Tag Archives: Review


Steve Winwood Prove He’s as Relevant as Ever at Space at Westbury

April 24th, 2015

Steve Winwood – the Space at Westbury – April 23, 2015

“He’s still got it!” You hear people say that all the time, but so often it’s nothing more than wishful thinking or wistful nostalgia. But when everyone at the Space at Westbury had that thought last night, it was because it was as true as ever for Steve Winwood. With a groovy organ and an Afrobeat feel from his stellar rhythm section, he opened the show with the Spencer Davis Group hit “I’m a Man.” There’s old school and there’s old old school, and the 1967 classic is in the latter category. You have to wonder how many times Winwood has sung the song. Yet, in what would be the prevailing mood of the set, he made it feel as relevant as ever, making it sound like it was the best version ever.

From the opening tune through the end of the encore, the performance was like a long drive on a beautiful night with the radio set to the classic-rock station and every song that comes up is even more of a favorite than the previous one. Winwood described the set list as “predominantly vintage,” and he didn’t hold back on the hits. “Can’t Find My Way Home,” played early on, delighted the sold-out crowd, Winwood’s strong vocals transcending the inevitable sing-along and phone videos to provide a chills-inducing moment. The show’s centerpiece featured a powerful triplet of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” “Glad” and “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.” “Low Spark” was naturally long with a meaty guitar solo and maybe a touch of irony in the lyric “the man in the suit has just bought a new car with the profits he made on your dreams” sung to a room with at least a couple of guys wearing suits (who may or may not have just gotten new cars). The instrumental “Glad” didn’t show its age at all, still feeling fresh and exploratory with a nice moody outro section centered on the organ, flute and congas. “Light Up” was the big, long rocker of the night with solos abound for everyone—pure, classic, good-as-it-gets rock and roll.

Throughout the show, Winwood elevated the time-tested material: His voice sounding unchanged by the decades, and his excellent organ and guitar playing showing plenty of kick. Winwood’s band was equal to the task, keeping the spirit of nostalgia in the material while bringing new sounds into the mix. The all-killer-no-filler set finished with perhaps the most audience-pleasing song of the night, Winwood’s merely old school ’80s hit “Higher Love,” which had many in the place feeling three decades younger, for sure. And while the whole set had the “big guns” feel of an encore, Winwood did have a couple of rounds left in the chamber after a well-earned ovation from the crowd. He displayed his guitar-rocking skills on “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” with what felt like three distinct show-stopping solos. But before the fuzz faded, Winwood returned to his organ and returned to where it all began—not just the show, but his career altogether—leading the band in a rousing version of “Gimme Some Lovin’,” everyone in the room thinking, “So glad we made it.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(Steve Winwood plays the Capitol Theatre tonight and tomorrow and State Theatre on Monday.)



Elvis Perkins Leaves Rough Trade NYC Crowd Spellbound

April 21st, 2015

Elvis Perkins – Rough Trade NYC – April 20, 2015


It’s been a few years since Elvis Perkins headlined a show in New York City. He’s been off the radar for a while, gone so long, one might worry that people would forget about him. But in his case, absence only made the heart grow fonder as Perkins returned to the stage Monday night, performing for a sold-out Rough Trade NYC in Brooklyn. He plays a unique, unpredictable style of folk anchored by superlative songwriting and a voice that’s difficult to forget. Besides, this is a guy who once led a Bowery Ballroom audience underground and across Delancey St. to jam out among the subway power washers. You don’t forget something like that.

Outside, a dense fog had penetrated the entire region, which brought an appropriately mysterious vibe to the music inside. And it was like Perkins—opening with “I Came for Fire,” off his new album, I Aubade—was summoning spirits, howling into the humid evening. He was joined in his séance by a range of instrumentation: Autoharp, pump organ, bass, analog synth, and later, drums and horns (by openers and former Perkins band members Kinsey and Wyndham) adding to his own guitar and harmonica. For the most part, these largely served to frame Perkins’ voice and lyrics, each syllable its own percolating entity seemingly independent of meter or verse. The audience was incredibly attentive, spellbound by the meandering new material, like “Gasolina” and “My 2$.”

Later on, Perkins worked some older material into the set, “Shampoo,” feeling wonderful and weird accompanied by trumpet, harmonica and pump organ, and “Doomsday,” adding to the just-a-little-dark mood. The set closed with “AM,” the band at full sextet and Perkins at his lyrically strongest. He left the stage leaving horns and harp and synth to twist a nifty outro jam before dissipating into nothing. Prior to sending the crowd outside into the fog, Perkins came back out for an encore highlighted by the show-closing “While You Were Sleeping,” the standout track from his Ash Wednesday album, each word condensing in the air until there was almost a moist cloud of lyrics floating through the room. Personally, it gave me some goose bumps I won’t soon forget. —A. Stein | @Neddyo




River City Extension Close Out Tour in Style at Rough Trade NYC

April 20th, 2015

River City Extension – Rough Trade NYC – April 19, 2015

River City Extension – Rough Trade NYC – April 19, 2015
River City Extension are the kind of band you imagine never stops touring. Most of their songs sound like they were written while speeding down a highway, with a mix of rolling drums and cyclical guitar strumming, plus approachable gang vocals. Hell, lead singer Joe Michelini even has a pearly mountain range inlay on the neck of his guitar. Recently, that assumption about how often they play has been right—last night’s show at Rough Trade NYC capped off a 33-show tour that began in March and took them from the Jersey Shore all the way to Seattle. But before that, Michelini was holed up with lead guitarist John Muccino and keyboardist Patrick O’Brien recording the band’s newest album, Deliverance.

Last night’s show was a homecoming of sorts for the New Jersey band, whose fans clearly spent the last month digesting the new songs and fresher sound, giving the room an incredible vibe. “I kind of want to draw this one out. Milk it,” said Michelini. That they did: The band played for more than an hour, and they showed off polished performances of new songs in between rearranged versions of their older tunes.

River City Extension used to be very much led by Michelini’s acoustic guitar, which made them easy to peg as folkie. But their new sound is more expansive than it’s ever been, with dreamy interludes and ’70s-style rock and roll breaks. The band comes off as more mature, no surprise considering their core has survived a number of lineup changes and, recently, a tragic loss. But through it all, the fans keep coming, and after last night it appears that the band is ready to lead them down a whole new road. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com


A Public Service Broadcasting Dance Party at The Bowery Ballroom

April 13th, 2015

Public Service Broadcasting – The Bowery Ballroom – April 10, 2015

With a name like Public Service Broadcasting, it’s easy to get a little dyslexic and mistake them for the Public Broadcasting Service. But this London duo repurposes samples from public information films with stark and catchy instrumentation. J. Willgoose, Esq. adds strings and samplings while Wrigglesworth takes cares of the drums. Both have a hand at the electronic instruments, but they don’t sing. With their latest release, The Race for Space, the lads take on the USSR literally, taking clips from speeches and old public service announcements during the battle to get the first man on the moon.

Three, two, one: Commence liftoff to an intergalactic dance party at The Bowery Ballroom Friday on night. The bookish pair landed onstage with little fanfare as Wrigglesworth tapped the drum pads for the opening of “Sputnik.” Throughout the evening, songs were complemented with old stock footage mostly of the space race, but also other montages ranging from motor transit to the heights of Everest. In addition to not singing, neither band member spoke throughout the set, but rather opted for a speech synthesizer to communicate, although Willgoose, Esq. added emphatic arm gestures to punctuate the robotic vocal greetings and commentary. It was especially executed on “Theme From PSB,” as he cleverly included “Bowery Ballroom” into the song. The dance floor was really pumping for the Daft Punk–like, guitar-driven track “E.V.A.” and the b-boy beat of “Gagarin.” My personal favorite moment of the night came with the more quiet and melodic “Valentina,” which paid homage to the first woman astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova, as footage of her training and return from her launches.

Approaching the end of the set, Public Service Broadcasting offered more tracks from their debut album, Inform-Educate-Entertain, including fan favorites “ROYGBIV” and the song about a plane, “Spitfire.” Not to let the crowd leave feeling unfulfilled, PSB returned to encore with a new tune, “The Other Side,” and an old song, “Everest.” The evening offered not only dance-y tunes, but also visual aids that took concertgoers back in time. The touchdown back to reality might have been abrupt, but the wonders experienced would stay with us. —Sharlene Chiu


Waxahatchee Delight Music Hall of Williamsburg with New Music

April 10th, 2015

Waxahatchee – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 9, 2015

“We’re almost ready,” said Katie Crutchfield, the real person behind Waxahatchee, having taken the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night in support of her new album, Ivy Tripp, her first on Merge Records. Crutchfield opened with “Breathless,” a methodical low-end keyboard progression featuring inscrutable lyrics like “Take what you want/ I’m not trying to be yours/ I’m not trying to have it all.” But even these limited ambitions wilted in the face of Waxahatchee’s very excellent new LP, named after an invented term that Crutchfield says stands for something like indecision, and a sold-out crowd waiting on whatever it was that the 26-year old singer would do. She may well live in half ways, the almost-ready, not-trying-to-have-it-all ideas that color her songs, but on this night, like so much of her recent career, Crutchfield enjoyed complete control and an audience willing to join her in whatever gray spaces she found between things.

Opening her set with “Under a Rock,” the Liz Phair–indebted second track from Ivy Tripp, and “Misery Over Dispute,” from her second LP, Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield transmuted Music Hall back to the mid-’90s. Fans with thick-rimmed glasses and sawed-off bangs nodded along. The set swelled behind “Lips and Limbs,” “Waiting” and “Lively,” all Cerulean Salt songs. Allison Crutchfield, Katie’s sister and bandmate, assisted on guitar and harmonies. The siblings leaned into each other invisibly on “Poison,” “Brother Bryan” and “Blue.” The latter two featured both sisters without an instrument, hands stridently at their sides, fists almost imperceptibly clenching and unclenching. The main set finished with Ivy Tripp’s closer, “Bonfire”—Katie Crutchfield has a thing for endings.

In the encore, she returned with her guitar but without the rest of the band. Someone in the audience yelled, “I love you,” and Crutchfield dryly responded, “You don’t know me.” And yet, in a limited sort of way, the crowd did know her. Her last three songs, “Grass Stain,” “Summer of Love” and “Noccalula” found the singer unadorned, alone, her best and barest self. The lyrics for that final number, the last song off Crutchfield’s first solo LP, American Weekend, rang out: “I’m going to New York/ I’ll be much better there.” When she wrote that, she couldn’t have known there would be hundreds of silent fans, some mouthing this very line, in the confines of the five boroughs. She wasn’t better last night at Music Hall than she would be elsewhere on the Ivy Tripp tour. But she was great in New York, as she said would be. She was ready, and for an hour, she had it all. —Geoff Nelson | @32Feet


José González Takes Music Hall of Williamsburg to Church

April 9th, 2015

José González – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 8, 2015

jose-gonzalezLive music has a unique power to transport us, to turn a rock club into something greater than just cinder blocks and floorboards. Sometimes it’s a singer’s voice or a musician’s extreme talent at playing an instrument; sometimes it’s the lights or stage production; sometimes it’s just the people in the room, the way they connect with the people on the stage—and sometimes it’s just some inexplicable magic. But last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, it was all of these things in abundance as Jose González transported, transformed and transcended. González and his band performed in front of a sort of DIY backdrop, a minimalist line drawing of a mountain range with cartoon renderings of stars, sun and rain—a perfect representation of where we were about to travel: some lo-fi high-altitude dream world.

They opened the show with “Afterglow,” González singing, “All of this will be gone someday,” as his voice and guitar reverberated through the crowd, creating perfect harmony with the rest of his band and the room itself. There was something special in the resonances there, the way the vocals filled the space and the guitars hummed, matching some natural frequency of the moment. Music Hall became a church of sorts and the crowd was completely entranced. “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” was like a swaying pocket watch, guitars and bongos and finger snaps looped over and over until the audience was hypnotized. For the rest of the set, the energy among González, the band and the audience was palpable: few words were spoken, but the ideas and the shared moments were perfectly conveyed. At moments the power of the music’s vibrations and the space was awe-inspiring, and a hushed amazement bubbled across the crowd, but everyone seemed worried about breaking the spell and the murmurs quickly dissipated.

Halfway through, González did a few solo songs, highlighting his impressive talents. The sweep of five fingers across the six strings of his guitar created a beauty unlike anything you could imagine such a simple gesture could do. The band—a stripped-down affair of light percussion, additional guitar and minimal synth—returned for a strong closing section highlighted by “What Will” and an intensely rhythmic cover of Arthur Russell’s “This Is How We Walk on the Moon.” The set’s final song, “Cycling Trivialities” began precisely at 11:11, that magical moment of synchronicity and symmetry, González asking, “So how’s it going to be when it all comes down,” matching the bleak beauty of the opening song. Lit from behind, the band stood in silhouette, adding in clarinet and xylophone. After one more solo number, González completed the journey with “Leaf Off/The Cave,” each word and chord resonating in more ways than one. As the song built to its final conclusion, the crowd followed the rhythm and clapped along. It wasn’t just an everyday clap-along, but a powerful communal moment as he sang, “What it means to be alive,” the spell still strong even after the music concluded. —A. Stein | @Neddyo




The London Souls Celebrate New Music at The Bowery Ballroom

April 8th, 2015

The London Souls – The Bowery Ballroom – April 7, 2015

The London Souls – The Bowery Ballroom – April 7, 2015
The London Souls used to be a trio, so I have to admit I was a little nervous when they showed up to The Bowery Ballroom last night without a bassist. But the duo put on a set massive enough that you could have sworn you were watching them at a summer festival. The hometown show was in celebration of the long-awaited release of the band’s second LP, Here Come the Girls, an album that was written years ago but was delayed as singer and guitarist Tash Neal fought back from a near-fatal car accident.

Neal isn’t the still, silent type, like Gary Clark Jr. He emotes as he plays—every note Neal sang or strummed was accompanied by a lip curl, a head shake or an eyebrow raise. His body swayed with each bent string or blue note. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel the emotion behind the music rather than interpreting it in your mind. Chris St. Hilaire’s drumming was sort of the opposite of that, machine-like and furious but a loose style that doesn’t sacrifice precision. He almost didn’t move above his shoulders—if your view was blocked, he could have been typing an essay or knitting a scarf for all you knew. But from the shoulders down, he was a blur of sticks, wrists and elbows.

St. Hilaire struck his drum set hard enough that it sounded like we were listening to a rhythm from a different decade. It was proof that his drumming is the reason (as much, if not more than Neal’s abilities) that the band draws comparisons to Zeppelin, Cream and the Experience. That’s just a few ways of saying that even as a duo, the London Souls still rock harder than most bands you hear. Their now more unapologetic sound is tailor-made for their louder tracks, like “Steady Are You Ready,” but even their more melodic tunes, like “When I’m With You,” still hold up. The duo might sound a little cleaner when they’re accompanied by a third musician onstage, but a clean sound is overrated. Two is all they need. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com


Damien Rice’s Triumphant Return at the Beacon Theatre

April 6th, 2015

Damien Rice – Beacon Theatre – April 4, 2015

It’s been a very long eight years without Damien Rice’s moody, heart-aching ballads. And there’s something to be said about stretches of absence that perpetrate a yearning desire for an artist’s new material. Rice isn’t the kind of guy who’s rolling in the green, but rather he’s the type of guy who moves from his native Ireland to Iceland to renew his love for making music. Finally, back with his long-anticipated third studio album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, he’s embarked on a tour minus his longtime collaborator, Lisa Hannigan, who’s set off on her own solo effort. And for this longstanding fan, it was hard news to take as the two truly complemented each other, but Rice’s headlining set at a sold-out Beacon Theatre on Saturday night provided a bittersweet reprieve.

Beginning the show literally on his knees, Rice opened with an acoustic rendition of “My Favourite Faded Fantasy” before taking his place behind the microphone for “9 Crimes.” The set interweaved his last album with treasured fan favorites. And thanks to his Irish brogue, women in the balcony requested he take of his shirt, but Rice playfully responded by serenading them with “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man” instead. I’m sure another gent in the audience, Mr. Jon Bon Jovi, appreciated the ploy. As if that weren’t cheeky enough, Rice requested some wine only to raise his glass while commencing with an old favorite, “Cheers.” From lyrics to personal reflections, he philosophized throughout the night about the driving theme in his songs—love. It takes a lot for a solo artist to command a stage like the Beacon, but Rice made it seem effortless as he rode old tunes to new and imaginative heights. That was especially true for “I Remember,” when he had to make up for the missing duality of Hannigan’s chilly work, which was acknowledged by an outspoken fan who yelled, “Where’s Lisa?”

With the performance drawing to a close, Rice returned for an encore with a harmonium-accompanied version of “Long Long Way,” a rollicking “Volcano” and “The Greatest Bastard.” Introducing his fellow countryman with sentimental stories about seeing him as a teenager, Glen Hansard took the stage unprepared but still managed a flawless take of “High Hope.” To cap off the night, the two covered Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2,” a location-appropriate nod to the Big Apple and its history of folk singer-songwriters. —Sharlene Chiu


Houndmouth Are Unrelentingly Energetic at Union Transfer

April 6th, 2015

Houndmouth – Union Transfer – April 4, 2015

During the second chorus of “Sedona,” it struck me: I hadn’t listened too closely to Houndmouth’s lyrics prior to seeing them on Saturday at Union Transfer, but that night the words had direct meaning. As the band sang, “I remember, I remember when the neon used to burn so bright and pink/ A Saturday night kind of pink,” a neon pink sign reading HOUNDMOUTH glowed atop the stage—and it was a Saturday night. The only other time reference was when drummer-singer Shane Cody called out that Wisconsin had beaten Kentucky in the Final Four.

Otherwise, Houndmouth played in a time warp. The guys—guitarist-singer Matt Myers, bassist-singer Zak Appleby and Cody—wore eccentric vintage outfits with deep V-neck shirts while keyboardist-singer Katie Toupin donned a shimmering blue dress. At times,
it seemed like they were trying to approximate Fleetwood Mac’s aesthetic. Toupin looked and sounded the part of an ethereal songstress while Myers stood at the front of the stage, high-kicking during solos. It worked for them, though, and throughout a set list comprised of material from their first album and their newest, Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth were unrelentingly energetic.

Most of the songs sounded like they should be played in front of an audience rather than in a studio, especially when they climaxed with instrumental swells and big harmonies. But there were quiet moments too, like when Toupin played guitar and sweetly sang, “Gasoline.” And even if they wear their influences on their sleeves, quite literally, as the classic-rock costumes indicated, Houndmouth don’t come across as overly sentimental, and it’s appreciated. The quartet gave shout-outs to some of the Philadelphia bands they admire, especially Dr. Dog. And despite not sounding alike, both groups approach a live show similarly: work hard, have fun and relax. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic



Jessie Ware Doesn’t Hold Back at Terminal 5

April 2nd, 2015

Jessie Ware – Terminal 5 – April 2, 2015

Jessie Ware – Terminal 5 – April 2, 2015
“Mazel tov!” shouted Jessie Ware to the man and woman—who had just gotten engaged in front of the sold-out Terminal 5 crowd—she invited onstage last night. Yes, it should come as no surprise that the artist who has penned dozens of lovelorn, yearning pop songs (and was recently married herself) is a romantic at heart, beaming at the newly betrothed couple before serenading us with “You & I (Forever),” a perfectly fitting song for the moment. “That was so much better than my husband’s proposal,” joked Ware.

The surprise engagement was one of the night’s many high points, as Ware performed songs from her new album, Tough Love, and from 2012’s Devotion, opening the show with “Running,” a sleek, Sade-esque number punctuated by understated flashing lights. “Champagne Kisses,” a new song as light and bubbly as the titular beverage, and tunes like “Kind of … Sometimes … Maybe” and “Sweetest Song” kept the mood bright and dreamy, while others, like “Tough Love” and “Wildest Moments,” carried more emotional heft, with Ware abandoning the cool and collected restraint displayed on the previous songs for a more raw, direct approach.

The London singer-songwriter closed the show with “Say You Love Me,” a powerful number that manages to stand out in a catalog full of songs about love and all of its complexities. Without holding back on the emotion or the vocal delivery, Ware belted out the tune’s velvety melody, enlisting the crowd to join in and sing along, a nice show of solidarity for the joys and agonies of love. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com


Alt-J Sell Out Madison Square Garden and Win Over New York City

March 31st, 2015

Alt-J – Madison Square Garden – March 30, 2015

Alt-J – Madison Square Garden – March 30, 2015
Conquering the shores of America has never been easy for most British bands. Sure there are the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, to name a few, but on the whole, it’s not a simple feat. And now, Alt-J have not only conquered the States but they’ve also played the legendary Madison Square Garden. NPR has lauded the band with high praise: “No one else is making music like this. This is an original, innovative band with a brilliant present and a brighter future.” And with only two albums to their name, the four-piece—including Cameron Knight, who’s replaced one of the founding members, Gwil Sainsbury, on bass and sampler—conquered a sold-out MSG last night.

I’ve often shied away from arena shows, longing for the ambience of a smaller, more intimate venue, but I wouldn’t let myself miss another chance to see Alt-J live. The crowd rumbled into applause and cheers as the house lights dimmed to welcome the quartet to a backlit stage. Lead vocalist Joe Newman creeped into “Hunger of the Pine” to kick off the set, however the performance was largely a trip down memory lane with the bulk of the set list comprised of material from their debut album, An Awesome Wave, and fans joined in to sing along to favorites “Fitzpleasure” and “Matilda.”

Leaving the music to speak for them, Alt-J didn’t utter much more than a few thank-yous and some genuine appreciation to be in New York City, playingt their biggest local venue to date. And as a nod to their own hometown, the band pulled out “a really old song,” “Leon,” from their Leeds days. Newman’s and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton’s choral-like vocals rang across the cavernous building as drummer Thom Green pounded the skins, particularly shining on the encore’s closing song, “Breezeblocks.”

Despite my qualms about seeing Alt-J in such a large venue, their music seemed to transcend space, transporting me back to my days of hitting festivals in the UK while still enclosed in hallowed MSG. I couldn’t help but join in for the final serenade of “Please don’t go, please don’t go, I love you so, I love you so” because the audience and I didn’t want the show to end. The lads from Leeds have certainly won over New York City, if not America. —Sharlene Chiu

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com


Swans Leave Music Hall of Williamsburg Wanting More

March 23rd, 2015

Swans – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 22, 1015

(Photo: Matias Corral)

(Photo: Matias Corral)

There was a buzz in the air last night, quite literally, as Swans shook Music Hall of Williamsburg during a powerhouse two-hour set. The show began with percussionist Thor Harris taking a mallet to a gong and building a reverberating noise that filled the room. In turn, drummer Phil Puleo first joined him and then Christoph Hahn on lap steel guitar. They spent several minutes slowly building reverberation that had my clothes buzzing against my skin. Eventually frontman Michael Gira and the rest of the band joined in and layered guitars and bass, creating an all-immersive, almost Zen-like wall of sound for “Frankie M.” This wasn’t music you listened to as much as you felt: a wind of guitars in your face, the low-end shake of bass and drums rattling your extremities. The first “movement”—from the opening gong to Gira subtly arching his eyebrow and the band collectively crashing to an end—was 35 minutes of traveling through the looking glass.

From there Gira led the band through several more sections, perhaps they were songs, or maybe they were more than that. Each stretched on in time, seemingly in units of 12 minutes: 12, 24, 36 ticks of the hand went by as the six musicians locked into looping soundscapes, hypnotizing and brutalizing the crowd. There weren’t solos so much as six simple patterns played by each man, combined into fractal geometries. Along the way the vibrations grew into tremors, eventually rattling the floor. At some point early in the set, Harris lost his shirt, moving bare chested from violin to vibraphone to haunted-house percussion, revealing the underlying, dark secrets of each song as the band crashed wave after wave of sound on the Sunday night audience.

Gira held court, often raising his arms like a big bird (a Swan, perhaps). His banter was minimal, apologizing for unnoticeable voice troubles with “I have 61 years of angst in my throat.” His vocals were more like chanted koans, mostly undecipherable in the mix, but a necessary component of the ritualistic music. As the clock moved deeper into the night, I tried to convince myself to call it an evening, but found that I couldn’t pull myself away. Like the rest of the people in the room, I was mesmerized. By midnight, the venue was full on rumbling, my teeth actually chattering as the energy ratcheted up to maximum level before ending in a set-closing thermonuclear explosion of cymbals and guitars. Stunned, the audience gave a hearty ovation as Gira and company took a bow and left the stage with a thank you and the promise of a new album out soon, leaving behind plenty of buzz.
—A. Stein | @Neddyo




A 75th Birthday Bash Full of Smiles and Classic Rock

March 17th, 2015

Phil Lesh – Capitol Theatre – March 16, 2015

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead and, if you haven’t noticed, their music seems to be everywhere, a constant presence that transcends genre, age and geography. Part of that constant presence has been the band’s bassist, Phil Lesh, who, remarkably, turned 75 on Sunday and is celebrating (how else?) with a run of jam-filled shows at the Capitol Theatre. Monday night’s band of Lesh’s friends included Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule on guitar and vocals, Eric Krasno of Soulive on the other guitar, and longtime Lesh running mates John Molo and Rob Barraco on drums and keyboards respectively. The evening began with a session of noodling: free-form, aqueous improvisation that featured all five musicians interacting with the others, like wolves licking their chops before devouring helpless prey.

The set proper bounced back and forth between the Dead’s repertoire, older blues-based material like “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” and “Cosmic Charlie” interleaved with later-era groove-rockers like “West L.A. Fadeaway” and “Alabama Getaway.” Of course, the songs themselves were merely starting points for various shades of space-outs and left-turn excursions. The walls of the Capitol Theatre were populated in tie-dyed fractal explosions that seemed to open up wormholes to past eras, 20, 30, 40 years back. Krasno’s clean-toned guitar played counterpoint to Haynes’s gritty licks, but Lesh was the constant force, running circles around his younger crew. Each measure of bass playing was a snowflake— clear, defined crystal, beautifully unique. The first set ended with an optimistic spring theme: “Here Comes Sunshine” brought a projected sunrise to the theater’s walls with Lesh pushing Haynes and Molo while Baracco glued together the sonic collage, segueing into the Allman Brothers classic “Blue Sky,” the ceiling turning a bright indigo as Haynes ceded the floor for Krasno and Baracco solos before shining his own big, Allmans-y turn.

The second set picked up where the first left off, another round of free jamming, Lesh slithering through multiple THC-soaked themes before charging through a few more covers: Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” and later Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” the band cracking open classic-rock radio and lacing it with LSD-inspired psychedelia. There’s often a concern with the various Dead-cover outfits about who will sing which song, but really it’s not a problem because the guy next to you will (probably) know most of the words and sing it out, loud and proud. The smiles and the twirling dancers were as integral to these shows as the weird set-list variations like the traditional “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower” being split up by “Just a Little Light” and “Uncle John’s Band” as the quintet mostly pulled off Monday night. Krasno shined best during the closing section, finding comfort in build-up solos and going toe-to-toe with Haynes. A supercharged ovation brought back the band for an emotional “Stella Blue,” Haynes belting it out as those in the smiling audience sang along, many swaying in one another’s arms. But no smiles were bigger than the constant one on the 75 year old leading the way. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(See Phil Lesh play the Capitol Theatre on Thursday night.)


Twerps and Ultimate Painting Provide a Friday Night of Laid-Back Rock

March 16th, 2015

Twerps – Rough Trade NYC – March 13, 2015

It was a slacker’s paradise at Rough Trade NYC on Friday night, featuring a couple of bands with a laid-back style that suited the packed house just fine. Ultimate Painting took the penultimate slot playing with that breezy ’60s Brit sound that’s best suited to London bands. They opened with “Ultimate Painting,” their debut album’s title track, singing, “I don’t know what I’m thinking” and sounding as wonderfully can’t be bothered as a group that only managed to come up with one name for everything. The principals, Jack Cooper and James Hoare, tossed vocals and guitar riffs back and forth like playing some lazy afternoon tennis before tea. The melodies were perfectly matched to the vibe, easy to listen to and easy to love. Following a handful of keepers from the album, Ultimate Painting played a few new ones, including “It’s on You,” a slick bit of bluesy pop with some just-fancy-enough guitar interplay and the lyric “C’mon, man, you made me late,” nicely capturing the vibe. “Central Park Blues” was somewhere between contemporaries Parquet Courts and Courtney Barnett, with a slightly angrier vibe contrasting with a sweet guitar that painted a kind of stoner New York City. Their set closed with “Ten Street,” a thumping drumbeat paved the way for a wailing guitar excursion that went as deep as advertised before ending in exactly 10 minutes.

Ending the show, Twerps, from Melbourne, Australia, took the jangly, slacker vibe to the extreme. Marty Frawley and Julia McFarlane split the vocal duties, alternating on songs mostly about love and/or heartbreak like it’s the only thing worth singing about—sounding like they were singing along to themselves in the mirror. With delightful melodies and an almost platonic ideal indie-rock sound, there was much for the crowd to love. With Frawley and McFarlane providing double duty on the singing and guitar licks, the real hidden secret of their live set was Alex MacFarlane on drums. His rhythms and textures added a vital flavor to the sound, giving the effortless sound a much-needed zest, from the mallets on “I Don’t Mind” to the tambourine-heavy playing on “Shoulders.” The latter featured a nifty guitar riff and built to a climactic 15 seconds of angry bliss.

The set picked up a bit of steam midway through, McFarlane’s guitar finding new ways to perfectly highlight the lo-fi songs as the Friday night crowd loosened up to dance. Even the banter had a lackadaisical demeanor: Frawley commented on a band they had opened for that said the same thing every night in a bit of meta chatter, and then later he and McFarlane mentioned how they had a bit of an argument in a way that was unclear the matter had been fully resolved. Still, it was tough to imagine any of them getting too worked up on a night as chill and laid back as Friday proved to be. —A. Stein | @Neddyo




Moon Duo Color Outside the Lines at Rough Trade NYC

March 10th, 2015

Moon Duo – Rough Trade NYC – March9, 2015

The first thing most will notice and likely joke about when seeing Moon Duo live is that they are, indeed, a trio. Playing before a packed Rough Trade NYC last night, the Wooden Shjips spin-off proved that they’re willing to color outside the proverbial lines in more ways than just redefining what a duo is. The band—Ripley Johnson on guitar, Sanae Yamada on keys and John Jeffrey on drums—took the stage beneath a wash of multihued horizontal lines dancing on the screen behind them. Except the projections actually extended well beyond the apportioned white screen, stretching almost around onto the side walls, pulling the entire room into the musical chaos happening onstage. Working almost in silhouette against the flickering lights, the trio churned at full volume, looping drumbeats providing a foundation for psychedelia highlighted by synthesizer organ and electronica.

Moon Duo are a band that longs to be heard live. And while their set largely featured material from the recently released Shadow of the Sun, the songs were just the black outline for the music to quickly jag out from. Vocals felt like a murmured suggestion and the melodies some sort of fevered surf-y doo-wop. Before long, Johnson was deep in a relentless solo, streaks of Crayola guitar licks filling the page. Those guitar jams took on many forms, from lightning staccato licks to more soaring drawn-out hallucinations. These sections lasted just a bit longer than they had to and then as if on some hidden cue, they would end to make room for the next. While the band lacked a bassist, the low end was omnipresent through a combination of drums and synths and guitar drone. Jeffery’s bass drum was a constant paranoid telltale heart, seemingly pounding up through the floor.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about Moon Duo’s live set was just how danceable it was. While the guitars continued to go extraterrestrial, the rhythms remained rooted, providing a beat that had most of the packed crowd moving. Of course, in the nonconformist spirit of the music, the audience proved there were many ways to dance to it, including not at all. And after an intense set of breaking the mold, it was kind of impressive that Moon Duo ended their last jam exactly an hour after starting. But those in the still-hypnotized crowd clamored for more, and they were obliged, the Duo that’s a trio laying down a ten-minute encore featuring “Animal” and plenty of scribbling chaos for good measure. —A. Stein | @Neddyo