Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Greta Van Fleet at Terminal 5

Joshua Kiszka
Barely a few years ago, vocalist Joshua Kiszka starred in high school plays in his home town of Frankenmuth, Michigan; he aimed to be a film maker. His twin brother, Jake Kiszka, was learning to play classic rock guitar, and their younger brother Sam Kiszka was learning bass. It was only natural that they should form a band. They formed Greta Van Fleet as teenagers in 2012; Danny Wagner joined the band in 2013 after the original drummer left. Greta Van Fleet's flashy hard rock performances quickly spread beyond their home town. In 2014, Greta Van Fleet released a one-take live EP, now a rarity. Two more EPS were released in 2017, and the band's debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, was released on October 19, 2018.

Only 16 months since Greta Van Fleet first came to New York City and played the small basement at Esther & Carole's, the blues-rocking quartet headlined three nights at the cavernous Terminal 5. The band's success has been rapid and well-earned. It is not so much that the band's music has changed, but that the music is reaching and being embraced by a wider audience. Even in its early days, the band showed that it had studied Led Zeppelin very carefully. Now Greta Van Fleet has won over the older, nostalgic Zep fans who have not seen Zep in decades, plus a younger audience that never had a Zep in their lifetime. On stage tonight, none of the musicians in Greta Van Fleet had the insurmountable abilities of their corresponding predecessors, but the four young musicians made a very similar sound come alive. The new band performed classic rock-styled songs more credibly than many of its elders. The songs rocked, the musicians entertained as skilled and flamboyant performers, and for all the mirroring of classic rock, the band sounded as genuine as a first generation hard rock band. The band's ascent is still at the foot of the mountain; expect Greta Van Fleet to headline Madison Square Garden very soon.

Visit Greta Van Fleet at www.gretavanfleet.com.

  1. Brave New World (snippet)
  2. Highway Tune
  3. Edge of Darkness
  4. Flower Power
  5. You're the One
  6. Evil (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
  7. Black Flag Exposition
  8. Watching Over
  9. When the Curtain Falls
  1. Black Smoke Rising
  2. Safari Song

Saturday, November 24, 2018

VNV Nation at Irving Plaza

Ronan Harris
Born in Dublin, Ireland, a young Ronan Harris loved electronic and classical music, and started playing a synthesizer when he was 13 years old. At age 21, he had his first sampler and dove deeper into experimental music. In 1988, he relocated to London, England, where he worked as an IT manager and moonlighted as a journalist and webmaster for an industrial-electro music website. By 1990, he had a vision for an alternative electronic project that would become VNV Nation, for which he would be singer, songwriter and producer. The "VNV" in the name stands for "Victory Not Vengeance," in keeping with the group's motto, "One should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret." In 1990, he relocated to Toronto, Canada, then in 1994 moved back to Europe; he presently lives in Hamburg, Germany. Since 1995, VNV Nation has released 10 studio albums; the most recent, Noire, was released on October 12, 2018.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Ronan Harris was joined by two keyboardists, David Gerlach and Michael Wimer, and a percussionist, Chris Roberts. Harris sang and worked the audience, with his musicians, lined across the back of the stage, providing a throbbing wall of sound. Harris' approach to electropop and synthpop was a clever amalgam of industrial, gothic, and darkwave influences. The set pivoted electronic dance beats on haunting new-romantic-styled melodies, propelled by dynamic post-classical and trance arrangements. Harris crooned often, but also shouted, creating high drama by quickly spinning from melancholy to anger. Harris' passionate singing gave a tremendous amount of emotional warmth to an otherwise cold, mechanical framework. When the pulsing music grew subtle, Harris' delivery became even more intensely climactic. As such, VNV Nation live took electronic body music beyond the dance floor to a thrilling cutting edge.

Visit VNV Nation at www.vnvnation.com.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre

Hot Tuna, with Steve Kimock (left)
Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady discovered guitar and a love of the blues, country, and jazz as teenagers in Washington, D.C. Kaukonen left for college in Ohio and there learned the elaborate Piedmont fingerstyle guitar picking. Casady, meanwhile, stayed in D.C. and continued his study of guitar and then bass, often playing with local club bands. After college, Kaukonen took a work-study program in New York City, where he joined the burgeoning folk, blues, and bluegrass scene. He then traveled a bit and landed in California. In the mid-1960s Kaukonen was invited to play in a rock band that was forming in San Francisco; though roots music was his passion, Kaukonen joined what was to become Jefferson Airplane, and invited Casady to play bass in the band. Jefferson Airplane became a leader in the new psychedelic rock scene. In 1969, while Jefferson Airplane was on hiatus, Kaukonen and Casady formed a side project called Hot Tuna to play Airplane songs, roots music and original songs. From a commercial standpoint, Hot Tuna failed to rival or eclipse Jefferson Airplane and its successor, Jefferson Starship, but nevertheless outlasted those bands, both of which are now defunct.

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre is an annual pre-Thanksgiving given, as year after year the band performs pretty much the same set to the same audience. With no new album to promote, the band relied on older originals and covers of vintage folk blues tunes, along with a smattering of Airplane songs. Backed by drummer Justin Guip, the trio dazzles because Kaukonen may be the foremost remaining guitarist of the Piedmont style. Without being flashy, Kaukonen tastefully used alternate bass thumb techniques, along with runs, bends, double-stops, bass walk-ups, turnarounds, blues licks, and ornamental notes. Casady, meanwhile, floated his right hand in a relaxed position, often striking the strings close to or over the end of the fret board, sometimes plucking with two or three fingers for thicker tones. Kaukonen's deep, bluesy vocals gave the songs an anchor, but once the musicians jammed, a symbiotic chemistry between the three musicians made the performance far more than lyrics and music. Guitarist Steve Kimock joined the band for several solos and added a new twist to the familiar songs. Hot Tuna's roots music is out of fashion these days, but the band's dedicated fans always will be ready for yet another Hot Tuna concert.

Visit Hot Tuna at www.Hottuna.com.

Set 1:
  1. True Religion
  2. I See the Light
  3. Ode for Billy Dean
  4. I'm Talking About You (Chuck Berry cover)
  5. Living Just for You
  6. Wolves and Lambs (Jorma Kaukonen song)
  7. Sea Child
  8. Hesitation Blues ([traditional] cover)
  9. Bowlegged Woman, Knock Kneed Man (Bobby Rush cover)
Set 2:
  1. Been So Long (Jorma Kaukonen song)
  2. Roads and Roads & (Jorma Kaukonen song)
  3. Trial by Fire (Jefferson Airplane song)
  4. Watch the North Wind Rise
  5. Sleep Song
  6. Good Shepherd (Jefferson Airplane song)
  7. Walkin' Blues (Son House cover)
  8. Hit Single #1
  9. Keep on Truckin' (Bob Carleton cover)
  10. Funky #7
  1. Water Song

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The John Butler Trio + at the Beacon Theatre

John Butler
John Wiltshire-Butler, professionally known as John Butler, was born in Torrance, California, to an Australian father and an American mother. In 1986, after his parents divorced, Butler's father moved the family to Western Australia, where the family eventually settled in a small country town called Pinjarra. At age 16, Butler's grandmother gave him a 1930s dobro belonging to his deceased grandfather, and Butler learned to play music. After high school, Butler travelled to Encintas, California, where he began his music career in a band called Vitamin. Returning to Australia two years later, Butler became a busker, playing his compositions on the streets of Fremantle. There in 1998, he formed the John Butler Trio, a roots and jam band. The John Butler Trio has recorded seven studio albums, including three that reached number one on the Australian charts; his most recent album, Home, was released on September 28, 2018. The John Butler Trio presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Butler, bassist/keyboardist Byron Luiters, and drummer Grant Gerathy.

The John Butler Trio is not nearly as well known in the United States as it is in Australia, yet the band tonight was able to headline the Beacon Theatre, its largest venue in New York so far. (Butler told the audience that the only other time he had played the venue was 15 years ago, opening for moe.) On this tour, the band is being billed as the John Butler Trio +, with the plus being percussionist/vocalist Lozz Benson and percussionist/vocalist/synthesizer player Michael Hardy. Butler seemed to be the equivalent of many musicians, however, switching throughout the set between a custom-made 11-string guitar, several six-string guitars, a pedal steel, a lap-top, a banjo and a harmonica. Even with the use of electronic effects, the band kept the music sounding earthy, although defining its genre of music would be challenging and unfairly limiting. Was it folk, rock, blues, funk, classical -- or something somewhere in the midst of it all? Many songs featured Butler employing fingerpicking techniques, others with him utilizing a slide, and it was all accomplished with mastery. Almost half of the set consisted of songs from the band's most recent album, but the band also performed at least one song from each album as well, giving the audience a taste of the band's 20-year career. Seamlessly, it all sounded like roots music, although perhaps not always American roots. The John Butler Trio likely will find a growing audience among those music fans who enjoy a dynamic acoustic-driven percussive rock sound.

Visit the John Butler Trio at www.johnbutlertrio.com.

  1. Wade in the Water
  2. Better Than
  3. Tahitian Blue
  4. Betterman
  5. Just Call
  6. Running Away
  7. I'd Do Anything (Soldier's Lament)
  8. Faith
  9. Blame It On Me
  10. Pickapart
  11. Ocean
  12. Home
  13. Tell Me Why
  14. We Want More
  1. Funky Tonight
  2. Zebra

Friday, November 16, 2018

Hey Guy at Mercury Lounge

Boris Pelekh
Boris Pelekh was born in Russia and moved to New York City in 1991, at age nine. He played classical guitar as a child, rocked on electric guitar in his early teens, and studied jazz and composition in his late teens. In 2008, Pelekh conceived of a rocking musical project he called Hey Guy with himself as vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, and then drew a changing cast of musicians to help him bring it to life. He also worked with the Nickelodeon duo Nat and Alex Wolff from 2008 to 2011, and toured in American Idiot: The Musical from 2012 to 2013, but Pelekh is best known for playing guitar in gypsy-rock band Gogol Bordello since 2015. Hey Guy continues to be Pelekh's side project, however; in 2011, Hey Guy released a self-titled album, in 2015 a four-song EP, hey guy III, and most recently a single entitled "Reason" on May 15, 2018. The band presently consists of Pelekh, guitarist Jason Binnick, bassist Gill Alexandre, and drummer Oskar Häggdahl.

At Mercury Lounge tonight, Hey Guy demonstrated how a band simultaneously could throw a party, rock hard and maintain a sense of humor. Pelekh sang alt-pop melodies, often cleverly off-kilter, backed by progressive arrangements and in-your-face intensity. The songs were complex compositions, intricately crafted and executed, but nevertheless retained a consistently high-energy excitement. This sonic approach was more alternative than most alternative rock, and injected with Pelekh's party-activating antics, made for an evening of intelligent and fun music.

Visit Hey Guy at www.heyguy.com.

The Doobie Brothers at the Beacon Theatre

Vocalist/guitarist Tom Johnston was born in Visalia, California, and attended college in San Jose, California. There he founded a power trio called Pud in 1970. Vocalist/guitarist Patrick Simmons, who had performed locally as a solo artist and in an acoustic trio called Scratch, joined Pud later that year. Simmons' fingerstyle guitar approach complemented Johnston's rhythmic rhythm and blues strumming. After several personnel changes, the band became the Doobie Brothers. Johnston left the group in 1975 due to precarious health conditions, and was replaced by Michael McDonald, whose interest in soul music changed the band's sound until it broke up in 1982. The Doobie Brothers reformed in 1987 with Johnston returning to the band, with occasional contributions from McDonald. The Doobie Brothers sold more than 40 million albums worldwide, with its greatest success in the 1970s. The band is led presently by Johnston, Simmons and guitar/pedal steel/banjo/fiddle player John McFee, who first joined the band in 1979. The Doobie Brothers' 14th and most recent studio album is 2014's Southbound.

The Doobie Brothers headlined two nights at the Beacon Theatre, accompanied by keyboardist Bill Payne, bassist John Cowan, drummer Ed Toth, percussionist Marc Quiñones, and a trio of horn players. The ensemble performed the Doobie Brothers' second and third albums, 1972's Toulouse Street and 1073's The Captain and Me albums in their entirety for the first time, plus a couple of select hits for the encore. For the band, this meant performing songs that reportedly were never before performed live, and that the entire set would predate the Michael McDonald era that began in 1975. For the audience, this meant not seeing the band purely as a hit machine, but experiencing a broader perspective that exposed the band's early history through deep cuts. Foregoing the band's later blue-eyed soul and adult contemporary material, the sets alternated mainstream arena rock and roll with songs that leaned on folk, country, blues and boogie. Johnston sang most of the songs well, the many musicians showcased their exceptional talents, and the old songs came alive with jams steeped in American musical roots. Not every song turned out to be memorable, but as a whole, the concert showed the Doobie Brothers to be an exceptionally dynamic rock and roll band.

Visit the Doobie Brothers at www.thedoobiebrothers.com.

Set 1: Toulouse Street
  1. Listen to the Music
  2. Rockin' Down the Highway
  3. Mamaloi
  4. Toulouse Street
  5. Cotton Mouth (Seals & Crofts cover)
  6. Don't Start Me Talkin' (Sonny Boy Williamson cover)
  7. Jesus Is Just Alright (The Art Reynolds Singers cover)
  8. White Sun
  9. Disciple
  10. Snake Man
Set 2: The Captain and Me
  1. Natural Thing
  2. Long Train Runnin'
  3. China Grove
  4. Dark Eyed Cajun Woman
  5. Clear as the Driven Snow
  6. Without You
  7. South City Midnight Lady
  8. Evil Woman
  9. Busted Down Around O'Connelly Corners
  10. Ukiah
  11. The Captain and Me
  1. Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) (Kim Weston cover)
  2. Black Water
  3. Listen to the Music (reprise, with full horn section)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Richard Lloyd at the Bowery Electric

Richard Lloyd was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was raised in New York City. Inspired by watching the Beatles perform on television's The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Lloyd began playing the drums and later learned to play guitar from a friend who was a protégé of Jimi Hendrix. In 1969, Lloyd's parents moved to Montclair, New Jersey, and he moved with them, but then relocated for two years to Boston, Massachusetts, where he played his first public performance, sitting in with John Lee Hooker. In 1971, Lloyd hung around the music scene in Los Angeles, California, but returned to New York City in 1973 to join what was becoming the first wave of punk rock. He heard Tom Miller (who became Tom Verlaine) playing guitar at an audition night, and in 1974 the two formed Television, a band that helped launch the soon to be legendary rock club CBGB's. Finding success elusive in the United States, Television disbanded in 1978, and Verlaine and Lloyd launched solo careers. Now based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Lloyd released his eighth solo album, The Countdown, on November 2, 2018, the same day that his 2017 memoir, Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll, was released as a paperback.

Richard Lloyd has played the Bowery Electric several times in the past, but this was an album release show for The Countdown, so the set list was radically different from previous performances. Lloyd, singing and playing lead guitar, backed by guitarist Bob Hatter, bassist Dave Roe, and drummer Steve Ebe, performed all 10 tracks from the new album, slicing the set in half with Television's "Marquee Moon." Forty years beyond the demise of Television, Lloyd's set was designed to spotlight the present rather than dwell in the past. As he has done in recent years, Lloyd handled most of the lead guitar work himself, foregoing Television's trademark guitar pairings, instead showcasing his technical guitar proficiency amidst a fusion of garage rock and power pop hooks. Lloyd's intricate yet fluid guitar licks demonstrated how he remains a student of his instrument, constantly learning clever ways to match tones and timbers. Overall, Lloyd's new music was a not-too-distant cousin of the music of Television, sometimes raucous or chaotic, sometimes more psychedelic or atonal, but always powered by strong guitar lines. Lloyd's vocals faltered, but the experimental prowess of his extended jams made for an impressive performance.

Visit Richard Lloyd at www.richardlloyd.com.

  1. Wind in the Rain
  2. Smoke
  3. So Sad
  4. Run
  5. Whisper
  6. Marquee Moon (Television song)
  7. I Can Tell
  8. Just My Heart
  9. Something Remains
  10. Down the Drain
  11. Countdown

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Boz Scaggs at the Town Hall

Doyle Bramhall II & Boz Scaggs
William Scaggs, better known by his professional name, Boz Scaggs, was born in Canton, Ohio, but was raised first in McAlester, Oklahoma, and then in Plano, Texas. Immersing himself in the blues, rhythm and blues, and early rock and roll, he learned to play guitar at age 12, and in 1959 he became the vocalist for Steve Miller's band, the Marksmen. The pair later attended university together in Madison, Wisconsin, and played in local blues bands like the Ardells and the Fabulous Knight Trains. After university, Scaggs traveled through Europe, the Middle East and Asia, briefly joining the burgeoning rhythm and blues scene in London, England, and eventually settling in Stockholm, Sweden, where he recorded his debut solo album. Returning to the U.S. in 1967, Scaggs joined the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco, California. Scaggs appeared on the band's first two albums, then left in 1968 to restart his solo career. His career peaked with 1976's multi-million-selling Silk Degrees. Scaggs' 19th solo album, Out of the Blues, was released on July 27, 2018. He has remained in Napa County, California, despite losing his home in the 2017 wildfires.

Backed by a band of six musicians, plus a couple of guest spots by guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, Scaggs performed his signature blend of soft rock soaked in mellow rhythm and blues, but he and the band also melded extended blues and jazz jams into the mix. Indeed, Scaggs' three most recent albums were steeped in the blues, and the two albums before that were jazz ventures, so outside of the obligatory hits, much of Scaggs' set spun a deeper, richer exploration of America's musical heritage. Scaggs' smooth, distinct vocals rang familiar as they carried the mild melodies, while Scaggs, Bramhall and Mike Miller traded guitar licks and the rest of the band provided rhythm and flow, punctuated by several keyboard and saxophone fills. Scaggs, now in his fifth decade of performing music live, provided a classy and musically rich set that was far more than a series of recreated hits.

Visit Boz Scaggs at www.bozscaggs.com.

  1. Jojo
  2. It’s Over
  3. Rock and Stick
  4. I’ve Just Got to Know
  5. The Feeling Is Gone (Bobby "Blue" Bland cover)
  6. Radiator 110
  7. Harbor Lights
  8. Look What You’ve Done to Me
  9. Lowdown
  10. Lido Shuffle
  11. Loan Me a Dime
  1. Sick and Tired of Fooling Around with You
  2. You Can Never Tell

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Billy Raffoul at Mercury Lounge

Canadian singer Jody Raffoul gave his son Billy Raffoul a guitar for his 10th birthday. When Billy was in high school in his home town of Leamington, Ontario, he watched his dad headline a show for 4,000 people at his school’s stadium. Although the youth already had written songs, this moment inspired him to become a performer. At age 16, Billy bought his first real guitar. His first paid performance was playing to long-haul drivers at a local truck stop; in time he began playing the regional club circuit. Singing on some demos for Kid Rock became his entry into a professional career in music. Billy Raffoul released his six-song debut EP, 1975, on June 22, 2018. Raffoul now splits his time between Nashville and Los Angeles where, in between playing shows, he has been collaborating with other songwriters and assembling his forthcoming debut album.

Performing solo on acoustic and electric guitar at Mercury Lounge tonight, Billy Raffoul had no choice but to be bold and forthright with his music. He did not use backing tracks or rhythm machines, so the performance was all about what he could do with a microphone, six strings, and a whole lot of charisma. A thick mane of long hair, which he pushed to one side and then the other, strikingly good looks, and a raspy, achy singing voice that seemingly articulated a yearning for understanding and companionship drew many women to the edge of the stage. Indeed, the singer-songwriter's more sentimental lyrics revealed wounds and heartaches, leaving him reflective and vulnerable. Grounded in humility and earthiness, Raffoul's soulful singing helped capture terse storylines with compelling credibility, inviting the listeners to feel the movements with him. It will not be long before Raffoul's honeyed delivery draws a swarm of bees.

Visit Billy Raffoul at www.BillyRaffoul.com.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Palaye Royale at the Gramercy Theatre

Remington Leith
When three brothers formed a rock band called Kropp Circle in 2008 in Toronto, Canada, vocalist Remington Leith Kropp was 14, guitarist Sebastian Danzig Kropp was 16, and drummer Emerson Barrett Kropp was 12 years old. By 2011, they all individually dropped their surname and changed the name of the band to Palaye Royale, adapted from the Palais Royale dance hall in Toronto, where their grandparents first met in the 1950s. Palaye Royale relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada, and then again in 2011 to Los Angeles, California. The band's second album, Boom Boom Room (Side B), was released on September 28, 2018.

Palaye Royale is a young band with an old sound, recalling glam rock bands from the 1980s, complete with the genre's legendary reckless abandon. At the Gramercy Theatre tonight, the three brothers each sported a sharp fashion look, and Leith's androgynous red and black face paint stated from the very beginning that this musical performance was going to include visual flair. Backed by three additional musicians, Palaye Royale performed a spirited, driving rock and roll set, highlighted by Leith's snarly, bluesy singing and Danzig's Aerosmith-styled hard rock riffs. The songs rolled with raw power, packing melodic compositions with sonic crunch, with the brothers cleverly playing to and engaging the audience. The recklessness became real towards the end of the concert when Leith took off his shirt and climbed sky high up the stage lighting rig, ultimately leaning outwards with one hand on the metal bar and one hand holding his wireless microphone as he sang. Welcome the next wild and dangerous millennial rock band.

Visit Palaye Royale at www.palayeroyale.com.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Long Losts at the Red Party at Mercury Lounge

In 2008, a man whose arm is a tattoo tribute to Boris Karloff, including a portrait of Frankenstein's monster on his forearm, was introduced to a woman wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Frankenstein. This mutual affinity for classic horror movies led the New York-based guitarist, Patrick McGowan, and vocalist, Anka, into a relationship. In 2012, Anka announced that she was relocating to Prague in the Czech Republic; Patrick was concerned that he would lose her forever and so proposed marriage to Anka in a cemetery. Now engaged, they started a romantic gothic punk duo, the Long Losts. The first song they wrote together was a tribute to their favorite horror actor, a song entitled "If Only Boris Karloff Was My Dad." The Long Losts' second and most recent album, To Night…, was released on October 1, 2017.

This month's Red Party at Mercury Lounge featured several djs and a live set by the Long Losts. Shortly after midnight, Anka sang and Patrick played guitar, with other programmed music completing the duo's wall of electronic sound. Many of the song's spooky lyrics were tongue-in-cheek tales of darkness and romance. Anka, who was seven months pregnant, sang the light, haunting melodies and occasional blood-chilling shrieks, and Patrick added punch with live hard rocking guitar leads. This was the ideal music for long, romantic graveyard strolls on cold misty nights, and it worked pretty well for the Red Party's gothic and darkwave clientele.

Visit the Long Losts at www.thelonglosts.com.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Lucinda Williams & Her Band Buick 6 at the Beacon Theatre

Roy Bittan, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle
Lucinda Williams began playing guitar at age 12 in her native Lake Charles, Louisiana. At age 17, Williams first performed live with her friend, a banjo player, in Mexico City, Mexico. By her early 20s, Williams was playing a folk-rock-country blend in Austin and Houston, Texas. In the 1980s, Williams moved to Los Angeles, California, where she played both acoustic and backed by a rock band. Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded a cover of Williams' "Passionate Kisses" in 1992, earning Williams her first Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994. Williams' 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, containing "Still I Long for Your Kiss" from the film The Horse Whisperer, received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Williams has won three Grammy Awards and two Americana Awards. Williams' 13th and most recent album, This Sweet Old World, a re-recording of her 1992 album, Sweet Old World, was released on September 29, 2017. Williams currently is based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road 20th Anniversary Tour is a 12-date, 10-city tour, where she performs the 13 songs from her breakthrough album, followed by assorted songs from her catalog. The tour features her long-time band Buick 6, consisting of guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton, and drummer Butch Norton. At the Beacon Theatre, Williams also was joined on parts of her set for the first time ever by both keyboardist Roy Bittan (of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band) and vocalist/guitarist/harmonica player Steve Earle, both of whom co-produced the 1998 album with Williams. Performing for more than two hours, Williams used the bandwidth to mix the set, alternating fluidly between Americana, country, folk, blues and rock and roll rooted songs. Chattier than usual, she also used the relaxed pacing to reveal the background of many of the compositions, even sharing quite personal anecdotes about a sour relationship with a live-in musician boyfriend who wrecked a hotel room. Slick and graceful, rich with passion and vulnerability, Williams' exhaustive performance was perhaps the ultimate concert for her fans.

Visit Lucinda Williams at www.lucindawilliams.com.

  1. Right In Time (with Roy Bittan)
  2. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (with Roy Bittan)
  3. 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten (with Roy Bittan)
  4. Drunken Angel (with Steve Earle) (with Roy Bittan)
  5. Concrete and Barbed Wire (with Steve Earle and Roy Bittan)
  6. Lake Charles (with Roy Bittan)
  7. Can't Let Go (Randy Weeks cover) (with Roy Bittan)
  8. I Lost It (with Roy Bittan)
  9. Metal Firecracker (with Roy Bittan)
  10. Greenville (with Roy Bittan)
  11. Still I Long for Your Kiss (with Roy Bittan)
  12. Joy [with a snippet of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," with Steve Earle and Roy Bittan]
  13. Jackson (with Steve Earle and Roy Bittan)
  14. Ghosts of Highway 20 (Lucinda Williams solo)
  15. Those Three Days
  16. Dust
  17. Essence
  18. Righteously (with a snippet of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side")
  19. Foolishness
  1. We've Come Too Far to Turn Around
  2. Faith & Grace
  3. Get Right with God (with Roy Bittan)
  4. The Rising (Bruce Springsteen cover) (with Roy Bittan)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Colter Wall at Irving Plaza

In Swift Current, Canada, a 13-year-old Colter Wall learned to play guitar by copying hard rock guitarists. He then gravitated to old blues and folk music. In his mid-teens, he heard Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and was inspired to start writing and singing in addition to playing guitar. Blending blues, folk and Americana, Wall recorded demos of his songs, and in 2015 he took a leave from his university studies to build a music career from the release of a seven-song EP, Imaginary Appalachia. His songs were featured in the television show Dog the Bounty Hunter, and in the films Hell or High Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The track used in the films, "Sleeping on the Blacktop," gained more than a million streams on Spotify. His debut full-length album was released in 2017, and according to Wall, most of the songs on the self-titled album were autobiographical. Wall's second and most recent album, Songs of the Plains, was released on October 12, 2018.

At age 23, Colter Wall has come a long way since his musical journey began just 10 years ago. He headlined at Irving Plaza tonight, and the maturity of this raconteur's lyrics and the profundity of this troubadour's music belied his youth. Even his long grizzly beard and weathered appearance gave the impression of deep-rooted experience. Wall started with three songs performed solo, and then played with four backing musicians. His set was not simply country, blues or Americana; the performance resonated as downright cowboy, sung by a young man with a husky, rain barrel-deep baritone. Harmonica, pedal steel and slide guitar frequently led the songs and added to the authenticity of the old-timey western vibe. One can imagine that the plainsmen who settled in North America's frontiers in the late 19th century played and heard very similar music. Throughout the performance, the dynamics were subtle rather than flashy, and the background images of the plains of Saskatchewan added to the homey, earthy atmosphere. How this unique style of music was unearthed and mastered by a millennial may remain a mystery.

Visit Colter Wall at www.colterwall.com.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Commander Cody at the Highline Ballroom

Born in Boise, Idaho, George Frayne IV grew up in Brooklyn, Queens and finally on Long Island, where as a high school student he took piano lessons. While in college in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he earned pocket money playing keyboards in various bands, including the Amblers, Lorenzo Lightfoot, and the Fantastic Surfing Beavers. In 1966 he took on the moniker Commander Cody and formed his own band, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, writing their first original songs in a library during a break in finals. The band was among the first to fuse retro sounds and earned a local audience by playing no-frills back-to-basics country, western swing, rockabilly, truckers songs, rock 'n' roll, bop, and jump blues, led by Cody's gravely singing and boogie-woogie piano. A few years into playing Michigan bars, the band disintegrated. In 1969 the core members resuscitated the band by moving to San Francisco, California. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen performed in Berkeley bars, and a debut album in 1971 cultivated a national audience by yielding a Top 10 cover version of an obscure 1955 song, "Hot Rod Lincoln," in 1972. With no further hits, Cody disbanded the group in 1976 and later performed with various musicians as the Commander Cody Band and Commander Cody and His Modern Day Airmen. Since 1997, Cody has based himself in Saratoga Springs, New York.

More than 50 years since he started playing in bars, Commander Cody is still playing rowdy barroom boogie woogie. Backed by a solid trio (guitarist Mark Emerick, bassist Randy Bramwell and drummer Steve Baruto) at the Highline Ballroom tonight, Cody sang many of his 1970s stoner classics, including "Down to Seeds and Stems Again" and "Lost in the Ozone Again." Now decades after they debuted during rock's most experimental age, the songs were no longer as novel as they were in the 1970s, and played by an ensemble about half the size of the original Airmen, the songs lacked some octane. Nevertheless, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics generated a party atmosphere, and Cody's speedy piano playing and spirited singing were standouts. Cody's fun on stage permeated fluidly into the audience.

Visit Commander Cody at commandercody.com.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Chris Stapleton at Madison Square Garden

Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, and raised in a family of coal miners in Staffordsville, Kentucky, Chris Stapleton pursued a career in music in 2001 by moving to Nashville, Tennessee. There, Stapleton wrote songs for other artists and eventually sang lead in the SteelDrivers, a progressive bluegrass ensemble, from 2007 to 2010. In 2010, Stapleton founded a Southern rock band called the Jompson Brothers. In 2015, he released his solo debut album, which reached number one on the US Billboard 200 and was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Stapleton has written or so-written over 170 songs, including six number-one country songs, and he has won five Grammy Awards, seven Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards, seven Country Music Association (CMA) Awards, five Billboard Music Awards, and two iHeartRadio Music Awards. For his work as composer he has received nine ASCAP Country awards, including the Vanguard Award. His third and most recent studio album, From a Room: Volume 2, was released on December 1, 2017.

Chris Stapleton's All-American Road Show Tour saw him headlining tonight at Madison Square Garden for the first time. Accompanied by guitarist Dave Cobb, bassist JT Cure, drummer Derek Mixon, harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and backing vocalist Morgane Stapleton (Chris' wife), the band was a slim, but powerful, ensemble. The music was rooted in authentic and unpretentious country, but easily inclined to other genres due to the lack of fiddles, pedal steel, and banjo. Oftentimes Stapleton's  strong, deeply emotive vocals were heartfelt rhythm & blues, his and Cobb's guitar leads were gentle blues, the band was rocking, and this warm mélange never seemed artificially forced. The most precious take away was that the music was honestly Stapleton, with no attempt to sell out for commercial purposes. Even when he brought out opening acts Marty Stuart and Brent Cobb to join him for a few songs, the performances never seemed to be packaged as entertainment or spectacle, but rather a cozy night at the Stapleton farm. Nothing seemed more homey than towards the end of the evening when Stapleton announced mid-song that he and his wife were expecting a fifth child. Whereas many of the performers who headline Madison Square Garden come prepared with a lot of flash, the irony was how such a modest production as Stapleton's could fill the cavernous arena so well.

Visit Chris Stapleton at ChrisStapleton.com.

  1. Midnight Train to Memphis (The SteelDrivers cover)
  2. Them Stems
  3. Nobody to Blame
  4. Hard Livin'
  5. Millionaire (Kevin Welch cover)
  6. Fire Away
  7. Might as Well Get Stoned (with Brent Cobb)
  8. Without Your Love
  9. Trying to Untangle My Mind
  10. Now That's Country (Marty Stuart cover) (with Marty Stuart)
  11. I Ain't Livin' Long Like This (Rodney Crowell cover) (with Marty Stuart)
  12. Whiskey and You (solo acoustic)
  13. Drunkard’s Prayer (solo acoustic)
  14. Broken Halos
  15. Second One to Know
  16. Traveller
  17. I Was Wrong
  18. The Devil Named Music (with Free Bird snippet)
  19. Parachute
  20. Tennessee Whiskey (David Allan Coe cover) (preceded by band intros)
  1. Outlaw State of Mind