Friday, July 14, 2017

The Bloodshots at Hill Country Barbecue Market

Little Lesley Swift was a farmer's daughter when at age eight she began playing piano and singing country music in backwoods bars in upstate New York. She later learned to play guitar and upright bass, and began writing and performing her own rock and roll songs. She met ex-cowboy and rockabilly guitarist Brian "Swifty" Swift in Nevada and took to his wild guitar style. They moved to New York City and formed the Bloodshots with drummer Bobby Lee of Staten Island. The Bloodshots so far released one album, On Fire, in 2013, and a couple of 7" singles. The band now has a home base in Greenville, South Carolina.

Performing two sets at Hill Country Barbecue Market tonight, Little Lesley led the Bloodshots on most songs with her complex bass rhythms and her sassy, belting vocal delivery. While the coifed hair and cowgirl outfit made her the center of attention, the strong undercurrent of Swifty's twangy guitar licks were the center of gravity in each song. Lee’s big-band influenced percussion completed the band's sparse sound. The set included some western swing and boogie-woogie, but the trio largely remained faithful to a rockabilly sound powered by turbo rock and roll energy. The music was honest, passionate and danceable, ripe for listening and for partying.

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King's X at City Winery

Doug Pinnick (left) and Ty Tabor
Bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick was born in Braidwood, Illinois, then at age 14 moved to Joliet, Illinois. Drummer Jerry Gaskill was born and raised in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and attended college in Springfield, Missouri. The two met in 1979 in Springfield while working in a failed musical project coordinated by Greg X. Volz of the Christian rock band Petra, but then became the rhythm section for guitarist Phil Keaggy's live band. Pinnick and Gaskill later played in two separate bands that featured guitarist Ty Tabor. By 1980, Pinnick, Gaskill and Tabor bonded as the Edge, later called Sneak Preview, and renamed King's X in 1985, based out of Houston, Texas. King's X's 12th and most recent studio album is 2008's XV.

King's X has remained together for 37 years despite a lack of commercial success. At City Winery tonight, the power trio demonstrated the brilliance that emerges when three talented musicians are in sync with each other for so long a period. Playing 17 songs from nine of the band's albums, King's X performed complex hard rock with experimental and prog-rock flourishes. Pinnick's muscular vocals borrowed from funk and blues, and the band's harmonies evoked the 1960s British Invasion and psychedelic eras. The lyrics leaned on the spiritual, but derived their essence from the musicians' struggles to balance the perplexities of life while embracing hope. The defining genius in all this was in how the dynamic and dulcet compositions fit together so mellifluously. King's X performed superior music for the intellect and the soul like only a veteran band could muster.

Visit King's X at

  1. Groove Machine
  2. The World Around Me
  3. Pillow
  4. Flies and Blue Skies
  5. Vegetable
  6. Cigarettes
  7. Pray
  8. Black Flag
  9. Lost in Germany
  10. A Box
  11. Looking for Love
  12. Summerland
  13. Over My Head
  14. Go Tell Somebody
  15. We Were Born to Be Loved
  1. Dogman
  2. King

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash at the Bowery Electric

Johnny Thunders, born John Genzale, Jr. in Queens, New York, became perhaps the most influential musician in the New York music scene in the 1970s. Leading the New York Dolls, the short-lived Gang War, and finally the Heartbreakers, Thunders pioneered a raw rock and roll revival and helped give new life to rock and roll fashion. He never sold a lot of albums and his bands never became international stars, but the history of New York music would be incomplete without mentioning his contributions.

This writer came to know Thunders in 1969 at Fillmore East. He and his girlfriend, Janis Cafasso, would attend every concert by a British band. This writer attended every concert there every weekend. Rather than take our seats, all of us preferred to watch the concerts from the back of the venue. Although we knew each other and often made small talk, we ran in different circles. Thunders and Cafasso had the mod Rod Stewart look, with cropped, stylish hair and dressed in velvets, silks, flowing scarves and boas, and boots. They watched from the left side. This writer and his company were more the Grateful Dead crowd, with long hair, patched jeans and sneakers. We watched from the right side. The two camps shared candy and a passion for live rock music.

In the early 1970s, Thunders and a growing cohort of similarly colorful rockers frequented a bar called Nobody's. This writer frequented the Bitter End, a folk club down the block, so our paths continued to cross on Bleecker Street, but again in parallel lines. In a few short years, he would be the lead guitarist in the New York Dolls and this writer became the New York columnist for the Aquarian Weekly.

Glitter rock was born in London, England, with the likes of David Bowie, T. Rex, David Essex and Gary Glitter. In New York, the local adaption was a return to raunchy, ragged rock and roll after the music scenes across the world were flooded with the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Allman Brothers Band. Glitter rock glamorized sexual ambiguity and androgyny through fashion and make-up, and the bands reverted to simple rock and pop compositions. Suddenly, the New York rock clubs were jammed with rockers dressed to the nines. The New York Dolls ruled the local music scene from 1972 to 1975.

This scene would later evolve into glam rock, with Kiss and Twisted Sister in New York and Motley Crue and Poison in Los Angeles gaining the international success that had eluded the New York Dolls. The two Dolls albums were slicker than what the live shows were like, but just were not commercial enough. In New York, however, they were spun frequently by rock club djs (and still are).

The Dolls were deeply inspired by the Rolling Stones, and ironically the band came to life and ended between the Stones' tours of America in 1972 and 1975. Thunders left the band in 1975 and formed the Heartbreakers. The glitter scene had exhausted its run and the punk scene was not yet in high gear. The Heartbreakers now ruled the local rock club circuit.

The Heartbreakers toured America before going to Britain in 1976 to join the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Damned on the now-legendary Anarchy Tour, replacing the Ramones, who quit the tour due to a lack of organization. The Heartbreakers stayed in the United Kingdom throughout 1977, where their popularity was significantly greater than in the United States, and released their only official studio album, L.A.M.F., in 1977. Shortly thereafter, the Heartbreakers officially disbanded, and Johnny Thunders began a solo career, although for New York area shows he would reunite members of the Heartbreakers (guitarist Walter Lure, bassist Billy Rath and drummer Jerry Nolan).

Among his other musical endeavors, Thunders occasionally performed in the 1980s in Gang War with former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and in the 1990s in the Oddballs. These and other efforts were met with less enthusiasm than the New York Dolls or the Heartbreakers. By this time, Thunders' storied abuse of heroin and methadone was well documented, and noticed by audiences at his gigs. Thunders was found dead in a hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, on April 23, 1991, apparently of drug-related causes.

Local impresarios Steve Krebs and Barry Apfel host the Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash every year on what would have been Johnny Thunders' birthday, July 13. Each year, the show at the Bowery Electric headlines Walter Lure's band, the Waldos, and many local artists covering the Thunders catalogue. This year's show featured performances by the Waldos, Steve Krebs & the M.I.A Band, the Ritualists, Lulu Lewis, Lenny Kaye, Dina Regine, the Rousers, Diane Gentile,  the Skelekasters, New Rock City, Mora Tau, Density, and a final performance by FFN. Some of the musicians played with Thunders, and all the musicians still revere him. It was a fitting tribute to the all-time king of the New York rock club circuit.
Dennis Doyle of Density
Ronnie Wheeler of Mora Tau
New Rock City
The Skelecasters
Diane Gentile
Bill Dickson of the Rousers
Dina Regine
Dina Regine with Lenny Kaye
Lenny Kaye
Dylan Hundley of Lulu Lewis
Christian Dryden of the Ritualists
Steve Krebs & the M.I.A. Band
Walter Lure of the Waldos

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pokey LaFarge at the Bowery Ballroom

Andrew Heissler was reportedly nicknamed "Pokey" as a child by his mother in Bloomington, Illinois, as she repeatedly scolded him to hurry. Pokey's grandfather, a member of the St. Louis Banjo Club, gave Pokey his first guitar and tenor banjo. In his early teens, while living in Normal, Illinois, Pokey's love of Americana grew when he first heard blues in a local pizza parlor. Then, after hearing Bill Monroe at age 16, Pokey traded his guitar for a mandolin. Pokey graduated from high school in 2001, and the 17-year-old Pokey hitchhiked to the West Coast and then to Ashville, North Carolina, busking on sidewalks and pedestrian malls along the way. He adopted the name Pokey LaFarge because it sounded like the musical direction he desired; this would later become the name of his band as well. Two albums received the Independent Music Award for Best Americana Album, and the band began getting better gigs and recording opportunities. Pokey LaFarge's seventh and most recent studio album, Manic Revelations, was released on May 19, 2017.

Headlining tonight at the Bowery Ballroom, Pokey LaFarge performed original songs founded in timeless music that sprung from both the heart and from the heartlands. LaFarge himself led the charge with smooth, crooning vocals, guitar and guitjo, and ably backed himself with Adam Hoskins (guitar), Joey Glynn (bass), Ryan Koenig (harmonica, washboard, guitar, guitjo), Luc Klein (trumpet), Ryan Weisheit (clarinet, saxophone), and Matthew Meyer (drums). Rooted in old-timey sounds, the songs avoided a dusty retro or nostalgic tone by featuring keen lyrics, pop melodies and lively arrangements. The set bounced with free and fresh takes on hot swing, early jazz, rolling ragtime, muddy blues, Appalachian folk, and front porch bluegrass. The musicians frequently were given moments to improvise and shine, which prevented the music from locking into one stiff genre and also further distanced the performance from becoming a novelty event. This was old-fashioned music with a biting new edge.

Visit Pokey LaFarge at

Monday, July 10, 2017

RavenEye at the Studio at Webster Hall

Oli Brown
As a young guitarist in Yorkshire, England, Oli Brown did not care what kind of music he played as long as he was given the opportunity to solo. When he was 15 years old, he was invited to play lead guitar in the American blues funk band Blinddog Smokin' ; Brown toured the United States with the band during the summers of 2004-2009. Before long, the youth found himself being mentored by Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, John Mayall, Walter Trout, Robben Ford and other blues greats. They taught him about the blues and stagecraft, plus they encouraged him to sing. Beginning in 2008, Brown released three studio albums and one live album, all of which earned him British blues awards. He then formed a more hard rocking band, RavenEye, in 2014 in Milton Keynes, England. RavenEye released an EP in 2015 and a debut album, Nova, on September 23, 2016. The power trio presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Oli Brown, bassist Aaron Spiers and drummer Adam Breeze.

RavenEye generously adapted the blues but made it far more riotous tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall. For each song, Brown sang a bit, then the rhythm section held down the groove as Brown roared with extended solos until he returned to the microphone to end the songs with a bit more lyrics. Brown's stagecraft was riveting, especially when he sang from atop the bass drum, or stood on his bassist's thigh and shoulder, or rode his bassist's shoulders through the audience, all while Brown played steaming non-stop guitar licks. A RavenEye concert is a show to both hear and see.

Visit RavenEye at

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Yardbirds at the Highline Ballroom

Jim McCarty
Guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page started their professional music careers in the 1960s in a British Invasion blues rock band called the Yardbirds. The band, briefly known as the Blue Sounds in 1963, formed in the suburbs of London, England, taking its name Yardbirds from an expression for hobos in rail yards or prisoners in a prison yard, but also revering jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. Originally playing Chicago blues covers, the Yardbirds became known for its signature "rave-up" instrumental breaks. The quintet gained attention when it replaced the Rolling Stones as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. Joining the British invasion, the Yardbirds went pop, causing the departure of Clapton. Beck replaced Clapton in 1965 and introduced fuzz tone, reverb, feedback, sustain, distortion and hammer-on soloing. Page joined on bass in 1966, but quickly switched to dual guitars with Beck. The Yardbirds split in 1968; Page tried to revamp the lineup as the New Yardbirds, but after a brief tour his band was rechristened Led Zeppelin. Original Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty reformed the brand in 1992, about the same time the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Yardbirds' fifth and most recent studio album is 2003's Birdland. The Yardbirds presently consists of McCarty, vocalist/guitarist John Idan, lead guitarist Johnny "A." Antonopoulos, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and percussionist/harmonica player Myke Scavone.

The Yardbirds' current line-up headlined tonight at the Highline Ballroom and captured both the spirit and the heritage of the late 1960s. Working through the vintage repertoire, the band sought not to replicate the classic arrangements but to bring the vitality of the present musicians to the past catalogue. Yet, although the earlier Yardbirds was an experimental band, adapting Indian raga sounds and Gregorian chants and pioneering psychedelic and hard rock, the new band was not breaking new ground or toying with left-field influences. Nevertheless, the instrumental prowess of the newer musicians shined throughout the performance. Perhaps this is the best way to preserve a hallmark: remain faithful and reverent towards the original, yet fully utilize the creative abilities offered by the new.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Kasey Chambers at City Winery

Kasey Chambers was born in Mount Gambier, Australia, but not too long afterwards her parents decided to live off the land and moved the family into the desolate Nullarbor Plain, where for 10 years they lived off foxes, kangaroos and anything else her dad hunted. At night, the family would sit around a campfire and sing American country songs that her dad played on guitar. They later returned to civilization and toured as a family band, the Dead Ringer Band, which consisted of dad (Bill), mom (Di), Kasey, and her older brother Nash. Kasey launched a solo career in 1999, but the family continued to factor in the musicianship (Bill), the production (Nash) and the merchandising (Di). Kasey's country music crossed over to pop radio, and she became a major music artist in Australia, with chart toppers, platinum records and ARIA awards. Her 11th studio album, Dragonfly, is a double album, and was released in America on June 2, 2017. Chambers currently lives in Copacabana, Australia.

At City Winery tonight, Kasey Chambers' entourage remained a family affair, with Bill Chambers on guitar and one of Kasey's sons coming on stage to play percussion and harmonica on one song. While the backbone of the set was country music, there were occasional forays into soulful blues and bluegrass. Kasey mostly played acoustic guitar, but also played slide guitar and harmonica. Despite recent vocal surgery, Kasey's vocals and melodies successfully spanned a broad vocal range, sometimes light and airy, but other times deeply blue. Throughout the set, the integrity of her delivery made the lyrics feel like personal and passionate revelations. Meanwhile, her band enriched the songs with twang, bite and lush as needed. These Australians did an impressive job with Americana.

Visit Kasey Chambers at

  1. Wheelbarrow
  2. Not Pretty Enough
  3. This Flower
  4. Rattlin' Bones (Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson cover)
  5. Is God Real?
  6. Pony
  7. Crossfire
  8. If I Died
  9. Million Tears
  10. Georgia Brown
  11. Hey
  12. Willin' (Little Feat cover)
  13. Ain't No Little Girl
  14. The Captain
  1. Talkin' Baby Blues
  2. Barricades & Brickwalls

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Amy Helm at City Winery

Born to Levon Helm, drummer of the Band, and singer/songwriter Libby Titus, and raised in part by her stepfather, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Amy Helm may have inherited her earthy musical style. In her early teens, she began performing in Manhattan music venues. In her mid-20s, her dad recruited her to join his latter-day bands, the Midnight Ramble Band and the Dirt Farmer Band. Ten years of these experiences gave her the courage to write and sing for the New York-based folk music group Ollabelle, and finally, as the leader of Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers. Her debut solo album, Didn’t It Rain, was released in 2015.

Amy Helm continues to perform frequently in New York clubs, but her feet are firmly rooted in the organic, rootsy music that has been integral to Woodstock's musical legacy. Bucking any current waves, Helm performed tonight at City Winery a timeless set of bluesy heartland music that borrowed much from vintage rhythm and blues but with sharp, driving guitar leads and a thick undercurrent of deeply-inlayed grooves. Cindy Cashdollar's slide work in particular animated and boosted the songs. Helm's husky, smoldering vocals resembled the gospel strains of the likes of Mavis Staples, and this particularly served well in her gutsy reinterpretations of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" and Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can," cover songs which complemented Helm's original compositions. Reminiscent of the Midnight Ramble series upstate, several local musicians joined Helm on stage for several minimally-structured jams towards the end of her set, concluding with a finale of Dave Mason's "Only You Know and I Know." Helm's performance was a lively set that breathed a timeless resonance.

Visit Amy Helm at

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Fear Is Dead at the Studio at Webster Hall

Looking to shift from hip hop to metal, grunge and hardcore punk, the singularly-named vocalist Skila formed Fear Is Dead in 2011 in Queens, New York. The band released EPs in 2011 and 2013 and then went on hiatus. Skila reformed the brand in 2015 with guitarist David English, bassist Matt Pompeii and drummer Carlos Crowcell and released Fear Is Dead's third EP later that year. The band released its fourth and most recent EP, What Remains, in 2017.

Fear Is Dead's concert at the Studio at Webster Hall tonight was a release party for the What Remains EP. The band's racing set highlighted the raw brutality of hardcore music, the coarse edge of nu-metal, and the fresh experimentation of a minimalistic band that sought to deconstruct rather than copy. Skila shouted manically as English's abrasive djent-style guitar work crushed chords to the fierce grooves of the rhythm section. Dark and heavy, this music was not for the faint of heart.

Visit Fear Is Dead at