Tag Archives: Chad Berndtson

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Courtesy Tier Put On a Commanding Show at Rough Trade NYC

August 17th, 2017

Courtesy Tier – Rough Trade NYC – August 16, 2017

(Photo: Daniel Cavazos)

How best to describe Brooklyn trio Courtesy Tier? Blues-adelic is probably a good place to start: These guys work up a woozy, potent racket that can veer Hendrix-ian or Zeppelin-esque and get plenty gnarly—but always in service of sturdy melodies. That they’ve been compared to bands like Meat Puppets, Morphine and Chris Whitley in his Rocket House era isn’t so much that they resemble any of them as much as they similarly put a bit of mess into familiar sounds, making them an acquired taste that, once acquired, feels eminently immediate, alive and embraceable.

Courtesy Tier have been kind of a shape-shifter, growing into what they’re supposed to be. Guitarist-ead vocalist Omer Leibovitz and drummer Layton Weedeman have been the guts of the band for about eight years, and in that time they’ve expanded to as many as six players and collapsed back down to a duo on more than one occasion. The lineup’s seemed to be fluid, but last year, Courtesy Tier settled into their current identity as a three-piece, with bassist Alex Picca aboard as a permanent third member. Out of that chrysalis came their first full-length album, the superb Everyone’s OK, much of which was the focus of their headlining spot last night at Rough Trade NYC.

Courtesy Tier played a commanding show, this night deftly organized around standouts like “Childish Blues,” with its slovenly, ’70s-blues-rock-meets-Nirvana vibe, “Cold,” more of a roiling rock and roller that builds to a shattering metallic guitar climax, and “When You Were Young,” an eased-into but still spiky groove more reminiscent of the pre-pop Black Keys. Courtesy Tier had new songs too, including a cover of Can’s “Vitamin C,” which wrapped a stabbing refrain of “You’re losing/ You’re losing/ You’re losing/ You’re losing/ Your vitamin C” in scuffed pop. It was another reminder that, at the intersection of guitar-heavy power-trio blues and a number of other potential jumping off points, they’re really on to something, without being too fussy about what to call it. It’s Brooklyn-y, in a good way, and perfect for these jittery times. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

 

 

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Preservation Hall Jazz Band Deliver a Taste of New Orleans

July 31st, 2017

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – Space at Westbury – July 28, 2017


The Preservation Hall Jazz Band means tradition so deeply felt that when you see and hear them in action, you’re reminded that even your most cinematic visions of New Orleans jazz pale in comparison. They’re what you feel like you want to remember—any more might complicate their down-home charm—and all while balancing virtuosic musical chops with big smiles and a well-honed feel for how to compose a show and keep an audience brimming. They’re showmen. They come across smooth, soulful and liberated. Laissez le bon temps rouler at the Space at Westbury or anywhere else they come to hang.

One of the less-discussed aspects of the current version of Pres Hall is how deftly bassist, tuba player and creative director Ben Jaffe has steered them into a modern era, with younger players gradually replacing the veterans in the road band. Along with Jaffe, the lineup features saxophonist Clint Maedgen, trombonist Ronell Johnson, trumpet player Branden Lewis, drummer Walter Harris and keyboardist Kyle Roussel. More than half of the touring group has come on over the last five years. The roots of Pres Hall are well preserved, but Jaffe and team have prevented the band from becoming a museum piece—quite the opposite, as evidenced by how hot they cook when they really get going. In recent years, they’ve collaborated everywhere, from TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek producing this year’s So It Is—astonishingly, the first Preservation Hall Jazz Band album of original music—to guest appearances with everyone from Dave Grohl and My Morning Jacket to Maren Morris and Beck. Their authentic vibe is deep and homey, and everyone wants a piece of it. And what’s more, the band’s infused that vibe into So It Is, which plays up the potent connections between Crescent City and Cuba.

On Friday night, they were equal parts Mardi Gras rave-up and Havana street scene, intermixing ageless NOLA classics like “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing” with So It Is cuts like “Santiago” and “La Malanga.” The horn players took turns fronting the band, delivering sizzling solos, stoking the crowd, riding grooves that were straight-ahead, or slow-and-serpentine or viscous. If you were expecting a polite supper-club crowd clapping along to “Basin Street Blues,” you instead got pulsating jams—some downright ferocious, like late night at a Frenchmen Street club or, well, Preservation Hall itself. At the outset of the encore, Johnson and Jaffe paired off as a duo of ’bone and tuba for a sing-along “That Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.” And before that came an impassioned speech from Jaffe filled with childhood memories of family members on Long Island, but more important, a capture of what this band was, is and remains: “Those are real instruments played by real people, y’all.” As if we needed to be reminded. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Aussie Bluesman C.W. Stoneking Plays Mercury Lounge Tomorrow

July 26th, 2017

Australian blues musician C.W. Stoneking already had two solid albums behind him by the time he released Gon’ Boogaloo (stream it below) in 2014, the record that revealed the deeper, darker mojo of his sound that the first two only nodded toward. Undoubtedly it felt heavier. Stoneking went toward an electric six-string approach—favoring a Fender Jazzmaster—rather than the National steel and banjo formats from earlier. But he framed those gnarlier guitar sonics still in the gospel, ragtime and swaggering Delta blues he loves, and sweetened it a bit with backup singers. Stoneking is pure old-timey mojo. It takes a certain someone with a certain something to acquit numbers like “The Zombie” (performed live, above) or lines like “Down where the drums go boom, baba-boom, baba-boom, mm-mm/ Anybody see me, sure ’bout to meet their doom” and not have it sound like some kind of Cab Calloway–aping approximation of bullshit hoodoo or junior-league Tom Waits. Instead, thanks to Stoneking’s style and distinctive voice, it’s awesome, haunting and thick with tension, while not so self-serious that it loses the entertainment value—Stoneking once admitted that his song “Jungle Blues” was inspired as much by the keyboard in 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” as it was 1920 and 1930s hellhound-on-trail stuff—or devolves into lo-fi howling just ’cause there might be a full moon tonight. “I take inspiration from all sorts of music, from locations all around the world and different time periods,” he told PopMatters in 2016. “I make my own thing, which, depending on your frame of reference might sound like any one of those but to me, knowing my process, it’s a different thing altogether.” Stoneking plays the early show at Mercury Lounge on Thursday. Get there early for Moist Paula’s Bliss Station, featuring bari saxophonist extraordinare Moist Paula (Moisturizer, Rev. Vince Anderson, Binky Griptite and many more) in a sax-bass-drums format. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Jerry Joseph Pulls No Punches at Mercury Lounge on Sunday Night

May 1st, 2017

Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons – Mercury Lounge – April 30, 2017


Jerry Joseph isn’t one to sugarcoat: As longtime friend Widespread Panic bassist (and sometime bandmate) Dave Schools has put it, his music can be “an absolute emotional slaughterhouse.” Which is not to call it dour—a Jerry Joseph show is a master class in old school, highly emotional rock and roll energy—just that when you experience it you’re often in for a scorched-earth kind of evening, no-holds-barred, no-punches-pulled, no-edges-filed-down, no phony sanctimony. He’s an iconoclast, for sure, and the less he seems to care about how some take to his abrasive sentiments, the more his music deepens and becomes more soulful. It can sound ferocious and cynical, tender and fragile, world-wise and world-weary. And he’s crazy prolific. Each time Joseph returns to New York City he’s got new songs that sound of a piece with everything he’s done over a 30-plus-year career—and yet don’t repeat himself.

One of Joseph’s masterstrokes was finding bandmates who could be an extension of this personality and translate it into feral rock—jammy and shape-shifting. The Jackmormons, now again a trio after a stretch as a quartet, returned to Mercury Lounge Sunday night for a rare local long-play, meaning it wasn’t over and done within a tight hour and had ample room to stretch out, welcome friends and do what they do best: rough-scuffed folk rock played at times with Crazy Horse–like abandon and paint-stripping guitar. Whether it was the anthemic, gospel-y “Think on These Things” to open or the roiling “Soda Man” or a long, gnarly jam out of Bob Marley’s “Positive Vibration” that burrowed its way into the metal-scraping “Brother Number One,” every tune took its time, unhurried, and yeah, with incendiary guitar solos, chunky bass and crashing drums but none of it out of place or feeling extra. A lot of bands jam because they want to expand a song with improvisational solos or groupthink, but Jackmormons jams seem to go long because the emotional weight of a lot of this material commands a full workout. As an audience member, you’d rather be drained instead of left too heavy.

This show was a benefit for Joseph’s forthcoming trip to Iraq to work with refugee, cultural and educational organizations—a very Jerry Joseph think to do—and summoned some extra friends to accompany Joseph, bassist Steven James Wright and drummer Steve Drizos. Among them were the sage Mookie Siegel, dappling the music with heavenly organ and piano, and the ace Jamie McLean, bringing a red-meat blues-rock sensibility as a foil for Joseph’s own teeth-bared guitar playing. Especially remarkable was how well both of them became an extension of the Jackmormons, a trio that at times couldn’t seem to possibly hold more personality, and yet, there they were as part of the band, deep in its thrall. Potent stuff, you’d say with a chuckle, like calling an erupting volcano “potent stuff.” —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Marty Stuart Pays Homage to California Country at Bowery Ballroom

April 27th, 2017

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives – The Bowery Ballroom – April 26, 2017


Marty Stuart is old school country good—it’s right there in the title of his band. Raised in Mississippi, entranced with the likes of Buck Owens and Marty Robbins, Stuart came to renown as a guitarist with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash before he broke out as a solo artist, favoring a high-energy country, roots and Americana sound that feels classic but not overly nostalgic. The essence of his 18th album, the outstanding Way Out West, is also right there in the title: Stuart loves the mythology of the American West, the panoramic dreams and wide-open-desert terrors it can evoke and the range of moods that music flavored with these things can inspire.

Lest it seem like Stuart and his crackerjack band will get lost in the cinematic sweep of things, however, they definitely don’t: They’re as fun, foot-stomping and down-to-earth good a country band as any New York City can attract. Over an hour and a half at The Bowery Ballroom last night, they plumbed the best of Way Out West and served up hefty helpings of Stuart chestnuts and roots-music staples, from ancient stuff like “I Know You Rider,” “Orange Blossom Special,” “Country Boy Rock & Roll” and Robbins’ “El Paso,” to ripping, surf-leaning instrumentals like “Mojave” and “Torpedo,” newer tunes like the honky-tonk “Whole Lotta Highway” and Stuart classics like “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’.” They’re storytellers, string-benders, good-time Charlies who can acquit a twangy reworking of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and make it feel like a deep cut from a Best of the Bakersfield Sound compilation.

Stuart is the proverbial “name on the door,” but it’s the Fabulous Superlatives who get at least as much of the spotlight, claiming at least one solo vocal or instrumental performance apiece. Among them, Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs (yep, grandson of Earl) cover guitar, bass, drums and plenty of other things, but, like Stuart, are best described as multi-instrumentalists for how seamlessly—and how musically—they inhabit whatever they’re playing or singing. That’s key: Beneath the wisecracks and convivial joy, the foursome exhibit a deep trust and abiding gratitude for this music and their ability to play it so magnificently. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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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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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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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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Chris Robinson Brotherhood Take Their Time at the Space at Westbury

November 21st, 2016

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – the Space at Westbury – November 18, 2016

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)


I’ve seen the Chris Robinson Brotherhood do their pie-eyed, soulful thing plenty now, and the word I keep going back to is unhurried, which doesn’t mean slow, for this band can cook up a good old rock and roll, blues or country racket when called for. But that does mean you go at their pace: a deliberate, expansive set or two of deeply fleshed out and not-a-little-cosmic Americana that insists you groove in its orbit or that you politely leave the rocket ship. It may not be for everybody, but in every year since the band’s 2011 inception, yielding to what the CRB does has been rewarding for the willing listener.

Robinson and his band of aces—guitarist Neal Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Tony Leone—throw back to a time when rock, blues, country and folk were painted with Day-Glo and didn’t mind a layer of stardust. Their music feels nostalgic but embraceable and honest. Those wistful moments that might sound sad or might sound accepting depend on how a guitar string is plucked, meshed with those more celebratory, up-tempo, let’s-kick-it type of songs. They can be short statements or long statements or really long statements, protracted with jam segments that can veer toward an ambient soundscape or burn with the gnarly guitars of a Tuesday night at the roadhouse.

They’re encyclopedic too, and that reach goes wide and deep. This two-setter at the Space at Westbury on Friday featured songs by Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”), Jackie Moore (“Precious Precious”), Bob Dylan (“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”) and New Riders of the Purple Sage (“Last Lonely Eagle”) tucked between CRB originals and songs from Robinson’s previous associations given new life by this band (“I Ain’t Hiding,” came from the Black Crowes while “Tumbleweed in Eden” and “Train Robbers” drew from the brief, turbulent life of Robinson’s 2002-2004 era band, New Earth Mud). None of those felt out of place, but rather they were bent to the groovy CRB m.o. such that a well-trodden tune like “Baby Blue” had a livelier, hootenanny feel than the regretful folk sound it’s most often associated with. Robinson was as ever the band’s centerpiece. He’s still the charismatic hippie-with-an-edge howler he always was leading the Crowes, and with Leone and Hill keeping things humming—and from veering off course—Casal and MacDougall become its painters, working with a significant range of tones and colors both earthy (Casal’s paint-peeler slide guitar) and spacey (MacDougall’s spattering psych-out effects).

Together, the fivesome offered a few hours of vignettes: the mournful then defiant narrator of “Train Robbers,” which began as spooky country before erupting into vocal howls and volcanic guitar, the vicious rock and roll of “I Ain’t Hiding” (“Ain’t your saint, ain’t your enemy/ I’m a long shadow on the highway”), the big dreams and tortured realities of “Forever as the Moon” and “Star or Stone,” plus the drunk-on-life rambling in “Rosalee,” which began and ended the second set as effectively one long sandwich. And if there’s a newer song from the band’s rapidly growing catalog that takes its place among its best and most complete statements, it’s “Narcissus Soaking Wet,” which on this tour has been a second-set showpiece, getting really cosmic and Dead-y, a lengthy tale of myth. It’s a song to get lost in from a band really good at making them. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Caspian Find Their Mark at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 18th, 2016

Caspian – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 17, 2016

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Coming out of a Caspian show, you feel roughed up and blown out, but in a good way. The post-rock band’s (mostly) instrumental sound seems to build from somewhere far away, encroaching gradually until it’s totally taken over, swarming you with a hail of guitar and other effects, roiling the floor with pummeling rhythms, pushing you over an abyss or up into a heavenly resolution of chords. It’s exhausting, cathartic and mighty dramatic—but that’s the point. You’re enthralled by the layers of sound and it’s kind of alarming, but you feel it build and build in tension, then give way to explosive release, whether on the back of a high-stacked triple-guitar melody or something more latent that takes longer to reveal itself. Dust and Disquiet, as Caspian’s 2015 release was named, and very much so.

Caspian were a buzzed-about curiosity in Massachusetts and in post-rock circles for long enough that when they finally began to mount national tours, the crowds were there to greet them. Their sound can be dense—you’re entering a sonic thicket and it’s easy to get lost in it—but the band also prioritizes melody. They’re accessible and not given to long stretches of ambient goo or merely retreading a crescendo-and-explode-over-elaborate-orchestration format. The five-piece found their mark early and often last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, with a cinematic hour-plus set of selections that focused on but didn’t limit to Dust and Disquiet material. Some songs, such as “Rioseco” and the old Caspian favorite “Some Are White Light,” favored the long build, with layer upon layer of guitar swells crashing against a wall until they broke through, washing the senses. “Arcs of Command” and “Echo and Abyss” veered toward prog-metal, doped on guitar syncopation, letting crashing cymbals and electronic loops overwhelm the audience with inspired clangor.

They’re not all dark-night-of-terrors songs, though. Many Caspian tunes go for ominous uncertainty—inchoate guitar tones wandering around one another in a maybe-spooked, maybe-blissful haze—or for unbridled, bust-out joy, with massive builds that sound like blasts of light through a darkened tunnel look like. This is not an easy feat. Too much indulgence into a sound like this means lots of sculpted noise and guitar hail with little to hang on to. Too much composed orchestration, however, and the feeling in the music goes away—it becomes antiseptic, a tasteless recital, especially for those who’ve already taken the ride with the band. So credit Caspian for infusing so much heart into a genre that can sound remarkably numb. This is a rock-your-face sound you want to lean toward, rather than resist. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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The Coathangers Leave The Bowery Ballroom Breathless

July 13th, 2016

The Coathangers – The Bowery Ballroom – July 12, 2016

The Coathangers – The Bowery Ballroom – July 12, 2016
The crowd just eats this up: this, by the all-female punk threesome the Coathangers, which involves quirk, dark humor, reckless abandon and, occasionally, a rubber ducky; this, which has been a growing brand for years now among lovers of infectious, furious punk-rock energy; this, which loved hard on propulsive beats of all kinds: rat-a-tat, chug, boom-chick, a little swing; this, which slayed a Tuesday night Bowery Ballroom crowd and was the fastest, most delirious hour of stage time this writer can remember in a while—the equivalent of being slapped around and then smooched with a wry smile.

The Atlanta-based band, which includes Meredith Franco on bass and vocals, Julia Kugel on guitar and vocals, and Stephanie Luke on drums and vocals, allegedly started as a joke nearly 10 years ago—their name a wildly inappropriate, purposefully vulgar reference for an all-female band. If this is, or really was ever, a joke, it’s a great one. These three have found the heart of the Venn diagram where danceable punk meets subversive rock and roll meets earnestly delivered songs called “Squeeki Tiki” and “Don’t Touch My Shit”—long may it play out. Sometime around the release of their 2014 album, Suck My Shirt, they found themselves hammering away at what they’re good at, without ever losing the wink-and-gun humor in songs that, on any given night, might be about punching someone in the, y’know, twat. (You won’t hear it on their albums, but you get the feeling they could write a damn good bubblegum pop hook too.)

Last night, a throttling hour left us with much of their recent album, Nosebleed Weekend, squeezed rubber-ducky sound in “Tiki” and all. That was the set-closer, actually, before it came whipcrack crowd-rousing numbers like “Make It Right” (Luke’s raspier vocals in gnarlier contrast to Kugel’s chirpier vocals) and “Watch Your Back,” which indulged in more of an art-punk sensibility with its balance of dynamics vs. straight pow-pow-pow. Not that straight pow-pow-pow is anything less than needed in these fraught times. In the last quarter of their set, the band began to get nuts, switching instruments and baiting the crowd. Franco handed her bass to Kugel, moved to lead vocals and then executed an exceptional stage dive all while singing “Nestle in My Boobies,” which goes back to 2007. She next went to bass, bringing drummer Luke out to prowl the front of the stage. Franco and Luke returned to their instruments and that’s when Kugel went not for guitar but for the ducky—“Tiki” time. Sometime before that had also come the band’s sparking cover of Gun Club’s “Sex Beat.” You’ll have to consult a printed set list to know exactly when—we were captivated by their blur of aggression and there wasn’t much time to catch a breath. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

Photos courtesy of Adela Loconte | adelaloconte.com

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With a New Album Wussy Graduate to The Bowery Ballroom

July 11th, 2016

Wussy – The Bowery Ballroom – July 10, 2016

(Photo: John Corley)

(Photo: John Corley)

Wussy, the Cincinnati fivesome, write fractured love songs, bittersweet tales of woe, knowingly dire kiss-offs, fist-pumping rockers that turn regret into a hail of guitar noise. That they’re some of the best in the business at doing this sort of thing—sad-eyed but still rock-out-ready indie rock, pop and alt-country—and have until somewhat recently been a secret shared among their hometown fans, Robert Christgau and the handful of other critics who handed them accolades long before the crowds appeared. And then, at long last, audiences did begin to show up, and after years of daylong drives to play 30-minute showcase sets whenever possible, Wussy returned to New York City with bigger audiences and, as of Sunday, have graduated to The Bowery Ballroom. Oh, have they earned it. Their songs are emotional wrecks, lived in without being weighed down. Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker and Co. have written and recorded so many of them now without compromising what makes a hard-edged rock song with a tender core such a sturdy thing in the first place. They’re a bit odd—the songs and the band—but by about 15 minutes into a set, you’re enthralled, living in the little, hardscrabble, honest worlds these songs call to mind.

No Wussy show I’ve ever seen has been too long: Always, when they’re leaving the stage for the last time that evening, I’m thinking, “I could really use one more of those.” Last night’s headlining show focused on Wussy’s most recent album, Forever Sounds, and served up tunes like “Gone”—with its pinched, Pixies-like narrative singing over loud guitars—“Hello, I’m a Ghost,” “Sidewalk Sale” and the gently shoegaze-y “Dropping Houses.” Intermixed with these came the throttling “Pulverized,” plus older favorites like “Maglite” and “Pizza King” (“KOA all night or forever if you want it/ We’re catching air outside the value supermarket”—such a Wussy kind of line). Late in the set, Walker claimed the spotlight, with only guitarist and pedal-steel player John Erhardt to accompany her, for the devastating “Majestic-12”—she sang like someone who had only recently discovered she could and wanted to see what such a gorgeous, slightly scuffed voice could do. And they did their typically superb version of New Order’s “Ceremony” as a closer, an esoteric cover that was just the right fit for a band that doesn’t do many of them.

Wussy come off as a lovably dysfunctional family: They banter wryly, Cleaver and Walker draw in most of the energy, and behind them comes an assured foundation from bassist Mark Messerly and drummer Joe Klug, in addition to color and shading from Erhardt, who holds back his steel playing from its traditional role of narrating sad songs, instead making it a racket-bearer, washing what the rest of the band is doing in frothy guitar tones. It wouldn’t work for other groups, but it does for Wussy. And these cracked-poetry songs wouldn’t work for other groups, but they do for Wussy—a band that knows how good they are but never once shed the humility they had before people started to show up.
—Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Sarah Jarosz Is Sure of Her Talents at The Bowery Ballroom

June 28th, 2016

Sarah Jarosz – The Bowery Ballroom – June 27, 2016

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Sarah Jarosz’s superb new album is called Undercurrent, which, perhaps, you already knew because of all the critical praise it’s received. The LP is a gorgeous document—something you yield to, swooning over her deeply affecting soprano—and simply great in how its songs come across complete, but not overadorned. More pronounced, less intimate arrangements would be needed if the songs couldn’t stand on their own, but whoa, can they: Jarosz, at 25, sounds more knowing, worldly and pragmatic than many accomplished folk singers twice her age. Brilliantly, she can also transfer this honest, lived-in vibe to the stage, and did during a nourishing show at The Bowery Ballroom last night.

Undercurrent material figured heavily in a set that unspooled, song by song—visits with an excited but weary mind, narrating stories like “Lost Dog,” “Take Another Turn” (with the line “What does it mean to be lonely?”), “Everything to Hide” and the gently swampy “Back of My Mind.” It’s accurate to call these songs and older Jarosz gems, like “Build Me Up from Bones,” country-rubbed folk, with just enough blues and New York City noir in there to keep them from sounding old-timey. Here, too, were they unadorned—guitars and bass, mostly, in a trio format, and dressed up only by Jarosz’s own voice. As a performer, she seems self-aware, sure of her talents and sure of not wanting to gild the lily.

Well, OK, even Jarosz can’t argue with a bit of lily-gilding: Late in the show, she summoned her I’m with Her bandmates, Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan, and for a few minutes, we were transported back to an equally magical show from December 2015, at this same venue, with that same trio of dazzlingly talented female folkies, each wanting to share the stage, each performer’s individual charisma making that seem impossible to do, until they expertly balanced one another. Their delivery of Tom Waits’ “Come On Up to the House”—one of Jarosz’s best covers—at first felt like a visit from an entirely different concert, and then felt of a piece with the rest of the set, another visit that you come away from learning more than what you’ve brought to it. We’ll be hearing more from Jarosz, from I’m with Her, from every interesting possibility these combinations of musicians seem to yield. And possibly soon: Sara Watkins is at Rough Trade NYC tonight. Just saying. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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The Jayhawks Sound Ageless at The Bowery Ballroom

June 16th, 2016

The Jayhawks – The Bowery Ballroom – June 15, 2016

The Jayhawks - The Bowery Ballroom - June 15, 2016
It’s inspiring that Gary Louris and the Jayhawks can still do this: hit that sweet spot where good-time rock and roll, sweet-and-sour folk and scuffed country are the same music and hold on that spot for the duration of an entire show. You find yourself embracing the voices, but it’s as much the vibe, too—those mesmerizing, Everlys-style harmonies laid on a Flying Burrito Brothers bed, but with the frayed edges of ’90s alt rock present to keep things from getting too comfortable. Louris himself—surrounded by a further-revised version of the band that includes Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg and new guitarist Kraig Johnson—is making age work for him.

Louris’s singing sounds a bit more lived in, but as he and the band peeled off songs last night at The Bowery Ballroom like “Waiting for the Sun,” “Leaving the Monsters Behind” and “Stumbling Through the Dark”—the first three to begin a 25-song evening—it’s clear that he’s become the gritty veteran troubadour he could only nod toward when he was a much younger man. Even the Jayhawks classics, from “Blue,” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass” to set-closer “I’d Run Away,” have a more knowing, perhaps pragmatic tone than they once did, made that much more potent by the fact that the singer, 20 years or more later, now knows these things he thought to be evident, rather than speculated. Give Louris this, as well: That Jayhawks sound stayed remarkably consistent, right up through this year’s guitar-y, gently experimental Paging Mr. Proust, one of the band’s best albums.

That newer material—“Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces,” “Ace,” “Isabel’s Daughter”—nestles comfortably among the old, with fewer emotional triggers for a crowd weaned on classic-era Jayhawks albums like Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, but in time, becoming of a piece with those decades-old tunes. Indeed, throughout this very sold-out show, Louris and Co. seemed to draw on as many Jayhawks flavors as possible to demonstrate the common thread, from “Tailspin,” which was served up roadhouse-Dylan style, almost a fist-pumper, to “Settled Down Like Rain,” which Louris delivered solo, plus “Tampa to Tulsa” and “Angelyne,” each with an assist from opening band Folk Uke. The Jayhawks—and Louris, personally—have been through a lot of changes since those heady days of Hollywood Town Hall. But shows like this one confirmed what we always suspected about the band back then: The Jayhawks’ sound is ageless, and their mission is a sure one, even as time marches on. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.com

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Aubrie Sellers Confidently Walks the Line at Rough Trade NYC

May 18th, 2016

Aubrie Sellers – Rough Trade NYC – May 17, 2016

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Aubrie Sellers has described what she does as “garage country,” and that’s on point. It’s not that her music sounds bashed out or particularly raw, but it’s clear from the first notes—and even in her tenderest songs—that we’re not dealing with the side of Nashville that favors slickness, polish and a packaged sound. No, in Sellers’ hands, country songs get nice and scuffed, sometimes with a honky-tonk bent, sometimes with an infusion of indie rock, sometimes with punk’s burnt edges, sometimes mindful of ’70s AM rock and sounding perhaps a few clicks over from Fleetwood Mac. She’s part of a six-piece band, but there isn’t a keyboard, or a fiddle, in sight, and a whole lot of guitars kicking up some principled racket. There’s a steel player—used to great effect during last night’s set at Rough Trade NYC—but he’s just as likely to blow harp through a tricked-out microphone made from what appears to be an old telephone receiver. Cool. 

These distinctions are important because Sellers, who’ll be described here and probably in every profile, feature and review for years as the daughter of Lee Ann Womack and Jason Sellers, knowingly put extra pressure on herself by following her parents into the biz. But she’s neither a Nashville country supplicant nor a rebel. The songs on her debut album, New City Blues, walk the line between both of these poles. Over the course of an hour’s headlining set, Sellers tried them out on us: winking blues rock in “Sit Here and Cry,” sweet yearning in “Something Special,” moody country angst in “Light of Day,” cautioned romance in “Just to Be with You.”

Sellers explained that most of her set is usually sad or sarcastic songs but then sneaked in some reservedly happy ones. She pulled in a few covers, some obvious (Buck Owens’ “My Heart Skips a Beat”) and some far less so, but well chosen, including the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” which the band turned into a misty-morning electric-folk song while Sellers mined its sensitive beauty. Throughout, and in any of those modes, she displayed able command of a big-sound band, knowing when to keep a tight rein so her vocals could be the main focus and when to let those gnarly guitars overwhelm her singing a bit. The confidence in that balance is working for her. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson