Tag Archives: Grateful Dead

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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

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Two Nights of Psychedelic Pioneer Roky Erickson at Rough Trade NYC

September 1st, 2017

Formed in Austin, Texas, in 1965, the 13th Floor Elevators were psychedelic pioneers, influencing the likes of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, “led by outsider genius Roky Erickson, who combined offbeat spiritualism with crude R&B,” according to Allmusic. “Many have cited them as the first true psychedelic rock band, and if they weren’t, they certainly predated most of the San Francisco bands that gave the sound a global audience. The Elevators played a bracing fusion of garage rock and genre-defying musical exploration powered by Roky Erickson’s feral vocals and rhythm guitar.” Erickson and his bandmates were known as vocal proponents of mind-expanding drugs, and when the frontman was arrested in Texas for the possession of just one joint, he pleaded insanity rather than go to jail for up to a decade. Erickson spent three-and-a-half years in a mental institution and was subjected to electroshock therapy and Thorazine treatments before being released in 1972. He eventually became a notable recluse along the lines of Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, Daniel Johnston and Skip Spence. But Erickson (above, performing “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer” and “Two Headed Dog”) still occasionally found time to record and even tour. His most recent solo release, True Love Cast Out All Evil (stream it below), backed by Okkervil River, came out in 2010. “A tumultuous history hasn’t stopped the former 13th Floor Elevator from achieving greatness,” said NME. And Pitchfork added: “On this affecting and ultimately triumphant album, Erickson comes out on top.” His new tour launches today, and Erickson plays Rough Trade NYC on Tuesday and Wednesday. L.A. experimental rockers Death Valley Girls open both shows.

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Animal Collective Stretch the Limits at Brooklyn Steel on Tuesday

May 24th, 2017

Animal Collective – Brooklyn Steel – May 23, 2017


We have arrived at the stage where there is absolutely no telling what you’re going to get at an Animal Collective show. Essentially, they are the computer-generation equivalent of the Grateful Dead and Phish when it comes to live-performance unpredictability. Impulse and whim stir together with rote knowledge of every song in their nearly 15 years of recordings that have traveled through woods and rocketed into the space age. Their familiarity with one another’s moves from playing on- and offstage is such that the holy triumvirate of Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist can wander off trail to blaze another, then find their way back without a compass. The collective experience akin to being tugged into velvet, open-lake waters, a first time water skier on their rippling currents of electronic sound.

Last night, Animal Collective swam about the confines of Brooklyn Steel like betas in a fish bowl, stretching the limits. Releasing a deluge of strawberry electro jams that oozed outward like they’d been left out in the sun, the band treated the opportunity as kids would a new neighborhood playground, sonically leaping and bounding and beckoning others to join in the frolicking. Over the course of the run of shows since releasing last year’s Painting With, it’s been each member at his control station of sound backed by a drummer. The character of their live performances, without fourth member Deakin, has then taken on the more cubic and elastic tone of Painting With, which didn’t feature Deakin.

From the quicksand of cosmic slop Animal Collective create emerged the type A–personality bounce of “FloriDada” and “Hocus Pocus,” and staying in that key, the wild bunch stretched out their legs on the subsequent The Painters EP by hurling “Peacemaker” into the room to bounce about in a manner resembling Atari’s Breakout. Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s vocal interplay formed a snake dance on “Lying in the Grass” before the gang took us back to older fare like “Summertime Clothes” and “Guys Eyes.” Songs melted into one another as an up-tempo trance-hop version of “Bees” spread over the sizeable room. On some of the set’s jumpier tunes, Tare came forth to dance loosely along with his animalistic vocal calls. When Animal Collective returned for the encore, it was to extend the evening for as long as they could hold their breath under their water world of experiments. Thanking friends and family for coming out to see them at a new playground, the band plunged back in, to the delight of all. On this night, Brooklyn Steel was where the wild things were. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesosteinberg.com

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Gov’t Mule and Chris Robinson Brotherhood Come to SummerStage

May 16th, 2017

Local guitar hero Warren Haynes (vocals and guitar) doesn’t know how to sit still. He’s seemingly always performing, recording, touring or sitting in with someone else. And with a new Gov’t Mule album, the politically charged Revolution Come … Revolution Go, recorded last year on Election Day, due to arrive in just a few weeks, one of the hardest working men in show business is back out on the road with comrades in bluesy Southern-rock jam-band arms Matt Abts (drums and vocals), Danny Louis (keys and vocals) and Jorgen Carlsson (bass). Tomorrow night at SummerStage in Central Park, Gov’t Mule (above, performing “Blind Man in the Dark” at Lockn’) arrive with the like-minded Chris Robinson Brotherhood—the former Black Crowes frontman (vocals and guitar) alongside Neal Casal (guitar and vocals), Adam MacDougall (keys and vocals), Tony Leone (drums) and Jeff Hill (bass). The CRB’s most recent release, Betty’s Self-Rising Southern Blends, Vol. 3 (stream it below), out in March, is filled with live soundboard mixes by famed Grateful Dead audio engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson, terrifically capturing the band live, which just so happens to be the best way to experience Gov’t Mule and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. So don’t miss them live tomorrow night at SummerStage.

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Spafford’s Hot Streak Continues at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 14th, 2017

Spafford – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 13, 2017

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

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

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

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Power Trio Earthless Headline The Bowery Ballroom Tomorrow Night

December 12th, 2016

Influenced by krautrock, Japanese psychedelia and heavier rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Isaiah Mitchell (guitar), Mike Eginton (bass) and Mario Rubalcaba (drums) formed the (primarily) instrumental power trio Earthless (above, performing “Uluru Rock” earlier this year) a decade-and-a-half ago in San Diego. Their most recent release, Acid Crusher/Mount Swan (stream it below), came out earlier this year. “Forget traditional structure, the verse-chorus-riff stuff that your parents instilled in you. Forget the jams the Grateful Dead laid out or the way the Allmans did witchy stuff over at the Fillmore. Forget the way that Can could take you deep inside the music. Forget all that and then brace yourself when it kicks in overtime via your genetic memory. It’s like déjà vu all over again,” raves PopMatters. “Earthless is stoned. Immaculate.” And they are currently working their way up the East Coast to play The Bowery Ballroom tomorrow night. Psychedelic five-piece Ruby the Hatchet open the show.

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Chris Robinson Brotherhood Take Their Time at the Space at Westbury

November 21st, 2016

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

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)

(Photo: Jay Blakesberg)


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

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

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

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

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Bruce Hornsby Comes to the Space at Westbury on Wednesday Night

August 29th, 2016

Over the course of a career that began in the ’80s—the single “The Way It Is” launching him into the mainstream—singer-songwriter and pianist Bruce Hornsby has been difficult to pin down, musically speaking. He’s dabbled in rock, blues, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, classical, Motown. And he’s done it alone, with various backing bands, alongside the Grateful Dead and with Ricky Skaggs. His most recent release, June’s Rehab Reunion (stream it below), was done with his current touring band, the Noisemakers. “It may be just a brief excursion in Bruce Hornsby’s ever growing and eclectic catalog,” says American Songwriter, “but the charming, completely unaffected Rehab Reunion feels like a natural, even logical road to take on a lifelong musical journey that has seldom been predictable.” And according to NPR Music, he “once again hits the sweet spot between joyful improv and immaculate songcraft.” Find out how the new songs sound live when his current tour brings Hornsby (above, performing “Cyclone”) to the Space at Westbury on Wednesday night. Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gill Landry opens the show.

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Dave Harrington’s Merry Pranksters Are Worth the Wait

June 27th, 2016

Dave Harrington’s Merry Pranksters – Rough Trade NYC – June 25, 2016

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Some things are worth waiting for: It wasn’t clear to me that people would gather in the back of Rough Trade NYC at midnight on a Saturday while Dave Harrington and his ensemble checked the sound for their set. Certainly there were other options available (including going home to bed). But we waited patiently (both beer and tacos were available) and Harrington and Co. proved to be well worth it. The band was a one-time grouping of 10 musicians called the Merry Pranksters, gathered for a night of groove-based improvisation. With two drummers, a bassist, a three-person horn section, keyboards, vibraphone and Harrington on guitar, it appeared somewhat unwieldy on the small stage. But under Harrington’s guidance, the band proved to be lithe, opening with a definitive spat of free-form space-out, the drummers quickly found a groove with bassist Spencer Zahn and everyone followed suit, including the dance-ready audience.

Harrington was as much bandleader as lead guitarist—he didn’t jump in for his first solo until 10 minutes into the first jam. The musicians were like different colored Lego pieces, Harrington reaching into the bag, grabbing one and then adding an interlocking brick to the improvised structure. The music came along in chunks of eight to 10 minutes. Deep, funky stretches dissolved into prettier melodic ambiance, which, without fail, built to some stunning, if not slightly dissonant, climaxes. In the best improv sessions, the musicians can’t fear not being perfect. And late on Saturday night, the Merry Pranksters embraced it with plenty of overlapping ideas, noise and weirdness until a breakthrough, a groove was found, and we found our boogie again.

Discord became bliss and vice versa, on repeat. A double-drum section in the middle was followed by a horn-free jam-out that somehow tied together modulated riffs from the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, Harrington at his most triumphant on guitar. The set ended with variations on Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way,” beauty and elegance turning muscular and torrential and then back. The crowd barely diminished—the music striking everyone oblivious to the hour—and chanted for an encore. Harrington obliged, returning to play a lovely solo version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s “Pure Imagination,” looping and weird and certainly worth the wait. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Courtney Barnett Makes the Best of a Rainy Night

June 6th, 2016

Courtney Barnett – Rough Trade NYC – June 5, 2016

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I’m not sure if the proper expression to capture the mood inside the club on Sunday night involved clouds and silver linings or making lemonade out of lemons, but for the lucky (and the wet) who got in, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was a free Courtney Barnett show at Rough Trade NYC. After a severe rainstorm shut down Governors Ball, the show was one of several hastily arranged performances around town—no one inside had woken up that morning planning to be there. Still, unsurprisingly, the room was packed elbow to elbow and the steamy warmth of the crowd fueled chants of “Courtney!” as the lights finally went down.

The performance unintentionally served as a nice spot-check on a career that has exploded exponentially. Absent the massive stage of a larger club or the expansive audience of a festival set, Barnett’s charm and talent were right there for the grabbing. Opening with “Dead Fox,” accompanied by an animated video in full Technicolor flickering behind the trio, the band found a glorious sludge of guitar, bass and drums while the audience started to percolate. “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” began with an appropriately drowsy mood with a rock-out that somewhat unsuspectingly crept up on the crowd. It was a good template for many of her songs, like “Out of the Woodwork”—and the show overall, which balanced expert, phrase-twisting poetry with audience-bouncing rock and roll, each piece building on the previous. The set bounced between songs from her Sometimes I Sit and Think album and the older double EP, plus a few from neither, providing a nice capsule of the Courtney Barnett sound to date. “Depreston” elicited a full-volume sing-along, a sweaty mass of voices nearly drowning out the band’s, but the song somehow never lost its emotional oomph. Less familiar but equally powerful was their cover of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie,” featured on the recent Day of the Dead. As visions of highway-driving tunnel vision filled the screen, the trio filtered the old hippie screed through the Barnett sound: an excellent too-cool stoner blues.

Like the songs contained within, the show built to a fist-pumping rage, the closing section highlighted by “the hits,” like “Avant Gardner” and “Pedestrian at Best.” The room somehow felt even more packed as the band and audience unleashed their full, pent-up, rain-delayed power. Barnett and Co. closed with “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party,” which somehow perfectly, inversely captured the spirit of this special Sunday night show. She claimed it was one of their “favorite shows ever,” which kind of felt like a pickup line, but coming from Barnett, I think most in the room believed her. The encore started with a bit of off-the-cuff goofing, Barnett starting and stopping almost a dozen different classic-rock riffs (think: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Wish You Were Here,” Nirvana), the band hopping in almost perfectly each time, and most in the crowd smiling and laughing imagining how great it would be if they really played any of them. Maybe next rainout they will, but instead the audience made do with the fun finish of “Pickles from the Jar,” getting their last bit of dancing in, the proper expression here involving hay and sunshine. —A. Stein |@Neddyo   

Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com

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Woods Headline Stacked Bill at Music Hall of Williamsburg

May 9th, 2016

Woods – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 7, 2016

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It felt like two was the number of the night at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday when a stacked bill filled the room with heady tunes for a sold-out crowd. The homemade duo called 75 Dollar Bill opened the show. Stretching just three songs into their 30-minute slot, the two musicians took guitar and percussion to deep places with thrilling blues-raga and trance-out hallucinations that absorbed the murmurs of the early crowd.

Ultimate Painting from London, in the middle slot, embraced their throwback sound, evoking both the Velvet Underground and Brit bands of yore. The set bounced between material from their previous two albums as well as newer songs, gaining strength from the power of two, namely the interplay between guitarists-vocalists Jack Cooper and James Hoare. The vocal harmonies and guitar back and forth brought layers of complexities to the seemingly simple sound. On songs like “Ultimate Painting” and “Central Park Blues,” you could feel a rock and roll explosion bubbling beneath the surface, which finally came in the set-closing “Ten Street” with the band joined by members of Woods. The sound took the additional musicians as fuel, driving the two-drum, two-guitar, sax-and-keys ensemble on a long jam-filled journey that dashed across the surface of multiple sections with a dark “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” energy, Hoare hitting many guitar peaks along the way.

Finally, Woods, home in Brooklyn, played as a six- (and sometimes seven-) piece, but two was still felt in their sound: The band flipping easily between two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Indeed, the dual is-it-a-particle-or-a-wave nature of Woods’ sound was in full effect as they filled their set with contrasting moments of beautiful, rustic folk and vicious, dark psychedelic jamming, a balance few bands since the Grateful Dead of old have had. The performance opened with “Morning Light,” off their acclaimed new album, City Sun Eater in the City of Light, Jeremy Earl’s distinctive falsetto and acoustic guitar countered by Jarvis Taveniere’s slide guitar. The opening section showed off Woods’ prettier side, a guided hike through their musical forest on tunes like “Politics of Free” and “Leaves Like Glass,” off 2014’s With Light and With Love, with its crunch of guitar melody, deliberate rhythms and pensive lyrics. But with a change to electric guitar by Earl and a distinctive change of mood, that hike quickly turned into an off the path, which-way-is-out funked-up mind trip. For “Sun City Creeps” they suddenly had a saxophone-trumpet horn section and a dark, dance-ready, bass-drum groove.

At a couple of moments during the show, the music poured out of one song and into the next as if Woods had heated to the point of evaporation, their vapors no longer contained and flowing into the room. The first of these came out of “Sun City Creeps” and led into “The Take,” a slow burner with an evil hypnotic funk that seemed to stretch on forever, jagged guitar soloing over trippy rhythms. The second occurrence was at the end of the set when the music flowed into the closing “With Light and With Love,” which erupted into a fiery extended jam that found climaxes on top of climaxes. The encore featured a jammy “Moving to the Left” and then Cooper returning to help a surprisingly well-fit cover of Graham Nash’s “Military Madness,” perhaps a statement of some sort or maybe just a song to play, but, in the spirit of the evening, most likely both. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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A Double Psychedelic Shot of Melvin Seals and JGB This Weekend

March 3rd, 2016

Melvin Seals (vocals and organ) was already known as a talented performer, recording artist and producer before becoming a longtime member of the Jerry Garcia Band in 1980. But even with the iconic Grateful Dead frontman’s passing more than 20 years ago, Seals, Shirley Starks (vocals), Cheryl Rucker (vocals), Pete Lavezzoli (drums), Dave Hebert (guitar and vocals) and John-Paul McLean (bass) have much more than capably continued the band’s legacy as Melvin Seals and JGB (above, performing “Let It Rock”)—taking concertgoers on a psychedelic musical journey that includes rock, gospel, soul and R&B that’s never the same from night to night. And to that end, they’ll play two totally different shows on Friday night at the Capitol Theatre and then on Saturday at Brooklyn Bowl. All you’ve got to do is pick which to attend. You can’t go wrong.

Five Questions with … Mail the Horse

February 18th, 2016

The folk- and classic rock–loving group Mail the Horse (above, performing “Flowers, Keys & Gasoline”)—Donny Amidon, Michael Hesslein, Chris May and Brendan Smith—first laid roots in coastal New Hampshire before making the move to Brooklyn. They’ve become known locally as a DIY band not to miss. They open for the Cactus Blossoms tonight at Mercury Lounge, and the guys answered Five Questions for The House List.

As a touring band, what’s the best part of staying local to play Mercury Lounge? And do you ever notice if your music is received differently at home versus on the road?
Mercury Lounge has been good to us, and it’s still one of the best places to see music in the city. They pride themselves in establishing solid artist relations, which is something we appreciate. It’s great to see familiar faces but also nice to not know anyone in the crowd and let go a little more. Bottom line is that we like to play and we like to make people feel as many different emotions as possible during our sets. That’s what we pride ourselves on.

Planet Gates came out about a year ago. Are you guys working on anything new? And do you ever fine-tune music live before recording it?
We’ve been writing and are about to start recording in the spring. We performed about half of the tunes on Planet Gates before we recorded them. Studio is always different than a live performance so there are always adjustments to be made. We look forward to seeing where the next set of sessions take us.


What bands have influenced your music?
We all spent a real decent chunk of our formative years listening to way too much of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan obviously, the Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds and other “cosmic” American bands from the ’60s and early ’70s, but we also dig in deep with the Stones—all eras—and on tour our playlists and our tastes tend to be very, very eclectic. We listen to straight up Journey and then we listen to Pharoah Sanders and then we listen to Ryan Adams, then we listen to Gene Clark demos from the late ’70s on YouTube. But we also all listen to a ton of contemporary stuff. There’s an album coming out this week by this band Murals that we’ve been looking forward to for months.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
It’s OK to have something to lean on because it gives you confidence in your abilities,= and you can make it your thing. But it’s very important to step outside the box and challenge yourself musically—or in life in general. Most of the time when you find yourself leaning on something, it means you’re honing in on something. And then once you get closer to it, maybe you catch it, and then move onto something else. Sometimes you never catch it, or sometimes it morphs into something new. It’s like chasing something that you can’t see but can feel. Also, we wrote a few songs over the years with recurring lines about dead dogs. I think all the songs are great, but maybe it’s something else’s time to die!

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
Some of the best songs ever written are stories that don’t relate to the songwriter. It always helps to feel a certain way, but it’s fun putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Singing/ playing with conviction is the most important aspect or no one is going to believe you either way. Two of us had a fiction professor tell us a quote: “Write about what you know, whether it happened to you or not.” If your goal is expressing emotional truth, the facts can become irrelevant. Bruce Springsteen didn’t drag race all those cars himself, right? But “Racing in the Street” sure rings true. Big time.—R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

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BoomBox Bring New Music to The Bowery Ballroom Tonight

February 17th, 2016

The Muscle Shoals, Ala., rock duo BoomBox formed when Zion Godchaux (guitar and vocals) and Russ Randolph (sequencers, groove boxes and turntables) met in 2004. They had each been drawn to music at a young age. Godchaux—the son of the Grateful Dead’s Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux—began playing drums when he was just two, and he took up the guitar and writing songs in his teens. Randolph, too, picked up the drums early before taking a keen interest in engineering and producing. All of this comes through in the band’s electronic rock and blues soundscapes designed to make you move. But when it comes to playing live, they don’t like to get tied down with set lists, instead letting the crowd dictate a musical direction. (“On a really good night, it’s like people are almost telling us what to play,” said Randolph.) On the heals of releasing the EP Bits & Pieces (stream it below) last month, BoomBox (above, doing “Mr. Boogie Man” for TourGigs) are out on the road, and they play The Bowery Ballroom tonight.

 

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The Bowery Ballroom Gets Hit by a Force of Nature

August 31st, 2015

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers – The Bowery Ballroom – August 28, 2015

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The giant image of a clearing in the woods—echoing the album cover of Nicki Bluhm’s new LP, Loved Wild Lost—that hung at the back of the stage on Friday night added a touch of mystery to The Bowery Ballroom. But there was nothing mysterious about Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers’ appeal as they easily won over the crowd with a high-energy performance of originals and covers. Before they took the stage, Andrew Combs offered an excellent opening set of country music unleashed. Playing songs like “Slow Road to Jesus” and “Suwannee County” off his new album, All These Dreams, Combs and his band mixed harmonies and groovy playing to get the audience warmed up and then some.

Afterward, Bluhm followed her bandmates onstage, immediately a towering presence standing there in a low-cut white jumpsuit, her hair blown constantly by a fan. The ’70s-sex-appeal look matched her voice and the band’s sound, which straddled country, rock and soul with natural ease. They opened with “Heart Gets Tough,” off the new album, Bluhm belting out the lyrics while the Gramblers settled in. Throughout the set, she was a powerful mix of Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin, shining on the high-energy, high-volume material like “Mr. Saturday Night,” and just as powerful on the quiet, tender side, on songs like “Only Always.” The Gramblers were a seasoned complement, a rocking force that allowed Bluhm to strut and dance around the stage, picking up strategically placed tambourines and other percussion instruments along the way.

Bluhm and the Gramblers are well-known for their Van Sessions—online videos of covers performed while on the road—so it’s no surprise that the show featured several great picks, including a this-song-is-a-perfect-fit rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” was done acoustically in front of a single microphone, country meeting funk and getting along swimmingly. Afterward, when everyone moved to go back to their original spots onstage, Bluhm was having none of it: She called them back for a fun sing-along take on the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” Later, they invited Combs and his entire band out for a hootenanny of a jam session on Gram Parsons’ “Ooh Las Vegas.” Still, Bluhm and Co. weren’t yet finished, saving their best all-out rocking and jamming for the show’s final stretch, which included a romp on “Little Too Late” and Andy Falco sitting in on a double-guitar, Allman Brothers–esque take on “Jetplane,” before finally ending the set with “Kill You to Call,” Bluhm at full strength, a force of nature that the Gramblers were only barely able to corral. —A. Stein | @Neddyo