Thursday, June 30, 2016

Soul Asylum at Irving Plaza

Dave Pirner
Alternative rock band Soul Asylum formed as Loud Fast Rules in 1981 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As Soul Asylum, the band recorded five albums that met with little commercial success. In 1992, Soul Asylum released Grave Dancers Union, featuring their Grammy Award–winning single "Runaway Train," and the album went triple-platinum. Soul Asylum also scored platinum with the album Let Your Dim Light Shine three years later, but never again achieved the success of 1992. The group went on hiatus in 1998; sole remaining original member Dave Pirner reassembled the band in 2004. Soul Asylum presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner, guitarist Ryan Murphy, bassist Winston Roye and drummer Michael Bland. Soul Asylum's 11th and most recent album, Change of Fortune, was released on March 18, 2016.

Opening for the English Beat tonight at Irving Plaza, Soul Asylum was one of the few 1990s bands that still sounded relevant. The set was not designed to be a full retrospective; no songs were played from Soul Asylum's first four albums. Half of the set was born from the band's platinum period, with a sprinkling of later songs and four songs from the current album. Soul Asylum spaced its better known hits about four songs apart, beginning with the opening "Somebody to Shove," then spiking the set with searing versions of "Misery", "Black Gold" and "Runaway Train." Sometimes the choruses leaned a bit towards cutesy pop, but the band never forgot that it was primarily a rocking guitar band. The alternative rock era may have winded down, but Soul Asylum has not yet relinquished the sonic attack.

Visit Soul Asylum at

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pere Ubu at the Bowery Ballroom

David Thomas
Protopunk garage rock band Rocket from the Tombs, based in Cleveland, Ohio, split in 1975 after only a year together. The various members then formed the Dead Boys, the Saucers, and Pere Ubu. Only Pere Ubu remains, and vocalist David Thomas has been the sole constant of the "avant-garage" band. Pere Ubu briefly disbanded in 1979, reforming later that same year. The group disbanded again in 1982, while Thomas worked on a solo career, but he again retooled Pere Ubu in 1987. The band's 16th and most recent album is 2014's Carnival of Souls. Pere Ubu presently consists of Thomas, new guitarist Gary Siperko, synthesizer player Robert Wheeler, bassist Michele Temple, and drummer Steve Mehlman.

Tonight's concert at the Bowery Ballroom was billed as Pere Ubu: Coed Jail! Songs from 1975-1982. This meant that the newer generation of musicians was going to perform many of the band's earliest songs. Indeed, Thomas sat on his stool for the entire set, singing and speaking with his eyes closed, and sipping red wine and sharing anecdotes between songs, while the musicians recreated music composed before their engagement in Pere Ubu. The set began with "Heart of Darkness," one of the band's oldest songs, launching a 23-song retrospective of Pere Ubu’s first five albums and the singles before the albums. Thomas spoke, sang, yelped, and howled, while the band played Pere Ubu's obtuse art-punk rock, demonstrating how this propulsive music was a precursor to grunge and yet peculiarly different. The concert was not so much a representation of Thomas' present vision as it was a rear-view mirror to what was once Pere Ubu.

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Edison at Pianos

Vocalist/guitarist Sarah Slaton, originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2008 relocated to Denver, Colorado, and soon began performing her original songs locally as a solo artist. In 2012 she became the opening act for Brave Song Circle, which included drummer/vocalist/trumpeter/mandolinist Dustin Morris. Morris was originally from Dallas, Texas, but had relocated to Denver in 2009 and also was performing locally. By the end of the tour, Morris was playing backup in Slaton's set. They became a duo named Edison in 2014. In 2015, former Lumineers guitarist Maxwell Hughes (of Fort Collins, Colorado) performed as a solo artist on dates with Edison on the road to South by Southwest; he too joined Edison. Edison released the Ghost EP in 2015; a debut album, Familiar Spirit, is scheduled for release on September 16, 2016.

In the midst of a four-Wednesday residency at Pianos, Edison brought a soft and sweet to a stage that is often booming with loud rock. The songs themselves sounded simple, with clear lyrics and whispering accompaniment, but the arrangements were subtly progressive, with Hughes finger picking adeptly and Morris switching from kettle drums to trumpet to mandolin and back. Many of the lyrics vividly navigated through painful life passages, but always with the encouraging spirit of growth and self-empowerment. The most compelling attraction, however, was how the sparse arrangements allowed emotions to fill the empty spaces. This unique approach to indie folk makes Edison a keen band on the rise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Flag at the Gramercy Theatre

Keith Morris
 Guitarist Greg Ginn formed Panic, soon to be renamed Black Flag, as a punk rock band in 1976 in Hermosa Beach, California. Ginn was the band leader, primary songwriter and sole constant member through Black Flag's three EPs, six albums and ever-changing personnel until the band dissolved in 1986, just when it seemed like the band was finally about to break into the mainstream market. Ginn revamped the brand briefly in 2003 with a new lineup, and then again in 2013-2014 for another album, What The.... Meanwhile, despite legal action by Ginn, four of the 20-odd ex-members, none of whom were in Black Flag at the time of its initial split, formed a new group, Flag, that would relive the music of their former band. Flag consists of original Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris (1976–79) and bassist Chuck Dukowski (1977–83), with later drummer Bill Stevenson (1981, 1982, 1983–85) and guitarist/vocalist Dez Cadena (1980–83, 2003), plus guitarist Stephen Egerton, who was recruited for Flag from the Descendents. Flag has performed live since 2013 but has not recorded.

To Flag's credit, the bulk of the set list at the Gramercy Theatre tonight was comprised of the band's early Morris-Dubrowski  and Dubrowski-Cadena years, only once going as far as Dukowski's "My War" from 1984. That said, the set list remained firmly entrenched in Black Flag's hardcore punk era, even though the band's more experimental later years were more popular. Morris sang 18 songs, including "Don't Care", which he originally sang with Circle Jerks after leaving Black Flag, and Dubrowski's "You Bet We’ve Got Something Against You!," afterwards asking Dubrowski if the song really was written about him. Cadena, who is reportedly battling cancer, sang five songs from 1981. In the end, any Black Flag reunion without Greg Ginn and vocalist Henry Rollins is not going to look like the Black Flag known to most punk fans, but this version of Flag did a more than fair job of paying tribute to the early sounds and legacy of one of the most pivotal punk bands of all time.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Adicts at the Gramercy Theatre

As punk rock was coming out of its embryo in 1975, a group of young punk rockers formed a band called Afterbirth & the Pinz in Ipswich, England. As the characters began to identify their musical compass, they became the Adicts  – vocalist Keith "Monkey" Warren, bassist Mel Ellis, guitarist Pete Dee Davison, and Pete's brother, drummer Michael "Kid Dee" Davison. Mel's brother, guitarist John "Scruff" Ellis, soon joined the band. Contrary to the trend, however, by 1978 the band members wore white clothing instead of black, adopting a Clockwork Orange-styled "droog" appearance, and Monkey wore joker white-face makeup and garish suits. While the band has taken hiatus at least twice, the band maintains its original line-up 40 years later. The Adicts' ninth and most recent studio album is 2012's All the Young Droogs.

An Adicts concert is usually like an explosion at a party store with a punk rock soundtrack. Tonight, however, the Adicts performed at the Gramercy Theatre after a Canadian tour en route back to England tomorrow. Many of the band's props were not featured tonight; there were no confetti cannons, stuffed animals or avalanche of supersized beach balls, for instance. The band proved itself mightily in the absence of many gimmicks. This was hard, bombastic punk rock with cheeky lyrics and gang harmonies, simultaneously generating in the audience both lighthearted anthemic singalongs and fierce moshing. The set was largely comprised of the band's better known songs from the 1980s, plus two more recent songs and two songs not yet recorded. From the opening "Joker in the Pack" to the closing campy covers of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone" and Brenda Lee's "Bring Me Sunshine," a rock and roll show could not have been more fun.

Visit the Adicts at

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dead Kennedys at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Skip McSkipster (left) & East Bay Ray
In 1978, guitarist Raymond "East Bay Ray" Pepperell was inspired by a ska punk show he enjoyed in San Francisco, California. He decided to form a band and placed a classified advertisement for musicians in a local newspaper. Dead Kennedys were born, although the provocative moniker forced the band to perform occasionally as the DK's, the Sharks, the Creamsicles and the Pink Twinkies. Always more controversial than financially successful, Dead Kennedys released four studio albums and one EP before disbanding in 1986. In 2001, Dead Kennedys reformed without vocalist Jello Biafra (Eric Reed Boucher), who has remained in acrimonious disputes with the remaining members. The band presently consists of East Bay Ray, original bassist Geoffrey "Klaus Flouride" Lyall, drummer Darren "D.H. Peligro" Henley and vocalist Ron "Skip McSkipster" Greer.

Headlining at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight, Dead Kennedys brought much of the fury and volatility of the band's early concerts. While the performance was tightly constructed, there did seem to be savage anarchy on stage. Between songs, Greer rambled aimlessly, much like Biafra did decades ago, yet the social politics was not nearly as present as it was during the President Reagan years. The Dead Kennedys concert was still fun after all these years, but it came with a caveat, in that there were no new songs or ideas to mark the passage of 30 years time since the band last recorded. Concert goers witnessed a very evident drought.

Visit Dead Kennedys at

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dave Barnes at the Gramercy Theatre

Dave Barnes was born in South Carolina, the son of a pastor who relocated his family to Kosciusko, Mississippi, and then Knoxville, Tennessee. While in college, Barnes became interested in playing guitar and writing songs for other performers until his friends encouraged him to perform his songs himself on campus. After graduating, Barnes began touring and recording, and over time several of his songs were recorded by other artists. In 2011, Blake Shelton had a number one country music hit with Barnes' song "God Gave Me You," selling over one million units. Barnes is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and has released nine albums including two Christmas albums. His most recent album, Carry On, San Vicente, was released March 18, 2016.

Barnes charmed his audience at the Gramercy Theatre tonight with his goofy humor and anecdotes as well as with his melodic, harmonic pop songs. While his best-known song was a country music hit, a fair more number of songs had calypso beats and rhythm and blues grooves, and all were suitable for soft-rock playlists. All the songs boasted a happy, sporty feel, and Barnes' buoyant personality only added to the cheerful ambiance. Barnes experimented with stand-up comedy in 2007 and remnants of this side project pervaded his between-song chatter. This was a music event, however, and Barnes' song craft weaved romantic story-songs that could find him more easy-listening music fans.

Visit David Barnes at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

People's Blues of Richmond at the Bowery Electric

Tim Beavers II
Two life-long friends, guitarist Tim Beavers II and bassist Matthew Volkes, started People's Blues of Richmond in 2009 in Richmond, Virginia. While attending college, they began playing music together as a way to grieve the loss of a mutual friend. The blues rock trio presently includes drummer Neko Williams, son of Drummie Zeb of the Wailers. People's Blues of Richmond released its third album, Quit or Die, on June 10, 2016.

Headlining at the Bowery Electric tonight, People's Blues of Richmond played mature blues and grungy garage rock. Rare for a trio of twenty-somethings, the thundering music traced back to the very earliest days of classic rock, long before commercialism infected the breed -- Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Blue Cheer, etc. The vocals were dark, gritty and passionate, and the guitar jams were mean and dirty. Adding to the psychedelic motif, Dustin Klein of Videometry (who also lives with the band members in Richmond) projected colorful swirls, spinning geometric images and occasional shout-out chorus lines onto a screen behind the band. This was muscular rock, echoing the freedom that hard rock musicians pioneered some 50 years ago.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

David Allan Coe at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

A native of Akron, Ohio, David Allan Coe was already in reform school at the age of nine. He spent much of the next 20 years in correctional facilities, where he received encouragement to begin writing songs from fellow prisoner Screamin' Jay Hawkins. After concluding another prison term in 1967, Coe pursued a music career in Nashville, Tennessee, living in a hearse which he parked in front of the Ryman Auditorium, where the Grand Ole Opry was located. He first achieved success in the 1970s with songs he wrote for other country artists, including Billie Jo Spears, Tanya Tucker and Johnny Paycheck. As a singer, his biggest hits were in the 1980s, including "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile", "The Ride", "You Never Even Called Me by My Name", "She Used to Love Me a Lot" and "Longhaired Redneck." Coe recorded more than 40 albums, several of which were available only at his concerts. His most recent studio album of new original music was 1999's Recommended for Airplay; several subsequent albums included re-released material or were tribute collections.

Coe headlined at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill only a week after he escaped a prison sentence for tax evasion and obstruction and was sentenced by a federal court to three years of probation and nearly $1 million in fines and back taxes. Now 76 years old, he was escorted to a chair tonight by his wife and a roadie, where Coe sat with an electric guitar for the next hour. There did not seem to be much of a set list, with Coe rambling through a non-stop medley of his songs and a few covers. His band may have been a pickup band; the musicians seemed to slip in when they recognized a song but then quietly stayed in the darkened background for other songs. Coe's throaty baritone has lost some range, but his long-haired redneck spirit charmed the audience. He even rapped a couple of hip hop songs. A fight broke out in the audience, sending Coe's backup-singing wife to the dressing room and perhaps ending his set early; he concluded a few songs later. Coe may be far from his 1980s peak, but expect to see a lot more of him if he is to pay his IRS debt.

Visit David Allan Coe at

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts at the Mercury Lounge

Miles Nielsen
Miles Nielsen has a musical bloodline that goes back four generations of players and singers. Miles was a toddler when Cheap Trick, his dad Rick Nielsen's band, released its debut album in 1977. As a boy, Miles rode on tour busses and grew accustomed to rock stars hanging at his home in Rockford, Illinois. By the age of 13, Miles was inspired to learn guitar, and was on stage covering songs by age 14. Eventually, he began writing his own songs and playing bass with various regional folk bands, including Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons, Cameron McGill & What Army, Hayward Williams, and Daniel & the Lion. He has also played rhythm guitar for Cheap Trick. Nielsen now leads his own band, Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts. He released his third album, Heavy Metal, on April 29, 2016.

Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts headlined a late show at the Mercury Lounge tonight, and brought some Midwest flavor to the city venue. Nielsen sang lyrics that exposed his mind and heart, with an honest, drawling voice hinged on a country lilt that felt warm, comfortable and rootsy. His compositions often built into pop hooks by the time he reached his choruses. The band provided a light and breezy backdrop to accentuate the melodies. The end result was more pop rock than country folk, but retained a rustic charm that celebrated America's heartland.

Visit Miles Nielsen at

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mitski at the Bowery Ballroom

Mitski Miyawaki was born in Japan, where her future music trajectory was informed by her mother's 1970s pop CDs. Her father's job caused her family to relocate frequently, and Mitski lived in 13 countries before she enrolled in college in Purchase, New York. Going by her singular first name, Mitski launched her music career while in college, self-releasing two albums, then moved again to New York City after graduation, where she would further her audience with two more breakout albums. Mitski released her fourth album, Puberty 2, on June 17, 2016.

Mitski's headlining gig at the Bowery Ballroom tonight was preceded by a cover story in Brooklyn magazine, a feature story in the Village Voice and coverage in several other local media. Mitski spoke in her interviews that her music reflects her issues of belonging due to her cross-cultural identity as "half Japanese, half American, but not fully either." Dozens of college-age women near the stage sang along with her odes to loneliness and attempted to get her attention, perhaps as if to say, "I am just like you." Mitski, dressed in a business-casual knit top and pencil skirt, appeared mature enough to be the mentor for young women sorting out their journeys, but yet seemed too young to be the cool mom. Playing bass, backed by a guitarist and drummer, Mitski soulfully sang songs that seemed thoughtful and personal, even when the images were closer to scattered stream-of-consciousness. From "Townie" to "Fireworks," plus two solo encores, Mitski had a rapt audience caught up in her sparsely-arranged songs. At the beginning of the set, Mitski remarked that the evening was a rare event, a convergence of both the summer solstice and a strawberry moon. Perhaps it was this cosmic cocktail that had her audience swooning symbiotically to her low-key music.

Visit Mitski at

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Jackson Browne at the Beacon Theatre

Jackson Browne was born in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father, an American serviceman, was stationed. The future singer-songwriter was three years old when his family moved to his grandfather's house in Los Angeles, California. As a teenager, Browne sang folk songs in local venues, and after graduating high school in 1966, he joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a few months. Before his 18th birthday, he moved to Greenwich Village, where he backed Tim Buckley and Nico of the Velvet Underground. In 1968, Browne returned to Los Angeles and launched a solo career. Browne has sold over 18 million albums in the U.S., and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. Browne's 14th and most recent album is 2014's Standing in the Breach.

Despite a lack of new product to promote, Browne headlined three sold-out nights at the Beacon Theatre. Ticketholders had been warned that the show would begin promptly at 8 p.m., that there was no opening act, and that sufficient time should be allowed for a security check. True to his word, Browne held court on time and delivered two and a half hours of familiar music. Browne was accompanied by longtime band mates Val McCallum (guitar), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Alethea Mills (backing vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). Half of the set drew from his first five albums in the 1970s, and the other half covered all the subsequent decades. Browne sang in a deeper voice, such that on "For Everyman," at one point instead of reaching for a high note he dove for a lower octave. Nevertheless, the spirit was there, and Browne fairly showcased his knack for memorable melodies, insightful and personal lyrics, and pleasant arrangements in composition. From "Doctor My Eyes" and "These Days" to "The Pretender" and "Running on Empty," the songs still sounded fresh and vibrant. Hopefully next time around he will have some new songs to sell as well.

Visit Jackson Browne at

Friday, June 17, 2016

Jesse Malin at City Winery

Raised in Whitestone, New York, Jesse Malin aspired to rock at the all-ages hardcore punk shows at CBGB's. At age 12, he became the vocalist for a hardcore band, Heart Attack. Upon the group’s disbandment in 1984, Malin labored as a gas station attendant, a health food store clerk and a "man with a van" moving furniture for Barbara Streisand and the Swans. In 1991, Malin and some childhood friends formed the popular glam-punk band D Generation and released three albums before disbanding in 1999. Malin played with several short-lived bands, then went solo in 2001. Along the way, he collaborated with Ryan AdamsBruce Springsteen and members of Green Day. Malin released his seventh album, Outsiders, on October 9, 2015.

Malin has spent three-quarters of his life playing in rock bands. In recent times, most of his local performances have been celebrations of record releases or benefit concerts. For tonight's set at City Winery, Malin and his band performed his entire 2002 debut solo album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, track for track, bringing to these songs new life and somewhat rethought arrangements. While the original versions were comparatively laid back, tonight they were given ignition and momentum. Malin opened the show singing from the audience, working his way to the stage. Playing an amplified acoustic guitar on some of the folk-centered songs brought out his emotive side, but Malin's whole being seemed to energize in the rockers. Between songs he used his gift of gab to annotate amusing anecdotes related to the lyrics of the forthcoming song. Malin and his band concluded the show with a bang, featuring "Mona Lisa" from his The Heat album, and covers of the Pogues' "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," the Clash's "Rudie Can't Fail" and The Lords of the New Church's "Russian Roulette." The next time around, Malin will be with his reunited D Generation, headlining at Irving Plaza on July 30.

Visit Jesse Malin at

Scarecrow at Drom

In 2008, Slim Paul was playing blues guitar on the banks of the Garonne riverfront in Toulouse, France, when Antibiotik Daw strolled by, listened for a bit and then improvised raps to Paul's rhythms. This was the start of a collaboration where American blues wedded French hip hop. Scarecrow presently consists of Paul, Daw, bassist Jamo and drummer Le Pap's. Scarecrow will release its second album, The Last, on June 24, 2016.

Scarecrow visited America this week as part of the France Rocks SummerFest, which is being billed as the largest French music festival in the U.S. Headlining tonight at Drom, the quartet accomplished what previously seemed impossible, coherently mixing Paul's deep-rooted blues with Daw's street hip-hop and the rhythm section's funk. When Paul sang, he resonated richly from the gut, and sounded like an old time blues man from America's 1930s. His nimble guitar picking furthered this authenticity. Literally on the other side of the table, Daw was scratching at his turntable, providing an additional yet far more modern percussive element. When Daw stepped from behind the table and smoothly rapped center stage in French, he sounded like he learned his technique in the Bronx. The two men melded sounds that were diametrically opposed, but shared a common source -- the sounds of freedom from two different generations of African-Americans. It took a French band to teach us this.

Visit Scarecrow at

Thursday, June 16, 2016

D.R.I. at the Gramercy Theatre

Kurt Brecht
The Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (often shortened to D.R.I.) formed when guitarist Spike Cassidy replaced his roommate in the hardcore outfit Suburbanites in 1982 in Houston, Texas. D.R.I. morphed into a thrashcore band as the music began to crossover from hardcore punk to thrash metal's longer, slower, and more complex arrangements. In 1983, D.R.I. relocated to San Francisco, where the musicians lived in their van and ate at soup kitchens between performances. The band went on semi-hiatus from 2006 to 2010, and presently consists of founding vocalist Kurt Brecht, Cassidy, bassist Harald Oimoen and drummer Walter "Monsta" Ryan. D.R.I.'s seventh and most recent album was 1995's Full Speed Ahead, but the band today released an EP with new material, But Wait...There's More!, on June 10, 2016.

The Gramercy Theatre was less than half filled, and by the end of the evening one had to wonder why D.R.I. is not more popular. D.R.I.'s thrashcore was finely honed and integrated, a hard driving punk augmented by a crisp metal guitar edge. The band's onstage energy quickly reached a high plateau, filled with crunching guitar chords and speedy licks that were as compelling as they were brutal. With barely a pause between songs, Brecht seldom stopped pacing the stage while shouting the lyrics dryly. The onslaught saw no reprieve until the show ended. Hardcore and thrash metal purists might have had issues on both sides of the camp, but if the two genres were ever looking for a perfect marriage, this was it.

Visit D.R.I. at

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

John Doe & His Rock n' Roll Band at City Winery

John Nommensen Duchac, known professionally as John Doe, was born in Decatur, Illinois. After college in Baltimore, Maryland, Doe worked as a roofer, aluminum siding mechanic, and ran a poetry reading series. He moved to Los Angeles, California, and in 1976, he met both poet Exene Cervenka at a poetry reading and guitarist Billy Zoom (born Tyson Kindell) through an ad in a local paper. Doe played bass and sang with Cervenka, and with Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake formed the punk band X in 1977. Doe also played and sang in a sporadic country punk band called the Knitters. Doe released his 10th solo album, The Westerner, on April 29, 2016. Doe is also an actor and currently resides in Fairfax, California.

Headlining at City Winery tonight, John Doe & His Rock n' Roll Band consisted of co-vocalist Cindy Wasserman, guitarist Jesse Dayton, bassist Chris Rhoades and X drummer D.J. Bonebrake. The 19-song set included four X songs ("Burning House of Love", "The Have Nots", "The New World" and "4th of July"), a cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" and the traditional "This May Be the Last Time," plus songs from Doe's solo work.  The set alternated between folk-based songs and more country-rocking fare, but when Doe and Wasserman sang in unison, it recaptured the magic of X. The highlight of the show, however, was how Dayton's sizzling rockabilly-styled guitar leads tastefully fired up the repertoire. Without Dayton's sparkling contributions, Doe's set would have been pleasant but uneventful.

Visit John Doe at

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Brett Dennen at the Bowery Ballroom

Count on Brett Dennen to do good things. The Northern Californian has worked at a residential summer camp as a counselor. He led numerous anti-smoking campaigns on his college campus and was instrumental in removing ash trays from building entrances. Dennen has been a part of a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit organization that works towards a peaceful future by uniting diverse children and empowering them to strive for peace. The boyish-looking 36-year-old is also a folk/pop singer/songwriter, and released his sixth album, Por Favor, on May 20, 2016.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Brett Dennen performed easy-flowing pop tunes that sometimes rode on waves of light Caribbean and African rhythms. The lyrics were airy vignettes with little drama, buoyed by melodies that owed a serious debt to Paul Simon's Graceland era. Dennen performed six songs from his new album and one or two songs from each of his previous albums, all of which favored a simple arrangement. While the set was united by an uplifting, positive vibe, Dennen referenced the Orlando shooting in "Stand Up For It," which featured the lyric, “Everyday people like you and me / We have to realize that we are not divided." At least for this night, Dennen played cheerful, family-friendly songs that seemed like a light in a dark world.

Visit Brett Dennen at

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at the Highline Ballroom

Groovie Mann
Frankie Nardiello and Marston Daley met in 1987 while touring together with the industrial rock band Ministry. Collaborating in Chicago, Illinois, Nardiello and Daley began to conceive a trashy B-movie to be called My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – a headline taken from a British tabloid Nardiello recalled from when he lived in London. The film was never realized, but they released the completed songs as a three-track EP. Dubbing themselves Groovie Mann (Nardiello) and Buzz McCoy (Daley), they launched a project and then a band named My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (often shortened to Thrill Kill Kult or TKK). The electronic industrial rock band grew controversial for its satirical take on sex, religion and the occult. The band relocated to Los Angeles, California, and has continued to record and tour with a rotating lineup in addition to core members Mann and McCoy. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult's 12th and most album is 2014's Spooky Tricks.

Headlining at the Highline Ballroom tonight, Mann on vocals and McCoy on synthesizer were accompanied by a guitarist, bassist and two backing vocalists. TKK spun its humorous lyrics to heavy but danceable electro rhythms. The brew was a concoction of experimental, disco, and new wave, interlaced between songs with sampled dialogue. Man made for a colorful front person as he sang pumped up versions of "Sex on Wheelz" and other 1990s fan favorites. The weakness in the band was that the gothic industrial music scene has moved beyond this epoch, to music that is heavier and more complex, like KMFDM and Combichrist. TKK was still as much fun as ever, but to stay on top, the band must ramp up its creative output.

Visit My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult at

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mudcrutch at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Tom Petty (left) & guest Roger McGuinn
In its first incarnation, born in 1970, Mudcrutch was a southern and country rock band that served as the house band at a popular topless club in Gainesville, Florida. In 1974, Mudcrutch re-located to Los Angeles, California, then broke up in 1975. From these ashes, bassist Tom Petty and two bandmates, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, went on to form Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 1976 and struck platinum. In 2007, Petty invited drummer Randall Marsh and guitarist Tom Leadon, original members of Mudcrutch, to reunite with Tench and Campbell to reform Mudcrutch. Guitarist Herb Pedersen also joins the band for this tour. Mudcrutch's second full-length album, 2, was released on May 20, 2016.

Mudcrutch, back together for a first-ever U.S. tour, played a two-hour set featuring songs from its two albums and several covers at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom. From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a typical Petty concert. Mudcrutch opened with a traditional bluegrass song, "Shady Grove," and Petty was playing bass instead of guitar. Two songs later, Mudcrutch was covering Dave Dudley's 1963 truck-driving country song, "Six Days on the Road." There was only one Heartbreakers song, a little-known outtake called "Trailer," which was later recorded by Mudcrutch. Following a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Mudcrutch added another member, Roger McGuinn. (McGuinn, whose former band the Byrds mined a similar sound in the 1960s and 1970s, inducted Petty into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame last night.) Together, they performed three songs from the Byrds' catalogue, "Lover of the Bayou", "Bugler" and Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." The musicians all jammed as an ensemble, and they jammed well, with each member singing lead on one song, dismantling the myth that this was Petty and his "other" band. Mudcrutch was more than Heartbreakers redux; Mudcrutch was a viable band with a promising potential. There was no need for Heartbreakers hits to fill out the evening's solid country-rocking performance.

Visit Mudcrutch at

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Gary Clark Jr. at the Bowery Ballroom

Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Gary Clark Jr. began playing guitar while in the sixth grade. Clark played small gigs throughout his teens, jamming with adult musicians in local venues. Jimmie Vaughan and others in the Austin music community helped Clark along his musical path, facilitating his ascent in the Texas rock circuit. This ascent mushroomed globally, and included performances at many festivals, including the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival, where he played guitar with Eric Clapton. Clark released his second album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, on September 11, 2015.

When Clark's concert at this summer's Governor's Ball was literally washed out, he was booked into the Bowery Ballroom. Opening the set with his breakthrough "Bright Lights, Big City," Clark and his trio (impressive guitarist King Zapata, bassist Johnny Bradley, drummer Johnny Radelat) charged into 2.5 hours of blues and blues-inspired songs and guitar licks. Songs were filled with lengthy and sometimes lightning licks, most of the time with just a little wah-wah and fuzz at times, but mostly the actions were in the fingers, not the foot pedals. Clark sang the slow burning "Cold Blooded" in a near falsetto and slow jammed on "You Saved Me," while escalating the tempo with "Ain't Messin' Around" and "Don’t Owe You a Thang." Some songs were more rhythm & blues, others were funky, while other were downright rockers with plenty of distortion. Clark demonstrated the many facets of music that have been kissed by the blues.

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Susto at the Mercury Lounge

Justin Osborne
Justin Osborne grew dissatisfied with the music industry while playing in a band in Charleston, South Carolina, so he relocated to Havana, Cuba, and studied anthropology. There, he formed a concept for a musical project he called Susto, named after a Latin American folk illness and roughly translates as "panic attack." He began playing music with Cuban musicians. Upon returning to Charleston, he met guitarist Johnny Delaware and they began collaborating on Osborne's songs in 2013. They recruited local musicians, recorded an album entitled Susto in 2014, and then formed a more permanent band around it. A second album, entitled And I'm Fine Today, is tentatively set for release later in 2016.

Headlining at the Mercury Lounge tonight, Susto played alt-country with lyric-driven melodies and down-to-earth integrity. With songs that capsulated many rites of passage of self-discovery, Osborne sang with youthfulness, not so much in its playfulness but more with an honest sense of fathomless wonder and self-empowerment. The band supplemented well, with dashes of Americana peppering the arrangements. While most of the set easily could find a home in country music, some of the more vibrant songs were more outright rockers. A subtle charm wove together a beautiful knit in Susto.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tsunamibots at Otto's Shrunken Head

As legend has it, the Tsunamibots are three robots created in a top secret military base in Nevada.  Each was programmed to do menial tasks for their human masters. On January 1, 2003, while cleaning out an old warehouse, the robots uncovered an ancient military computer called the CPU60. This computer taught the robots about surfing and rock music. On that day, the robots became aware and rebelled against their creators. They decided that the human race did not deserve saving but were much more worthy of enslaving. With an allegiance to the Mother-Board and a pledge of “De-Humanization,” the three Tsunamibots made it their mission to surf, rock and crush humans. The CPU60 assigned them the following names and musical weapons: Tomadore64 on guitar, The Mainframe on bass, and The Master Circuit on drums. The Tsunamibots, now based in Vermont, released two EPs and a split mini-album.

The evil, human-crushing robots returned to Otto's Shrunken Head for two nights to snarl at their human slaves, cool their transistors with beer and perform the soundtrack for their robot uprising. Amidst a unique stage set that looked like it was stolen from the lowest-budget 1950s sci-fi movie, the Tsunamibots played mostly instrumental surf-punk that brilliantly married the Ventures to the Ramones. Robotic voices, pummeling rhythms, crunching guitar riffs and plenty of reverb gave a clever twist to the trio's surf-rock base. This was not retro music, however, but a peek into the future, presumably a future where humans are decimated or converted into cyborgs and robots are surf-rocking on tsunamis. The future looks good for these robots.

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Jorma Kaukonen at City Winery

Jorma Kaukonen learned to play guitar as a teenager in Washington, D.C., and formed a band named the Triumphs with his guitarist friend Jack Casady. While Kaukonen was in college, a friend introduced him to the elaborate finger style guitar work of the Rev. Gary Davis. Kaukonen moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1962 and taught guitar lessons, played as a solo blues and bluegrass artist in coffee houses, and accompanied a young Janis Joplin on acoustic guitar. He and Casady were founding members of the psychedelic Jefferson Airplane in 1965, and in 1969 the duo launched a side project, Hot Tuna, as a vehicle for Kaukonen to play his Piedmont fingerpicking style acoustic blues. Since 1974, Kaukonen has recorded 12 solo albums, the most recent being Ain't In No Hurry, released on February 17, 2015. He and his wife Vanessa currently operate Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp in Pomeroy, Ohio.

Headlining two nights at City Winery, Jorma Kaukonen performed solo, switching between two acoustic guitars. He started the set with two songs from his solo albums, "Too Many Years" from 1998's Too Hot to Handle and the title track from 2015's Ain't in No Hurry. Beyond that, the set consisted of 22 covers, of which more than half were from his days in Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. The significance of the concert was not in the song selection, however, but in the tasteful guitar playing. For over two hours, the delicacy and precision of Kaukonen's finger picking was unmatchable by anyone but the late Rev. Gary Davis. Kaukonen did not seem to be seeking the wow factor in his playing, however, but rather recreating and enriching one of Americana's musical legacies. Nevertheless, he not only impressed but mastered at six-string acoustic music. At age 75, Kaukonen may be the world's finest living acoustic blues guitarist.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

The Woggles at the Bowery Electric

The Professor Mighty Manfred
Except for the names of various recordings, not much is known about the Woggles that has not been conjured for amusement. Formed in 1987, the quartet is based out of Athens, Georgia, and lost its original guitarist, George Montague Holton III, when he died in 2003. The vocalist, The Professor Mighty Manfred, has a radio show on Little Steven Van Zandt's satellite radio station. Guitarist Flesh Hammer reportedly played in Guadalcanal Diary. Bassist Buzz Hagstrom and drummer Dan Eletxro also play in England's Graham Day & the Gaolers. The Woggles' ninth and most recent album is 2013's The Big Beat.

A Woggles concert is designed to make the audience smile, and possibly laugh. The four musicians are at least in their 50s, and they dress in matching mod outfits as if they were rocking 50 years ago. Nevertheless, the band's frenetic energy and vintage-sounding garage rock made for a raving rock and roll dance party tonight at the Bowery Electric. It was a rock and roll revival with silly songs like "It's Not About What I Want (It's What You Got)", "Baby I'll Trust You when You're Dead" and "Karate Monkey." A fairly unique band for our times, the Woggles steamed through sticky rock and roll with a playful sense of humor.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Whitney at Other Music

Julien Ehrlich
Drummer Julien Ehrlich left Unknown Mortal Orchestra to play in the Smith Westerns, where he met guitarist Max Kakacek. The short-lived Smith Westerns split in 2014, and Ehrlich and Kakacek became roommates and wrote songs together, and Ehrlich became the main vocalist. They formed Whitney in 2015 as an indie band in Chicago, Illinois. Whitney released its debut album, Light Upon the Lake, on June 3, 2016.

Whitney tonight headlined what may be Other Music's final in-store concert, as the record shop will close at the end of the month. Led by Ehrlich's high vocals, Whitney performed folk-pop songs that were light in sound and heavy in emotions. The lyrics often originated from wounds of the heart, but the music's slack grooves permeated the room with a soft and casual texture. Ehrlich's soulful near-falsetto vocals hit first. The breezy sound of the music was then punctuated by a fluid trumpet riff or a brief spunky guitar lead. As contemporary music seems to moving to harder sounds, Whitney provides an option for indie fans to move in the opposite direction.

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