Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Smithereens at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Pat DiNizio
The 1980s saw a revival of 1960s-styled pop music and the Smithereens were among the unembarrassed leaders of the new power pop movement. The four musicians, based in Scotch Plains and Carteret, New Jersey, connected in 1980 through a classified ad and named the new band from a Yosemite Sam cartoon catchphrase, "Varmint, I'm a-gonna blow you to smithereens!" The Smithereens first developed a strong local following, then gained national popularity when "Blood and Roses" became the theme song of the 1986 movie, Dangerously Close, and MTV gave rotation to the accompanying video. The Smithereens also were featured as the entertainment in the indoor beach party scene of the 1986 film Class of Nuke 'Em High, playing the song "Much Too Much." The band's sole Top 40 hit, "A Girl Like You," was originally written to be the title track for the 1989 film Say Anything.... Pat DiNizio (vocals, guitar), Jim Babjak (guitar, vocals), Mike Mesaros (bass, vocals), and Dennis Diken (drums) continued until 2006, when Severo "The Thrilla" Jornacion replaced Mesaros on bass. Aside from Christmas and covers albums, the Smithereens' seventh and most recent studio album, 2011, was released in 2011.

The Smithereens played to a close-to-hometown following tonight at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill, and so the band played for fun rather than for professional or promotional motives. The Smithereens celebrated the 30th anniversary of the debut album, Especially for You. The two-hour set opened with the Smithereens playing the album in full, with an insertion of Diken singing "Let It Be Lowenbrau" towards the end. The performance of the album was accompanied by a slide show featuring vintage photographs and newspaper clippings of the band. The musicians barely moved on stage, so the music became a soundtrack as the audience was drawn magnetically to the video display. Beyond the album, the band played another 15 songs or so, including several cover interludes. The Smithereens covered the Who's "The Acid Queen," and then led "House We Used to Live in" into a guitar-jamming version of the Who's "Sparks." Perhaps too playfully, DiNizio then sang a verse and chorus of two Carpenters hits, "We've Only Just Begun" and "(They Long to Be) Close to You." The show closed with "A Girl Like You" segueing into Free's "All Right Now" and the Youngbloods' "Let's Get Together" before returning to "A Girl Like You." Accompanied throughout the show by Andy Burton on keyboards, the performance seemed to showcase a new Smithereens for the 21st century, more guitar-led than ever, and far more of a classic rock band than a pop band.

Visit the Smithereens at www.officialsmithereens.com.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lucius at the Rose Bar

In 2005, while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig bonded over a love of old-school soul, David Bowie and the Beatles. Wolfe and Laessig started writing songs together, composing lyrics that explored their empathetic sense of otherness. The two supported each other by singing in unison, noting that they were drawn to doubled vocals on recordings. Wolfe and Laessig first performed their songs as Lucius in Boston area music clubs in 2007, accompanied by a cast of rotating musicians. After graduation, Wolfe and Laessig moved to Brooklyn, New York, into a Victorian home and former music school that included a 60-year-old recording studio. With access to residual recording equipment and instruments, including a grand Steinway piano from 1921, they attracted the other members of the current group, multi-instrumentalists Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri, all of whom had attended Berklee years before. Lucius' third album, Good Grief, will be released on March 11, 2016.

Performing tonight at the Rose Bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel, Wolfe and Laessig dressed identically (even to the hairdos!) and sang synchronously, two voices as one, on original stories spun from the same perspective. Wolfe and Laessig accompanied themselves on synthesizers, keyboards and percussion, but the riveting feature of their performance was their harmonic vocal kinship, which often lilted and resonated classically as the two voices mirrored each other. Whether rooted in a vintage country music flavored crooner or a 1960s girl-group-styled pop ditty, the singers' dual vocals were as mesmerizing as their retro smocks and their futuro leggings. Meanwhile, the three male musicians, dressed in matching suits, alternated between guitars and percussion and propelled the sound for a full and hearty band setting. Much of the set was powered by punchy dance beats, but it was the few country-flavored songs that were most impressive. Look for Lucius to generate a big buzz both in indie music and indie fashion.

Visit Lucius at www.ilovelucius.com.

Marshall Crenshaw at City Winery

Marshall Crenshaw was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in the suburb of Berkley, began playing guitar at age 10, and led a band through his high school years. He later played John Lennon in the musical Beatlemania, first as an understudy in New York in 1978, then in the West Coast company, and finally in a national touring company in 1980. Crenshaw began performing his original songs in New York City music clubs and in 1982 had a top 40 hit with the Buddy Holly-esque "Someday, Someway." Crenshaw appeared in the films La Bamba (in which he portrayed Holly) and Peggy Sue Got Married. Crenshaw has written for movie soundtracks and other songs have been covered by Bette Midler, Kelly Willis, Robert Gordon, Ronnie Spector, Marti Jones, Lou Ann Barton, America and the Gin Blossoms, with whom Crenshaw co-wrote the Top 10 single "Til I Hear It From You." In 1994, he published a book, Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock 'n' Roll in the Movies. Since 2011, Crenshaw has hosted The Bottomless Pit radio show  on a local college radio station, playing his massive collection of recorded music. His most recent projects include working on Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s HBO series Vinyl. After 10 albums, Crenshaw now frequently releases EPS to his subscribers.

Born in 1953, Marshall Crenshaw grew up listening to 1950s rock and roll and fell into the British Invasion pop resurgence and classic soul in the 1960s. At City Winery tonight, he was backed by the opening act, the country rocking Bottle Rockets, but for the most part he remained true to his rockabilly and pop roots. For much of the set, Crenshaw channeled Holly convincingly, but also offered more, between pop hooks featuring repetitive choruses and singer-songwriter ballads with folk roots or country spines. His compositions also often showed his wry humor, such as in "Cynical Girl" and "You're My Favorite Waste of Time." Marshall sang well and his music was pleasant, but his most compelling charm was the unassuming honesty that permeated his rock and roll performance.

Visit Marshall Crenshaw at www.marshallcrenshaw.com.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Murder City Devils at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Spencer Moody
The Murder City Devils formed in 1996 as a garage rock band in Seattle, Washington. Vocalist Spencer Moody, guitarists Dann Gallucci and Nate Manny, bassist Derek Fudesco, and drummer Coady Willis came together out of the remains of local bands Area 51, the Death Wish Kids, and the Hookers. Murder City Devils split after three albums and one EP in 2001 but reformed in 2006 with its original line-up. The band's fourth and most recent studio album is 2014's eight-song The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again.

Headlining at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Murder City Devils proved its music was for special tastes. Moody appeared to be somewhere a spoken word artist and a slam poet. He barely sang. Mostly he coarsely shouted lyrics into his microphone while the band blasted fast, primal chords behind him. The pummeling set was raw, aggressive and harsh on the ears. It was as pleasant as listening to a jackhammer, and almost as abrasive. Call this music extreme wordcore. Presently the audience for this kind of assault is minimal. Caution: this music could scratch your face off.

Visit the Murder City Devils at www.themurdercitydevils.com.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Epica at Irving Plaza

Simone Simons
After seven years in Dutch progressive/symphonic metal After Forever, rhythm guitarist Mark Jansen in 2002 formed a similar band, originally called Sahara Dust. Both bands were led by a smooth female singer whom he contrasted by adding death-metal growls. Sahara Dust initially assembled a choir (made up of two men and four women) and a string orchestra (three violins, two violas, two cellos and an upright bass) to play along with the core band. Sahara Dust soon became Epica, inspired by Kamelot’s album of the same name. Epica presently consists of lead vocalist Simone Simons, guitarists Isaac Delahaye and Mark Jansen, keyboardist  Coen Janssen, bassist Rob van der Loo and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek. The band's seventh and most recent album is 1994's The Quantum Enigma.

Last year, after launching a North American tour with Eluveitie, Epica cancelled remaining dates so that Simons could fly back to the Netherlands to tend to a family emergency. Epica began a 2016 tour tonight with a headlining show at Irving Plaza. Entering to a pre-recorded orchestral "Originem," the musicians took their positions and opened with two live songs from the most recent album. While the males spun their long hair, Simons made sure hers did not get in her face as she soared into high operatic ranges. When Jansen came forth for his death growls, Simons retreated and joined in the hair spinning. Simons' melodic singing matched the band's power metal elements while her retreats signaled the band to move into more symphonic metal interludes. The songs were complex compositions, and the multiple crescendos in the orchestration aided the soft and hard transitions. Halfway through the set, Jansen invited fans to vote between "Storm the Sorrow" and "The Last Crusade," then played both. Simons cautioned the stream of crowd surfers early on ("I'm a mother, so I worry about everybody"), and at the end of the set asked that they halt so that the fans in the front could enjoy the final song. Epica performed a 100-minute set that included one to four songs from six of the band's albums; Epica’s non-metal 2005 album The Score – An Epic Journey, the soundtrack for a Dutch movie, was not represented. Epica's performance demonstrated that progressive metal and melodic, symphonic power metal can breathe harmoniously.

Visit Epica at www.epica.nl.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Scott Stapp at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Vocalist Scott Stapp (born Anthony Scott Flippen) was born in Orlando, Florida, and befriended guitarist Mark Tremonti at school. They formed Naked Toddler in 1993 in Tallahassee, Florida; bouncing off the religious inclination of Stapp's lyrics, the band was renamed Creed by 1995. Creed sold more than 50 million albums, but disagreements between Tremonti and Stapp ended Creed in 2004; the band reunited in 2009 for a fourth album and split again in 2013. Stapp released solo albums in 2005 and 2013. Although already sensationalized in tabloids, Stapp documented his history of substance abuse, suicidal ideation and bipolar meltdowns in his 2012 memoir and on VH1’s Couples Therapy with Dr. Jenn  reality television show in 1995.

Headlining at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall, Stapp was often in strong voice as he recalled the Creed catalogue that awarded him a career. The set was a spin-off of Creed's last tour and Stapp's 2014 tour, except that this time around Stapp was backed by lead guitarist Yiannis Papadopoulos, rhythm guitarist Ben Flanders, bassist Sammy Hudson, and drummer Dango Empire. The circumstances, with the audience pressed up against the stage and reaching out to touch him, made for an unusually personal experience. He responded by being more chatty between songs. He acknowledged the warmth of the fans, and spoke of his tumultuous past as he introduced "Slow Suicide" and "Justify." Stapp later spoke about how his recovery to better health included getting outside of himself, manifested by his commitment to adopting a village in the Philippines; from the stage he distributed packages with information about sponsoring a child in that village. Throughout the concert, Stapp and his band's performance was meticulous and nearly flawless, rocking hard with spiritually stimulating songs . The question remains, however, as to when Stapp will be able to live beyond the shadow of Creed's catalogue and establish his own musical identity.

Visit Scott Stapp at www.scottstapp.com.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Asleep at the Wheel at City Winery

Ray Benson
Ray Benson, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, formed western swing band Asleep at the Wheel in 1970 in Paw Paw, West Virginia. The band soon moved to East Oakland, California, then to Austin, Texas, which has been the band's home base since 1973. With an ever-changing roster, Asleep at the Wheel has more than 80 alumni. Asleep at the Wheel has recorded more than 20 studio albums, the most recent being Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, released on March 3, 2015.

At City Winery tonight, Asleep at the Wheel performed a western swing set that resounded eerily from another era. Benson and company continued striving to revive music that is perhaps too roots-based for the general country music market and too country for the mainstream market. When the music leaned towards big band swing, a fiddle or pedal steel replaced the traditional sound of the clarinet to countrify the sound, and when the band rocked, the musical chops harbored a latent skeleton of honky tonk. Benson crooned especially well on the softer, jazzier songs, but his deep voice also gave a wave to the bouncy boogie woogie songs. Toe-tappers from start to finish, the songs reveled in a celebration of the richness of Americana music.

Visit Asleep at the Wheel at www.asleepatthewheel.com.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Moon Hooch at the Mercury Lounge

Saxophonist Mike Wilbur was raised in Massachusetts, drummer James Muschler in Ohio and saxophonist Wenzl McGowen grew up in several European countries. The three musicians met while attending the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. There, the Brooklyn-based trio became Moon Hooch and began playing dance-oriented percussion- and saxophone-based music on subway platforms. The frequent impromptu raves grew so wild that the local police precinct ultimately banned the band from playing underground in hipster Williamsburg. Moon Hooch's second album, This Is Cave Music, was released in 2014.

The Mercury Lounge offered a proper stage and sound system tonight, and so Moon Hooch went legit. Between songs, the musicians played brief free-jazz interludes, but for most of the concert they played uptempo party music. Like a fine jazz band, the three musicians weaved a tapestry of minimalistic music that was lively and energetic. Muschler played muscular, complex rhythms, McGowen often anchored a thick bass line on baritone sax or contrabass clarinet, and Wilbur jammed trance-inducing melodies on tenor sax. The majority of the set was instrumental, but Wilbur sporadically sang and rapped. The horn players also manipulated distortion occasionally by synthesizing the saxes or by adding found objects to the bells of their instruments. The performance was as fascinating to watch as to hear.

Visit Moon Hooch at www.moonhooch.com.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

St. Paul & the Broken Bones at the Bowery Ballroom

Paul Janeway
As a boy, Paul Janeway, a native of the small town of Chelsea, Alabama, was immersed in his local church. He played guitar and sang background vocals in the church while planning on becoming a preacher. His vision changed in his early 20s when he began attending open mic nights in music clubs in Birmingham, Alabama. He briefly joined a band that played Led Zeppelin covers, and in the mid-2000s sang in the alternative soul outfit The Secret Dangers. In 2012, Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips attempted one last project before quitting music and focusing on other careers. As the two began working around Janeway's voice, they realized they were forming a soul outfit and assembled local musicians to support that. After two EPs, St. Paul & the Broken Bones' debut album, Half the City, was released in 2014. The band is comprised of Janeway, Phillips, guitarist Browan Lollar, drummer Andrew Lee, keyboardist Al Gamble, trumpeter Allen Branstetter and trombonist Ben Griner.

Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, St. Paul & the Broken Bones opened with an instrumental jam that showcased the rhythm and blues direction that the concert would take. Janeway then appeared from the wings, looking unlike a rock star in black-framed glasses, business suit, open-collared shirt -- and stacked-heel multi-color shoes! Upon reaching for the microphone, however, the showman was revealed and he immediately dominated the stage. Janeway approached his vocals with the passionate fire of a dynamic gospel singer. Reviving the 1960s soul sounds of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, Janeway and the musicians sparkled with electrifying power. The set consisted of 11 original songs and four covers: Van Morrison's "I've Been Working," David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," Tom Waits' "Make It Rain" and the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." Some of the songs rocked hard, but Janeway's vocals remained faithful to his heartfelt, soul-filled delivery. This kind of performance has a broad potential appeal; given the platform, St. Paul & the Broken Bones' performance could never go unnoticed.

Visit St. Paul & the Broken Bones at www.stpaulandthebrokenbones.com.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ozomatli at the Highline Ballroom

Raul Pacheco
In 1995, the members of what would become Ozomatli met while attempting to form a workers union in Los Angeles, California. Though they were not able to win recognition, they were given an abandoned building for one month. The building became a cultural arts center, and within it Ozomatli was born. The band originally was called Todos Somos Marcos, but soon became Ozomatli, named after a character on the Aztec calendar. Ozomatli won three Latin Grammy awards and released its seventh album, Place in the Sun, in 2014. The group also is known for advocating for farm-workers' rights and immigration reform. The current musicians in Ozomatli are guitarist Raúl Pacheco, trumpeter Asdrubal Sierra, saxophonist Ulises Bella, bassist Wil-Dog Abers, drummer Wally Valdez, and percussionists Jiro Yamaguchi and Justin 'El Niño' Porée. A new album featuring tributes to Latin music greats will be released in 2016.

At the Highline Ballroom tonight, Ozomatli symbolized a multicultural Los Angeles, featuring white, Latino, and Asian members. Ozomatli jammed a dynamic party mix of rock, Latin, hip hop, jazz, funk, and reggae, and on this night also included video footage and dancers into the set. The richness of the set was not only its diversity, but also its rather unique emphasis on Latin rhythms including salsa and cumbia, entities not often incorporated into rock music. As the set progressed, the accent of the lively music alternated between horns, percussion and vocals, as grooves locked in and flowed fluidly. The concert ended with the musicians and dancers walking into the center of the audience playing percussion and horns. The musicians and dancers then started a conga line that weaved through the dance floor. The show was as visually stimulating as it was aurally pleasing.

Visit Ozomatli at www.ozomatli.com.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nile at the Gramercy Theatre

Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade
Guitarist/vocalist Karl Sanders launched a thrash metal band named Morriah in 1983. Morriah recorded a demo and opened for several touring metal bands. The band fired the lead vocalist in 1993 and the remaining musicians formed Nile, a technical death metal band based out of Greenville, South Carolina. The new band's music and lyrics were inspired by ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern mythology, mysticism, history, religion, and ancient art, as well as H.P. Lovecraft's horror novels. After frequent line-up upheavals, the present Nile consists of Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade on vocals and guitars, Brad Parris on vocals and bass, and George Kollias on drums. Nile's eighth and most recent album, What Should Not Be Unearthed, was released on August 28, 2015.

Nile appeared onstage at the Gramercy Theatre tonight as a pre-recorded "Ushabti Reanimator" played through the speakers, introducing a symphonic sound that would have suited a film about ancient Egypt. Once the band positioned itself, however, it ripped into speedy, crunching, growling metal. With Kollias playing double bass drums, a hair-spinning Parris hitting the bass strings both on down and up strokes, and two guitarists alternating hyper-driven licks, NIle's approach was strictly brutal and merciless. Complex cadences varied within songs, such that identifying a melody was often challenging, and the musical assault often was too fast and furious for a human brain to follow. Hard-to-decipher growls and howls seemed to call out to ancient deities. To enhance the Egyptian motif, pre-recorded Middle Eastern styled singing and gongs played between and during some of the songs, as well as pieces of cinematic, symphonic works. This was extreme metal with an ancient twist.

Visit Nile at www.nile-catacombs.net.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Skins at Irving Plaza

Bayli McKeithan
Three siblings from Brooklyn, New York, along with two of their guitar-playing schoolmates from New York's School of Rock, formed the Skins following a series of jam sessions in 2012. Bayli (vocals), Kaya (bass) and Reef (drums) McKeithan, along with guitarists Daisy Spencer and Russell Chell, were all under 21 years old at the time. Nevertheless, the band performed in local music venues, then graduated to touring and playing at summer festivals. The band's one release so far is a 2012 self-titled EP.

At Irving Plaza tonight, the Skins forged soulful vocals and pop melodies with hard rock instrumentation. The funk-based rhythm section dug a groove and the guitars ripped and soared. The hard, driving songs were tempered by Bayli's simmering vocal approach, which slyly lent the songs a vibrant, sexy persona. The band was electric, but Bayli was the lightning. The five musicians may be youngsters, but the Skins rocked with alarming maturity.

Visit the Skins at www.theskins.com.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Orgy at the Gramercy Theatre

Jay Gordon
Orgy was born in 1994 within the goth music scene in Los Angeles, California, and was discovered and promoted by Jonathan Davis of Korn. Orgy's 1998 debut album hit based on a cover of New Order's "Blue Monday." After three albums, however, Orgy went on hiatus in 2004 while members worked on side projects. In 2011, vocalist Jay Gordon sought new musicians in order to revive the brand. The current lineup is comprised of Gordon, lead guitarist Carlton Bost, rhythm guitarist Creighton Emrick, bassist Nic Speck, and drummer Bobby Amaro. Orgy's most recent album is 2004's Punk Statik Paranoia; an EP, Talk Sick, was released on March 23, 2015.

Neighborhood residents may have been puzzled by the marquee at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, which read simply "Orgy Thursday." Inside the venue, however, the rock quintet only alluded to a sex party through veiled lyrics and gestures. Orgy performed five of the seven songs from the recent EP, plus eight songs from the band's first two albums. Gordon sang, played the showman and energized the audience. While Gordon paced the stage incessantly and enthused the audience to raise hands and sing along, his own vocal ability proved to be encased within a limited range and tonality, suited better for rap than singing. The richness of the concert was in the marriage of musical sounds, particularly alternative metal, nu metal and best of all, its industrial references.

Visit Orgy at www.orgymusic.com.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Syd Straw at the HiFi Bar

Syd Straw was born to actor parents in Vermont; her father, Jack Straw, is best known for starring in the 1957 musical film The Pajama Game. The parents divorced, and in 1969 Syd moved with her mother to Los Angeles, California. Syd sang in her high school choir, but bombed her SATs, so after high school, she relocated to New York in 1978, where she landed a gig singing backup for a then-promising Pat Benatar. From 1984 to 1987, Straw sang in the experimental group Golden Palominos, which enjoyed a cult following. She released her debut solo album in 1989, but continued singing on the albums of other artists and acted in recurring roles on television. After relocations to Athens, Georgia, and Chicago, Illinois, Straw presently lives in Weston, Vermont. Her fourth and most recent album is 2008's Pink Velour.

Brownie's was a premier indie music club in the 1990s; the owners later renamed it the HiFi Bar and in 2014 began booking live acts again. Although little publicized, Syd Straw's performances there have been drawing full houses. Accompanied by her guitar, guitarist Don Piper and a violinist, Straw sang confessional songs about love and loss. The singer-songwriter drew a bit from folk, country and blues traditions, but mostly her set was all about joining her expressive writing to a simple melody. Straw sang with a mature yet unpolished voice that made her lyrical ruminations that much more human and common. The music was soft and somber, but Straw also has a quick wit, and generated frequent chuckles from the audience between songs with her improvised quips and anecdotes. Straw is little known to the masses, but she can tell or sing a story like the best.

Syd Straw returns to the HiFi Bar on Wednesday, January 20.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Enforcer at the Gramercy Theatre

Joseph Tholl & Olof Wikstrand
Heavy metal band Enforcer formed in 2004 in Arvika, a small and remote town in Sweden. Enforcer is a part of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal (NWOTHM), a growing movement of new bands that are rooted in 1980s-sounding metal. After four studio albums, Enforcer's most recent product is a Live by Fire DVD, released on November 20, 2015, which contains footage of a 2013 concert in Tokyo, Japan, and a Live by Fire CD with recordings from a performance in Athens, Greece. Enforcer presently consists of one remaining original member, vocalist/guitarist Olof Wikstrand, with guitarist Joseph Tholl, bassist Tobias Lindqvist, and drummer Jonas Wikstrand.

Headlining at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Enforcer brought a colorful mix of rawness and polish to old-fashioned speed metal. While the songs featured ripping guitar riffs and a thunderous rhythm section, they also leaned on the cleaner side with slick arrangements, strong melodies, and powerful vocals. Bare chested, blond-haired and mascara-eyed, Olof Wikstrand looked suited to join Poison, but coupled with a headbanging band, proved he was a metalhead. Time will tell if a larger audience will be looking to revisit old-school sounds with Enforcer.

Visit Enforcer at www.enforcer.se.

Hinds at Other Music

Ana Perrote & Amber Grimbergen
Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote were recovering from broken relationships with musician ex-boyfriends when they decided to bounce back by forming a band in 2009. Perrote knew a few guitar chords and Cosials did not know how to play anything. In 2011, they started performing as a two-guitar duo named Deers, based out of their native, Madrid, Spain. By 2013, they added bassist Ade Martín and Netherlands-born drummer Amber Grimbergen. They learned that the name Deers was already taken, so the band was renamed Hinds (female deer). Hinds will release a debut album, Leave Me Alone, tomorrow, on January 8, 2016.

Who could not be charmed by pretty young women with thick Spanish accents? Performing at the Other Music record store, Hinds performed a lo-fi garage pop set that was equal parts indie and bubble gum. Starting with "Fat Calmed Kiddos" from the new album, Cosials and Perrote traded sweetly squeaking vocals to jangly guitar chords. Giggling frequently between songs, the musicians played light-hearted, upbeat songs. These sunny songs included a cover of Thee Headcoats' "Davey Crockett," which featured gang vocals on the chorus. Hinds will likely gain a wide audience of youth and the young at heart.

Visit Hinds at www.hindsband.com.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Dwele at City Winery

Andwele Gardner, better known by his stage name Dwele, was raised in a musical family in Detroit, Michigan. He played piano from the age of six, later learning to play trumpet, bass and guitar. When he was 10 years old, his father was shot dead outside his home; seeking inner healing after this trauma, Dwele learned to put his emotions into his music as a form of therapy. In 2000, he recorded in his bedroom a demo of his original rhythm and blues songs, and within a week sold all 100 copies from the trunk of his car. Dwele's sixth and most recent album, Greater Than One, was released in 2012.

Headlining at City Winery tonight, Dwele's performance was nothing but smooth. Whether his rhythm and blues styling leaned towards jazz jams or rap, it was always rooted in vintage soul. Tempos were often soft and slow, and emphasized the signature finesse of the contemporary neo-soul movement. Seated at his organ for much of the show, he invoked gentle moods and grooves, and through this foundation led his band into tasteful, spirited jams, much like the late Donny Hathaway. Frequently, Dwele moved away from his keyboard to the edge of the stage, injecting the songs with a more intensely expressive dynamic, and near the end of his set, he performed an extended song from the audience, dancing with his fans. Dwele is a class act.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Dopapod at the Gramercy Theatre

Eli Winderman, Rob Compra and Chuck Jones
Dopapod originated in 2007, playing at college basement parties in and around Boston, Massachusetts. It was an odd mix of musicians -- various members were committed to heavy metal, progressive rock, jazz and funk -- but they discovered that if they each brought his inspiration, they created a unique collective sound. The band's fourth and most recent album is 2014's Never Odd Or Even, which fans received as a free download. Dopapod presently consists of keyboardist Eli Winderman, guitarist Rob Compra, bassist Chuck Jones and drummer Scotty Zwang.

Dopapod performed a Phish after-party at the Gramercy Theatre tonight that started after 1 a.m. As Dopapod normally does, the band played for over two hours, featuring extended songs that were partly structured and partly improvised. Never mind that when the group played the same venue in 2014, the show was cut short when an overhead speaker caught fire. Adrian Tramontano of Kung Fu and the Breakfast guested on barely-heard congas for the full concert, and Craig Brodhead of Turkuaz played guitar on "Piazole." Towards the end of the evening, however, Tramontano moved to the keyboards, Winderman played drums, Zwang played the congas and Brodhead returned to play bass on "Onionhead." Throughout the set, songs melted into each other without pause, driven by steady funky bass lines. Aside from the two guest musicians, the biggest surprise was the band's debut of Talking Head's "Burning Down the House" about an hour into the set. Dopapod also mysteriously sneaked in quick snippets of what sounded like Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)," Phish's "Bathtub Gin" and AC/DC's "T.N.T.," perhaps for humor's sake. Overall, the complex jams were crisp and fiery from beginning to end. The sporadic lyrics provided both hooks and hinges through the set. Luke Stratton's spectacular light show was perhaps a bit too much, however, possibly distracting from the music itself. Nevertheless, even when the musicians could not be seen due to the blinding lights, the band's deep grooves and intricate interplay stood out mightily.

Visit Dopapod at www.dopapod.com.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Vivisectors at Otto's Shrunken Head

Surf rock from Russia? The Vivisectors formed as a solo project in 1999 in Moscow, when Mike Antipow assembled tracks on his home computer using live guitar and organ sounds with drum loops. He recorded five albums that included lo-fi psychedelic surf rock instrumental versions of traditional Russian prison songs that were banned by the Soviet government ("gulag tunes"). The Vivisectors first performed live in 2004. Antipow later relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and forms a trio for live performances that can include Ivan Antipow (bass) and New York native Ronan Berry (drums).

Unsteady Freddie has hosted surf nights at Otto's Shrunken Head on the first Saturday of each month for 16 years, leaving no surf untouched. Tonight it seemed he was challenged to communicate with the Russians, holding a clock and pointing to the minute hand to show them how much time they had left on stage. Did the musicians really not speak English? Well, surf music is all instrumental, so dialogue is never required. Not only did the Vivisectors play the Dick Dale/Ventures guitar-based instrumentals expected on a surf night, the trio fired some blues and twang, but most impressively incorporated heavy sounds that approached death metal. When the Vivisectors crunched the chromatic rhythms of the theme song from the gore film Grindhouse, at least for the moment the Vivisectors were perhaps the darkest surf band around.

Visit the Vivisectors at www.thevivisectors.com.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe at Irving Plaza

Karl Denson
Karl Denson grew up in San Diego and Santa Ana, California. Working as a funk and jazz saxophonist, flutist and vocalist, Denson met Lenny Kravitz during a recording session in 1988, and then played in Kravitz's touring band and on three albums. When Kravitz let go of the horns in 1992, Denson embarked on a solo recording career in jazz. In 1994, he also became one of the founders of San Diego's boogaloo revivalists Greyboy Allstars and its acid jazz grooves. The band dissolved after three years and Denson formed a new band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe (KDTU). KDTU presently includes Denson, guitarists D.J. Williams and Chris Mule, keyboardist David Veith, trumpeter Chris Littlefield, bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Alan Evans. The band's third and most recent album, New Ammo, was released in 2014. In recent years, Denson also has played sax in the Rolling Stones, Slightly Stoopid and the Karl Densen Trio (KD3).

Headlining a Phish New Year's night after-party at Irving Plaza tonight, Denson and company came on stage in the wee hours and played into the morning hours. Rooted in hip-moving funk and soul, the band sounded very much like the revue bands that supported old-time rhythm and blues vocalists. The set was comprised largely of originals and most were instrumentals, but also included covers of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," Band of Gypsys' "Power of Soul," and for an encore, a reworked version of the Mission: Impossible theme. Most of Denson's work was on the tenor saxophone, although he occasionally sang and towards the end he played his flute. The strength of the set was that the compositions' loose structures allowed for many dynamic solos and energetic jams. The occasional vocals served only to give random identity and melody to the more prominent and extended instrumentation; had the vocals or lyrics been emphasized, the set would have been a much different kind of performance. This was a 1970s funk jam revival.

Visit Karl Denson at www.karldenson.us.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Joseph Arthur at City Winery

Joseph Arthur took piano lessons as a youth in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and began composing songs by his early teens. At age 16, while still in high school, he played bass in a blues band called Frankie Starr & the Chill Factor. Days after graduation from high school in 1990, he moved with his band to Atlanta, Georgia, supporting himself with day jobs at a music store and tattoo shop, while recording home demos and playing in night clubs. In 1996, one of these demos reached the ear of Peter Gabriel, who signed Arthur to his record company for a short time. Arthur had been discovered, and before long he was performing at Gabriel’s WOMAD festival, despite having played solo on acoustic guitar "maybe one time before." Arthur became best known as a solo artist, but he joined Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison in the short-lived trio Fistful of Mercy in 2010, and in 2012, collaborated with Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament in the band RNDM. Arthur's 11th solo studio album of original songs is 2015's Days of Surrender. Now based in Brooklyn, New York, Arthur is also a painter and designer.

Arthur headlined his sixth annual New Year's night concert tonight at City Winery, accompanied again only by his guitar and its sound effects. To create a layered sonic palette for his poetic lyrics and soft singing, Arthur frequently began his songs by playing a guitar lick and then looping it electronically. He sometimes added percussion by hitting the guitar strings and looping that rhythm as well. Twice he looped his subtle vocals as well so that he could harmonize with himself later. These effects became his backup as he sang and played lead guitar. These songs were moody, soulful observations of our world and its human interactions. For his final song, the singer/songwriter turned artist again, using a black marker and a brush with white paint to add to a previously marked barrel at the back of the stage as he sang and the music loops played. It is a pity that Arthur's many talents are still unknown to a larger audience.

Visit Joseph Arthur at www.josepharthur.com.