Saturday, April 30, 2016

Willie Nile at City Winery

Robert Noonan was raised in a musical family in Buffalo, New York. His grandfather was a vaudeville pianist who played with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Eddie Cantor, and his uncles played boogie-woogie. The youth began playing piano at age eight and took classical music lessons until he was a teenager, when he taught himself his first rock and roll song. After college, he reinvented himself as Willie Nile, moved to New York City and began playing the folk circuit in Greenwich Village while also catching the burgeoning punk rock scene across town. His own music then captured the best elements of both worlds, and the folk-rocking storyteller was touted by Bruce Springsteen, the Who's Pete Townshend and many other artists. It seemed like Nile would become the "next big thing," but that never happened. Some 40 years later, Nile released his 10th studio album, World War Willie, on April 1, 2016.

Willie Nile launched his music career as a folk singer, but he was very much a rocker at City Winery tonight. Nile sang stories and strummed an electric guitar or sometimes just wielded a microphone while the three-piece band behind him played a driving wall of sound. The set featured six new songs, a smattering of somewhat older songs (the oldest being 1991's "Heaven Help the Lonely"), and covers of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," and David Bowie's "Heroes," concluding the encores with the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." Towards the end of the set, Nile invited onstage several local musicians, including James Maddock and Patricia Vonne. What united the set was a sense of integrity and maturity that pervaded every performance; the 67-year-old singer-songwriter was equal parts music fan and musician, and so he approached every song with reverence. What was missing, however, was the more nuanced, reflective songs of his earlier days. Perhaps the set would have been just a bit better if Nile had performed a few solo acoustic songs mid-set.

Visit Willie Nile at www.willienile.com.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Bob Mould at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Born near Canada in Malone, New York, Bob Mould moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for college. There in 1979, he formed Hüsker Dü, a highly-regarded punk rock trio that fared only modest commercial success. Hüsker Dü split in 1988, but the band later was cited often as a key influence on 1990s alternative rock, including Nirvana and the Pixies. After Hüsker Dü, Mould sequestered himself in a remote farmhouse in Pine City, Minnesota, having quit drugs and alcohol, and began writing the songs that would generate his solo albums. From 1992 to 1995, Mould led a pop trio, Sugar, with whom he recorded two albums. Mould returned to solo albums in 1996, including an electronics-dominated dance album under the pseudonym LoudBomb (an anagram of his name) while living in New York City. His 13th solo album, Patch the Sky, was released on March 25, 2016.

Mould began his set tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom with two Sugar songs, "A Good Idea" and "Changes" and ended with five Hüsker Dü songs. Although the set represented some 35 years of his music, it leaned on newer compositions. The performance was not a historical picture book, however, as the songs were reinterpreted to reflect his current wavelength. The songs were played as fast, energetic power pop tunes augmented by a jagged guitar edge, with hardly a breath between numbers. Mould barely spoke to or looked at the audience; in the spare seconds between songs, he turned to his guitar or musicians. Any breaks would have diminished the intensity of the performance. To start the encores, drummer Jon Wurster approached the microphone stand to sing lead on a cover of the Ramones’ "Beat on the Brat" while opening act Ted Leo played the drums. The set ended with a cover of the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Love Is All Around," which Hüsker Dü covered in 1985, followed by the other side of that single, "Makes No Sense at All." Only after the musicians walked off the stage were audience members allowed to catch their breath.

Visit Bob Mould at www.bobmould.com.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Halestorm at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Halestorm started as a family band in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. Siblings Arejay Hale and Elizabeth "Lzzy" Hale took piano lessons at the age of five and began writing and performing original music in 1997 when they were 10 and 13 years old, respectively. Lzzy later progressed to a keytar and began guitar lessons at age 16, Arejay learned to play drums, and their father, Roger Hale, played bass. The teenagers released a debut EP in 1999. Lead guitarist Joe Hottinger joined in 2003 and  Josh Smith replaced dad on bass in 2004. With "Love Bites (So Do I)," Halestorm won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 2013, the first female-fronted band to win in that category. Halestorm's third full studio album, Into the Wild Life, was released on April 10, 2015.

Headlining a bill with Lita Ford and Dorothy at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, the concert was all about rocking women. During Ford's set, Lzzy Hale and Dorothy Martin came on stage for a cover of the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb," and frequently throughout the night Hale exalted Ford as a pioneer woman rocker with the Runaways. Halestorm later began its set with Lzzy solo on electric piano tenderly singing "God Bless the Beast." The band came on and the rocking started with "Mz. Hyde." The set drew heavily from the band's two most recent albums, adding a shortened cover of Nazareth's "Love Hurts" and Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" with Martin returning to the stage. During an extended drum solo, Arejay Hale was joined by Ford’s drummer, Bobby Rock, and Dorothy's drummer Zac Morris. Halestorm fared well over all, playing an updated form of classic rock highlighting Lzzy's bluesy vocals and all-around rocking support from the band.

Visit Halestorm at www.halestormrocks.com.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Residents at the Gramercy Theatre

Very little is known about the Residents, the oddest concept band that rock music has ever not known. The identity of the band members have at best been identified as Randy, Chuck and Bob, but the musicians have never done an interview with the press to discuss either the Residents or the band's music. According to legend, whether true or false, the Residents started in 1969 as an art experiment in Louisiana, relocated to San Mateo, California, and later moved to San Francisco. Since 1974, the band has released more than 60 albums without ever having a hit song. The band's most recent albums include a studio version of Shadowland in 2014 and a similarly titled live album in 2015.

The opening act at the Gramercy Theatre was a 2015 documentary about the Residents called Theory of Obscurity, which was not intended to explain away the mysterious band but to recap the project's bizarre and ambitious history. This was followed by a live performance of Shadowland, which collected much of the Residents' songs about rebirth, reincarnation, and near-death experiences. Randy, the vocalist, explained that Chuck had left the band and was replaced by Chuck's cousin Rico on keyboards, as Bob continued on guitar. Compared to earlier tours, this show was stripped down, with fewer costume changes and a more minimal stage set, but the concept included several video character monologues projected onto a globe. While the visuals were stimulating, the odd and sometimes jarring music was challenging to bear for the uninitiated. More than weird for weirdness sake, the avant garde performance was designed for rarified tastes in theatrical art rock.

Visit the Residents at www.residents.com.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Langhorne Slim at City Winery

When Sean Scolnick moved to New York City in hopes of a music career, he took on the name of the town in which he was raised, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Langhorne Slim, who as a child spent a lot of time in his father's bar in New Jersey, began performing the local bar circuit at the Sidewalk Café. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players saw him perform a Monday night open mic at Sidewalk and invited him on a national tour. Tina Trachtenberg then introduced his to the avant garde performance art scene at the Bowery Poetry Club. By 2009, Langhorne Slim had  recordings and began showcasing at folk and roots festivals. Langhorne Slim released his sixth album, The Spirit Moves, on August 7, 2015.

Although he often plays with his band, Langhorne Slim & the Law, the show tonight at City Winery was a solo acoustic performance. Rather than rocking, this laid-back set highlighted his sensitive lyrics and his gospel-like vocals on songs like "I Love You But Goodbye," along with some mean strumming on folk-based songs like "New Orleans" and "Changes," which he dedicated to lawmakers in North Carolina. Throughout the set, Slim harkened back to heritage sounds by blending soulful singing with folk guitar somewhere between a church revival and Cat Stevens. Langhorne Slim proved to be an artist that could be enjoyed equally with or without a band.

Visit Langhorne Slim at www.langhorneslim.com.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Third Day together with Steven Curtis Chapman at the Beacon Theatre

Steven Curtis Chapman (left) and Third Day
Vocalist Mac Powell and guitarist Mark Lee were high school students when they formed Christian rock band Third Day in 1991 in Marietta, Georgia. Little did they know that the band would sell 8.5 million records, win 24 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, four Grammy Awards, and an American Music Award, and be inducted in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Third Day also presently consists of drummer David Carr and several touring musicians.

Steven Curtis Chapman was born in Paducah, Kentucky, and started his music career in the late 1980s as a songwriter and performer of Contemporary Christian Music. Chapman has sold more than 10 million albums and won five Grammy awards and a record-breaking 58 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards.

Third Day together with Steven Curtis Chapman performed at the Beacon Theatre tonight, singing jointly on each other's songs for an evening that proved that rock music and worship is a combination made for heaven. Simply put, Third Day is a fine band, and Powell possesses one of the most  dynamic and compelling voices in rock. Chapman is a compassionate lyricist. Bringing these talents in unison was a two-and-a-half-hour spark of brilliance. Due to the collaborative venture, the musicians had a tremendous wealth of songs from which to select, and having both artists share in each song gave them all a new sound. Perhaps a steady diet of this would be too much, but for one night it was pure genius.

Visit Third Day at www.thirdday.com, and visit Steven Curtis Chapman at stevencurtischapman.com.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Amon Amarth at the PlayStation Theater

Lars Göran Petrov (left) of opening act Entombed A.D.
joined Amon Amarth onstage for "Guardians of Asgaard."
Amon Amarth formed in 1992 as a melodic death metal band in Tumba, Sweden. The band took its name from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings,  where Amon Amarth is Sindarin for Mount Doom, a volcano in Middle-earth. The band's lyrics mostly tell tales of Norse mythology and the Viking era. Amon Amarth's 10th and most recent studio album, Jomsviking, released March 25, 2016, is the band's first concept album, a tragic story of love and revenge. The band is presently composed of vocalist Johan Hegg, guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg, and bassist Ted Lundström.

When the curtain opened at the PlayStation Theater tonight, the audience saw Amon Amarth's impressive new stage set. The set design was a massive Viking helmet, upon which sat the touring drummer, Joakim "Jocke" Wallgren. Curved staircases rose along the two sides of the helmet for band members and Viking actors to perch upon. Yes, the set intermittently included two helmeted Vikings, who dueled during one song. Opening with "The Pursuit of Vikings"  from 2004's Fate of Norns album, the melodic riffs were sweet but heavy as the long-haired band members engaged in copious hair spinning. Towards the end of the song, Hegg encouraged the fans to sing along, even if the fans did not know the lyrics because "it's death metal; no one would know the difference!" Unexplainably, audience members tossed drinks onto the stage, and Hegg tumbled on the wet floor during the third song, recovering quickly and sending roadies to wipe the stage with towels. Outside of Hegg's grizzly growl, however, the band sounded more like classic metal or thrash metal than death metal. Twin guitar leads, galloping mid-tempo rhythms and chant-worthy choruses made for a fluid 19-song set. The strong metal performance laced with spectacle made for a memorable concert.

Visit Amon Amarth at www.amonamarth.com.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Peter Murphy at le Poisson Rouge

Born near Northampton, England, and raised in nearby Wellingborough, Peter Murphy came to fame as the vocalist of the goth rock band Bauhaus from 1978 to 1983. Although the band gained a cult following and influenced many later musicians, Bauhaus did not achieve commercial success in its first life span; reunion tours in 1998 and again from 2005 to 2008 were more successful. As a solo artist, Murphy released nine studio albums between 1988 and 2014. In 2015 he released a remix album and a live album. Since 1992, Murphy has lived with his Turkish wife in Istanbul, Turkey.

Murphy brought his "Stripped" tour to le Poisson Rouge tonight and, unlike the more flamboyant Bauhaus tours, for a fair part of the show he sat on a stool between bassist/violinist Emilio Zef China and guitarist John Andrews. Occasionally Murphy played an acoustic guitar as well. Drawing mostly from his solo albums with just a couple of Bauhaus covers, his baritone voice embodied a dark, mysterious tone. As promised, the songs were stripped of many musical layers and in certain cases were reworked thoroughly. The songs were no longer rock, in favor of acoustic interpretations where dynamics were nuanced and moods were paler. The jangly folk approach was mellow and melodic, enchanting die-hard fans, but perhaps not winning him new fans.

Visit Peter Murphy at www.petermurphy.info.

Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons at the Mercury Lounge

Jerry Joseph
Jerry Joseph grew up in the area around San Diego, California, and started playing guitar professionally at age 15 while living in New Zealand. He later relocated to Arcata, California, where he formed the rock/reggae band Little Women in 1982. After the breakup of Little Women in 1993, Joseph began recording albums under his own name. In 1996, Joseph relocated to Utah and formed the band Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons. Joseph also began an intermittent side project called the Stockholm Syndrome in 2003. Joseph released By the Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars on April 15, 2016.

While Joseph has recorded acoustic albums in the past, his present band is playing all-out rockers. Performing at the Mercury Lounge tonight, Joseph's smoky vocals flavored the emotional core of the songwriter, igniting his thoughtful lyrics with passion. Bald-headed and white-bearded, Joseph's integrity blossomed from the wisdom culled from his maturity. His bluesy lead guitar work was equally enflamed with a richness that came from the soul. Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons may be a treasure to be discovered by fans of classic rock.

Visit Jerry Joseph at www.jerryjoseph.com.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

August Burns Red at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Jake Luhrs
Metalcore band August Burns Red was formed in 2003 when all the members were in high school in the farmlands of Manheim, Pennsylvania. The band rehearsed in an old egg house and began playing shows around Lancaster. The band presently consists of vocalist William Jacob "Jake" Luhrs, lead guitarist John Benjamin "JB" Brubaker, rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler, bassist Dustin Davidson and drummer Matt Greiner. August Burns Red's sixth and most recent album, Found in Far Away Places, was released on June 29, 2015.

Closing a tour tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, August Burns Red was solid but only marginally innovative. Bald and muscular Luhrs shouted and growled for the entire set, seldom mixing in clean vocals. Songs featured technical forays, with odd meter riffs, blast beats and breakdowns. Songs were built upon soaring guitar leads, sometimes highlighting twin guitars in harmony. The set consisted of five songs from its newest album and two songs from each of four earlier albums. While the fast and pounding set was performed well, August Burns Red could not help that the unique chemistry that defines and erupts into metalcore required commonly used elements.

Visit August Burns Red at www.augustburnsred.com.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at the Gramercy Theatre

Greg Ormont
Vocalist/rhythm guitarist Greg Ormont was in musicals and plays while growing up in Port Washington, New York. He attended college in College Park, Maryland, where on the first day of school in 2006 he met and jammed with lead guitarist Jeremy Schon of Pikesville, Maryland. Schon introduced Ormont to Phish, the jam scene and funk. Ormont and Schon were still a duo when they named the band they did not yet have. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was a phrase in their psychology textbook, referring to an experiment by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. The band is presently based in Baltimore and consists of Ormont, Schon, bassist Ben Carrey and drummer Alex Petropulos. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong has released one studio album, 2014's Psychology.

Headlining at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong combined electro funk grooves and extended psychedelic jams for a sound that would liven any party. Ormont's soulful vocals offered authenticity to the funk grooves, while Schon's fancy fretwork gave many songs a jazzy calling. Many of the songs featured complex arrangements, inclining towards progressive jazz, but once the jams got into high gear, the categories dissolved and all that was left was fine musical interplay with a hip-shaking rhythm. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is still an underdog in the jam band arena, but look for word of mouth to increase the band's visibility.

Visit Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at www.pigeonsplayingpingpong.com.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Napalm Death at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Mark "Barney" Greenway
Napalm Death is an extreme metal band formed in 1981 in Meriden, England, initially inspired by the anarcho-punk movement. Napalm Death became among the pioneers of the grindcore. The last original member of Napalm Death left in 1987, but vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway, guitarist Mitch Harris, bassist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera have comprised the band since 1981. Napalm Death released 16 studio albums, the most recent being Apex Predator – Easy Meat, released on January 26, 2015.

At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Napalm Death's performance was akin to a series of explosions. Every song was abrasive, aggressive and volatile, furthering hardcore punk and extreme metal to produce a thick wall of noise. Between songs, Greenway offered commentary on social injustices, human rights and current politics, including a jab at Donald Trump, but once the songs began, the music's intensity could not possibly be more in your face. This was brutal violence as Greenway howled, guitar chords blurred and the rhythm section pounded mercilessly. Occasionally the band offered a metal riff as an anchor, but more often the sound was like a tornado with a beat. Thirty five years in, Napalm Death is still a viable threat to humanity.

Visit Napalm Death at www.napalmdeath.org.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kvelertak at Irving Plaza

Erlend Hjelvik
Kvelertak was formed in 2007 in Stavanger, Norway. The band's name is Norwegian for "stranglehold" or "chokehold." Drawing inspiration from rock and roll, black metal and punk rock, the band wrote songs in its native language. The band's self-titled debut album was certified gold in Norway for selling over 15,000 copies and won two Spellemann Awards—a prestigious Norwegian music award similar to the American Grammy Award—for Best Newcomer and Best Rock Band. Now based in Rogaland, Norway, Kvelertak presently consists of vocalist Erlend Hjelvik, guitarists Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofstad, bassist Marvin Nygaard and drummer Kjetil Gjermundrød. The band's third album, Nattesferd, will be released on May 13, 2016.

Kvelertak is barely known outside its native country, but that could change soon. At Irving Plaza tonight, long-haired, tattooed, sweaty, bare-chested Hjelvik came on stage covering his head with a mounted owl with outstretched wings. How is that for an opening? Too bad the stage lights were so dim that it was difficult to clearly see the oddity. Carrying forth, Hjelvik was an impressive shouter and animator as the musicians played riff-driven, hard-hitting, dirty rock and roll spiked by a three-guitar wail. The energetic music was basic and followed simple chord changes, roaring along at head-banging speed. The small country of Norway has produced yet another noteworthy band.

Visit Kvelertak at www.kvelertak.com.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Abbath at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Abbath Doom Occulta
Olve Eikemo, better known by his stage name Abbath Doom Occulta, is from Lysefjorden just outside Bergen in Norway, where as a young boy, he was a great fan of Kiss. His musical career started with the band Old Funeral, and later the death metal band Amputation in 1989, which evolved into the black metal band Immortal. Immortal split in 2002, reunited in 2006, and split again in 2015. Occulta was also in two side projects, a Motörhead tribute band called Bömbers in 1996 and a band called I in 2006. Following his departure from Immortal in 2015, Occulta formed a new band under the name Abbath with Occulta on guitar and vocals and King Ov Hell from God Seed on bass. Abbath the band released its debut self-titled album on January 22, 2016.

At Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, Abbath was rounded out with guitarist Ole André Farstad and drummer Gabe "Creature" Seeber. As the house lights dimmed, the four musicians came on stage to an orchestral-sounding fanfare amidst a billowing dry-ice fog and blinding red lights wearing corpse face-paint and black apocalyptic wardrobe. As the band has recorded only one album, the 13-song set relied heavily on Immortal songs, which were likely more familiar to the audience. Abbath specialized in mid-tempo drudges that often erupted into volatile, hair-spinning moshers. Occulta played up the sinister image, often confronting the audience with seemingly menacing poses, adding a bit of light humor to otherwise dark and heavy music. Occulta's snarling growl was ever present, but unfortunately some of the bright extended guitar leads were buried in the mix, sometimes resulting in a thudding, repetitious three-chord groove. In all, it seemed that Abbath seamed where Immortal left off, which will thrill many extreme metal fans.

Visit Abbath at www.abbath.net.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Fear Factory at the Gramercy Theatre

Burton C. Bell
Guitarist Dino Cazares and drummer Raymond Herrera recruited vocalist Burton C. Bell (ex-Hate Face) in 1989 in Los Angeles, California. The new band was originally named Ulceration, but changed its name to Fear Factory in 1990 to reflect the band's new death metal sound. Fear Factory disbanded in 2002 following some internal disputes, but soon after a new line-up took the brand name. The present band consists of Bell, Cazares (who returned in 2009), bassist Tony Campos and drummer Mike Heller. Fear Factory released its ninth studio album, Genexus, on August 7, 2015.

As Fear Factory came onstage at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Bell announced "This is Demanufacture." The band and its fans were celebrating the 20th anniversary of Demanufacture, a futuristic science fiction concept album about a man's struggles against a machine-controlled government. A kick drum pattern coupled with the opening guitar riff launched the album's self-titled lead track, and Fear Factory performed the album to the final riffs of "A Therapy for Pain." A seven-song encore consisted of two songs from the most recent album and five fan-favorites from early albums. Throughout, Bell alternated between clean vocals and death growls, while the crunching guitar riffs and blast beats powered songs rooted in grindcore and industrial metal sounds. The down point was that in order to recreate the album faithfully, several songs included excessive click tracks and prerecorded keyboards. Nevertheless, the band gave the audience what it wanted -- angry, abrasive and somewhat experimental metal -- but it may have been more interesting to have heard all the music live.

Visit Fear Factory at www. fearfactory.com.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Sadies at Hill Country Barbecue + Market

Dallas Good and Travis Good are the sons of Bruce Good and nephews of Brian and Larry Good, who are members of the Canadian country music group The Good Brothers. Guitarists Dallas and Travis played in the Good Brothers before forming the Sadies as a rock & roll and country & western band in 1994 in Toronto. More than 20 years later, the original quartet has stayed intact, with upright bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky. The band's most recent studio album, Internal Sounds, was released in 2013.

One of the Sadies' biggest supporters, John Doe of X, performed with the Sadies at Hill Country Barbecue + Market in 2015. This time around, the Sadies performed without any guests, and rocked the basement venue with raucous rock and roll that leaned heavily on 1960s garage, surf, rockabilly and psychedelic rock. Both Dallas and Travis sang lead and played lead guitar, sizzling when the vocal and guitar harmonies were just right. There was plenty of country twang guitar, but couched in hard-stomping rhythms and projected at high volume for a versatile rock set. Most of the thunderous set was a blistering rave-up, impacting like a jackhammer with barely a break between songs. For those who wanted their rock scrappy and noisy, the Sadies was the band of choice.

Visit the Sadies at www.thesadies.net.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Avett Brothers at Madison Square Garden

Scott Avett & Seth Avett
Scott Avett was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and his brother Seth Avett was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were raised in a small hobby farm in Concord, North Carolina, where Scott wanted to be a musician but Seth wanted to be an astronaut. They studied piano, guitar, and banjo, and discovered pop, rock, and Americana music. Although they played music together since childhood, the brothers began their partnership in the late 1990s with the merger of Seth's high school rock band, Margo, and Scott's college group, Nemo. After releasing three albums as Nemo, the Avetts started experimenting with acoustic music with some friends at night. Nemo split, and Scott and Seth continued to write acoustic music together. Now based in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, the folk-rock band known as the Avett Brothers presently consists of Scott Avett on vocals and banjo, Seth on vocals and guitar, bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon. Drummer Mike Marsh, violinist Tania Elizabeth and keyboardist Paul Defiglia are touring members of the band. The Avett Brothers' ninth studio album, True Sadness, will be released on June 24, 2016.

Headlining Madison Square Garden tonight was the achievement of a personal goal for the Avett Brothers. "It’s an honor to be on this stage. It’s an honor to be in front of you all tonight," Scott Avett told the audience. "It’s a dream come true. Thank you, thank you, thank you." The Avett Brothers performed 21 songs within a one hour and 45 minute set. The set list included songs from past albums and live EPs, plus three new songs from the forthcoming album, two Merle Haggard covers ("Mama Tried" and "My Favorite Memory"), and a Doc Watson cover ("Country Blues"). The set opened with Marsh’s steady kick drum and an arena of hand claps, as the Avett Brothers launched into the fast-rapping opening to the lively "Talk on Indolence" from 2006’s Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions. Although rooted in Americana, the band easily could have been categorized as either country or rock, performing an expansive set that effectively blended bluegrass, honky tonk, folk, pop, rock and roll, and indie rock. The spotlights followed the energetic musicians, who playfully made great use of the large stage. Mid-set, the brothers played stripped down versions of a few songs without the entire band on a runway that extended deep into the general admission floor area. Opening act Brandi Carlile joined the brothers on the apron for a sweet and gentle harmony-rich rendition of "Murder in the City." To add spectacle to the set, Seth Avett at one point strolled into the audience's standing area playing his electric guitar. The high-octane evening ended with a two-song encore of "Laundry Room" and "I And Love And You." With surprises every few minutes and vibrant flight energizing the set, the Avett Brothers provided an exceptional showcase.

Visit the Avett Brothers at www.theavettbrothers.com.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Disturbed at Irving Plaza

David Draiman
In 1996 in Chicago, Illinois, a two-year-old band called Brawl lost its lead singer and sought a replacement via a classified advertisement in a local music publication. David Draiman answered the advertisement after going to 20 other auditions that month, and both parties found their match. The band was renamed Disturbed and the alternative metal band went on to sell over 12 million records before going on hiatus in 2011. Over the next four years, Draiman, guitarist Dan Donegan, bassist John Moyer, and drummer Mike Wengren worked with other bands. Disturbed then secretly reunited in 2015 and released its sixth album, Immortalized, on August 21, 2015.

For a couple of minutes at Irving Plaza tonight, fans watched a trailer collage of fast-changing video images of Disturbed in concert. The screen then rose and the live band launched into 2005's "Ten Thousand Fists." While many contemporary bands drown the vocalist with guitar riffs, Disturbed recognized that Draiman's thick voice is the band's strongest element and brought it out front and center. Throughout the set, the band empowered its classic-sounding hard rock tunes with crunching nu metal riffs, but Draiman's husky, melodic vocal delivery were the center point of every song. The 17-song set reviewed the past 20 years of Disturbed, and also rallied the fans with a 10-minute medley of covers consisting of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," the Who's "Baba O'Riley" and Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name," which featured guest vocals from Elias Soriano of opening act Nonpoint. The moshing paused as the band sat on stools for a haunting,  acoustic version of "The Darkness" and the eerily dramatic cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s "The Sound of Silence." In all, Draiman's contrasting deep and soaring vocals succeeded in accentuating penetrating depth and vivid dimension within Disturbed's rocking set. The concert was a fine welcome back to a Disturbed world.

Visit Disturbed at www.disturbed1.com.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Wolf Alice at Irving Plaza

Ellie Rowsell
Attending grade school in London, England, Ellie Rowsell played recorder. At age 12, she gravitated to playing chords on her father's acoustic guitar. She thought about being in a rock band, but most of the budding musicians in her all-girl school played classical piano or violin. In college, Rowsell enrolled in courses in writing, theater, and sound design, but change direction after her Practical Acting professor told her to pretend that she was an atom. She sang and played guitar publicly for the first time in a local songwriting competition, and learned that she preferred to be accompanied by a talented musician. Embarrassed to ask any of her friends, she logged on to an online guitar forum and discovered guitarist Joff Oddie, who had just moved to town and was eager to form a band. Taking its name from a short horror story in "The Bloody Chamber" by Angela Carter, Wolf Alice started performing in 2010 as an acoustic folk-pop duo at local open-mic nights. Crowds were not responding, so the duo went electric, turned up the volume, added a bassist and a drummer, and began to rock. Wolf Alice presently consists of Rowsell, Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey. Wolf Alice's one album, My Love Is Cool, was released on June 22, 2015.

Headlining tonight at Irving Plaza, Wolf Alice was cheered by a front line of a dozen or more young female fans with glitter on their cheekbones and in their hair, a cult gesture that imitated Rowsell's earlier stage appearances. As with the Pretty Reckless and other alternative rock bands led by a young and attractive woman, these fans have found a safe role model -- a plain-singing woman backed by a raucous alternative-rock band. The 16-song set was comprised of songs from the band's album and earlier EPs. As the three male musicians hiked a buzzy, fuzzy grunge-styled  mountain of sound, Rowsell seemed to be the one to bring them back to their purpose, backing her whimsical fairy voice. For hard rockers, Rowsell's pop melodies may have been the weakest part of the performance, reigning in the band's explosive chemical reaction by tossing a bucket of cold water; for others, it was exactly this contrast that made Wolf Alice interesting.

Visit Wolf Alice at www.wolfalice.co.uk.