Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Amy Helm at City Vineyard

Early in life, Amy Helm was inspired by earthy music, perhaps due to the influence of her parents, the late Levon Helm of the Band and songwriter Libby Titus Fagen ("Love Has No Pride"), and her mother's later partners, Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen. Amy Helm was a founding vocalist and mandolin player in the New York-based alt-country roots band Ollabelle, with whom she recorded three albums. Encouraged by her dad, she launched the "Midnight Rambles" with him at his home and studio in Woodstock, New York. She also sang with her father's bands for 10 years until his passing in 2012. Her debut solo album, Didn’t It Rain, was released in 2015.

It seemed like the Midnight Ramble sets had rolled down the Hudson River from Woodstock to the new and intimate music venue City Vineyard in TriBeCa tonight. Helm told her audience that she was instructed to bring only one accompanist onto the small stage, but she insisted on bringing guitarist/keyboardist Connor Kennedy, guitarist Adam Minkoff, guitarist Andy Stack, percussionist Sean Dixon, and trumpeter Dan Branigan (who stood off-stage for lack of space).The set began with selections from Helm's debut album, but then gravitated to covers of songs by the Grateful Dead, Allen Toussaint, Bobby Charles, the Band, Sam Cooke, and Dave Mason. Devoid of any pop leanings, the song selection hearkened to rich homespun music traditions, and Helm brought a touch of organic soul, gospel and country to everything she sang. Both heartfelt and smoldering, Helm's delivery was highlighted by her unpolished, gutsy and expressive vocals. Helm's set seemed to have landed on the banks of the Hudson River from an earlier era, but by the same time honored the timeless elements of Americana music.

Visit Amy Helm at www.amyhelm.com.

Setlist:
  1. Didn't It Rain
  2. Sky's Falling
  3. Rescue Me
  4. Gentling Me
  5. Cotton and the Cane
  6. Peggy-O (Grateful Dead cover)
  7. Yes We Can Can (Allen Toussaint cover)
  8. Down South In New Orleans (Bobby Charles cover)
  9. Bye Bye Love (Allen Toussaint cover)
  10. Deep Water
  11. Rockin' Chair (The Band cover)
  12. Gloryland ([traditional] cover)
  13. Ain't That Good News (Sam Cooke cover)


Encore:
  1. Only You Know and I Know (Dave Mason cover)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Eisley at the Studio at Webster Hall

Sherri DuPree-Bemis
Boyd and Kim DuPree ran a coffee shop in their church in Tyler, Texas. Their children formed an indie pop/rock band called the Towheads in 1997 and became the house band for the venue. The band changed its name to Eisley, named after Mos Eisley, a fictional spaceport town on the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars universe, and began playing regularly in Dallas and then throughout Texas. Several siblings and cousins passed through the line-up, and the band presently stands as Sherri DuPree-Bemis on vocals and rhythm guitar, her cousins Garron DuPree on bass and Remington DuPree on drums, Elle Puckett on lead guitar, and Jedidiah Lachmann on keyboards. The band's fifth album, I'm Only Dreaming, was released on February 17, 2017.

Headlining tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall, this was Dupree-Bemis’s first local show without any of her sisters. Nevertheless, Eisley's new line-up was striking. Handling old songs and introducing songs from a 10-day old album, the band ably supported DuPree-Bemis with soft but chugging indie pop accompaniment as she brought her signature floating-on-air soprano vocals to the forefront. The melody-charged arrangements ranged from sparse to lush, sometimes within the same song. The mysterious charm of the music was especially compelling, however, in the exchange between DuPree on solo vocals and her layered harmonies with the others, particularly with Puckett. Subtleties abounded in the lyrics and the arrangements, making the performance as upbeat as the bubble-machine to the side of the stage.

Visit Eisley at www.eisley.com.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Roger Creager at Hill Country Barbecue Market

Roger Creager grew up outside of Corpus Christi, Texas, and from age six aspired to become a country music singer. He started learning how to play piano in the second grade, and learned guitar while in high school. Creager graduated university with degrees in business and agriculture, but after two years in Houston working an 8 to 5 job, he listened to his heart and moved back to College Station to pursue a career in music. Creager is a staple in the Texas country circuit and currently lives in Houston, Texas. He has recorded seven albums since 1998, and his most recent release is 2015's Gulf Coast Time EP.

Roger Creager's performance tonight at Hill Country Barbecue Market hearkened back to 1970s outlaw music, but also framed good-time original songs with the spirit of Billy Joel and Jimmy Buffett. Creager anchored the songs with his muscular vocals and a whole lot of sway from lead guitarist Aleph Yonker, guitarist/fiddler Rick Redfern, keyboardist Allen (Huff Daddy) Huff, bassist Stormy Cooper, and drummer Lyndon Hughes. It was unfiltered barroom honky tonk with a little Tex-Mex flavor, front-loaded with well-crafted lyrics that referenced women and booze, and fleshed out with guitar, fiddle, accordion and even washboard breaks. Creager and company did not break new ground, but with solidly rocking songs harnessed the high energy and the cowboy charisma that made a vintage Texas music sound fresh and interesting again.

Visit Roger Creager at www.rogercreager.com.

Ricky Skaggs at the Appel Room

Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky, and was five years old when his father gave him a mandolin. At age six, he played mandolin and sang on stage with bluegrass icon Bill Monroe. At age seven, he received his first paycheck playing with bluegrass' legendary Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs on a televised country music variety show. In his teen years, Skaggs was part of a bluegrass trio that performed on radio shows and then became musicians in Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys. Skaggs later joined the Country Gentlemen and J.D. Crowe & the New South, and in 1976 formed progressive bluegrass band Boone Creek. In the late 1970s, Skaggs moved to country music and played mandolin and fiddle in Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band. Skaggs launched his solo career in 1979, subsequently winning 14 Grammy Awards and multiple other honors. He has released 32 studio albums, the most recent being 2014's duet with his wife Sharon White, Hearts Like Ours.

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder performed tonight at Lincoln Center's Appel Room as part of a series entitled American Songbook. As such, the set consisted of songs made famous by the pioneers of bluegrass music, including Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs. Skaggs also performed a few originals, but they were made to sound as old-timey as the core of the set. Skaggs was a fine tenor, intentionally singing without flash or splash, and his impressive mandolin picking was rapid and precise. The members of Kentucky Thunder (fiddler Mike Barnett, banjoist Russ Carson, lead guitarist Jake Workman, rhythm guitarist Paul Brewster, guitarist Dennis Parker, and bassist Scott Mulvahill) kept up mightily with him. Between songs, Skaggs related historical anecdotes about the trailblazers of bluegrass whom he commemorated with this program. Although the view of a congested Central Park South through the picture windows behind him betrayed him, Skaggs performed like it was an impromptu backyard hootenanny, allowing his fellow musicians to shine as much as he did.

Visit Ricky Skaggs at www.rickyskaggs.com.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at le Poisson Rouge

Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown was born in 1942 as the family home was being bombed by the Germans in a World War II air raid. He and his family were reported among the dead by the local newspaper in Whitby, a seaside town in northern England that happened to be Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula. Perhaps this path explains why, after studying law and philosophy at university, Brown turned into hard rock's first shock rocker. He formed his first band, Blues & Brown, while at university, then led bands in London and developed his theatrical skills and led the Arthur Brown Set in Paris, France. Returning to London in 1966-67, Brown was briefly a member of a soul/ska group called the Ramong Sound before the band found Top 40 success as the Foundations. In 1967, Brown formed the hard rocking Crazy World of Arthur Brown, in which he earned a reputation for outrageous theatrics, including elaborate face make-up and the use of a flaming metal helmet. The band had one million-selling single, "Fire," but split in 1969. Brown alleged denied an opportunity to be the vocalist for Jimi Hendrix, then played in several bands including Kingdom Come in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he worked as a carpenter, painter and counselor while living in Austin, Texas. He never again achieved commercial success in music. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown's sixth and most recent album, 2013's Zim Zam Zim,  was made possible through a pledge campaign.

Arthur Brown was dubbed the God of Hellfire from the intro line of his one-hit wonder, "Fire," but he performed at le Poisson Rouge tonight without his signature flaming helmet. Brown wore colorful face paint and changed stage wardrobe several times, and a female dancer joined him on stage a few times, but overall his performance was about music, not staging. Brown' soulful vocals ranged from bluesy baritone to blistering banshee, and the band jammed tightly; ironically, the arrangements did not seem as tight during an updated version of "Fire." Much like on his albums, many of the less-impactful songs seemed like filler. Nevertheless, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown's concert was enjoyable, but somewhat like musical theater lost in time. Brown indisputably owns a piece of real estate in early rock history that inspired the likes of Alice Cooper, Kiss, King Diamond and many other shock rockers, and the "fire" will not burn out for Brown as long as the embers flicker.

Visit the Crazy World of Arthur Brown at www.arthur-brown.com.

Setlist:

Brains (Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come song) (prerecorded intro)
  1. Zim Zam Zim
  2. Prelude / Nightmare
  3. Want to Love
  4. The Unknown
  5. Gypsy Escape (Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come cover) (>) I Put a Spell on You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover)
  6. Rest Cure (>) Kites (Simon Dupree & The Big Sound cover)
  7. Sunrise (Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come cover)
  8. The Tell-Tale Heart (The Alan Parsons Project cover)
  9. Touched by All
  10. Devil's Grip
  11. Muscle of Love
  12. Fanfare / Fire Poem (>) Fire
  13. Junkyard King
  14. Jungle Fever

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Adam Ant at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

photo by Michael Sanderson
Born in London, England, Stuart Goddard was born an only child, and his parents divorced when he was seven years old. His mother, formerly an embroiderer for a leading fashion designer, then supported her son by working as a domestic cleaner, briefly working for Paul McCartney. Goddard's first band was Bazooka Joe, in which he played bass; the pub-rock band lasted from 1970 to 1977, and was best known as the headliner at the first-ever Sex Pistols performance in 1975. Watching the Sex Pistols perform led Goddard to re-think his musical direction. Goddard changed his name to Adam Ant in 1977 and formed a band initially known as the Ants and then Adam & the Ants. Ant became a star of the British new wave and new romantic movements in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After three albums with Adam & the Ants, he became a solo artist in 1982. By 1985, Ant focused increasingly on an acting career, appearing in British plays and in over two dozen Hollywood films and television episodes from 1985 until 2003. After 16 years of recording silence, Ant's sixth and most recent album is 2013's Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter.

Two dates into Adam Ant's 17-city Kings of the Wild Frontier tour in January 2017, Tom Edwards, the band's guitarist and musical director, suddenly died. Ant postponed his New York City and Philadelphia performances and recruited guitarist Will Crewdson as a quick replacement. Tonight's concert at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom was a make-up date and the final show of the slightly extended tour. As the house lists dimmed, the musicians took their places and the audience heard the thick Burundi beats from the dual drummers, Andy Woodard and Jola, already defining Ant's distinctive sound. Joe Holweger provided the bass line and the band launched into "Dog Eat Dog," the opening song of Adam & the Ants' second album, 1980's Kings of the Wild Frontier album. A goateed Ant sauntered on stage wearing his Hussar cavalry-styled jacket and oversized hat and scowled into the microphone while bouncing to the tribal rhythms. With hardly a moment for breathing, Ant performed the entire album, took a brief break, and returned for a greatest hits revue. His vocals were stronger and crisper than when he performed at Irving Plaza two years ago, and his energy was unequivocal. For about two hours, the spry 62-year-old Ant deftly commanded the stage much like he did in his youth. After 26 songs, the only missing repertoire seemed to be "Young Parisians", "Apollo 9" and his BBC-banned "Strip."

Visit Adam Ant at www.adam-ant.com.

Setlist:

Kings of the Wild Frontier
  1. Dog Eat Dog (Adam & the Ants song)
  2. Antmusic (Adam & the Ants song)
  3. Feed Me to the Lions (Adam & the Ants song)
  4. Los Rancheros (Adam & the Ants song)
  5. Ants Invasion (Adam & the Ants song)
  6. Killer in the Home (Adam & the Ants song)
  7. Kings of the Wild Frontier (Adam & the Ants song)
  8. The Magnificent Five (Adam & the Ants song)
  9. Don't Be Square (Be There) (Adam & the Ants song)
  10. Jolly Roger (Adam & the Ants song)
  11. Making History (Adam & the Ants song)
  12. The Human Beings (Adam & the Ants song)

More Ant Music
  1. Beat My Guest (Adam & the Ants song)
  2. Christian D'or (Adam & the Ants song)
  3. Stand & Deliver (Adam & the Ants song)
  4. Vive Le Rock
  5. Cartrouble (Adam & the Ants song)
  6. Desperate But Not Serious
  7. Zerox (Adam & the Ants song)
  8. Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face) (Adam & the Ants song)
  9. Lady/Fall In (Adam & the Ants song)
  10. Goody Two Shoes
  11. Prince Charming (Adam & the Ants song)

Encore:
  1. Red Scab
  2. Get It On (T. Rex cover)
  3. Physical (You're So) (Adam & the Ants song)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Max & Iggor Cavalera: Return to Roots at the Gramercy Theatre

Max Cavalera
In 1981, Massimiliano "Max" Cavalera and his younger brother Igor (who since 2006 spells his name Iggor Cavalera) saw Queen live when they were growing up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and this concert inspired them to become musicians. As teenagers in 1984, the brothers formed Sepultura, a pioneer thrash metal band that sold more than 20 million records worldwide. Max left Sepultura in 1996 and Igor left 10 years later, making Igor the last original member to leave the band. The brothers regrouped briefly in Max's band, Soulfly, and in 2007 as the Cavalera Conspiracy, but are touring currently as Max & Iggor Cavalera: Return to Roots. Max now lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and Iggor lives in London, England.

Max & Iggor Cavalera: Return to Roots revisited Sepultura's sixth album, Roots, originally released in 1996 and the last to feature Max Cavalera. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the brothers, joined by guitarist Marc Rizzo (of the Cavalera Conspiracy) and bassist Tony Campos (of Soulfly), performed the album track for track. Towards the end of the main set, members of the opening acts, Immolation‘s Steve Shalaty and Full of Hell’s Dave Bland, joined the band onstage for a heavy-on-the-percussion jam. To begin the encore, Max and Iggor walked on stage alone, jamming on older Sepultura riffs like "Desperate Cry," before the rest of the band joined them for covers of Venom's "Black Metal" and Motörhead's "Ace of Spades," closing with a reprise of Sepultura's "Roots Bloody Roots." While the band engraved the legacy of Sepultura through the song catalogue, the band simultaneously proved that the Cavaleras have a life after Sepultura. Max was a forceful singer and guitarist, and Iggor was a master at the drums, incorporating tribal rhythms with the hard-hitting thrash style. Although the band did not perform "Canyon Jam," the final hidden song on the album, the original recording was played over the speakers as the audience was leaving.

Visit Max & Iggor Cavalera at www.maxandiggorreturntoroots.com.

Setlist:
  1. Roots Bloody Roots (Sepultura cover)
  2. Attitude (Sepultura cover)
  3. Cut-Throat (Sepultura cover)
  4. Ratamahatta (Sepultura cover)
  5. Breed Apart (Sepultura cover)
  6. Straighthate (Sepultura cover)
  7. Spit (Sepultura cover)
  8. Lookaway (Sepultura cover)
  9. Dusted (Sepultura cover)
  10. Born Stubborn (Sepultura cover)
  11. Itsári (Sepultura cover)
  12. Ambush (Sepultura cover)
  13. Endangered Species (Sepultura cover)
  14. Dictatorshit (Sepultura cover)
Encore:
  1. Desperate Cry (Sepultura cover)
  2. Black Metal (Venom cover)
  3. Ace of Spades (Motörhead cover)
  4. Roots Bloody Roots (Sepultura cover) (reprise)

Monday, February 20, 2017

John Mark McMillan at le Poisson Rouge

John Mark McMillan taught himself to play guitar as a teenager, sitting on the loading docks behind his father’s storefront church in Pineville, North Carolina. In short time, he began writing songs that were very personal and asked very hard questions about life and faith. In 2001 and 2002, he found himself buried in a sense of loss after the breakup of a relationship, the loss of his day job and the death of one of his closest childhood friends, and his music expresses the vulnerability and the hope for a better future. This optimistic view through the lens of pain has marked his music consistently. McMillan's sixth album, Mercury & Lightning, is available for pre-order, but a release date has not yet been revealed.

Throughout his performance at le Poisson Rouge tonight, John Mark McMillan's music insinuated that his Christian faith was all that was left at the bottom of the rubble of life. His lyrics frequently struggled to comprehend the uncomfortable nature and events of life, and yet celebrated the joy of victory over the darkness. The porch light was on and one can always return to the safety of home, he seemed to say in his songs. McMillan accomplished this with a strong, masculine voice, a confessional style of singing, and a rocking band. This music deserves to cross over beyond the Christian music market.

Visit John Mark McMillan at www.johnmarkmcmillan.com.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mayhem at the Gramercy Theatre

Attila Csihar
Black metal band Mayhem formed in 1984 in Oslo, Norway, adopting the band's name from the Venom song "Mayhem with Mercy." Mayhem is about as extreme as a band can get; the band suffered the 1991 suicide of vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin ("Dead") and the 1993 murder of guitarist Øystein Aarseth ("Euronymous") by his band mate, bassist Varg Vikernes ("Count Grishnackh"), and band members have been accused of making white supremacist statements, using neo-Nazi imagery, and planning to bomb a cathedral. Mayhem has been credited as launching the black metal movement, but no musicians that have remained in the band consistently since its origin; 19 musicians have passed through the ranks. The band presently consists of vocalist Attila Csihar, guitarists Morten Iversen ("Teloch") and Charles Hedger ("Ghul"), bassist Jørn Stubberud ("Necrobutcher"), and drummer Jan Axel Blomberg ("Hellhammer"). Mayhem self-released its sixth live album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive, on December 15, 2016.

Following a similar European tour that yielded the band's most recent album, Mayhem performed its entire 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas on a month-long North American tour that ended tonight at the Gramercy Theatre. Curiously, Mayhem had already split when the original album was released; a newer lineup interpreted the album. Nevertheless, the event was a rallying point for black metal fans, and Mayhem gave them an eerie and otherworldly ambience to fit the spine-tingling music. On the center of the stage, a small table was set with two tall candles at the ends and a skull in the center. Throughout the concert, the stage lights remained very dim and no one in the corpse-painted band spoke to the audience. Between songs, Csihar sometimes hovered around or knelt before the table. The songs were a monotony of cacophony, a droning wall of sound so thick that one had to really listen to pick out the lead parts. Atmospheric pieces separated some of the songs, but otherwise the band was propelled by Hellhammer’s blast beats and Csihar’s sinister screeches, ghastly growls and spooky spoken word. Mayhem performed the album's eight songs and walked off the stage. Hell probably is not this entertaining.

Visit Mayhem at www.thetruemayhem.com.

Setlist:
  1. Funeral Fog
  2. Freezing Moon
  3. Cursed in Eternity
  4. Pagan Fears
  5. Life Eternal
  6. From the Dark Past
  7. Buried by Time and Dust
  8. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas


Friday, February 17, 2017

Sinkane at the Bowery Ballroom

Ahmed Gallab was  born to college professors in London, England, but in short time the family relocated to Omdurman, Sudan, where his father became a politician in his native land. Ahmed was five years old in 1989 when his father took the family from Sudan to Provo, Utah. The move was supposed to be temporary, but a coup overthrew the Sudanese government, the elder Gallab lost his position, and political colleagues started "disappearing." The Gallab family eventually settled in Ohio, but the teenagers visited Sudan every summer vacation. Ahmed started playing music in a band while in grade school in Utah, joined the Ohio punk scene in his teens, and by his early 20s was the touring drummer for indie bands Of Montreal, Caribou and Yeasayer. Sinkane, a name Gallab adapted from Joseph Cinqué, leader of the Amistad rebellion, is both his alter ego and the name of his touring band. Currently, Sinkane is based in Brooklyn, New York, and released a sixth album, Life & Livin' It, on February 10, 2017.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, members of opening act No BS! Brass Band did double duty as backing musicians for Sinkane. Gallab led the nine-piece band featuring vocalist Amanda Khiri, keyboardist Elenna Canlas, lead guitarist Jonny Lam, bassist Michael "Ish" Montgomery, drummer Jason "Jaytram" Trammell, and three members of No BS! Brass Band, Reggie Pace, Sam Koff, and Jason Arce. The selections including older songs ("Jeeper Creeper", "Young Trouble") and new songs ("U'huh", "Passenger", "Telephone", "Deadweight") first tested live at a residency at Union Pool in Brooklyn in 2016. Gallab led the smooth and soulful singing, amplified often by leads and harmonies from other band members. The set rocked, in large part propelled by Lam's licks, but also grasped firmly onto the rhythm section's fluid funk patterns and Canlas' synth-heavy Afro-electro grooves. The extended musical breaks often aligned with free jazz, yet emphasized light and bouncy pop melodies. The total effect was a combination of world music and American jam band. Sinkane offered a very unique blend of music over the course of nearly two hours.

Visit Sinkane at www.sinkane.com.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Prevail at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Eric Vanlerberghe
The original members of I Prevail met on social media networks and formed a post-hardcore band in 2013 in Rochester Hills and Southfield, Michigan. The band gained attention after posting a cover of Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" on social media in 2014, then released its debut EP in 2015 and a debut album, Lifelines, on October 21, 2016. I Prevail presently consists of vocalists Brian Burkheiser and Richard "Eric" Vanlerberghe, guitarists Steve Menoian and Dylan Bowman, bassist Tony Camposeo, and drummer Lee Runestad.

I Prevail headlined the Marlin Room at Webster Hall tonight and brought all the trademarked elements of post-hardcore, matching bombastic metal grooves with lighter vocal melodies. Burkheiser provided the clean vocals and Vanlerberghe provided the harsh vocals, and Menoian repeatedly pierced the thunder with sparkling lead guitar riffs. On the surface, the performance was solid yet perhaps a bit standard. I Prevail provided a glimmer of what will take the band from trademark to landmark, however, and that was impressively accomplished through positive lyrics and uplifting banter between songs. The band members addressed issues of abuse, depression and suicide, pausing to urge the afflicted to seek assistance. Hope-filled heavy metal is rare to come by, and I Prevail merited generous applause for its unabashed presentation.

Visit I Prevail at www.iprevailband.com.

Setlist:
  1. Come and Get It
  2. Love, Lust and Liars
  3. Stuck in Your Head
  4. Already Dead
  5. Pull the Plug
  6. Chaos
  7. Complicated / She Hates Me / Bodies
  8. Blank Space (Taylor Swift cover)
  9. Alone
  10. Crossroads
  11. Face Your Demons
  12. RISE
  13. Lifelines

Encore:
  1. Worst Part of Me
  2. Scars

Monday, February 13, 2017

Gang of Youths at the Mercury Lounge

David Le'aupepe
Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist David Le'aupepe and his sister grew up as cultural outsiders in Sydney, Australia. He and his sister were mixed race (their father is Samoan, their mother is Caucasian), and the family belonged to a Messianic Jewish congregation (a fringe community of both Jews who subscribe to evangelical Christianity and Christians who adopt Jesus' Jewish identity). He bonded and banded with other church youth in 2012 to form a rock band, Gang of Youths, with musicians who shared his outsider identity in Australia: guitarist Joji Malani is a black man from Fiji; keyboardist Jung Kim is an Asian from Chicago, Illinois; bassist Maxwell Dunn is a white man from New Zealand; drummer Donnie Borzestowski of Polish descent is a newer addition. Gang of Youths in 2015 released its sole album to date, The Positions, which gained the band several awards nominations and sold-out tours in Australia. The band's most recent recording is the Let Me Be Clear EP, released on July 29, 2016.

On the first of two consecutive Monday night gigs at the Mercury Lounge, Gang of Youths may have found the stage too small. Throughout the show, Le'aupepe hastily paced back and forth across the stage but could only take a handful of steps before having to turn around and start again. For several songs, the audience was challenged to fix a gaze on him due to his unstoppable movement. Fortunately, he was able to push this energy through his music. Le'aupepe was a dynamic vocalist, singing muscularly a collection of soulful, melodic songs written from a place of pain, delivered with a mysterious Jim Morrison-like stage mystique. The band amplified Le'aupepe's crooning and hollering with intriguing arrangements that cleverly cascaded from sparse to wall-of-sound. Although the ultimate product was a series of radio-friendly rockers, the songs were rooted in an intense, bare-naked integrity that made the songs far more vital than typical pop fare. Given the opportunity to reach a wider audience, Gang of Youths may prove to become a fast-rising sensation.

Gang of Youth will perform at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on February 27. Visit Gang of Youths at www.gangofyouths.com.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Drive-By Truckers at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Patterson Hood & Mike Cooley
Patterson Hood was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the son of David Hood, the bassist of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Patterson began writing songs at the age of eight, and by the time he was 14 he was playing guitar in a local rock band. John "Mike" Cooley is from Tuscumbia, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals, and received his first guitar at age eight. While attending college in 1985, Hood and Cooley formed the punk-influenced band Adam's House Cat, then performed as a duo under the name Virgil Kane, and eventually started Horsepussy before splitting for a few years. Hood moved to Athens, Georgia, and began forming what would become Drive-By Truckers in 1996, luring Cooley to relocate and join. Drive-By Truckers has had many musicians come and go, and its sound has alternated between alternative country and southern rock over the course of 11 studio albums. Drive-By Truckers presently consists of Hood and Cooley on vocals and guitars, Jay Gonzalez on keyboards, guitar, and accordion, Matt Patton on bass and Brad "EZB" Morgan on drums. The band's most recent album, the politically-charged American Band, was released on September 30, 2016. Hood is presently based in Portland, Oregon, while Cooley remains Alabama-based.

In a city that has hosted consciousness-raising demonstrations of political dissent over the past three months, Drive-By Truckers' performance tonight at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom offered additional fuel for the fire. For many in the audience, the concert might have been simply a concert of hip-swaying, southern-inspired rock, but for those who listened more closely, the concert was a canvas of social commentary. Opening with the rallying cries of "Surrender under Protest" and "Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn," both songs inspired by the 2015 campaign to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse after the racist shooting massacre inside a Charleston church. Other songs denounced gun violence, including controversial police shootings, and other contemporary issues. The social justice message rang through to the band's closing song, a cover of Neil Young's "Rocking in the Free World." The performance was filled with angry vocals, raging guitar work and livid passion leaking into everything, with Hood repeatedly kneeling at the edge of the stage as if to appeal to the audience for bonding. The current political climate has manifested in many expressive musicians performing better than ever, and Drive-By Truckers has now joined this pack. Hood and Cooley may be southern men, but they stood defiantly against their redneck culture via outspoken rock and roll expression.

Visit Drive-By Truckers at www.drivebytruckers.com.

Setlist:
  1. Surrender Under Protest
  2. Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn
  3. Women Without Whiskey
  4. Filthy and Fried
  5. The Living Bubba
  6. Where the Devil Don't Stay
  7. Lookout Mountain
  8. Ever South
  9. Gravity's Gone
  10. Sinkhole
  11. Uncle Frank
  12. Kinky Hypocrite
  13. Guns of Umpqua
  14. Once They Banned Imagine
  15. The Company I Keep
  16. What It Means
  17. Ramon Casiano
  18. Let There Be Rock
  19. Zip City
  20. Shut Up and Get on the Plane
  21. Hell No, I Ain't Happy (with snippet of Prince's Sign “” the Times in the middle)
  22. Rockin' in the Free World (Neil Young cover)

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Wood Brothers at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

As children in Boulder, Colorado, Oliver Wood and Chris Wood often sang along as their father played traditional folk, blues, country and bluegrass songs on his acoustic guitar. Approaching adulthood, Oliver moved to Atlanta, where he played guitar in rhythm & blues cover bands before joining Tinsley Ellis' blues band for two years; Oliver later fronted the blues band King Johnson, which recorded five albums. Chris, meanwhile, studied jazz bass, moved to New York City and, in the early 1990s, formed jazz and jam band Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW). After pursuing separate musical careers for some 15 years, Oliver sat in with MMW following King Johnson’s opening set in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Oliver and Chris began recording original roots-sounding songs together as the Wood Brothers in 2005. In 2012, Oliver moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and Chris recently followed. The Wood Brothers is presently a trio with multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. The Wood Brothers' most recent album, Live at the Barn, was release on January 13, 2017.

Later in the night, Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom would host an evening of EDM, house and techno music, but for a short time earlier, the Wood Brothers turned the dance club into a front porch hootenanny. Armed with just a guitar, upright bass and drums, the country and blues band opened with a cover of "Stop That Train," a song popularized by Bob Marley, and then proceeded to perform one song from each of the Wood Brothers' five studio albums. Before long, Rix left his drum kit for the stage line and hand-slapped his shuitar, a modern guitar-shaped percussion instrument. The songs sounded like vintage standards, but they were originals with arrangements inspired by the Americana of long ago. Near the end of the set, the trio gathered around an old-fashioned microphone called Big Mike for quiet interpretations of "Muse" and "Sing about It"; the opening trio, the T Sisters, returned to the stage to harmonize on the latter song. The concert ended with a rousing version of the Band's "Ophelia." In all, the Wood Brothers successfully refined simple blues, folk, and bluegrass roots for a lively barnyard-styled hoedown.

Visit the Wood Brothers at www.thewoodbrothers.com.

Setlist:
  1. Stop That Train (cover) > Two Places
  2. Keep Me Around
  3. Loaded
  4. Smoke Ring Halo
  5. Tried and Tempted
  6. Snake Eyes
  7. (New Song)
  8. American Heartache
  9. Atlas
  10. Blue and Green
  11. One More Day
  12. Muse
  13. Sing about It (with the T Sisters)
  14. Postcards from Hell
  15. Singin’ to Strangers
  16. Honey Jar
Encore
  1. Luckiest Man
  2. Ophelia (The Band cover)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Bush Tetras at the Bowery Electric

Cynthia Sley
Women musicians were scarce in rock music until the punk movement of the late 1970s. New York City's Bush Tetras in 1979 proved that women rockers were not only growing in visibility but also were innovative and groundbreaking. Today, hundreds of bands are copying Bush Tetras' progressive funk noise, even if these bands do not know it. Cynthia Sley's half talking, half scolding vocals, Pat Place's searing, hypnotic guitar resonance, Laura Kennedy's sturdy, funky bass grooves and Dee Pop's pounding, thumping percussion together combined for a sound like no other band. Bush Tetras failed to grow out of the punk rock circuit and into the mainstream, however, and ultimately the band split in 1983. Bush Tetras reformed from 1995 to 1998, and then reformed again in 2005. Kennedy died in 2011; the band's current bassist is Val Opielski. Bush Tetras' third and most recent album, Happy, was recorded in 1998 and became available in 2012.

Bush Tetras celebrated its 37th anniversary as a live band tonight at the Bowery Electric. Although the group is headlining the same kind of clubs it did decades ago, tonight's performance proved that the band's music was still as electrifying and invigorating as it was nearly four decades ago. Pop caught the beat, Opielski gave the backbone, Place slid into dissonant, distortion-filled riffs, and Sley snarled bold, deadpan vocals. Together, they released a primal, intense energy alongside an integral rock and funk swagger. The results were chilling. One can only speculate how the Bush Tetras' music would have grown if the band had remained together into the alt-rock 1990s.

Bush Tetras returns to the New York stage at the Delancey on April 27.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Plimsouls Re-Souled at the Bowery Electric

Eddie Munoz
After the power pop band the Nerves broke up in 1978, vocalist/guitarist Peter Case formed a rock trio called the Tone Dogs, which quickly became the Plimsouls, in Paramount, California. Guitarist Eddie Muñoz, originally from Austin, Texas, joined the Plimsouls shortly thereafter. The Plimsouls achieved national attention in 1983 when "A Million Miles Away" from the soundtrack of the film Valley Girl became a minor hit, but then Case left to launch a solo career and the band dissolved. The Plimsouls reunited several times, but never as the original line-up. Recently, Muñoz used the brand to form a new band, the Plimsouls Re-Souled, which plays the music of the Plimsouls. The Plimsouls Re-Souled presently consists of Muñoz, vocalist/guitarist Bryan Malone of the Forty-Fives, bassist Jeff Walls  of the Woggles, and drummer Rick West of Bad Dude. The Plimsouls Re-Souled has not recorded any music.

There is very little chance that Peter Case can be persuaded to reform the original Plimsouls, so the Plimsouls Re-Souled at the Bowery Electric was the closest that 21st century New Yorkers were going to get. The original band did not have a strong New York following, but the retooled band proved that the Plimsouls was an underrated rock and roll band. Although the original band debuted during the punk era, tonight's concert showed that the music hearkened back to a much earlier British Invasion-era garage sound. It was fast, it was raw, and it was gut-driven guitar rock. Malone's coarse and throaty vocals and Muñoz's crisp guitar leads gave the old songs a heightened value. The Plimsouls Re-Souled honored the sturdiness and the timelessness of unhyphenated rock and roll.

Visit the Plimsouls Re-Souled at www.theplimsouls.com.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Lumineers at Madison Square Garden

Wesley Schultz
Guitarist Wesley Schultz's best friend died of a drug overdose in 2002. Engaging in cathartic therapy, Schultz and his friend's brother, drummer Jeremiah Fraites, began playing music together in their home base of Ramsey, New Jersey. By 2005, they performed in New York City clubs under the names Free Beer, 6Cheek, and Wesley Jeremiah. They came upon a final name while in Jersey City, New Jersey, when the concert promoter erroneously announced the band as the Lumineers. Lack of local success, however, swayed Schultz and Fraites in 2010 to relocate to Denver, Colorado. There, they placed a classified ad for a cellist, and the first person to respond was Neyla Pekarek, a classically-trained Denver native who was fresh out of college and was thinking about becoming a teacher. The trio began playing at open mics, as Pekarek helped soften the rough east coast edges of Schultz and Fraites while expanding her skills to mandolin and piano. The band's first single, "Ho Hey," sold over 2 million copies in 2003 and led to a million-selling debut album. The Lumineers' second studio album, Cleopatra, was released on April 8, 2016.

Headlining the first of two consecutive nights at Madison Square Garden tonight, the Lumineers expanded to a quintet, with Stelth Ulvang on piano, accordion, mandolin, guitar, percussion, keyboards and backing vocals, and Byron Isaacs on bass, guitar, and backing vocals. Early in the show, Schultz reminded the audience that he and Fraites grew up only 12 miles away from the venue. "I saw one of my first concerts here, so tonight is a really special night for us," said Schultz. The Lumineers performed 19 songs over approximately an hour and a half, and attempted to bring a down-home ambiance to the arena with simple folk-styled music, a  four-song performance on a small stage in the center of the venue and, during "Ophelia," Schultz walking briskly through the floor audience and into the mezzanine. The beauty of the music was its simplicity, even with musicians frequently changing instruments. Especially when the quintet performed on the mini-stage, the performance was hinged on uncluttered acoustic rock with rustic Americana roots and stomp-and-clap pop arrangements. Schultz performed "Long Way from Home" solo on a hollow body guitar at the apron of the main stage, emphasizing the soulfulness of his front-porch style of songwriting. On many other songs, however, the band drove with rock power. The Lumineers perfectly did everything to make heart-on-the-sleeve music fill a big room.

The Lumineers will open for U2 on June 28-29 at the MetLife Stadium. Until then, visit the Lumineers at www.TheLumineers.com.

Setlist
  1. Submarines
  2. Flowers In Your Hair
  3. Ho Hey
  4. Cleopatra
  5. Gun Song
  6. Dead Sea
  7. Classy Girls
  8. Where the Skies Are Blue
  9. Charlie Boy
  10. Slow It Down
  11. Sleep on the Floor
  12. Angela
  13. Ophelia
  14. Big Parade
  15. In the Light
  16. My Eyes

Encore:
  1. Long Way from Home
  2. Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan cover)
  3. Stubborn Love

Andrew Bird at Madison Square Garden

Violinist Andrew Bird was trained in the Suzuki method from the age of four in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up, he was surrounded by classical music and learned to play many pieces by ear. As a child, he became interested in bluegrass, Irish tunes and English and Scottish folk music and, as a teen, he sought exposure to gypsy music as well as American country blues and pre-war jazz. Swing, calypso, and American folk were later influences. Shortly after graduating from university with a bachelor's degree in violin performance in 1996, Bird joined the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, appearing on three of the band's albums between 1996 and 1998. He then formed Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, recording three albums from 1998 to 2001, while also moonlighting in the jazz group Kevin O'Donnell's Quality Six. Bird launched a solo career by chance in 2002, when his band members were unable to get to a concert. Bird's 10th and most recent solo album, Are You Serious, was released on April 1, 2016. Bird is presently based in Los Angeles, California.

Opening for the Lumineers at Madison Square Garden tonight, Andrew Bird sang, played violin, guitar, and glockenspiel, and whistled melodies through several songs. Accompanied by his band (guitarist Steve Elliot, bassist Alan Hampton, drummer Kevin O’Donnell), Bird's largely acoustic-led set hinted at folk while the changing rhythms suggested classical and jazz, but Bird's music was summarily none of the above. Sounding similar to Sufjan Stevens at times, much of Bird's music was an eclectic collection of soundscapes, much of which sounded like soundtracks for invisible visuals. Seemingly more appropriate for a conservatory rather than a sports arena, the roots elements and the whistling in Bird's set nonetheless captured the attention of the Lumineers fans.

Visit Andrew Bird at www.andrewbird.net.