. The curious addition was a fairly faithful cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Panic! At the Disco presented a few curves and twists in the musical arrangements, but overall the performance was drenched in sparkling, bouncy, commercial fare.

Visit Panic! At the Disco at www.panicatthedisco.com.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tesseract at Irving Plaza

Daniel Tompkins
In 2003, guitarist Alec "Acle" Kahney sought to experiment beyond his band Mikaw Barish. He posted clips of his heavy and technical guitar work on online forums and the feedback helped him improve his technique. He formed progressive metal band Tesseract in 2007 in Milton Keynes, England. Due to Kahney's new guitar style, Tesseract became one of the pioneers of the djent movement in progressive metal. Tesseract has released three studio albums, a live album, and two EPs. The most recent studio album, Polaris, was released on September 18, 2015. Tesseract presently consists of Kahney on lead guitar, returning vocalist Daniel Tompkins, rhythm guitarist James 'Metal' Monteith, bassist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones.

Tesseract concluded its North American tour tonight with a headlining engagement at Irving Plaza. Daniel Tompkins, who was Tesseract's vocalist from 2009 to 2011, returned to the band in 2014, and the reunion proved a fine match. Tompkins' clean vocals frequently soared like a melodic power metal anthem with an emphasis on long, drawn out notes, but when the music transitioned to gritty, he brought back the harsh growl that had been missing from Tesseract in recent years. While Tompkins was the main focal point, Kahney's djent guitar style was coarse and gave the band its guts. Polyrhythmic riffs and odd time signatures gave the band its progressive credentials, but expansive atmospheric interludes quieted the swirling music with ambient layers that contrasted the djent. Tesseract combined technical, progressive metal with a crooning vocal style and cranking, headbanging djent for interesting results.

Visit Tesseract at www.tesseractband.co.uk.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Over the Rhine at the Highline Ballroom

Karin Bergquist
Vocalist/guitarist Karin Bergquist and pianist/guitarist Linford Detweiler met in 1989 while attending college in Canton, Ohio. Detweiler had been playing in a band called Servant. Bergquist and Detweiler formed Over the Rhine as a folk quartet, but in time became a duo with support from various musicians. The band took its name from its home base neighborhood at the time, Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio. Karin and Linford married in 1996 and nearly a decade ago relocated to a pre-Civil War farm in Hillsboro, Ohio. Over the Rhine has released 13 studio albums, the most recent being the band's third holiday album, 2014's Blood Oranges in the Snow. Detweiler also has recorded and released three solo projects composed of home-recorded, piano-based acoustic music.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, Over the Rhine focused at last half of its set on Christmas or winter songs. These were not the cheerful songs one would hear at any holiday party, however. A cover of Merle Haggard’s "If We Make It Through December" and many other covers and original lyrics featured dark observations of isolation, loneliness and loss. "My Father’s Body" directly acknowledged the empty seat at the holiday table, for instance. The songs sometimes came close to the religious root of Christmas but then detoured, as in "Bethlehem," which explored the irony that the birthplace of Jesus became among the most conflict -filled areas of the world. The set also showcased non-holiday songs from albums such as 2013's double Meet Me at the Edge of the World. Bergquist sang with a lovely, aching inflection and her husband's harmonies made the songs even more graceful. A refuge from the noise and clutter of the season, the charmingly sparse arrangements were so light and airy that one could hear oneself breathe. This was "reality Christmas" and a very unique holiday concert.

Visit Over the Rhine at www.overtherhine.com.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Corrosion of Conformity at the Gramercy Theatre

Pepper Keenan
In 1982 in Raleigh, North Carolina, guitarist Woody Weatherman, vocalist/bassist Mike Dean, and drummer Reed Mullin formed Corrosion of Conformity (also known as C.O.C.) as a hardcore punk band. Many musicians came and went (Weatherman has been the only consistent member), but perhaps the best-known line-up consisted of the three original member plus vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan, who served the band from 1989 to 2006. By this time, Corrosion of Conformity had evolved into a heavy metal band. Corrosion of Conformity was on hiatus from 2006 to 2010, while Pepper recorded and toured with his hometown band, Down. Dean returned in 1993, Mullin rejoined in 2010 when Weatherman began reforming the band, and Keenan reunited the classic personnel in 2014. Corrosion of Conformity's ninth and most recent studio album, IX, was released on July 1, 2014.

At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, signs of Corrosion of Conformity's punk roots were nonexistent. To call Corrosion of Conformity a metal band was also a bit of a stretch, although closer thanks to the music's loud and powerful thrust. Tonight's performance was more a kin to old school hard rock, with most songs being mid-tempo brooders, with only a sliver of thrash or speed metal  sneaking in for spice. The 14 songs were all from the band's most successful period, in which Keenan was a member, and introduced no new songs or even songs from recent albums. Keenan's gritty vocals along with raging guitar leads from Keenan and Weatherman gave new life to the 10- to 25-year-old songs. The Deliverance Revival Tour marked the resurgence of vintage COC; now the public only needs new music.

Visit Corrosion of Conformity at www.coc.com.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear at City Winery

Madisen Ward grew up watching his folk-singing mother, Ruth Ward, play acoustic guitar and sing cover songs at coffee shops in Kansas City, Missouri. As Madisen matured, he gravitated from writing fiction to writing songs that blended old-world folk with a modern pop rock sound. Mother and son began performing these new songs together, with both singing and playing acoustic guitar. Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear's debut album, Skeleton Crew, was released on May 18, 2015.

As the set opened at City Winery tonight, Madisen and Ruth sat with only their acoustic guitars. They finger-picked and alternated lead vocals on the mid-tempo call-and-response of the opening song, "Down in Mississippi," setting the tone for a homespun back-porch performance. They were joined by a bassist and a drummer on the second song. Madisen sang husky lead vocals on most of the verses, while Ruth sang with a much lighter touch. Madisen and Ruth also balanced each other by finger-picking solos when the other strummed. Perhaps because they have been at each other's side since Madisen was born 26 years ago, there seemed to be intuitive chemistry between them as they supported each other in the music. Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear performed most of the debut album, but Ruth also sang a slow, sparse adaption of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams." The show ended with a rousing version of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear's soulful folk concert demonstrated a potential to reach far beyond the Americana circuit.

Visit Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear at www.madisenwardandthemamabear.com.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Sword at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Kyle Shutt & John D. Cronise
Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, John D. Cronise first wanted to become a comic book artist. Inspired by Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, however, Cronise started playing guitar at the age of 13. He joined local rock and roll bands but then made a career move in 1999 to Austin, Texas. Cronise wrote and recorded music on his own for a few years until in 2003 he formed the Sword, first as a trio and shortly after as a quartet. The heavy metal band currently is composed of Cronise on vocals and guitar, guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie, and drummer Santiago "Jimmy" Vela III. Vela continues to live in Austin, but Richie moved 40 miles north to Tyler, Texas, Cronise moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and Shutt is relocating to Brooklyn with his fiancée in January 2016. The band's fifth album, High Country, was released on August 21, 2015.

Headlining tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, the Sword performed a blues-based stoner metal that seemed to hearken back to the earliest days of hard rock, when it was still experimental and jam-based. The guitar chords and riffs came hard and heavy, backed by a low-tuned bass and crashing drums. Cronise's vocals gave the songs a lighter melodic structure, but stepped back in favor of dark riffs and soaring guitar leads on every song. Although the band has slowly moved from its original metal sound to a more hard rock sound, the band remains a bit too rough-sounding for mainstream audiences. Nevertheless, a swelling core base should sustain the band.

Visit the Sword at www.theswordofficial.com.