Tag Archives: Stevie Wonder

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Spend the Weekend with Trombone Shorty at Terminal 5

October 10th, 2017

Troy Andrews is a trombone player from way back (although he also more than capably handles the trumpet, organ, drums and more). He graduated from the same New Orleans high school music program as Branford and Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. Having grown up in a musical family in NOLA’s Treme neighborhood, Andrews, despite only being 31, has already been playing the trombone for more than 25 years. Getting his start at such a young age earned him the name Trombone Shorty: He first played Jazz Fest, taking the stage alongside Bo Diddley, when he was only four. And these days, he’s got the honor of closing out America’s best festival every year. But it’s Andrews’ talent, not his age (or his height), that’s the reason Trombone Shorty (above, covering the Meters’ “It Ain’t No Use” live in studio for KCRW FM) has toured the world, playing an exhilarating combination of funk, hip-hop, jazz and rock—not to mention working alongside the likes of Foo Fighters and Lenny Kravitz. His fourth studio album, Parking Lot Symphony (stream it below), and first on Blue Note Records, arrived this past April, earning him comparisons to Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire. AllMusic said he “fully embraces the organic ’70s-style R&B he’s heretofore only touched on.” Further adding that the album is one of his “most balanced productions, equal parts New Orleans R&B sophistication and loose, block-party fun.” That fun is what makes Trombone Shorty such an engaging, don’t-miss entertainer and performer. Catch him live at Terminal 5 on Friday and Saturday. L.A. four-piece Vintage Trouble open both shows.

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Vulfpeck Fly Funky Flag Friday Night at Brooklyn Steel

September 11th, 2017

Vulfpeck – Brooklyn Steel – September 8, 2017


Funky times call for funky tunes. And while it seemed on Friday night like half of the country was on fire and that the other half was staring down a massive hurricane, Ann Arbor, Mich., band Vulfpeck landed in Brooklyn to plant their funk flag and fly it high—the first of thee booty-shakin’, sold-out Brooklyn Steel appearances in a row. “And just like a sporting event, there will be a palpable drop in energy after the introduction,” jokingly said Jack Stratton as a means of introduction.

The whole thing felt like a funky circus troupe, with at one point 11 people onstage, each switching instruments, more than half of them in gym gear straight out of a ’70s phys ed class, and Stratton leading dance moves and sing-alongs—the rhythm never falling out of time. “New York, can you sing this bassline?” asked the frontman as an intro to “Fugue State,” and the crowd happily obliged. For “El Chepe,” Stratton led the audience through a dance called the Choo Choo. R&B singer Antwaun Stanley joined the band for the set’s middle third, and everyone else in the room joined him on the chorus for “1612.”

The love Vulfpeck have for’60s and ’70s classics is evident in their sound. They paid homage with Stevie Wonder and Al Green covers, but there were audible traces of the era flowing into every tap of the drum. A raging brass section helped, too, with guest Elizabeth Lea, of Tedeschi Trucks Band, tearing it up on the trombone on several songs. And “Back Pocket” featured some elaborate audience participation, in three-part harmonies no less. But the show wasn’t over until “Outro” was played with the saxophone blaring, a song so perfect as a finale that it was the last one played at my own wedding. And with my 30th birthday on Friday night, it’s now also closed out my twenties. A true funkin’ coincidence if there ever was one. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.com

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New Meets Old with Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Warsaw on Friday

June 22nd, 2015

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Warsaw – June 19, 2015

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With a brand new album presenting a more mature, polished sound and a sold-out show at Warsaw on Friday night, it’s hard to say that Unknown Mortal Orchestra are really unknown any more. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for their older fans to worry that they’d maybe lose some of that off-kilter edge that brought a unique energy to their previous NYC appearances. By the end of the show, though, there was no doubt that while the band has moved in new directions, they still maintain the same old power.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra opened with frontman Ruban Nielson playing an electric sitar-guitar for “Like Acid Rain,” off of the just-released Multi-Love. The addition of a keyboard player was immediately felt as a swath of synth wrapped an already soulful vocal from Nielson, a sound that would persist throughout the set. If the original UMO sound was some sort of psychedelic extraterrestrial Beatles, the new material proved to be a similar mutation of Stevie Wonder. Older songs, like “How Can You Luv Me,” off their self-titled debut, whose space-out exploded into an early set drum solo, and “From the Sun,” off of II, straddled both worlds, rockers with a guitar-keyboard groove. New fans sang along to fresh material like “The World Is Crowded” while jostling the floor into a dance party. Evolved, domesticated, funked-up versions of old favorites “Thought Ballune,” “Ffunny Ffrends” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” were a reminder that no one quite sounds like this.

Nielson’s stage presence was a laid-back exuberance, taking many guitar solos from his knees, making even this larger space feel like an intimate affair, but still gesticulating and percolating with each note like a proper rock star should. At one point he put his guitar down and mounted the 20-foot-high speaker stack on the side of the stage. I didn’t quite see how he managed to get up there and wondered, as the bass, drums and keyboards continued to jam, how he’d get down without breaking his ankle. Of course, he did and he closed out the new-meets-old set back on that sitar for Multi-Love’s title track, joined by many voices in the audience, the new fans now properly old ones and the new UMO sound just the UMO sound. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

 

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Matthew E. White Quietly Delivers

May 14th, 2013

Matthew E. White – The Bowery Ballroom – May 13, 2013


What is it that Teddy Roosevelt said? “Speak softly and carry a big stick”? Well, Matthew E. White sings softly and carries a big stick, namely his backing band. It’s hard to call a six-piece outfit a small band, but for Virginia Beach, Va., native White, who’s played and recorded with literally dozens of musicians at a time, the sextet he played with at The Bowery Ballroom last night was a decidedly slimmed-down affair. Still, when you’ve got a guy who’s equally up to playing some delicious countrified pedal steel as he is a rollicking piano, and a bass player who grooves like he backed Herbie Hancock in his Headhunters prime, in addition to the drummer, percussion and keys players locked into your sound, six is a big enough stick.

The group walked out to Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” which, on Wonder’s birthday, seemed plenty deliberate for White, who matches soul with a Wonder-esque funkiness and whose music is accented by his personal faith. The set got moving with “One of These Days” and the ultragroovy “Steady Pace,” from last year’s Big Inner. These were prime examples of White’s style: soft, heartfelt vocals that melted into a steady buildup by the band, typically climbing to a surprising, ecstatic off-center climax. The band’s country-funk chops were on full display in a perfect cover of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country,” featuring the highlight pedal steel playing in a set filled with them. Although his vocals sounded great, White confessed it was a heavy dose of steroids that were keeping his sick throat up to the task and warned the side effects included extreme crankiness and irritability. Of course, he said this in his sweet, give-me-a-hug demeanor. It seemed perfect that White’s self-proclaimed “drinking song” was called “Hot Toddies” and featured a gorgeous, quiet minimalist section before a punchy finale. This is a groovy party band almost in spite of itself.

The heaviest hitter of the set was “Big Love,” a White masterpiece, mixing all the elements, in one high-energy heart-pumper, the band playing it loose, showing the clear comfort of musicians who know they’ll all get back to the same place, regardless of the different paths they take along the way. The set closed with a powerful one-two whack from the stick—“Gone Away” and “Brazos,” the latter a 10- minute mountain of a song that built upon a percolating bassline that appeared to lack a beginning or an end. It’s one of those songs that seems fit for a hundred musicians in a church in Virginia to do its climactic coda justice, but on a Monday night in NYC, White and his band were plenty big. —A. Stein

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Jim James Is a Force of Nature

February 20th, 2013

Jim James – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 19, 2013


Fans of My Morning Jacket’s perpetual motion machine, Jim James know there are (at least) three sides to his music. There’s the arena-rock star, there’s the folk crooner … and there’s the sexy soul machine. And while all three sides of his equilateral triangle were in evidence last night at the sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg, it was the latter that was in full force as James grooved and swayed his way through songs from his solo release Regions of Light and Sound of God. He took the stage beneath swirling crushed-velvet purple lights, and opening with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),” his voice was equally violet: half cool blue, half red hot.

This was a powerful start to the set. His band—heavy on the slinky electric piano and bass—seemed fully formed, well rehearsed and up to the task in only their fourth gig. The lights were perfectly synched to the song, going to black for dramatic effect when James sang “power going out” over and over in the coda. The energy only built from there with James singing “Know Til Now” and “A New Life” like the second coming of Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie. “Of the Mother Again” was a highlight, with its distorted scratch-your-back guitar solo from James melting into some sugary keyboards, leading to the inevitable, and effective, use of the disco ball hanging above the packed dance floor.

Like all of James’s projects, this felt like anything but “something on the side.” Songs like “All Is Forgiven” had the band behind the man displaying a range of sounds, this one digging darker and mysterious with a sultry Arabian Nights changeup. The set closed with a long, seething slow-burn jam led by the superb bass player, as James eventually walked offstage while the band kept churning along. Of course, being supersexy can eventually become a tease if you don’t give ’em what they want, so the encore was an audience-gratifying miniset of My Morning Jacket songs: a solo acoustic “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” followed by “Wordless Chorus,” “It Beats 4 U” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2,” all perfectly handled by the band. While that would have been a complete 90 minutes of music, with Jim James, there’s always room for one more, so he went full rock star, closing out the night with a high-energy “Victory Dance,” the sexy snakeskin shed for one song, but not for too long, I’m sure. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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A Crowd-Pleasing Night at The Bowery Ballroom

October 16th, 2012

The Mountain Goats/Matthew E. White – The Bowery Ballroom – October 15, 2012


It was an evening built to please as the Mountain Goats played The Bowery Ballroom last night in their third of four sold-out New York City appearances. But before John Darnielle and Co. took the stage, there was the matter of the opener, the crowd-pleasing Matthew E. White and his stage-filling band. Playing music from White’s excellent Big Inner (sounds like beginner), the collective of Richmond, Va., musicians included a full horn section, a percussionist, two keyboard players and a pedal steel. It was a more soulful version of a band Miles Davis might have put together in the early ’70s. “One of These Days” was exemplar of the set, starting with a kind of indie-rock love-song vibe then entering a head-bobbing center that had White and crew channeling Stevie Wonder before building to a gospel rave-up climax. “Big Love” highlighted the deeper funk, with some straight-from-the-butcher meaty bass hooks and cosmic harmonies. The set ended with an epic creeping version of “Brazos,” which had the band firing on all cylinders, and one reviewer wondering how the headliner could top one of the better opening sets he’d seen in a while.

Of course, pleasing the crowd was no problem for Darnielle, who had the full house enrapt before the first note. The Mountain Goats opened with “Love Love Love,” off 2005’s Sunset Tree—Darnielle’s voice a liquid, filling the container of The Bowery Ballroom completely. As the set weaved through back-catalog hits and a healthy dose of the group’s newest release, Transcendental Youth, the audience hung on each lyric. The words seemed to float above their heads like the dialogue in a graphic novel, with the crowd torn between quiet, loving admiration and enthusiastic loud sing-alongs. Requests were shouted out, and some, like “San Bernardino” were granted, while others were ignored. Throughout, Darnielle showed a penchant for taking unpleasant source material and giving it an upbeat musical sheen. He introduced songs about bitter divorce (“First Few Desperate Hours”), experimentation in satanic ritual (“In Memory of Satan”), waking up in a hospital room (“White Cedar”) or literally climbing out of the pits of hell. But with the constant churn of the Mountain Goats’ rhythm section, many of these were up-tempo and happy despite their dark undertones. The secret weapon was bassist Peter Hughes, who was like a waitress in a diner keeping Darnielle’s coffee cup filled with a steady stream of caffeinated licks.

Late in the set, Darnielle paired off in duos with bass and then drums, and he even played a few songs solo, including a Wye Oak cover and “Sax Rohmer #1,” which followed a long introduction that included apologies for any forgotten lyrics and a short political rant on the failure to defeat anti-gay-marriage legislation in his home state of North Carolina. Late in the set, the Mountain Goats invited Matthew E. White’s horn players out to join in and, ironically, bring the mood down to finally match the lyrics. But not for too long, as the set closed with “No Children,” from 2002’s Tallahassee, which featured the lyrics “I hope you die, I hope we both die” accompanied joyfully by the crowd singing as loud as they had all night. —A. Stein