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The Dismemberment Plan Deliver Live at The Bowery Ballroom

November 10th, 2014

The Dismemberment Plan – The Bowery Ballroom – November 8, 2014

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“We’re the Dismemberment Plan from Washington D.C.” I’ve never seen this band introduce themselves any other way, and it’s as good a starting point as any. This is a rock band from D.C., America’s most political town that took punk rock in the ’80s and evolved it, kept it great. In some future book about D.C. punk, their chapter will probably follow Fugazi’s and will say a lot about the late ’90s and early Aughts, when they made a legacy for themselves. Here’s the band that took post-punk technicality, added in a synth where applicable, surrounded themselves with a community of devoted fans, and in many ways kept a scene alive. They were an indie band that flirted with a major-label career, one with Interscope Records that gave them the resources to record a near-perfect record, Emergency & I, only to see the relationship dissolve before it was ever released. After some breaks, the band seemed to be back for good as of 2010, even releasing some new material in 2013 with Uncanney Valley. But this latest tour comes on the heels of the vinyl rerelease of Change, their 2001 record that most at the time assumed would be their last. In short, they’re the Dismemberment Plan from D.C. One thing to add: They’re incredible live. That observation inevitably follows their introduction.

If it’s possible for a band to be tighter live than on record, the Dismemberment Plan are. They wouldn’t function without perfect drumming, which they get from Joe Easley. He doesn’t so much lead the band as he pushes them all into the same rhythm. Fun fact: His day job is programming robotics for NASA. Those two jobs are definitely related. Look at New York City from a distance and you may see the place pulsing with an almost mechanical life force, pushing its millions of inhabitants through their lives, creating some large-scale sense of order with a mind entirely of its own. The first few bars of “The City” distill that feeling into the song’s rhythm. Lead singer Travis Morrison’s plainspoken lyrics sit comfortably atop all of this, feeling like real-time narration for the world the song represents. For “You Are Invited,” nothing but a synth skeleton of a beat makes up this world, but when Morrison breaths humanity into the scene he’s setting and responds to it, the band jumps in for the chorus. “You are invited by anyone to do anything/ You are invited for all time.” The sudden change really does make the chorus feel like you’re being extended an invitation to belong in a world that seldom feels welcoming. And it’s certainly an invitation to sing along.

Some of Dismemberment Plan’s lesser-known songs become highlights when performed live. “Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich” almost seemed like the whitest rap song ever written. For seven seconds, the frantic noisy song fell unexpectedly into an out-of-nowhere funk groove for the line “Joe got caught aboard a boat with seven tons of opium,” the most pleasant of sonic surprises for those not anticipating it. “Girl O’Clock” felt like a panic attack in music form, with Morrison thrashing onstage toward his synth, falling over, convulsing through stuttered lyrics about how if he doesn’t have sex soon he’ll die. His self-deprecating banter between songs was almost a show in and of itself. Two songs in, his failed attempt to drink beer soaked the stage. When someone came over with a towel, the frontman remarked, “This is like James Brown with the cape except really pathetic.” The incident provided commentary for the rest of the night, complete with zippy cup jokes, pulling up the beer-soaked set list and other jabs at his own expense. As is customary for Dismemberment Plan shows, about half the venue joined the band onstage for the mighty sing-along that is “The Ice of Boston.” Morrison allowed everyone to stay for the final song of the night, providing the opportunity to “commit to Andrew W.K.–style head banging” through “What Do You Want Me to Say?” They complied. —Dan Rickershauser

 

 

 

 

 

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A Night of Giant-Sized Soul at The Bowery Ballroom

March 27th, 2014

St. Paul and the Broken Bones

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Last night at The Bowery Ballroom a giant-sized cover of St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ new album, Half the City, hung behind the six-piece band as they performed. Plenty of other groups have gone with this decorating scheme before, but when these guys do, it’s like a proclamation: this music, this band and, most specifically, this frontman, Paul Janeway, are giant-sized, larger than life. Like other singers, Janeway sings, “Yeah,” but when he does it, he sings, “Yeaaaaaaaah” from somewhere deep within—a soulful growl with its own gravitational field, pulling whoops and whistles from the sold-out crowd due purely to the laws of nature. Like other frontmen, Janeway declared, “We’re gonna have a good time tonight,” but this wasn’t just wishful thinking or rock and roll cliché. No, he said it because it was as true as the sun rising in the East. To witness Janeway singing, howling and dancing demonstratively across the stage was to watch someone doing exactly what he was born to do. And what a sight it is.

Hailing from Birmingham, Ala., Janeway and the excellent Broken Bones—horns, guitar, organ, bass, drums—play an old-fashioned soul revue with a Southern blues-rock grit. As these shows must, things started with the band warming up, vamping on an instrumental groove before Janeway bounded onstage. The set whirled through the new album with sweaty, high-octane energy. The up-tempo songs, like the title track, were great, the band laying down dance riffs while Janeway channeled every great soul singer you can think of, from JB to Aretha to Otis and beyond, the sound swallowing the room completely. The slower numbers, like “Broken Bones & Pocket Change,” were even better; Janeway’s passionate yowl of a voice joined by the Broken Bones to build and build and finally crest, sweeping away the audience in the process. He joked that because they only had 40 minutes of original material they had to play some covers. (Take note, other bands with only 40 minutes of material!)

The mid-set take on Sam Cooke’s “Shake” was a brass-heavy revelation. But it was the two-song encore that pushed the show over the top, beginnng with a uniquely soulful take on Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” featuring the best and longest guitar solo of the night. Occasionally you spend a show thinking, “Man, he’d really kill some Otis Redding,” only to then be treated to a “hell yeah!” show-closing take on Redding’s version of “Try a Little Tenderness.” This was St. Paul and the Broken Bones at their finest, the cover they were born to play as their own. Two false endings built the energy to a manic state, doubling the intensity each time, those 40 minutes of material easily stretching into 80 because when St. Paul is onstage everything is that much bigger, giant-sized, larger than life. —A. Stein

 

 

 

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A Galactic Party at Terminal 5

February 18th, 2014

Galactic – Terminal 5 – February 15, 2014

In what was a small New Orleans music coup this past weekend, Galactic mirrored what fellow NOLA funk and jazz rockers the Soul Rebels were doing at Brooklyn Bowl by having a party of their own at Terminal 5 on Saturday night. Breaking from their recent partnership with Living Colour’s Corey Glover, Galactic were instead joined for about half the set by 25-year-old Louisiana native Maggie Koerner, who quite simply blew away the audience. She initially made her mark during the band’s “You Don’t Know,” but it was later in the show when she sang the cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” that the crowd appeared truly floored and let out the biggest applause of the night.

Galactic played so tightly that even during their vocal-less jams they never needed to watch one another to stay in lockstep with the beat, a sign of just how good they are as individual musicians and as a collective. Instead, they often turned straight out toward the crowd, lining up like a firing squad and letting loose a barrage of blue notes, mind-spinning solos and loud-as-hell choruses. For heady-music appreciators, this was the band to see on Saturday night, not just for Galactic’s skills but because they will move a set in any direction they see fit.

While Galactic often feature a vocalist, they are just as happy to steer the set into an instrumental song like “Balkan Wedding,” a track with an epic, moody organ solo that would be a hard sell to a more popular-music-oriented crowd. But they also know how to please a crowd of any size and makeup, so when the encore came around, Koerner rejoined the band for the show’s final original tune, “Heart of Steel” before ending the night with a rafters-shaking rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com

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Webster Hall Has You Covered Tonight and Tomorrow

October 17th, 2013

Danny Seim and Justin Harris have been making experimental rock together as Menomena (above, performing “Heavy Is as Heavy Does”) for more than a decade—although they’ve been doing it as a duo only since early 2011. No matter. Last year’s personal and intimate Moms, the band’s fifth LP but first as a twosome, was released to favorable reviews.

While Menomena hail from Portland, Ore., another alternative-rock duo, the Helio Sequence (above, doing “Lately” for KEXP FM), reside not too far west, in Beaverton. Brandon Summers (vocals and guitars) and Benjamin Weikel (drums and keys) teamed up in the late ’90s to do their own take on psychedelic, ambient music. But their sound has evolved over their years becoming more like dream folk on last year’s Negotiations. See both bands, along with Philly rock duo Pattern Is Movement, tonight at Webster Hall.

Lee Fields (above, doing “Ladies” for KEXP FM) has been making music for quite some time. His first album came out in 1969. So he’s been around. He started out in the funk business, earning favorable comparisons to James Brown throughout the ’70s. And while the ’80s were somewhat quiet for him, he returned strong in the ’90s, making bluesy soul music. But since teaming up with local label Truth & Soul and its house band, the Expressions, his music has been reinvigorated. To witness: last year’s excellent Faithful Man, which marries old-school R&B and soul with modern touches.

Nick Waterhouse (above doing “Is That Clear”) may not share the same background as Lee Fields, but the young singer-songwriter-producer from Southern California is still well versed in R&B. His debut album, last year’s Time’s All Gone, reveals an old soul with contemporary style. But truthfully, you’ve got to see him live to take it all in. And you can see him alongside Lee Fields and the Expressions tomorrow night at Webster Hall.

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This Time, It Was Unusual

May 20th, 2013

Tom Jones – The Bowery Ballroom – May 18, 2013


Tom Jones dominated the charts in the ’60s and ’70s with megahits like “It’s Not Unusual,” “Delilah,” and “What’s New Pussycat?” But you may also know him from his covers of Prince and Talking Heads, or from James Bond, or even from the Carlton dance on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Now, though, take everything you know about Tom Jones and throw it out the window. He just released a new album, Spirit in the Room, that, at the age of 72, completely transforms the singer. It’s the second album Jones has made with producer Ethan Johns, and it’s stunning. Like their first highly acclaimed collaboration, Praise & Blame, it puts Jones in a minimal setting. Forget the ass-shaking, panties-throwing go-go music of yesteryear—this is Jones, stripped down and personal.

But that’s not to say that Jones stopped being himself: He put on a phenomenal show at—of all places—The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night. If you were lucky enough to snatch a ticket to the sold-out show, you could hear him in top form. His voice still booms across the room, he still swings his hips onstage and he still screams like James Brown when the moment calls for it. But he played not one of his hits, and it didn’t matter. He’s still got it. Jones opened with Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” singing softly to an enraptured crowd: “Well my friends are gone/ And my hair is gray/ I ache in the places where I used to play.” The song served as a sober reflection on his life and career, which, after 50 years, is still going strong. And Jones is enjoying it. “It’s Saturday night, isn’t it?” he asked. “Sometimes I can’t even remember if it’s Saturday night or not. Every night is Saturday night for me. Every day is Christmas Day.” —Alex Kapelman

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Trey Anastasio Band Are Firing on All Cylinders

January 24th, 2013

Trey Anastasio Band – The Capitol Theatre – January 23, 2013


Just a little more than 20 years ago, Trey Anastasio led Phish through two sold-out shows at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. That weekend was equal parts present talent and future potential. And two decades of nearly constant playing later, potential fulfilled and then some, Anastasio returned to the historic, restored venue—the same, but different: better—for another two sold-out nights, with a second, completely different band also well on their way to maximizing their possibilities. Last night’s show opened with “Cayman Review,” setting an upbeat, major-key celebratory mood. Anastasio isn’t the lead guitarist in this group, he’s the bandleader, modeling himself, the band (percussion and a horn section that doubled as backup singers along with the traditional guitar, bass, drums, keyboards) and the music after other big bands of yore: shades of Tito Puente on the Latin-tinged opener; classic big jazz band for “Magilla”; James Brown’s heyday group in “Push On ’Til the Day”; and even notes of full orchestral music on the prog-rock “Scabbard” and “Goodbye Head,” both of which showed the prowess of an ensemble that’s grown along with Anastasio’s solo career.

Throughout two full sets, the band had plenty of opportunities to show off their wares, and like a good bandleader, Anastasio was generous with the spotlight: James Casey added a perfect dollop of flute to “Heavy Things”; Jennifer Hartswick nailed the vocals to the Gorillaz cover “Clint Eastwood”; Natalie Cressman rocked the Knopfler on trombone during the “Sultans of Swing” encore; Ray Paczkowski’s organ pushing and prodding the guitar solo in “Simple Twist Up Dave”; bassist Tony Markellis laid down the shag-carpet groove in “Push On”; and percussionist extraordinaire Cyro Baptista did a little bit of everything. Of course, what I meant to say was that Anastasio isn’t merely the lead guitar player in his own band. The show was obviously loaded with Biggie Size comes-with-fries-and-a-Coke guitar solos and jams to satisfy an audience giddy to gobble up more. In this way, the true model for the band might be Santana’s mid-era bands. The highlight jams came in “Money Love and Change,” with the group going full on jam band, scintillating guitar work leading the way.

During second-set opener “Sand” the show finally turned darker, the lights starting to find the nooks and crannies of the venue and Anastasio flexing his six-stringed muscle through the signature techno groove and the full-bore rock and roll tilt coming out of “Alaska.” Quiet moments also found their way into the set list: “Architect,” a ballad from Anastasio’s newest album began quietly, slowly building to a soaring climax, and the band’s wonderful “Ooh Child” cover was a feel-good sing-along highlight. Anastasio was chatty throughout the night, joking about how he was gung ho to play the show’s original date (the day after Hurricane Sandy struck) without realizing how big a storm it was and also extolling the virtues of the new and improved Capitol Theatre. So why stop there? I’m guessing it won’t be another 20 years until the next visit back to Port Chester. —A. Stein

(Don’t miss seeing Trey Anastasio Band play The Capitol Theatre tonight and The Wellmont Theatre tomorrow.)

 

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JD McPherson Brings Rockabilly and R&B to Williamsburg

October 31st, 2012

When retro-rock producer Jimmy Sutton first heard JD McPherson, it was as part of the Stark Weather Boys, a rockabilly ensemble based in Tulsa, Okla. The singer-songwriter then backed Sutton on a few shows, which ultimately led to the idea of doing his own thing. That thing is McPherson’s solo debut, Signs & Signifiers, which came out earlier this year and channels ’40s R&B, ’50s rockabilly and ’60s soul singers, like James Brown and Little Richard. And live, McPherson (above, performing “Fire Bug” for KEXP FM) is an engaging performer whose evocative voice and songs will quickly have you tapping and nodding along. See for yourself on Thursday at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

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Come Shake It at the Royal Family Ball on Saturday Night

October 18th, 2012

New York City’s own Royal Family Records is having a party on Saturday night at Terminal 5, and you’re invited. Two of the label’s acts, funk-jazz trio Soulive and the band’s even funkier offshoot, Lettuce, will headline the show. But what’s a party without guests? And this fiesta’s guests are pretty special: sax legend Maceo Parker (perhaps best known for his work alongside James Brown in the ’60s and Parliament-Funkadelic in the ’70s), pedal-steel virtuoso Robert Randolph and soulful singer Ledisi. It’ll be a night of tight funk, cool jazz, choice covers and great sit-ins. So do yourself a favor: Check out the video, above, to know what kind of music you can expect, and then come join the party. Just be prepared to get down.

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The Bowery Ballroom Welcomes Patrick Watson Tonight

September 7th, 2012

Patrick Watson dabbled in a variety of musical genres, including jazz, ska, classical, ambient and electronica, before launching an eponymous chamber-pop quartet close to 10 years ago. That the band’s eclectic sound has included the use of a bicycle and spoons is probably why Patrick Watson (above, performing “Adventures in Your Own Backyard”) have played with such disparate acts as James Brown and Philip Glass. The band’s fourth album, the spare Adventures in Your Own Backyard, came out last April. See them, alongside fellow Canadians Great Lake Swimmers, tonight at The Bowery Ballroom.