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Spafford’s Hot Streak Continues at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 14th, 2017

Spafford – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 13, 2017

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The jam-band scene is a happy-eyed, self-sustaining beast: Young bands grow to become veteran and vanguard bands—just as they did a generation earlier in the post–Grateful Dead afterglow—and then do their part to support the next generation of improvisers and torchbearers. Fans do the same: Word of mouth does wonders for long-term support of a fledgling jam band like in no other pocket of the music scene, especially as buzz builds and what was seemingly moments ago a regional favorite is now a headliner with national buzz, collecting believers left and right.

And so, as of April 2017, goes Spafford, the Arizona-based four-piece on a true hot streak, coming off a summer tour opening for Umphrey’s McGee, and now, as evidenced by a slam-bang show last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, well worthy of the spot atop bills. Despite mounting their first national tour less than a year ago, Spafford are a band with “future vanguard” written all over them. They played until well after midnight: two sets of shape-shifting, rigorously funky groove music that hit all the hallmarks—segues, guests (what up, Todd Stoops!), well-chosen covers that added but didn’t dominate, plus lengthy, unhurried workouts on songs with names like “Slip and Squander,” “Electric Taco Stand” and “In the Eyes of Thieves,” that last one a hot groover that emerged from a spookily psychedelic place and built to peak after hammering peak with screaming guitar.

People have grabbed on to Spafford early because there’s a lot to grab. I liked the patient builds and forward-looking improvisations, which didn’t feel like extended vamps—didn’t revel in ambient noise—and seemed to have a destination in mind even as they slowly unfolded. “America,” a chugging, panoramic road trip, was a great example. I liked their Dead cover, “Feel Like a Stranger,” soaked in keys and perfect for who the band is. I liked the filthy disco of “Ain’t That Wrong,” with Stoops spider-handing the keys. I liked “Beautiful Day,” an anthemic stroll that hit somewhere among Phish, Ben Harper and Bill Withers. It segued into “Leave the Light On” to close the second set—lilting, a little tentative, and then building into one more jammy release. I like that these guys trust one another and can demonstrate, astonishingly well sometimes, a deeply connected understanding of where they want to take a song, instead of just surrounding the guitar player and letting him cut loose every four minutes.—Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Chicano Batman Make Good on Expectations at The Bowery Ballroom

April 3rd, 2017

Chicano Batman – The Bowery Ballroom – March 31, 2017‪‬

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Friday night at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom: The lights go down, the audience goes wild, music plays over the PA for a minute or two. Finally, the band appears, all dressed in identical suits. A bit dramatic, don’t you think? When that band is Chicano Batman, a Los Angeles quartet overflowing with energy and personality, it’s not clear that it’s dramatic enough. The four-piece and their music and the packed house were a clichéd melting pot, a bilingual diversity of sound and talent that bowled over the crowd from start to finish.‬

‪The set opened with “Angel Child,” off of the recently released Freedom Is Free. Backed by sequined singers from soulful opening act 79.5 (whose members rotated onto the stage all night), the band looked good and sounded even better. Within the first three songs, Chicano Batman had traversed as many styles, genres, tempos and deep strata of groove as could be dreamed up. Zappa-esque prog dropped into funk into soaring soul and then back again. The audience hollered an almost teenybopper scream of recognition and adulation at the start of each number, and song after song, the band made good on the expectation.

Chicano Batman played almost all of the new album as well as favored material from their back catalog, each number leaping in multidimensional energy in the live show, as if the songs themselves yearned for the energy in the room. The politics were implicit, the new record’s title track feeling like an appropriate new national anthem, balancing pessimism and optimism with a serious backline-beat boogie. The encore began with a somewhat triumphant take on “This Land Is Your Land” before devolving into an anarchy of Spanish and English, of rock and funk and beyond, of a leaping quartet onstage and a roomful of fist-pumping, smiling, jumping dancers on the floor below. Never has a melting pot been so much fun. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Wilco Are Reliably Terrific in Closing Out a Four-Night Run

March 23rd, 2017

Wilco – Beacon Theatre – March 22, 2017

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There is plenty of debate these days about what makes America great, but for some things there is no argument, no matter what you believe. There is greatness in American monuments and symbols—Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and, of course, rock and roll. Over the past couple of decades, few bands have been able to claim the mantle of the “great American rock band” quite like Wilco have. Last night at the Beacon Theatre, Jeff Tweedy and Co., closing out the last of four sold-out shows, proved that they certainly belong on the Mount Rushmore of present-day American rock bands.

Trees painted on either side and rolling hills behind, the stage evoked a rustic setting, a bucolic countryside scene, even though the band and audience were smack dab on Broadway in one of the busiest cities in the world. Wilco’s sound captured this all-American city mouse/country mouse vibe from the start, alt-country meets explosive rock and roll. Early on, Tweedy’s voice was front and center, the crowd hanging on each syllable, while he sang material from the band’s newest, Schmilcolike “Normal American Kids,” while guitarist Nels Cline danced Garcia-esque licks into the packed venue. A few songs in, however, the band picked up steam, drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist John Stirratt chugging alongside Cline and Tweedy’s guitars, a pair of tractor trailers plowing down the open road of the U.S. Interstate on rockers like “Side with Seeds” and “At Least That’s What You Said.”

A Wilco show is as reliable as another American landmark, Old Faithful. You know the eruption is coming, but that doesn’t it make it any less impressive when it arrives, like clockwork. Wednesday night, as is often the case, the pressure-relief came during “Impossible Germany,” Cline gushing geothermal guitar licks, while the audience looked on in awe. Still, perhaps the set’s all-encompassing highlight may have been “Via Chicago,” Wilco channeling the great American poet, Whitman, very large and containing multitudes, overlapping Tweedy’s own soft-sung poetry with a barbaric yawp of guitars and drums. Before the set ended, they made sure to serve up their version of the all-American diet of meat and potatoes in the form of crowd favorites “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” The 30-plus-minute double encore was an almost let’s-play-two run-through of the band’s history, songs old and new, including, naturally, “Red-Eyed and Blue.” Preceding the end of the set, Tweedy, who was relatively quiet with the banter all night, said, “We’ve got no time for fucking pessimism.” And it doesn’t get much more American than that. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

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Jens Lekman Offers an Antidote to NYC’s Winter on Saturday night

March 20th, 2017

Jens Lekman – The Bowery Ballroom – March 18, 2017

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

(Photo: Andie Diemer)


(Jens Lekman performs live at Rough Trade NYC tonight.)

Given New York City’s week of Swedish weather, with gray days and precipitation falling within the never land between rain and snow, it must have felt like home for one of Sweden’s great pop troubadours, Jens Lekman, who, before returning to Europe, ruled the weekend here in the city, playing The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday and Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday—plus he’s at Rough Trade Trade NYC tonight. His Saturday show began with just him and an acoustic guitar, performing “To Know Your Mission” and “Evening Prayer,” off his latest album, the fantastic and much-acclaimed Life Will See You Now. The latter track was particularly Jens-ian, a tender yet optimistically upbeat tune about worrying and carrying for a friend going through chemotherapy.

“Who here is seeing Jens Lekman for the first time tonight?” asked Lekman to a handful of cheers. Going back all the way, he then went through every one of his local shows, even asking who was at his 2005 Mercury Lounge appearance. “I like growing older with you guys. I want this thing to last forever,” he said. The rest of the band then joined him onstage for “What’s That Perfume That You Where?” about memories triggered by a scent. After an amp malfunction that cut the song short, Lekman began again, playing through on acoustic guitar, somehow sounding even better the second time around: Nothing can hold back those danceable Lekman grooves. There’s a heartfelt warmth to his music that even permeated how he performed. For the end of “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” Lekman pantomimed the xylophone notes in front of him like falling snowflakes.

He introduced “I Know What Love Isn’t” as something he wrote during a cynical time of his life, but even this song brought forth a sense of cheeriness. Perhaps cynical New Yorkers have our taste for cynicism skewed too far to recognize the finer nuances of Scandinavian cynicism. Lekman introduced “Dandelion Seed” as the last song, realizing as he said it that the audience wouldn’t let things end there. The band returned for Lekman classics “Maple Leaves” and “A Postcard to Nina.” And when even that wasn’t enough, the affable performer returned solo yet again for “I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots” and “Pocketful of Money.” “I’ll come runnin’ with a heart on fire,” sang the packed crowd with Lekman repeating the chorus over the audience, delivered like a high-pitched plea. There’s no better antidote to the dregs of a New York City winter than huge moments like these. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nricks

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The Staves Build Bridges at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday

March 13th, 2017

The Staves – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 10, 2017

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As youngsters in England, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor learned guitar from their father and sang heavy folk melodies at the local pub, which has bloomed into something bigger. Their sweet sisterly harmonies have earned the Staves opening slots for the Civil Wars, Bon Iver and Florence and the Machine. The siblings formed such a strong friendship with Justin Vernon that the Bon Iver frontman produced their last album, If I Was. Playing at Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday night, the first of two sold-out weekend shows in Brooklyn, the sisters were a lovely respite after the morning’s snowfall. Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” introduced the ladies—and drummer Dave Power—to the stage. The show began with Camilla on ukulele for “Blood I Bled,” while Jessica, on guitar, and Emily, behind keys, offered backing vocals.

Opener Mikaela Davis added harp on the breakup song “No Me, No You, No More” as Jessica’s elfin vocals rang across the room. Midway through the set, when Emily and Camilla needed to swap stage positions, Jessica stalled with some light conversation about Gilmore Girls, which the band had been watching on the bus. This sent the crowd into a tizzy with shouts of “Team Jess,” but it was the sisters’ critical takes on the character Rory as “a nause” (an English term of annoyance) that elicited cheers. Vernon’s influences were obvious once everyone was in the right place and Camilla created an echo chamber with a series of vocal loops on “Train Tracks,” similar to those on Bon Iver songs. The skip-hop cadence of “Black & White” perked up fans and grew for the anthemic “Tired as Fuck” as crowd members clapped along to Camilla’s languid delivery. An encore was inevitable and Davis returned again for a dreaming acoustic cover of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago.” Jessica prefaced the final song, “Mexico,” with “Don’t build walls, let’s build bridges.” —Sharlene Chiu

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Jesca Hoop Proves to Be a True Original at Mercury Lounge

March 9th, 2017

Jesca Hoop – Mercury Lounge – March 8, 2017

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Jesca Hoop was once a nanny to Tom Waits’ kids, and she’s worked with everyone from Blake Mills and Stewart Copeland to Sam Beam, with whom the singer-songwriter released a gorgeous duets album in 2016 and subsequently toured. Hoop has signed to Sub Pop, and she’s a touch mystical—a vocalist and soothsayer from some faraway, possibly not terrestrial place—but she can tell a bar joke with the best of ’em. She’s accessible and impenetrable at the same time. An artist like that, you’d think, would be someone more written about than listened to, but listening to Hoop’s music is only the beginning of the larger embrace. Live, she’s quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) devastating. She formed a deep and detailed bond with an audience over the course of a 75-minute set at Mercury Lounge last night, framed by the recently released Memories Are Now, a collection of new Hoop songs that reveal more with each subsequent listen.

What do we call this? Hoop arrived as part of a four-piece band that included drums, bass, harmony vocals and other effects. Her music could sound trance-folkie, as in the opening one-two of “Songs of Old” and “Animal Kingdom Chaotic.” It could sound bittersweet and kind of country, as in “Peacemaker.” It could creep up and then, well, overcome you, as in “The Coming,” which thanks to some spectral-sounding guitar in its intro sounded distant and then was upon you. It’s cinematic—panoramic even—as Hoop created little worlds out of lyrics. “I refuse to think that my best friend’s going to hell anymore” is what might be called a classic Jesca Hoop line. So is “And now you gotta get it with what you’ve got/ With what you’ve been given or not” (from the late-in-set standout “Born To”). And so is “You say it’s impossible/ But your dumb computer says no.”

Hoop’s an artist in whom you can hear what you want to in her forbearers and potential influences. The mind drifts to Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Björk and plenty of others. When the mind settles, however—and you can really pause to hear and absorb the nuances when in the thrall of Hoop and band in the live setting—you feel like you’re hearing a true original. No one else quite sounds like this, and you’re thirsting for more when an unhurried set still goes by like a finger snap. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Leif Vollebekk Investigates the Blank Spaces at Mercury Lounge

March 1st, 2017

Leif Vollebekk – Mercury Lounge – February 28, 2017

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Leif Vollebekk opened his performance at Mercury Lounge on Tuesday recalling an earlier trip to NYC when his show sold exactly one advanced ticket and was canceled. That seems highly unlikely to happen again as Vollebekk and his trio kept the roomful of paying customers rapt and enthusiastic for the better part of 80 minutes last night. The set opened with “Vancouver Time” off of his just-released-album, Twin Solitude. Backed by just a bassist and a drummer, the band playing together for the first time in a crowded Mercury Lounge, doing brand-new songs, you could forgive him for being a bit nervous, but Vollebekk sounded at ease, beginning on the electric piano, his words taking center stage from the start. Throughout the night there were almost too many great lyrics, each song crammed with several phrases you just wanted to write down. The opening number featured lovely imagery, like “buffalo clouds over the plain,” and real emotions, like “I’m only leaving because I can’t stay.”

Often when songwriters are capable of delivering lyrics like Vollebekk can, the tendency is to cram as many words into a line as possible. But he is the opposite: His songs are filled with pauses, the blank spaces allowing the words to linger and to let the music seep in to accentuate, drums and bass adding weight while Vollebekk added electric piano or guitar or harmonica. He was equally adept at filling the spaces between songs, joking around and drawing in the audience with his banter, endearing himself to the room. A riff about Neil Young’s tuning became an impromptu half cover of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that actually sounded like it might have legs for a bit.

The set was mostly anchored by the new material and was better for it. The theme of many of the songs seemed to be that of place, not just the settings—Vancouver, Michigan, Telluride, Colo.—but of the coming and going to each. In a way, it was road-trip music, not necessarily music for listening to in transit, but more about it, the gaps and empty spaces to fill with thoughts and images and music. Vollebekk sang the word “Telluride” almost like it was three—“Tell you right”—and on “Michigan,” he sang, “You and me, Robert, we ramble on,” which I want to believe is a Zeppelin reference as well as the snow piling up behind him in the rearview mirror. The trio encored with “Into the Ether,” Vollebekk picking up a violin to add some atmospheric loops, the spaces between lyrics filled to capacity, the room equally so. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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The Dig Charm Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday Night

February 27th, 2017

The Dig – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 25, 2017

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The Dig have been making a name for themselves in the New York City music scene for more than five years, and Saturday’s performance at Music Hall of Williamsburg was proof of why—the band closing the show with disco lights and a wildly excited crowd. With their addictive shoegaze rock, the Dig had everyone in the audience smiling and dancing along. The local quartet has been touring in support of their recent release, Bloodshot Toyko, a bewitching album that hooks in listeners from beginning to end.

Thanks to their melting pot of sounds—deftly mixing garage punk, shoegaze lyrics and alt-rock vibes—the Dig have, unsurprisingly, toured with some big names like the Lumineers and Portugal. The Man. On Saturday night, they rocked across the stage and filled the Brooklyn venue with reverberating bass and drums, also playing material from their You & I EP. The Dig’s vocalist and bassist, Emile Mosseri, displayed an impressive vocal range, going from slow and soft to high and captivating. By keeping the show upbeat, taking selfies with fans while playing and using a disco ball to beautifully light the floor, the Dig kept things interestingthey never disappoint. —Karen Silva | @ClassicKaren

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Khruangbin Get Spacey at Brooklyn Bowl on Wednesday Night

February 23rd, 2017

Khruangbin – Brooklyn Bowl – February 22, 2017

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NASA announced Wednesday that it had discovered seven new exoplanets, some of which could potentially sustain life. Is it a coincidence that on the very same day Khruangbin appeared in Brooklyn, laying down a set of their extraterrestrial grooves for a sold-out Brooklyn Bowl? Does seem suspicious. Looking otherworldly and playing music that might very well come from another solar system where love and peace reign supreme, the actually-from-Austin, Texas, trio were in fine form last night. From the opening slow funk of “August Twelve,” the crowd was locked in, beamed up into Khruangbin’s spaceship bathed in kaleidoscope hues, ready to be probed, prodded and fully funkified.

It’s no easy task to find a completely unoccupied space in the musical spectrum, but Khruangbin have always felt perfectly situated in a just-groovy-enough, not-too-loud/not-too-soft, not-too-fast/not-too-slow space that no one else seems to have discovered yet. On repeated trips back to New York City, each time hopping up a level in crowd size and intensity, the trio has found ways to shed their alien skin, revealing something more elaborate and exciting beneath. On Wednesday, guitarist Mike Speer was given room for hairier solos than the last few area gigs, drummer Donald Johnson Jr. and bassist Laura Lee showing tour-tested comfort in giving him full freedom to explore.

The set gained propulsive energy as it went along, mostly songs from their breakout album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, highlighted by the zigzag melodies of “People Everywhere (Still Alive)” and the out-of-plane weirdness of “Dern Kala.” In a room that can sometimes swallow the more subtle acts, Khruangbin were ferociously funky, overwhelming Brooklyn Bowl as if it were only a pit stop on the way to something bigger. Thankfully for the crowd, the band’s phasers were merely set to stun—because they might not be so lucky next time. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Lisa Hannigan Makes a Triumphant Return at The Bowery Ballroom

February 21st, 2017

Lisa Hannigan – The Bowery Ballroom – February 20, 2017

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Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan has a way of wrapping you in a warm woolen blanket with delicate vocals that seem to embrace you in a loving hug. Often known for her backing vocals while touring in the past with Damien Rice, she has forged on to release three solo albums after an abrupt break from her former collaborator. Her previous album produced with the National’s Aaron Dessner, At Swim, arrived last summer following a long five-year hiatus. Needless to say, fans were excited for her return to New York City as she arrived at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom last night, midway through her U.S. tour.

The room came to a hush as Hannigan took to the stage crooning the ever-haunting “Ora.” Although she was sparse with banter throughout the evening, fans didn’t seem to mind as they happily soaked up her ethereal melodies. Opener Heather Woods Broderick added her vocals on “O Sleep,” stepping in for Ray Lamontagne. Hannigan mentioned how her video for “Undertow” was recently released and that in the filming she had to sing the song backward. The singer playfully proceeded to share her backward trill, before introducing a protest song, “Fall,” which was an appropriate addition to the events of Presidents’ Day.

The band exited, leaving the stage to the lass for the music-box plucks of “Little Bird” and the wanderlusting “Passenger.” Her lilting brogue rang true on “We, the Drowned,” as Hannigan pumped her harmonium with extra zeal. Stalwart fans were delighted by “Lille,” an oldie from her debut solo, Sea Sew. An encore opened with an a cappella version of “Anahorish” accompanied by Broderick and her bassist before the performance concluded with the pair of “Barton” and the uplifting “A Sail.” —Sharlene Chiu

 

 

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Ryan Adams Thrills at Intimate Rough Trade NYC Show

February 21st, 2017

Ryan Adams – Rough Trade NYC – February 18, 2017

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Ryan Adams celebrated the release of his new album, Prisoners, with an intimate, sold-out show on Saturday night at Rough Trade NYC. Without question, the LP’s subject matter is heavy—it’s a breakup album through and through, and some of the lyrics are stark and painful (“Feel like I’m heading for a breakdown”; “I’ve missed you so much I shiver and I shake”). At times, the juxtaposition of the smiling and swaying crowd with such downtrodden sentiments felt almost subversive. Yet, to watch Adams and his band tear through Prisoners songs like “Do You Still Love Me,” “Haunted House” and “Outbound Train,” it was clear that the music and performance were creating a cathartic way for Adams to continue his healing process.

There was still a feeling of joy in room despite the heavy subject matter, mitigated in part by the buoyant, dynamic music that refused to be dragged down by sadness, often stretching into freewheeling extended jams, peppered with Adams’ intricate guitar solos. He was also mindful to break up any lingering tension between songs, and when he noticed the crowd was very quiet after his rendition of “We Disappear,” the singer-songwriter joked to his band in a stage whisper, “What if they’re texting each other?”

In addition to the new material, Adams and Co. dipped into his prolific back catalog for the second half of the show, treating the crowd to a well-loved songs like “Peaceful Valley,” “Magnolia Mountain” and “Let It Ride,” all from the period during which Adams recorded with his band the Cardinals, as well as more recent material like “Kim,” “Dirty Rain” and “Shakedown on 9th Street.” By the night’s end—following a stunning, jammed-out “Cold Roses” closer—Adams had accomplished the feat of sharing some of his feelings of misery without letting them bring down the mood, and although the crowd may have left with a better understanding of his inner turmoil, there was also the larger sense that Adams will be OK because his music will continue to lift him up. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Margaret Glaspy Gets Earnest at a Sold-Out Bowery Ballroom

February 17th, 2017

Margaret Glasper – The Bowery Ballroom – February 16, 2017

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The cold and wind in New York City was pretty insufferable last night. But lucky for me, I got to slip into The Bowery Ballroom and join a sold-out crowd for the brilliant Margaret Glaspy and the dynamos of Cuddle Magic, a chamber-pop group whose members have some impressive names on their résumés (Beyoncé, Amanda Palmer and Okkervil River). The six-piece took the stage first and launched into a set of songs from their brand new album, Ashes/Axis. Layered synths, staccato beats and exquisite vocals make it a great listen. The bandmates hopped down into the crowd and went acoustic for part of the set amidst their beaming audience. They also used the night as an opportunity to film a music video for “Kiss You”—there was a kissing booth set up downstairs and everyone was encouraged to slide on in for a cameo. Speaking of cameos, Glaspy briefly joined them onstage for a song they wrote together.

The headliner and her band made their way onstage next for a first-rate set of songs from her critically acclaimed full-length, Emotions & Math. Glaspy’s sultry voice could make any space intimate. She’s magnetic and it seemed impossible to not take a few steps forward to soak in every one of her nostalgic lyrics and jagged guitar riffs. Highlights included “Somebody to Anybody,” a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” and a soulful rendition of Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor.” Glaspy brought out friend and collaborator Julian Lage to add to the guitar magic with a couple of exceptional solos. There’s affection, hurt and pride in her music, and she scrutinizes the highs and lows of love and heartbreak in a jaunty, approachable way. There’s no limit to this type of exploration, as musicians have proved to us for years. Here’s hoping Glaspy keeps on bringing us her earnest, gorgeous take on the matter. —Schuyler Rooth | @SchuylerSpeak

 

 

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Drive-By Truckers Raise a Passionate, Poignant Racket on Friday Night

February 13th, 2017

Drive-By Truckers – Westbury Theater – February 10, 2017

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In their earlier days, Drive-By Truckers were tagged alt-country, Southern rock and even country rock, but let’s call them what they are: no-bullshit rock and roll, anxious and unfiltered, and on their best nights, one of the best live bands of the last two decades. Still more remarkable is that despite major lineup changes, they seem to get better and better, the old songs aging gracefully but with more than a bit of veteran grizzle, and the new songs finding darkness, humor and poignancy in quotidian angst without sounding topical for topical’s sake or shading (too far anyway) into rock-protest sanctimony. Truckers characters are people you know: lived-in, loaded and lumpy. Their problems are your problems. Their shots at redemption are understandable and their failures disappointing.

This mature balance—the ability to be present and unflinchingly direct about news making matters of the age without being thin or pedantic—is so crucial to the current Truckers tour, filled with set lists that focus heavily on last year’s American Band, their most overtly political album. In Westbury, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and Co. gave us hails of guitar, clattering drums and passionate vocals that came from somewhere deep to frame stories of shootings in Oregon on a beautifully sunny day (“Guns of Umpaqua”), an ill-fated Mexican teenager (“Ramon Casiano”) and the long-lingering ghosts of the Civil War (“Surrender Under Protest”). Some of these songs (“Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn” or “What It Means,” which addresses racism head-on) didn’t require much interpretation. Many were loud, with a sticking finger in your chest, although still others, such as Cooley’s “Once They Banned Imagine,” included acoustic guitars and had the world-weariness of protest-folk without decoupling from the band’s rambling, gnarly rock-ness. And it’s worth noting that politically potent Truckers tunes with a “to hell with this crap” edge aren’t anything new: “Puttin’ People on the Moon,” played fourth, is more than a decade old and its small-town family tragedy has never felt more acute. Same deal with “Sinkhole,” the Truckers’ epic of social class, murder and family values.

As they’ve gotten leaner—the band is now Hood, Cooley, drummer Brad Morgan, multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez and bassist Matt Patton—Drive-By Truckers have gotten meaner, filling more space with paint-peeler guitar solos and working up huge, rambunctious rackets. What’s never quite changed is how they pace a show—peaks and valleys of hard-rocking defiance and melancholy resignation that eventually give way to a runaway train of concert warhorses and an explosive finale. The last 30 minutes on Friday night served up the wry-sad “Buttholeville” with a dovetail into Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” along with “Zip City” and “What It Means.” “Love Like This,” Hood’s fist-pumping “Let There Be Rock” (greasy with the saluted nostalgia of the Truckers’ many forebears, from AC/DC to the Replacements) and the anthemic “Shut Up and Get on the Plane.” Hood told us there would be no encore—they haven’t played any on this tour, choosing to barrel through rather than pause, lest any of the loaded tension dissipate too soon—and the Truckers left with “Grand Canyon” and its protracted guitar meltdown. It was ragged and right, as the Truckers always are. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

 

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Bear’s Den Leave Them Wanting More at The Bowery Ballroom

February 2nd, 2017

Bear’s Den – The Bowery Ballroom – February 1, 2017

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The British folk rock band Bear’s Den wrap gorgeous compositions with a searing banjo ribbon. It’s not a surprise that they supported fellow countrymen Mumford & Sons, as both share similar musical sensibilities. They’re also no strangers to road-tripping across America, having jumped in a Volkswagen Campervan to tour with Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Staves in 2014. In support of their sophomore release, Red Earth & Pouring Rain, the lads played to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom on a crisp Wednesday night. The balcony was overflowing with spectators, as folks could barely get on the floor. Although the evening featured songs from the recent release, special attention was paid to the faithful when the rarely sung and mostly back-cataloged “Sophie” was played acoustically as the audience came to a hauling silence.

Band leader Andrew Davie admitted it was likely their “second-oldest song,” and fans, new and old, were grateful. They erupted for “When You Break,” a favorite from Bear’s Den debut, Islands. A pause in the set carved time for guitarist Christof to make his traditional bottle-flip attempt. The suspense was thick as the water bottle flew in the air, and Davie bear-hugged his bandmate upon success before wailing the sea shanty “Auld Wives.” Christof strapped on the banjo for another favorite, “Above the Clouds of Pompeii,” as clapping hands and stomping feet revved up the band before they exited the stage.

There was little doubt they would not return for an encore, and they did with horn accompaniment for “Napoleon.” Davie, bassist Kevin Jones and Christof made their way into the crowd with only instruments on an acoustic rendition of “Gabriel.” Back onstage, Davie explained that throughout their tour they have been playing covers that were of local artists or about the city they were in. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” checked off both those requirements. The evening wrapped up with the anthemic “Agape,” which was a fitting soundtrack to lead folks into the night and onto a new day. —Sharlene Chiu

 

 

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Mogwai’s Message Is Impossible to Ignore at Town Hall on Sunday

January 30th, 2017

Mogwai – Town Hall – January29, 2017

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I can’t speak for the rest of the audience that packed Town Hall last night to bear witness to Mogwai perform their score for the documentary Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, but anyone with any amount of identification whatsoever with humanity had to have been leveled. The 2015 documentary directed by Mark Cousins strung together archival footage of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the Three Mile Island accident, also showing the subsequent protests and revelations of the Cold War era. Mogwai performed their score for the film live to close out the Edinburgh International Festival in 2016, and have been touring with it through North America to begin 2017. With an equally impressive magnitude of output and precision of timing, they played in lockstep with the large-screen projection of the film above and behind them last night. Two touring members joined the band’s core, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite, keyboardist Barry Burns and drummer Martin Bulloch.

I think I can unequivocally say, without hyperbole, that I’ve never before been impacted by art’s power to alter consciousness, both in the aspect of being sensationally evocative and also provocative of motivation. It quickly got to a point where my eyes were fixated on the utterly devastating footage of the by-products of the inception of atomic energy. The band appeared to just dissolve into the surrounding darkness. At times during the breaks in the score that made audible the remarks of people who lived during that time and dealt directly with its consequences, all onstage seemed as though they were bowing their heads in memory and silence. The music brought together an ensemble of electric guitar, keyboards and drums in one massive, scorching onslaught, blowing up the normal paradigm of the concert experience. It was no place for children or those faint of tolerance.

In my opinion, Mogwai have now passed into a rarified class of musicians who recognize the influence harnessed in their compositions and find applications to a cause larger than their own. The performance was all the more disquieting now that we are all that much closer to something going disastrously and irreparably wrong. Our newest president and anyone remotely associated with nuclear proliferation should be strapped down and made to see this show. Absolutely, Mogwai’s performance of Atomic is an agent for a message with enormous significance, escorting it to a place where it is impossible to ignore. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly