Monday, February 12, 2018

John 5 & the Creatures at the Highline Ballroom

John 5
Born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, John Lowery started playing guitar at age seven after watching Buck Owens and Roy Clark's television show Hee Haw with his dad. Lowery was a student when his first band, Dirty Tricks, won a battle of the bands contest, and started experimenting with corpse makeup as a teenager while in another band, Vampirella. At age 17, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he began a career as a session guitarist and played in the short-lived bands Alligator Soup, Sun King, Bone Angels, Red Square Black and 2wo. He also played guitar for Lita Ford, k.d. lang and others. In 1997, Lowery approached David Lee Roth and was hired to play is Roth's DLR Band. In 1998, Lowery joined Marilyn Manson, who renamed him John 5, the moniker he still uses; 5 played in Manson's band until 2004. In 2005, Lowery formed the radio-rock band Loser, but soon also began playing in Rob Zombie's band, which led to the demise of Loser. After eight solo studio albums, John 5 released a live album, It's Alive, on January 25, 2018.

John 5 & the Creatures (bassist Ian Ross and drummer Logan Miles Nix) brought an extravagant stage show considering the size of the rather intimate Highline Ballroom. The stage featured three video screens showing clips of monster, horror and gore films, several larger than life inflated monsters, and lots of other trimmings. 5 himself came on stage wearing corpse-like face make-up and tattered corpse-like clothing. Once he started playing guitar, however, the audience saw that the show was not all about gimmicks. 5 ripped on a series of instrumentals backed only by a rhythm section, and the captivating wizardry he exhibited on his many guitars was jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. Most of his set was a showcase of his heavy metal shredding specializing in his trademark Drop-D tuning, but he also borrowed elements of jazz fusion and country, even playing banjo instead of guitar for one song. With no one else playing lead and no one singing, 5 made every one of his speedy notes count. As he remarked, "that is a lot of notes." Never mind all the visual stimuli, the spectacle of the evening was 5's 10 fingers.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Machine Head at the PlayStation Theater

Robb Flynn
Vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn, born as Lawrence Cardine in Oakland, California, joined the Bay Area thrash metal band Forbidden (originally Forbidden Evil), as a senior in high school and played in this band from 1985 to 1987. He wrote four songs which appeared on Forbidden's debut album, but left before the album was released in order to join guitarist Phil Demmel in local thrash metal rivals Vio-lence. In 1991, Flynn formed Machine Head; Demmel reunited with Flynn in Machine Head in 2002 at a time when Machine Head almost disbanded. Machine Head presently consists of Flynn, Demmel, bassist Jared MacEachern and drummer Dave McClain. Machine Head's ninth studio album, Catharsis, was released on January 26, 2018.

Machine Head performed for two hours and 45 minutes tonight at the PlayStation Theater, with no support act or intermission. This was far longer and stronger than metal bands traditionally play. Coming on stage to the recorded sound of Ozzy Osbourne’s "Diary of a Madman," Machine Head ripped into the longest set list of the tour so far, including "Blood for Blood," which the band had not played since performing at the Limelight in 1994, and "Desire to Fire," not played in America since 2001. The set featured at least two songs from each of Machine Head's albums, and summarized all the band's movements, from groove metal, thrash, nu metal, and punk to its newer, more melodic sound. Flynn noted that this variety alienated some of the band's former fans, thanking those that remained faithful. In reality, however, Machine Head's versatility within metal proved to be the band's asset during this lengthy performance. Flynn screamed, growled, rapped and sang cleanly, guitars wailed and shredded, as the band uncompromisingly adhered to its integrity. The set featured sociopolitical commentary as well: new song "Volatile" was a pounding anthem dedicated to Heather D. Heyer, who died during a 2017 protest against neo-nazism and white supremacy; another new song, "Bastards," was written the day after the most recent presidential election and was inspired by a conversation Flynn had with his sons. The band performed plenty of hair spinning and moshable songs, but competently proved that metal was an expansive genre. Few metal bands could achieve this goal as adeptly as Machine Head did tonight.

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  1. Imperium
  2. Volatile
  3. Now We Die
  4. Beautiful Mourning
  5. The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears
  6. Crashing Around You
  7. Desire to Fire
  8. Guitar Solo
  9. Darkness Within
  10. Catharsis
  11. From This Day
  12. Ten Ton Hammer
  13. Is There Anybody Out There?
  14. Locust
  15. Bastards
  16. Drum Solo
  17. Bulldozer
  18. Killers & Kings
  19. Davidian
  20. Behind a Mask
  21. Elegy
  22. Take My Scars
  23. Aesthetics of Hate
  24. Game Over
  25. Blood for Blood
  26. Halo

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Quicksilver Daydream at Mercury Lounge

Adam Lytle
Born in Pontiac, Michigan, and raised on a farm in Maineville, Ohio, Adam Lytle took piano lessons as a youth and played guitar in bands while in high school. About 10 years ago, he pursued his musical vision by relocating to Brooklyn, New York. There, he recorded two EPs and one album with Wild Leaves, but when that band went on hiatus, Lytle reinvented himself in 2016 under the alias Quicksilver Daydream, using an analog tape recorder purchased from a dead man's estate. A DIY debut album, Echoing Halls, was released on June 16, 2017. Almost immediately after that release, Lytle began reworking some of his older songs for what would become a five-song EP called A Thousand Shadows, A Single Flame, which will be released tomorrow, February 9, 2018.

At Mercury Lounge tonight, Lytle on vocals and guitar was backed by lead guitarist Joey Deady, guitarist and Mellotron player Glenn Forsythe, bassist Brett Banks, and drummer Cole Emoff. Quicksilver Daydream's sound owed a serious debt to 1960s psychedelia, with Lytle's cloudy vocals and the band's trippy guitar lines and shimmering ambient backdrops. Lytle performed like a singer-songwriter, but not the standard folkie or confessional model; his lyrical flow was rooted in an avant garde movement from an earlier era and his adept band provided intriguing musical accompaniment that gave electric flesh to the skeleton. Quicksilver Daydream's strength was in wrapping this imaginative initiative around a vintage genre. More experimental than commercial, the songs were vehicles for Lytle's creativity, which paired light melodies with somewhat darker and more complex arrangements. The captivating allure of Quicksilver Daydream's set was that a listener could not predict where the compositions would venture next.

Visit Quicksilver Daydream at

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Mary Gauthier at City Vineyard

Mary Gauthier was born to a mother she never knew in New Orleans, Louisiana, and adopted when she was a year old by a couple from Thibodaux, Louisiana. At age 15, she ran away from home, and spent the next several years in drug rehabilitation, halfway houses, and living with friends; she spent her 18th birthday in a jail cell. Eventually she opened a Cajun restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts, but was arrested for drunk driving on opening night. Achieving sobriety, she dedicated herself to full-time songwriting, performing and recording. She wrote her first song at age 35, and sold her share in the restaurant to finance her second album in 1998. In 2001, she relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, and since then her songs have been recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Bobby Bare, Bill Chambers, Mike Farris & Candi Staton, Amy Helm and Bettye Lavette. Her eighth studio album, Rifles & Rosary Beads, was released on January 26, 2018.

Mary Gauthier's two-night engagement at City Vineyard was a bit different from previous area performances in that her current album is a departure from form. Rifles & Rosary Beads is a collection of songs that were written on retreats with veterans, in which Gauthier set to music and rhythm the struggles that the veterans relayed to her. Accompanied by a violinist, Michele Gazich, Gauthier opened and closed her set with some of her older songs; these were panoramic and pastoral perspectives on the hardships of life, sung in a melancholy voice that oozed hopefulness and thankfulness more than despair or yearning. The newer songs were equally emotional, but in these cases were the emotions of others who had touched her life. Gauthier introduced each song in a sense by introducing the audience to the veteran and his post traumatic disorder symptoms. The songs were tragic narratives of open wounds redressed as therapeutic healing. While these songs demonstrated the width of Gauthier's dauntless songwriting ability, they were also disturbing and not designed for easy listening. Gauthier merited her applause, but her audience may want her to move on from this episode quickly.

Visit Mary Gauthier at

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ruthie Foster at Zankel Hall

Ruthie Foster came from a family of gospel singers in Gause, Texas. At age 14, she was a soloist in her hometown choir and was convinced that her future career would be in music. Foster then studied music and audio engineering at a community college in Waco, Texas, and began fronting a blues band playing Texas bars. Foster joined the U.S. Navy, singing pop and funk hits in the naval band Pride. After the military, Foster relocated to New York City, where she performed American roots music at local folk venues. When her mother fell ill in 1993, Foster returned to Texas to be with her family. She reignited her career there, in due time winning seven Blues Music Awards, three Austin Music Awards, a Living Blues Critics’ Award, and the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France. Her eighth and most recent studio album, Joy Comes Back, was released on March 24, 2017.

Roseanne Cash is a creative partner in the American Byways roots music series at Zankel Hall, and she introduced Ruthie Foster by relating how impressed she was with Foster's inventive reinterpretation of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Foster on guitar and vocals was backed by her trio (Scottie Miller, keyboards, mandolin, vocals; Samantha Banks, drums, vocals; Larry Fulcher, bass guitar, vocals) and instantly began to smoke with a combustion of red-hot soul, blues, rock, folk, jazz and gospel, all within a set of only 10 songs. Foster's rich and hearty vocals were gutsy and gripping as she blazed through original songs and covers. The quartet came together for ensemble singing on Homer Banks/Bonnie Bramlett/Bettye Crutcher’s poignant "The Ghetto," but  she handled Son House’s "People Grinnin’ in Your Face" as a mostly solo a cappella. Like Foster's variation on "Ring of Fire," the entire performance was, well, blazing.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Tommy Emmanuel at the Town Hall

Born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia, Tommy Emmanuel received his first guitar at age four and was taught by his mother to accompany her as she played lap steel guitar. When Tommy was six, his father created a family band, the Emmanuel Quartet, sold the home, and took the family on the road. With the parents and two sons living in two station wagons, much of Emmanuel's childhood was spent touring Australia, playing rhythm guitar, and rarely going to school until the authorities intervened. After Tommy's father died in 1966, the Emmanuels settled in Parkes and then Sydney, where Tommy won a string of televised talent contests in his teen years. By the late 1970s, he was playing drums with his brother Phil Emmanuel in the group Goldrush while doing session work on albums and jingles. In the late 1970s, Tommy was the lead guitarist in the Southern Star Band, the backing group for vocalist Doug ParkinsonHe launched a solo career in 1979, but during the early 1980s, he also joined the reformed lineup of 1970s rock group Dragon. His most recent album, Accomplice One, was released on January 19, 2018.

Tommy Emmanuel headlined the Town Hall tonight, and his jaw-dropping virtuoso performance on acoustic guitar would make one wonder why he is not as well known here and he is back home, where he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). Taking the stage alone with only a stool, a microphone and three acoustic guitars, each with a different tuning, Emmanuel performed a set of instrumentals and songs that featured his ornate finger-picking technique with no foot pedals or other distortion devices. Clear and pure, Emmanuel translated his hybrid finger-picking style to pop, blues, bluegrass, country, classical, jazz, and folk compositions. Like a piano player, he often used all 10 fingers as his left hand flew up and down the fretboard of the guitar necks and his right fingers simultaneously played bass, chords and lead melodies. Emmanuel was a magnetic and animated performer, slapping his guitar as a percussion instrument at times, singing well, and sharing charming anecdotes between songs, but the cascading harmonic progressions he played on the guitar were unmatchable and riveting. Opening act and sometime collaborator Rodney Crowell joined Emmanuel on stage for the set closers.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Wood Brothers at Irving Plaza

During their childhood in Boulder, Colorado, brothers Oliver Wood and Chris Wood listened to their father perform classic songs at camp fires and family gatherings, while their mother, a poet, instilled in them her passion for storytelling and turn of phrase. Oliver moved to Atlanta, where he played guitar in cover bands before earning a spot in Tinsley Ellis’ touring act. Oliver began to sing and then founded the blues-rocking King Johnson. Chris, meanwhile, studied jazz bass, moved to New York City and, in the early 1990s, formed Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW), performing contemporary jazz and abstract music. When the two brothers played on the same bill one night, they realized that they could combine Oliver’s songwriting and Chris’s forward-thinking musicianship. The two formed the Wood Brothers, a folk and Americana trio that includes multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. The trio presently is based in Nashville, Tennessee. The band's sixth studio album, One Drop of Truth, will be released tomorrow, February 2, 2018.

The Wood Brothers headlined two consecutive nights at Irving Plaza, and both nights welcomed keyboardist John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood for much of the set. The core of the music was rooted in Oliver Wood phrasing his vocals akin to Willie Nelson and Chris often adding the kind of harmony twinning that has clicked for many sibling singers before them. Rix added vocal harmony, melodica, and percussion on his drums or on his self-designed "suitar," a guitar re-fabricated as a percussion instrument. Medeski's contribution were far more than frill; on some songs his extensive keyboard fills reshaped and even dominated the compositions. The symbiotic intertwining of his mastery of the keys with the Wood Brothers' country-folk style took flight, taking simple songs and frequently turning them into barnburners. The support act, the Stray Birds, also joined the Wood Brothers around an old-timey microphone for the traditional "Down by the Riverside." The eclectic program swung from country blues to folk influences and included elements of gospel to jazz for a warm and spirited program.

Visit the Wood Brothers at

  1. Sing About It
  2. Atlas
  3. Mary Anna
  4. Fall Too Fast (with John Medeski)
  5. Tried and Tempted (with John Medeski)
  6. Snake Eyes
  7. Chocolate on My Tongue
  8. Neon Tombstone
  9. Laughin’ or Crying (with John Medeski)
  10. The Muse
  11. Chevrolet (with John Medeski)
  12. Down by the Riverside (traditional, with the Stray Birds)
  13. Happiness Jones (with John Medeski)
  14. You Wreck Me (Tom Petty cover, with John Medeski)
  15. Where My Baby Might Be (with John Medeski)
  16. Honey Jar (with John Medeski)
  1. Luckiest Man (with John Medeski)
  2. One More Day (with John Medeski)