Tag Archives: Chad Berndtson


Greensky Bluegrass Headline PlayStation Theater Friday and Saturday

January 24th, 2018

We’re in another golden age of string bands: traditional, progressive, genre-smashing, fleet-fingered, young, old, awesome. In that vanguard is the Michigan-bred Greensky Bluegrass, who formed in 2000, broke out in 2006 after winning the Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition and have spent much of the last decade shoring up a national fan base adoring of their ridiculously fun live shows. They’ve won their success the old-fashioned way—town by town, venue by venue, fan by fan. In New York City, especially, they’ve graduated to larger venues almost every year and are now fit enough to headline PlayStation Theater in Times Square for two weekend nights, this Friday and Saturday. By all accounts 2017 was another watershed year for the fivesome, for the first time selling out Red Rocks, outside Denver, and continuing to tour behind their best album to date, 2016’s Shouted, Written Down & Quoted (stream it below). Anders Beck (dobro), Mike Devol (upright bass), Paul Hoffman (mandolin), Dave Bruzza (guitar) and Michael Arlen Bont (banjo) collaborate with a level of simpatico obvious before they even pluck a note. They’ve created a formidable body of work by adhering to bluegrass, roots and string-band traditions while comfortably subverting them with no small amount of rock and roll mojo. “We just speak the same language, and it’s been that way since I started in the band,” Beck told JamBase last September. “A lot of it is how we all came to music. We weren’t raised bluegrass players.” What you’re guaranteed is a varied set list, from Greensky originals like “Living Over” (above, live) and “Wings for Wheels” to songs by everyone from Bruce Springsteen and the Grateful Dead to Peter Tosh and traditional railroad tunes like “Reuben’s Train.” They hold it all together with staggering improvisational chops tight as a constrictor knot but aggressively energetic. Don’t be surprised if you’re still dancing three hours later. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson


It’s the End of the Year as We Know It

December 28th, 2017

With 2018 fast approaching, The House List takes a look back at 2017.

Adela Loconte, Photographer @adelaloconte
Top Five Favorite Shows
At the Drive-In, Terminal 5, March 22
2. Arca & Jesse Kanda Live, Brooklyn Steel, July 6
3. The Flaming Lips, Terminal 5, March 9
4. PJ Harvey, Brooklyn Steel, April 20
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kings Theatre, November 7

Chad Berndtson, Writer @cberndtson
Top Five Favorite Shows
No music fan sees everything, and so much depends on the time, the night, the conditions—my ephemeral joys might be your disappointments. That’s part of the fun, right? Among scores of shows I saw in 2017, here are five nights that stuck with me.
1. Drive By Truckers, The Space at Westbury, February 10
One of the great live bands of the last 20 years has gotten leaner and meaner, unafraid of political jabs or paint-peeler guitar solos.
2. Explosions in the Sky, Capitol Theatre, April 22
Ominous music, loaded with portent, staring into the abyss or looking with a smile at some triumph high in the sky. Heavy, cinematic and deep.
3. Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons, Mercury Lounge, April 30
A master class in old-school, highly emotional rock energy. Still don’t understand why more people don’t know him, 30-plus years into a career of rough-scuffed folk rock delivered sometimes with tenderness and sometimes with Crazy Horse–like abandon.
4. The xx, Forest Hills Stadium, May 19
OK, I’m buying: Hipster as hell, but what they did was paint an outdoor venue in darkly beautiful soundscapes. The most fun I’ve had getting lost in a band in some time. They turn large, unforgiving venues into intimate listening rooms—and get you dancing.
5. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Music Hall of Williamsburg, November 20
Nelson has learned a lot from two musical dads: his actual dad, Willie, and also Neil Young, whom the Promise of the Real have backed on and off for years now. The type of show that defines the word swagger—a generous meal of rock, country, folk, blues and R&B by an old-school showman barely in his prime.

Dan Rickershauser, Writer @d4nricks
Top Five Favorite Albums
Big Thief, Capacity
The one record I found myself returning to again and again. It was a shitty year, but something about this album soothed my sorrows. Adrianne Lenker’s songs feel personal yet completely pull you in. May she never let go.
2. Kendrick Lamar, Damn.
This may be my least favorite Kendrick Lamar record to date and yet it’s still the second best album that came out this year. The man’s a legend and the world seems to know it. It’s a good thing he’s so humble.
3. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
Adam Granduciel, the obsessive studio wizard, put out another beauty, this record even more gorgeous than the last. It’s the sound of rock perfection from a perfectionist.
4. Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm
Katie Crutchfield’s songwriting just keeps getting better. She comes out of the gates swinging with some dangerously catchy jams.
5. Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins
Of all the great indie bands of the late Aughts returning with new albums this year, Grizzly Bear’s takes the cake. Way too many critics slept on this one!

Pat King, Writer @mrpatking
Top Five Favorite Albums
1. Jens Lekman, Life Will See You Now
I had never really given Jens Lekman a chance as a songwriter, but this year it finally clicked for me in a big way. I got laid off from a job that I thought I loved early on in 2017 and was feeling pretty lost and listless in life. I was taking the train from the city to upstate New York to help my dad with a few big projects and was feeling incredibly low sitting alone on Metro North. All of the sudden, I heard “To Know Your Mission” and was completely overcome with emotion. It was the perfect tune for me at that time and each song that followed helped me understand my situation a little more clearly. I couldn’t believe how wise and endearing Lekman is as a lyricist.
2. Mark Mulcahy, The Possum in the Driveway
Whenever the discussion veers toward musicians who have not been given their just dues, I always think of Mark Mulcahy. As the frontman of Miracle Legion and the Nickelodeon-sponsored Polaris (“ay-yay-yay-yi, Hey Sandy”), Mulcahy had been known for a certain type of feel-good college jangle pop that was certainly a product of the ’90s. What many people may not realize is that his solo releases have been more emotionally and musically rewarding than either of those old projects, and he’s been one of few artists who each album he releases is better than his last. Over the past couple of decades he has reinvented himself as one of the great American balladeers, with lyrics and a voice that can cut you down to the bone. This year’s the Possum in the Driveway is a brilliant testament to his powers as a songwriter and one that proves he is in a league of his own.
3. Pallbearer, Heartless
Pallbearer have always shown promise of being one the best doom-metal bands around. But with their self-titled third album, they’ve transcended the genre and gelled into one of today’s most exciting rock bands. The songs are slightly shorter (although still around eight minutes) but have somehow intensified their scope in a more epic way. With this LP, Brett Campbell has made his case for being one of the best singers in heavy music. His lines never reach the outrageous heights of some of his peers in metal but bring enough power to stop you in your tracks. The same goes for this record’s instrumentation. The songs never feel like they have too many parts or get played out to the point of metal parody. It’s just a front-to-back banger that finally cemented Pallbearer as one of the best around.
4. Björk, Utopia
There aren’t many artists who you could say are peerless in popular music. Björk is definitely one of those artists. Every time she releases a new album, fans wait with anticipation to see where she if she will be able to clear the bar she set for herself on the one before. Utopia is such a statement as a complete work as she tries to understand and find happiness in her life after exploring decimating heartbreak on her last release, Vulnicura. It’s amazing to hear her reach the same breathtaking heights as a visionary artist this far into her career. Bow down and give respect.
5. Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock delivered the back-to-basics Soft Boys–style album that many of his fans had been longing for for years. Teaming up with producer (and ex-Raconteur) Brendan Benson, Hitchcock turned up the amps and delivered 10 near-flawless rock songs that reminded us why he is one of the most inventive songwriters around. His wit as a lyricist is still ever-present, but hearing him deliver guitar parts reminiscent of Underwater Moonlight on songs like “I Want to Tell You What I Want” and “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” was one of the most welcome surprises of 2017 for me.
Pat King’s Top 20 Best of 2017 Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/126049064/playlist/2idgUHVCiGSJqKkwkfex8v?si=wewT–RFRfWWxEVV3rmWsQ.

Sharlene Chiu, Writer
Top Five Favorite Shows with “New” Artists
1. SZA, Brooklyn Steel, December 10

So if you haven’t yet heard of SZA, you won’t be able to escape her name anytime soon. Riding a debut album that has already produced two platinum singles, the singer played a very sold-out Brooklyn Steel the night after performing on SNL. Her vibrant stage presence was supported by the Sing Harlem Choir. Girl’s going places and you’ll see her next year at the Grammy’s, where she’s the most nominated woman with five nods.
2. Maggie Rogers, The Bowery Ballroom, April 11
When a video of Pharrell’s reaction to Ms. Rogers’ demo of “Alaska” went viral, she was on the up-and-up. Her performance at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom was not only a homecoming, but it was also a beginning of bigger stages and larger audiences. She became teary and confessional near the end of the set, reminiscing about the previous times she’d been to the venue as an audience member. After her pair of Bowery shows, she set off on a whirlwind international tour taking her to Europe, Australia and Japan.
3. The Cactus Blossoms, Mercury Lounge, July 12
The first time I caught the Cactus Blossoms’ noir-infused honky-tonk was at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco last year. When I saw they would be playing a late show at Mercury Lounge, I had to be there. Friends, I do not go out late on school nights, but for brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey, I made an exception. Their languid waltzes were the perfect soundtrack for steamy July.
4. Jay Som, Rough Trade NYC, June 6
A triad of Asian-American songwriters, including Mitski, Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som have been self-producing music since last year. The latter rolled into a sold-out Rough Trade NYC to charm the crowd with not only her skilled musicianship, but also with her charming wit. Som was recently shortlisted by NPR’s All Songs Considered in their year-end best of 2017.
5. Violents and Monica Martin, Rough Trade NYC, April 26
OK, this one isn’t technically new, but the pairing was. Monica Martin, best known as the frontwoman for the now-on-hiatus Phox, and producer Jeremy Larson aka Violents teamed up for this rare tour. Larson has collaborated with female vocalists before, but this one was special. Songs were paired with cinematic footage ranging from scenes from House Party to sweeping black-and-white scenery. What still sticks in my memory was a haunting cover of Frank Ocean’s “Self Control.”






Twiddle Need No Introduction at the Space at Westbury on Wednesday

November 27th, 2017

Twiddle – the Space at Westbury – November 22, 2017

At some point, up-and-comers on a hot streak don’t just keep coming up—they arrive. And in the past two years, that’s happened to Twiddle, the Vermont quartet that through aggressive touring and a relentless, old-school, word-of-mouth approach to fan-base cultivation, has earned a place in the conversation of groups that define this next generation of jam bands. They may not be for everybody, as someone once said about another Vermont foursome heavy on improvisational chops, left-of-center songwriting and a constellation of influences. But they do what it is they do in earnest, and what they do is take quirky, friendly rock, funk, reggae and boogie tunes—written with both a free-associative innocence and a knowing wryness—and stretch them wide, wringing out their jammy possibilities, whether that takes five minutes or 45.

And man, Twiddle are infectious: Singer-guitarist Mihali Savoulidis, keyboardist Ryan Dempsey, bassist Zdenek Gubb and drummer-percussionist Brook Jordan are obviously having so much fun together that you get the sense they’d be doing this regardless of whether crowds showed up. As it happens, crowds do show up, and the Space at Westbury’s packed assembly was a typically lively one on Wednesday night, the first of three local Thanksgiving shows to close Twiddle’s fall tour. The band was smiley and loose—are they ever not smiley and loose?—and indulged one long, shape-shifting headliner set like they had all the time in the world. Shows like Twiddle’s are defined by ephemera—this moment, these players, played like this, with these progressions, asides and hairpin turns, and all in a way that by definition will never happen the same way again.

Twiddle built their Space at Westbury set around two expansive suites, one involving the exhilarating jam vehicle “Amydst the Myst,” and the other around fan favorite “Doinkinbonk!!!,” allowing all four members ample room to stretch out over Gubb’s roiling bass in a series of chameleonic jam segments. The band customarily threw in some guests too, including guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, a frequent Twiddle-in–New York sit-in, who stepped out for a shredding “Syncopated Healing,” and keyboardist Josh Dobbs, of local favorites Cats Under the Stars, for the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon.” Twiddle have hit a point now where any show they play is a good introduction, and this was a fine specimen. But based on the roars of appreciably larger crowds, we’re past the introduction stage. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson


Lukas Nelson Goes Real and Raw at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 21st, 2017

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 20, 2017

Lukas Nelson, yep, Willie’s son, mmm hmm, sounds remarkably similar in voice, yada yada yada. We get that out of the way because it’s a little cliché by now, although Nelson certainly had to know what he was signing up for in the wake of his dad’s more-than-60 year career as a legend of country and popular music—and sounding a little, or a lot, like dear old dad ain’t exactly something to sweat. But the even better news is that Lukas is doing a damn fine job carving his own path while staying true to his pedigree: His music goes deep, sounds great loud or soft, tugs at downright Willie-like strands of universal truth and heartache, and is a rollicking good time, through and through.

Nelson and his stalwart band, Promise of the Real, closed a slam-bang tour last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, showing he and they have learned a lot from two musical fathers, Willie, of course, and also Neil Young, whose been backed by Promise of the Real off and on for the last two years. But the takeaway is that Lukas isn’t the second coming of either Willie or Young so much as the first coming of Lukas Nelson. His was a gutsy, emotional, genre-hopping set, heavy with material from Promise of the Real’s outstanding eponymous 2017 album, and full feeling at just over an hour and a half. Behind the throttle of a six-piece band that incorporated soulful keys as often as it did gnarly pedal steel, it was possible to call this good-time rock and roll without further pinning it down, although the show had everything from country and soul to ragged blues and bar-band boogie.

“Set Me Down on a Cloud” soared like a gospel tune, while “Four Letter Word” and “Die Alone” were roughed-up rock, sometimes in an early ’70s Stones vein. “Fool Me Once” was a Lukas tune that seemed to straddle honky-tonk and R&B, shot through with gorgeous organ. “Just Outside of Austin” sounded like Willie, but perhaps even more like Glen Campbell, unpretentious and introspective. Throughout, Nelson and team showed a knack for set-list composition, including a mid-show acoustic set and also throwing in some Tom Petty (an acoustic, slow-swinging “Breakdown” with superb crowd accompaniment and a thrilling “American Girl”), and, in perhaps an early Thanksgiving nod to The Last Waltz, the Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” with opener Nikki Lane and members of her band. If there was a standout, it might have been the stand-back-or-get-bowled-over “Forget About Georgia,” which sounded like what old Willie might if he were in a howling mood and fronting Crazy Horse. It began as a bleary-eyed honky-tonk croon and, over 10-plus minutes, mutated into a wailing guitar squall. It was raw and real, no promises needed. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

Photos courtesy of Marc Millman Photography | www.marcmillmanphotos.com/music


Anders Osborne and Jackie Greene in Perfect Balance at the Space

October 23rd, 2017

Anders Osborne and Jackie Greene – the Space at Westbury – October 20, 2017

Jackie Greene and Anders Osborne met through Phil Lesh, of whose Phil Lesh & Friends lineups they’re both alumni. They’ve since each gone on record to say they were simpatico from the beginning, and that isn’t surprising: Both musicians write Americana-driven rock and pop songs with healthy undercurrents of blues and psychedelia. Greene, in recent years, has gone in more of a blues-rock direction from his original folk-pop beginnings. Osborne, still best known for the roiling guitars and ragingly cathartic jams of his electric band, has gone quieter and more introspective with his last few albums. Both artists are as different as they are similar, but you can easily understand the admiration for each other’s material and the kinship they found.

In this setup—which Greene and Osborne have tested and now fashioned into an actual tour—the two are a mostly acoustic duo. Sing some songs, pluck some strings, tell some stories, bathe it all in a winning mojo. At the Space at Westbury on Friday night, they alternated lead vocals, more or less, for a 90-minute set that drew heavily on their respective catalogs and included not only guitars but keyboards, harmonica and touches of banjo. The concert had a relaxed, hootenanny feel: Listen to songs of uplift, some tales of woe, reflections from a learned place. Laugh a little, or laugh a lot, and pass round that whiskey. That it was a folksy gathering—not a smoothly packaged concert presentation—was precisely the point. The deeper appeal of this format is that both musicians agree to play with and play off each other, but take it a level beyond that, investing in the other’s music beyond just accompanying and waiting for the next lead vocal.

Greene added just-right keys to tender Osborne tunes like “Burning Up Slowly,” and with crackling guitar, Osborne scuffed up “Gone Wanderin’,” “Modern Lives,” “Tupelo” and other strong examples of Greene’s pensive/cynical narratives. Their give-and-take worked, again and again. Greene’s “I Don’t Live in a Dream,” in this format, sounded like Bill Withers on the back porch, while Osborne’s “It Can’t Hurt You Anymore” went deep for pathos and Greene’s accompaniment went right along with it. Osborne’s rollicking “Lafayette” was the best of a lot of things, with Osborne, Greene and guest Cris Jacobs having a three-way acoustic-slide summit. The three also picked through the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” at a boozy, laid-back tempo—yet one more simpatico moment. “Fuckin’ Deadheads everywhere!” exclaimed Greene to crowd roars. Yes, including on the stage, but everyone sure felt welcome. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson


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




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


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


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


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


Spafford’s Hot Streak Continues at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 14th, 2017

Spafford – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 13, 2017

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


Jesca Hoop Proves to Be a True Original at Mercury Lounge

March 9th, 2017

Jesca Hoop – Mercury Lounge – March 8, 2017

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


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

February 13th, 2017

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

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



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


Caspian Find Their Mark at Music Hall of Williamsburg

November 18th, 2016

Caspian – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 17, 2016

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