Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gus G at the Studio at Webster Hall

Konstantinos Karamitroudis (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Καραμητρούδης) was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, where his father was a part-time singer who sang Greek folk music at bars and taverns. The boy was inspired to start playing guitar after listening to his father's classic rock album collection. At age 10, he asked his father for a guitar. His father bought him a classical guitar and the boy started to take lessons from a local music school. He received his first electric guitar at age 14 and took lessons from a rock guitar teacher. At age 18, he relocated to the United States in search of a music career, renamed himself Gus G., recorded nine studio albums with his band Firewind, and played in Arch Enemy, Nightrage, Dream Evil, and Mystic Prophecy. His biggest break has been playing in Ozzy Osbourne's band since 2009. With Firewind on hiatus, G. released his third solo album, Brand New Revolution, on July 22, 2015.

Sharing a headlining bill with Angel Vivaldi tonight as their Operation Domination Tour opened at the Studio at Webster Hall, G. showcased his guitar wizardry through a set of songs that were rooted in classic hard rock structures. The set list included songs from G.'s solo albums, Firewind and even Ozzy Osbourne. With G. focused on dazzling guitar leads, James Paul Luna of Holy Grail handled vocals, ably supported by Jake Skylyr on bass and Alex Bent (ex-Battlecross, Testament) on drums. As the rhythm section provided a speedy crashing backbone, G. ripped into mighty, melodic guitar dynamics. The set ended with a meeting of the masters, as G. invited Vivaldi on stage and the two guitarists showcased extended solos. There was plenty of awe there for both the headbangers and the guitar students in the venue.

Visit Gus G. at www.gusgofficial.com.

Angel Vivaldi at the Studio at Webster Hall

Growing up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Angel Vivaldi was inspired to teach himself guitar at age 15 after listening to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Metallica's Kirk Hammett. He played in bands from 1999 to 2000 before launching his own solo project in 2003. His 2008 debut album, Revelations, caught the attention of vocalist Max Illidge, formerly of popular Jersey-based band 40 Below Summer. Illidge and Vivaldi led a new melodic metal band called Black Market Hero. Vivaldi performed live in With Daggers Drawn while actively in Black Market Hero during most of 2009. After two years in Black Market Hero, Vivaldi left in 2010. Occasionally he played in other bands, but in 2015, Vivaldi quit his day job and dedicated himself to his solo career. A re-recording of his 2009 EP, The Speed of Dark, was released as The Speed of Dark: Revisited on August 26, 2016. He is hoping to release his second album, Synapse, by the end of 2016.

Angel Vivaldi began a month-long Operation Domination Tour co-headlining with Gus G tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall. Vivaldi's instrumental pieces were progressive poly-rhythmic, starting here and ending there, a completely different location. The music was heavy and melodic, loaded with chunky riffs and dizzying extended guitar flurries. Vivaldi's virtuosic guitar work remained steadfast as the pivotal foundation for each composition. This was shred, tasteful with engaging arrangements while also blasting with Vivaldi's spectacular fretwork prowess. Vivaldi's performance demonstrated that he has all that is necessary to become the next Steve Vai.

Visit Angel Vivaldi at www.AngelVivaldiofficial.com.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

AfroPunk Festival: Day Two at Commodore Barry Park

When the punk rock movement began all over the world about 1975, the music scene was dominated by white male musicians. Black musicians in punk became a fringe movement, led by bands like Bad Brains and Fishbone. The Black Rock Coalition formed in New York City in 1985 as an artists' collective and non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the creative freedom and works of black musicians. This alternative music scene remained somewhat underground until director James Spooner chronicled the roles of these African Americans, both musicians and fans, in the 2003 film Afro-Punk: The Rock.

Spooner was among those who helped launch the first AfroPunk music festival in 2005 in Brooklyn, New York. It became an annual festival, and in 2015 franchised a similar festival in Paris, France. Musical performances now represent persons of color in many genres.

AfroPunk Brooklyn returned to Commodore Barry Park on August 27-28, 2016. In addition to a variety of avant garde punk, funk, rock, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues and hip hop performances on three stages, the venue also hosted food trucks, international cuisine, a clothing mall and opportunities to engage in social and political activism. Many in the audience were dressed to impress.
BLXPLTN
Seinabo Sey
Radkey
The Suffers
Angel Haze
Kamau
Skye/Ross
Young Fathers
Skunk Anansie
Earl Sweatshirt
Janelle Monae
Living Colour
Fishbone
Bad Brains
Sir the Baptist 
Ice Cube

Saturday, August 27, 2016

AfroPunk Festival: Day One at Commodore Barry Park

When the punk rock movement began all over the world about 1975, the music scene was dominated by white male musicians. Black musicians in punk became a fringe movement, led by bands like Bad Brains and Fishbone. The Black Rock Coalition formed in New York City in 1985 as an artists' collective and non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the creative freedom and works of black musicians. This alternative music scene remained somewhat underground until director James Spooner chronicled the roles of these African Americans, both musicians and fans, in the 2003 film Afro-Punk: The Rock.

Spooner was among those who helped launch the first AfroPunk music festival in 2005 in Brooklyn, New York. It became an annual festival, and in 2015 franchised a similar festival in Paris, France. Musical performances now represent persons of color in many genres.

AfroPunk Brooklyn returned to Commodore Barry Park on August 27-28, 2016. In addition to a variety of avant garde punk, funk, rock, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues and hip hop performances on three stages, the venue also hosted food trucks, international cuisine, a clothing mall and opportunities to engage in social and political activism. Many in the audience were dressed to impress.
In the Whale
Qaasim & the Juggernaut War Party
Downtown Boys
The Veevees
Ras
Prayers
Sate
Ho99o9
Benjamin Booker
Saul Williams
Thundercat
Ceelo Green
Trash Talk
George Clinton
Nikki Giovanni
Laura Mvula
Tyler, the Creator
TV on the Radio

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sarah Walk at the Top of the Standard

In her native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sarah Walk took piano lessons as a child and began improvising and composing at age seven. By age nine, she began performing publicly, rapping with a friend at neighborhood concerts. Experiencing her first heartbreak as an adolescent, she began writing about personal experiences rather than the world around her. She later majored in music writing and composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Walk released a five-song EP, White Noise, in 2012, and soon will release her debut album. Walk is now based in London, England, and opened a tour for fellow Londoner Laura Mvula.

At the Top of the Standard, performing high above New York's Meatpacking District amidst glorious views of nighttime skylines, Sarah Walk introduced songs from her upcoming album. Backed by a trio of musicians, Walk played piano on most songs, singing vocals that were accentuated and melodies that were accessible. The result was the delivery of a series of emotional, introspective compositions that opened a window to a discovering and perplexed heart. Walk's mindset often seemed to be softly tender, yet striving for invulnerability. Musically mature beyond her 24 years, she veered far from lightweight pop ditties. Sarah Walk will capture hearts one by one.

Visit Sarah Walk at www.sarahwalkmusic.com.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Poundcake at City Winery

Teddy Thompson
Poundcake is a country roots cover band that was born in 2012 when drummer/vocalist Ethan Eubanks encouraged vocalist/guitarist Teddy Thompson to develop a side project between Thompson's solo albums. Bassist/vocalist Jeff Hill was recruited because the three musicians had just spent nearly a year together touring on one of Thompson's albums. The concept was that the trio would perform the music of the musicians they loved, primarily country and rock and roll artists of the early 1960s. Poundcake would play well-known songs but also seek out obscure gems from the Sun Studios era.

Teddy Thompson is a British folk rocker with a heart for Americana. As primarily vocalist and leader of Poundcake, he led the trio through songs by George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon and many others, keeping the old time sound without the commercial gloss. While the familiar songs were performed well and the deep cuts introduced old songs to new audiences, in the end, as with nearly all cover bands, the original versions were better. In short time, the show turned from concert to cabaret, as the three musicians engaged in light-hearted banter between every song, much of it poking fun at each other, to the point where this joking became as much the show as the music. This combination effortlessly could pilot an ongoing drive-time radio show.

Dori Freeman at City Winery

Dori Freeman is from Galax, Virginia, a tiny Appalachian town that hosts an annual old-time fiddlers' convention that she has attended every year of her life. She grew up in a musical family; her grandfather is an artist and guitar player and her father is a multi-instrumentalist and music instructor. Appropriating the mountain traditions of old-time country, bluegrass and folk blues, Freeman began to play guitar at age 15 and started writing songs shortly thereafter. Both her father and grandfather contributed to her 2011 self-produced debut album, Porchlight. In late 2014, she contacted Teddy Thompson, who liked her music so much that he offered to produce her second album. The eponymous album was released on February 5, 2016.

Opening for Poundcake tonight at City Winery, Freeman performed a brief set of lilting ballads and folk songs that engaged her singer-songwriter approach while hugging her Appalachian background. She sang yearning homespun tales about love and loss without belting or otherwise demanding attention. The purity and the earnestness of her plain, simple delivery, along with her natural drawl and unaffected guitar strumming, were rich and charming. She played the rural troubadour well, bringing soft hill country sensibilities to a hard, sweltering city.

Visit Dori Freeman at www.dorifreeman.com.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Muddy Magnolias at the Mercury Lounge

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Jessy Wilson was working professionally in musical theater by the age of 10. While in her teens, Wilson sang backup for Alicia Keys, then worked four years with John Legend, and then will.i.am, Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq and Babyface before she began writing songs for American Idol's Fantasia Barrino and others. Wilson left New York in 2013 with aspirations of making history as an African-American female songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee. There she met Kallie North in 2014. North had lived in Texas and Mississippi, relocating to Nashville hoping to write country hits. Together they started writing what turned out to be country rhythm and blues songs, and there were no better singers to interpret them than themselves. Muddy Magnolias' debut album, Broken People, will be released on October 14, 2016.

Showcasing with a mere 33-minute set tonight at the Mercury Lounge, Wilson and North demonstrated that opposites can create a perfect musical storm. Muddy Magnolias' performance was born in familiar terrains, marrying the best of two formerly separate genres for a refreshing new spin. The country roots were as loud as the rhythm and blues was clear. Like rubbing two sticks together, they ignited heat. The two vocalists often sang separately, but frequently the choruses were electrified by gospel-rousing harmonies soaring to the heavens. The songs were as comfortable in a pickup truck as on the A train. Gutsy, rowdy and rocking, Muddy Magnolias proved that two traditions can be better than one.

Visit Muddy Magnolias at www.muddymagnolias.com.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Disco Biscuits at Irving Plaza

Jon Gutwillig
Disco Biscuits started in 1995 on a college campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where guitarist Jon "The Barber" Gutwillig and bassist Marc Brownstein were jamming. Aron Magner joined the college and then joined the band as its keyboardist. The three began playing fraternity parties and other social events, combining jazz jams with electronic dance music into what fans later would call "trance fusion." They performed under various names including  Party Tent. Since 2005, Disco Biscuits has consisted of Gutwillig, Brownstein, Magner and drummer Allen Aucoin. Disco Biscuits' most recent studio album is 2011's Otherwise Law Abiding Citizens.

With a three-night run in New York City (two nights at Irving Plaza, one night at the Ford Amphitheater), the band promised entirely different sets. Tonight, the middle performance, Disco Biscuits started with "Grass Is Green" and wove into several other songs, playing more than three hours (with intermission) before concluding with an encore of "The City." The set picked up "Spacebirdmatingcall" where it left off in a jam the previous night and performed a new song, "The Champions," for the first time. Otherwise, it was typical Biscuits fare, largely instrumental dance jams led by psychedelic guitar work and chiming synthesizers. Throughout, there was a familiar over-arching sameness, and yet the interplay of cascading instruments kept the jams from ever getting too repetitious. Fresh and very much alive at every moment on stage, this was yet another brilliant set by Disco Biscuits that never was before and never will be again.

Visit Disco Biscuits at www.discobiscuits.com.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ghostland Observatory at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

 Little is known about the duo called Ghostland Observatory from Austin, Texas. Born in San Saba, Texas, vocalist/guitarist Aaron Behrens was involved with local bands Dismount and Waking Helix. In the latter band, he performed with synthesizer player/percussionist Thomas Turner of Pecos, Texas. The two broke off in 2005 to work on a project which became Ghostland Observatory. The duo gained a following but went into hiatus after its fourth album, Codename: Rondo, in 2010.

It seems like every band that ever existed for a minute is back together and performing in larger venues than in the band's original period. Ghostland Observatory followed suit, touring without a new album and headlining tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom. The performance demonstrated the uniqueness of the band: Behrens seemed to be the soulful classic rocker, while Turner seemed to be caught in synth pop. Rather than heaping layers of sound, the music was kept raw and somewhat primitive by modern production standards. The songs were based on simple riffs, like T. Rex embraced Iggy Pop, but with electro rhythms and lots of laser lights. Not fully a hard rock band and not quite a rave band, Ghostland Observatory's music was an unblended experiment into electro blues-rock. Behrens' shouted more than he sang, and his stinging guitar work was perhaps the best part of the performance. Ghostland Observatory was a curious act.

Visit Ghostland Observatory at www.ghostlandobservatory.com.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Living Colour at City Winery

Corey Glover
English-born Vernon Reid had played guitar in New York in Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society before launching a series of bands he called Living Colour in 1984. Melding heavy metal, funk, jazz, hip hop and alternative rock, Reid and his bands found a home at CBGB's. The lineup stabilized by 1986, and turning to a more commercial bent, Living Colour hit with "Cult of Personality" on its debut album in 1988, winding up on MTV video rotations, opening for the Rolling Stones tour, and winning two Grammy Awards. Living Colour disbanded in 1995 and reformed in 2000. The band presently consists of Reid, vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun. Living Colour's fifth and most recent studio album is 2009's The Chair in the Doorway; the band hopes to release Shade in 2017.

Headlining at City Winery tonight, Living Colour showed its CBGB's roots with a cover of Talking Heads' "Memories Can't Wait." From the first song, the band stamped out its abilities: Glover was a fine singer, and the musicians were talented and ingenuous. Glover sings with a husky, commanding presence, Reid's guitar licks are fierce and daring, and the rhythm section was as creative as a progressive fusion band. Playing commercial music for common denominator tastes would have been too easy; instead, Living Colour rocked on instrumental jazz/funk workouts, riveting hard rockers, casual pop riffs and even Delta blues and hip hop. The few cover tunes ranged from the Beatles' psychedelic "Tomorrow Never Knows" to the Notorious B.I.G's "Who Shot Ya?" The consistent factor throughout was that all the jams rocked.

Living Colour will be performing at the AfroPunk Festival on August 28. Meanwhile, visit the band at www.livingcolour.com.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

X at Irving Plaza

Exene Cervenka
In 1976, bassist John Doe, born John Nommensen Duchac in Decatur, Illinois, and raised near Baltimore, Maryland, moved to Los Angeles, California. Guitarist Billy Zoom, born Tyson Kindell in Savanna, Illinois, moved to California in the 1960s. Doe and Zoom met after posting similar ads in a local newspaper seeking other musicians to form a punk rock band. Doe brought to the fold poet Exene Cervenka, born Christine Cervenka in Tallahassee, Florida, whom he met at a poetry reading in Venice, California. Doe also discovered drummer Donald "D.J." Bonebrake of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley when Bonebrake was playing in a local band called the Eyes. Together, the foursome formed X in 1977 and became the leaders of the Los Angeles punk scene. X split in 1988, reunited in 1993, split again in 1995 and reunited again in 1998. The band tours but has not recorded an album since 1993's Hey, Zeus!

X has retained a strong New York following, judging by the substantial turnout tonight at Irving Plaza. X played much the same set as the group has played for the past 30+ years. The set consisted of 24 rapid-fire songs, all from X albums dating back from 1980 to 1983. The set began with five songs from Wild Gift, and stayed close to that raw, energetic sound, hardly venturing into the more folk and country roots-oriented sound of Doe and Cervenka's later solo albums. The staple of the band remained firm, which was the synchronous singing of Doe and Cervenka, with Zoom igniting the songs with blazing leads during their vocal pauses. X performed the old X very well, as energized as its in most primitive, exploratory phase, except that tweaking a song like "The Unheard Music" does not qualify as new material. The public awaits new adventures from X.

Visit X at www.xtheband.com.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Junior Brown at City Winery

Jamieson "Junior" Brown was born in Cottonwood, Arizona, and at a young age moved with his family to a rural area of Indiana near Kirksville. His father taught him to play the piano, and he taught himself to play a guitar he found in his grandparent’s attic. As a young boy, he performed country songs at parties and school functions. As a young adult, he sang and played pedal steel and guitar on tour with the Last Mile Ramblers, Dusty Drapes & the Dusters and Asleep at the Wheel. In 1985, Brown invented a double-neck guitar, his unique hybrid "guit-steel," the top neck being a traditional six-string guitar, while the lower neck is a full-size lap steel guitar for slide playing. Since 1990, Brown has recorded seven studio albums including The American Original, which will be released by late summer. Since the 1990s, Brown and his band, including wife Tanya Rae, have been based in Austin, Texas.

At City Winery tonight, Junior Brown performed many kinds of country-rooted music, including honky tonk, western swing and bluegrass, but also blended shades of blues, surf, Tex-Mex, and even Hawaiian into the set. With his signature guit-steel hoisted onto a stand center stage, Brown moved behind it and frequently and effortlessly alternated from finger picking on the guitar neck to sliding on the steel neck, often on the same song. His other niche was the dry wit he sang through his lyrics. Brown provided an amusing performance, but city folk might find his concert to be more of a novelty than serious music.

Visit Junior Brown at www.juniorbrown.com.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Piebald at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Travis Shettel
Four high school students formed Piebald as a hardcore band in 1994 in Andover, Massachusetts, then moved to Somerville and gradually evolved into a popular emo band. Piebald split in 2000, reunited in 2002, and split again in 2008, though the band reunited briefly in 2010 at the Bamboozle music festivals in California and New Jersey. This year, Piebald reformed for the Wrecking Ball 2016 music festival in Atlanta, Georgia, and the band announced a "You're Part of It" tour leading to that date. Piebald presently consists of its classic lineup of vocalist/guitarist Travis Shettel, guitarist Aaron Stuart, bassist Andrew Bonner and drummer Luke Garro. Piebald's most recent album, Accidental Gentleman, was released in 2007.

Demonstrating how wit had become integral to its song craft, Piebald opened tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom with "Karate Chops For Everyone But Us" from its 2002 album We Are the Only Friends We Have. Half of the 20-song set drew from that album, with the prior album, 1999's If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains for Us All, coming close with seven songs. The band introduced no new songs, for all intents and purposes revisiting where the curtain fell in 2008. The band has matured with the times somewhat, with a slicker presentation that diminished the earlier jangly indie guitar chords and occasional progressive hardcore spines. With story-songs designed with rallying, climactic choruses, Piebald saw its audience engaged in enthusiastic singing from the first lyrics. If there is still room for emo bands in the contemporary rock skyline, Piebald may not be soon forgotten. Footnote: tonight was Stuart's birthday, and he knelt onstage and proposed marriage to his girlfriend in the audience midway through the concert.

Visit Piebald at www.piebald.com.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Eric Burdon & the Animals at City Winery

The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo formed in 1958 and became the Animals shortly after Eric Burdon joined in 1962. Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, the blues rocking Animals was one of the leading bands of the British Invasion. By late 1966, the other original members had left, and Burdon reformed the brand as Eric Burdon & the Animals, sometimes called Eric Burdon & the New Animals, until that band split in 1969. Living in San Francisco, California, Burdon joined forces with the funk rock band War in 1969, becoming Eric Burdon & War. Burdon began a solo career in 1971 with the Eric Burdon Band. His 11th and most recent solo album, 'Til Your River Runs Dry, was released in 2013. Although the original Animals reunited briefly in 1975 and 1983, Burdon’s present band of Animals consists of Johnzo West (guitar/vocals), Davey Allen (keys/vocals), Dustin Koester (drums/vocals), Justin Andres (bass guitar/vocals), Ruben Salinas (sax/flute), and Evan Mackey (trombone).

Eric Burdon's career lasted beyond the British Invasion of the mid-1960s for two reasons; his hit songs were dynamic rockers and he possessed a unique, powerful voice. At City Winery tonight, the 75-year-old blues rocker had no newer songs of that earlier caliber and his voice has lost considerable power, but he proved to be a remarkably formidable force nonetheless. Burdon and his new band opened with a fresh take on his 1970 hit, "Spill the Wine," then moved through much of the Animals repertoire and sprinkled a fewer newer songs like 2013's "Bo Diddley Special." Some parts that were sung originally were now more talky, and the singing was sometimes more gravelly, yet the songs retained their fierce and passionate delivery. Burdon in concert is still classic, and rock and roll history would be incomplete without his distinguished presence.

Eric Burdon & the Animals will return to City Winery on October 10 & 11. In the meantime, visit Eric Burdon at www.ericburdon.com.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dwight Yoakim at Damrosch Park

The son of a gas-station owner and a key-punch operator, Dwight Yoakam was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he sang and played guitar with local garage bands. Yoakim wanted to play honky tonk, but the country music circuit had gravitated toward pop "urban cowboy" music, so in 1977 he moved to Los Angeles, California, where Los Lobos, X and other bands were marrying cowpunk with roots rock and punk rock. Yoakim has recorded more than 21 albums and compilations, charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and sold more than 25 million records. On September 23, 2016, Yoakam will release his first exclusively-bluegrass album comprised of bluegrass covers of many of his biggest hits; it will be entitled Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, perhaps paralleling his life path to the Beverley Hillbillies.

Later this year Yoakim will turn 60 years old, and his concert tonight at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors AmericanaFest reflected in part the music of his childhood. Backed by his sequin-suited musicians, Brian Whelan on keyboards and guitar, Eugene Edwards on lead guitar, Jonathan Clark on bass, and Mitch Marine on drums, Yoakim sang 11 cover songs originally recorded by the likes of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton. Opening with "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud  Music)," Yoakim also performed nine songs from his own early career, including "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere", "Honky Tonk Man" and "Guitars, Cadillacs," plus four more recent songs. When the songs leaned towards traditional country music, Yoakim's rich hillbilly vocals crooned like silk, but his most driving songs were the rockabilly-inspired numbers. Yoakam is mostly associated with West Coast country, early cowpunk, and the Bakersfield Sound, but his concert successfully spanned the width of roots rock genres.

Visit Dwight Yoakim at www.dwightyoakam.com.