Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ben Kenney Powers Through His Second Week at Rockwood

Originally, February 13th had been reserved on my calendar for Ben Kenney at Rockwood Music Hall, but then I was presented with the opportunity to see the Sound City Players at Hammerstein.  So imagine my excitement when it was announced that Kenney would be playing Rockwood again on the 27th, and this time "taking it up another notch" according to his Twitter.  For those of you who may not recognize Kenney by name, perhaps you're acquainted with a group in which he used to play guitar called the Roots?  Or maybe you've heard him play bass in a little band known as Incubus?  His own tunes lean more towards progressive rock, and if you're intrigued, Ben has generously given away his discography for free on his website.

"I'm gonna make a preemptive disclaimer that I've had a lot to drink.  Let's get it on.  Let's see if I'm not too drunk," he challenged before crunching into "Not Today," the opening track off 2008's Distance & Comfort.  Though Ben's performance wasn't hindered by his alcohol consumption, I was struggling with my own buzz.  A waitress approached me right before the set, and informed me there was a one-drink minimum.  While normally I wouldn't care, I recently saw Ben Taylor and Broken Anchor at the venue, and each time, beverages weren't required.  (I might add that their website mentions nothing about drink minimums either.)  Had I known, I wouldn't have been in Williamsburg right before, downing some 11% ABV beers on an empty stomach.  Alcohol doesn't enhance concerts for me, so that extra beer just got on my nerves; not to mention it's harder to take notes with a fucking pint glass in my hand.

Rhythmic clapping bridged the gap between "Not Today" and new song "Leave on Your Makeup."  "Empty Handed" exemplified Ben's impressive vocal range, his voice not unlike his Incubus bandmate's, Brandon Boyd.  Backed by two friends, Joe Baldacci on drums, and Ashley Mendel on bass, Ben turned the mic over to Ashley for "Distress!"  The Mendel-penned ditty featured one of the heaviest grooves of the night, but I much preferred Ben's voice to Ashley's, whose tone matched his emo haircut.

The ready-for-the-radio new number "Concord" was reprised from two weeks ago, though this time without the "Mickey" and "Low Rider" teases at its start.  Admitting his guitar was out of tune, Kenney defiantly said, "Fuck the tuner."  "Just make it louder," offered Mendel.  And louder he made it on "Rubber Sheets," which featured a guitar solo that brought Kenney to his knees, out of sight to many in the packed house.  When you could see him, his face was a series of alternately pained and joyous expressions, real guitar-player looks.  "The vein is gonna come out the forehead that only comes it when I'm bending over or bending over," he warned before a breakneck "Aftertouch."  "That song went by fast," he laughed at its end.

Unfortunately for me, the whole show zoomed by, even though it was a 56-minute set, which is lengthy for Rockwood.  They followed with "Truly," a song by the Division Group, the band Kenney formed with Mendel on drums and Soulive's Neal Evans on keys.  He then gave the audience some vocal coaching for a two-part harmony on "Worlds Collide," another highlight of the night.  For the final song, Kenney chose "Wrong" from 2006's Maduro.  Not content to end it there (Hey, he promised to take it up a notch.), the band segued into the Pearl Jam classic "Even Flow" to end the show.  "Let's go to the bar next door and get drunk afterwards," Ben suggested to the applauding crowd.  If I hadn't have been halfway there already, I may have taken him up on the offer.

BEN KENNEY - 02.27.13 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL (56 minutes)

Not Today > Leave on Your Makeup* / Empty Handed > Distress! / Rubber Sheets / Concord / Aftertouch / Welcome to the Jungle (tease) / Truly / Worlds Collide / Wrong > Even Flow

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Steve Kimock Has a Ball at Stage 48

Steve Kimock, along with Bernie Worrell, Wally Ingram, Andy Hess, John Morgan Kimock, and a few special guests played two blistering sets of funk last night at Stage 48 to benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

While I was already running a bit late, the lines both outside and at will call caused me to miss the first song entirely.  Stage 48 is a new venue, so it still has a few kinks to work out.  (Um, $4 for coat check?  Fuck you.)  What they don't have a problem with is the sound.  I was able to snag a spot on the balcony stage left, so even though I was likely just listening to the stage monitors, the sound was full and detailed.  I never saw more than Hess' headstock, but I had the perfect view of Kimock choosing his slides and effects from the tops of the amps behind him, Worrell tickling the multi-colored keys of his ancient Hohner clavinet D6, and the commodious drumkits of Ingram and young Kimock.

The first set was rooted in funk, with Hess building the stem to allow Kimock, Worrell, and a saxophonist to take turns decorating the branches.  The penultimate song featured a fiery double drum solo by Wally and John Morgan that had everyone in the room smiling.  Former center-fielder for the NY Yankees, Bernie Williams, sat in on guitar for one tune, and was later traded for Gregg Allman Band's Scott Sharrard on the set-closing "Take Me to the River."  Sung with passion by Worrell, who incidentally performed the Al Green cut quite often with Talking Heads, "River" swelled to include elements of Parliament's "Bop Gun" and Sly & the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song."

Kimock's atmospheric noodling during the "Ice Cream" jam that ushered in set two suggested a spacey second half, but the funk wasn't forgotten as Worrell led the band on "Do It."  Scott Sharrard returned to the stage to sing the crowd-pleasing "Inner City Blues," which leant itself to sax and slide guitar solos.  Sharrard continued on vocals for "I Feel So Bad," which developed into the most inspired jam of the evening.  Beginning as an ever-liquid multi-part Phish-esque head trip, the guitar synergy of Kimock and Sharrard coupled with the dual drums took this one down the meandering road to Dead terrain.  Wide grins erupted on the faces of each bandmember as they witnessed the beauty of their collaboration.  It was clearly the watershed moment, but the segue into "Red Hot Mama" proved the night wasn't over yet, as the chunky Funkadelic number found its way in and out of an extended "Come Together" tease.  At the song's close, Kimock picked up the vocal mic and announced, "Well, it's still early, but we're turning into pumpkins."  He followed with a few words on supporting live music and the relief effort, and then left the stage through the door to his right.  Despite chants for an encore, the band remained backstage to complete their transformation into gourds.  Like Cinderella, I'm just glad I made it to the ball.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Broken Anchor Close Out Northeast Tour at Folk Museum

Broken Anchor finished their Northeast tour Friday with a stop at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.  Set against the backdrop of portraiture by William Matthew Prior, the duo performed seven of their original tunes acoustically.  They began with "Leave the Light On," with Mike Duffy banging out the beat on cajon and jingling the bells strapped to his ankle.  Austin Hartley-Leonard used a vocal effect on parts of the song, but quickly realized that he could utilize the natural echo of the space in his favor, and abandoned the pedal by song two.  The highlight of the set was a slowed-down "Never Leave Me Alone," which Austin performed solo, his voice reverberating wonderfully in the the open gallery.

A word of advice to artists performing at the American Folk Art Museum: Be prepared to verbally spar with the curator of the show, who will constantly try to turn the program into an improv comedy act.  Two songs into the set, she started asking where people could buy the band's music.  Austin, having forgotten to bring those hand-stamped CDs he mentioned last week at Rockwood, suggested that audience members sign up for the mailing list, give a donation, and he'd send them a CD by mail "just like you used to with Woody Guthrie."  The host pried, "How much does it cost to sign up for your mailing list?"  "Let's barter.  Folk-style.  Wampum accepted," Austin countered.  Before final song "Ohio," he thanked the crowd and the museum: "What an amazing environment. Very academic. I'm not smart enough to be here."  "There's pictures of naked girls over there," the host offered, pointing to the Women's Studies exhibit.  "That's where I'll be," quipped Austin.  The band is heading back to the other coast, but let's hope they drop anchor here again sometime soon.

BROKEN ANCHOR - 02.22.13 - AMERICAN FOLK ART MUSEUM (29 minutes, 28 seconds)

Leave the Light On / Broken Anchor Blues / Ghosts / Stencil Heart / Dear Diary / Never Leave Me Alone / Ohio

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ben Taylor Plays Songs of Love at Symphony Space

"When I was asked to do this, I thought, 'Great! 'Cause I'm really bad at writing love songs.'  Thank goodness for heroes like these to make it easier to write love songs that mean something," said Ben Taylor last night at Symphony Space.  The heroes he was referring to are the children and teens with life-threatening illnesses or disabilities that receive professionally produced tunes with personalized lyrics from the Songs of Love Foundation.  The non-profit was started in 1996 by Queens-native John Beltzer after his development deal with a record company fell though.  While Beltzer may not have any hits on the radio, the smiles and letters from almost 24,000 children have made his career in music even more fulfilling.

As the lead songwriter for Songs of Love, opener Carl Allocco has contributed literally thousands of songs to the cause.  He performed a short set of four originals solo on acoustic guitar, including the cleverly written "God."  The room sounded good, save for the overuse of reverb on the vocal mic by the soundman.

Ben Taylor took the stage alone to start things off with "Boyfriend," which casts him as a man who realizes he's in love not with the woman he thinks, but her boyfriend.  "Don't read too much into the song though. Two very straight guys up here," he said, welcoming his heterosexual life-mate David Saw to the stage.  After a quick joke while tuning Ben's guitar ("What kind of cheese do you use to tempt a bear out of your refrigerator?  Camembert."), the duo launched into the Paul McCartney ditty, "Dear Boy."  Next up was "Listening," a song the two wrote in order to become better listeners, but "turned into this little self-important, existential, philosophical number instead."  Benjamin Thomas, who seems to have officially moved from bass to cajon starting with December's Rockwood Music Hall performance, joined them for "How Serious Can This Be."

Ben then announced, "We're just gonna keep thickening this pile of talent here on this stage," introducing new additions to his band, Jonathan Quarmby on keys, and Beth Mendes on vocals.  Mendes seemed nervous, but it was only her second time ever onstage.  Her breathy, innocent voice recalled Marilyn Monroe or one of Serge Gainsbourg's heroines, and she added a new layer to the songs, especially a fleshed-out "Rocket to the Moon."  The tune was inspired by turning on the television, which has become, in Taylor's eyes, "some sort of strange non-talent celebrity factory" (He puts it more eloquently in the lyrics: "I always thought the stars should shine."), and I was delighted to hear it end with some interplay between Taylor and Quarmby instead of the abrupt stop it had two months ago.

Taylor is not just a singer; he's a storyteller.  And he loves to share the genesis of his songs.  The Spycraft setup preceding "How Serious Can This Be" and his troubles in midwifery that led to "Turn on the Lights" provide a foundation to the listener to enhance the experience.  I'd never before heard the revelation that 
"Not Alone" was about friends that drift or vanish from your life, and it struck a personal chord with me.  It must've affected others too because by its end, the crowd was clapping along and hooting from the back of the room.  Ben admitted that although breakups can provide a lot of material to a singer-songwriter, he doesn't want to have to deal with the actual breakups, so he makes them up.  Introducing new song "Time Slows Down," he confessed, "This is about this incredible woman that I imagined breaking up with."  Incredible, indeed.

Ben turned over lead vocal duties to Beth for the fresh cut "Do You Think of Me?" and took them back for "Good Bird."  Taylor closed his set with a poem by Timothy Mayer entitled What Do You Make of the Stars? 
that can be found on BT's first Daytrotter session (Join Daytrotter here.).

"I kind of get the idea that New Yorkers don't love audience participation," Ben had mentioned when attempting to wrangle the crowd together for "Dirty."  But we had no choice at the end of the show, when we were asked to belt out the refrain to the song that Ben composed for a girl named Greta.  Beltzer even plucked Grace Weber from the audience to assist in singing.  Though Greta had a bit of stage fright, you could see that she was happy to receive her Song of Love.

Previous Ben Taylor reviews:

CARL ALLOCCO - 02.21.13 - SYMPHONY SPACE (16 minutes, 30 seconds)

Somebody Like You / As Love Walks In / Brave / God

BEN TAYLOR - 02.21.13 - SYMPHONY SPACE (1 hour, 26 minutes)

Boyfriend / Dear Boy / Listening / How Serious Can This Be / You Must've Fallen / Rocket to the Moon / Dirty / Not Alone / Time Slows Down / Worlds Are Made of Paper / Wicked Way / Turn on the Lights / Do You Think of Me? / Good Bird / Hungry / What Do You Make of the Stars?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jim James Flies Solo at Music Hall of Williamsburg

The last time I saw Jim James, he was playing to a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd with his band, My Morning Jacket.  But that was 2011.  This is 2013.  Now touring behind his recently released debut solo LP, Regions of Light & Sound of God, James captivated a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd with a straight-through album set and a few surprises for the encore.

The gig was opened by Dean Wareham, who you may know from Galaxie 500, Luna, or Dean & Britta, the indie pop duo he shares with his wife, Britta Phillips.  I'd heard of all these bands, but never listened before, so Wareham was uncharted territory for me.  Backed by a band that included Phillips, who looks fucking amazing for 49, Wareham doled out a short set heavy on Galaxie 500 tunes, including "Strange."  "That was an old song.  As you can tell because I mentioned Twinkies," Dean joked.  You'd suspect that being billed as a solo act, Wareham wouldn't be relying so much on the "Twinkie songs" of yesteryear (1989), but that wasn't the case.  Because he's been playing guitar so long, I also wanted more than the simple, slowed-down jangle pop instrumentation, with a solo at the end of "When Will You Come Home" serving as the lone moment of prowess.  He brought things to a close with a cover of New Order's "Ceremony."

After a lengthy set change that included the mounting of James' Gibson Flying V on a stand that made it appear as a literal Flying V, the lights finally dimmed for the show.  James began with album opener "State of the Art," an excellent choice, considering the slow build as each instrument was added one by one.  James sauntered around the stage in his suit, fist-bumped a crowdmember, and led fans on the chorus of vowels.  On the right-stage stairs sat ?uestlove, who dubbed James' "A New Life" the "most beautiful song he ever played on Late Night."  Once the song had gained full momentum, James came to the line "The power's goin' out," and the room abruptly went black.  The lights popped on again as the music returned, and the grinning audience immediately adapted to cheering "Woo!" on the return beat.  Those who listened to Regions of Light and were let down by the lack of guitar solos didn't have to worry about the Flying V going to waste, with James shredding a killer one here, and on two later tunes.  The album's single, "Know Til Now" shuffled out next, coming to its end with a mimed sax solo (I didn't see a mic.) from James.

The album unfolded in sequence, and you could tell by the look on his face that James was just happy to be up there singing these songs.  The record's instrumental filler track "Exploding" took on a little more weight as a live number, and "Of the Mother Again" actually got the crowd dancing.  Set-ender "God's Love to Deliver" was the obvious highlight, however.  The song wound down to what would be the record's last grooves, but this wasn't the record, and it evolved into a bass-led jam that conjured some of the same dark magic found in Phish's 12.30.12 "Carini."  Five minutes later, James topped it all off with a real sax solo (He played into a center-stage mic.).  The solos and jams effectively doubled the album's runtime, and James and company retreated backstage.

Having not spoken at all during the set, when he returned to the stage, he thanked us genuinely, "This is our fourth show ever.  It's been a real pleasure.  You've been beautiful."  James then played his first actual solo number of the night, an acoustic "Wonderful," which culminated in some sighs that sounded like a Muppet version of Elvis.  Realizing how silly it sounded, James remarked, "Do that when you go home and get in the shower tonight.  Just let it all out.  Let the day out."  The band joined him for some more My Morning Jacket tunes, "Wordless Chorus" and "It Beats 4 U," with James touching fans in the front fingertip-to-fingertip like E.T.  "Touch Me I'm Gong to Scream pt. 2" had fans screaming when MMJ bassist Two-Tone Tommy appeared to play electric guitar.  The song segued nicely into a joyous "Victory Dance" to finish out the memorable evening.

(Help is appreciated with Dean Wareham setlist.  Thanks.)

DEAN WAREHAM - 02.19.13 - MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG (31 minutes, 22 seconds)

Star Shine* / When Will You Come Home / Blue Thunder / Strange / Somebody Tell Me Which Way* / Ceremony

JIM JAMES - 02.19.13 - MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG (1 hour, 38 minutes)

State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) / Know Til Now / Dear One / A New Life / Exploding / Of the Mother Again / Actress / All is Forgiven / God's Love to Deliver

Wonderful (The Way I Feel) / Wordless Chorus / It Beats 4 U / Touch Me I'm Going to Scream pt. 2 > Victory Dance

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wow, Wow, Wow! Ken Stringfellow & Chris Mills Amaze at Mercury Lounge

I was considering going to Baltimore this weekend, and skipping the Ken Stringfellow show at Mercury Lounge.  I am proud to say I made the right decision, and saw the most extraordinary show I've seen so far this year.

My roommate and I got there early and grabbed a seat on the left bench.  The Meters were playing over the PA, inspiring me to look for a copy of Struttin' on eBay.  Just as "Cissy Strut" was hitting its groove, Chris Mills took the stage.  The sound tech faded the Meters out, but Chris kept scatting the lick.  "I'm just gonna beatbox the rest of the record for you," he said with a smile.  From the first note of "Wild Places," the crowd went completely silent, in awe of the man's voice.  He didn't hold back, almost shouting the words, but somehow he always stayed in tune.  The hint of twang that escaped at the end of breaths provided even more character.  Two songs in, he revealed his history with the venue: "The Mercury Lounge is where my wife and I shared our first kiss."  He had taken her down to the dressing room in the basement to impress her, but when he moved in for a smooch, she stated, "'I am not going to kiss you in the basement of the Mercury Lounge.'  But when we got to the top of the stairs, she said, 'What are you waiting for?'  So I kissed her... and now she's pregnant.  I always think it's weird that our relationship to sea level determined our first kiss."  The anecdote had the crowd chuckling like they were at a comedy club, and it was hardly the last laugh.  Breaking a string on "Blooms," the audience let out a collective "awww."  Ken Stringfellow emerged from the shadows to offer up his electric, but Mills refused.  "Think of this as an intermission.  Pretend it's Lawrence of Arabia, and Peter O'Toole has just been captured by the Turks." Still stringing, he told a story about how one of his students (He teaches at a middle school.) suggested a song for the upcoming recital: "Mr. Mills, we should learn 'Never Gonna Give You Up,' and then we can rickroll the entire school."  Once restrung, he played his newest song "Slumberland," which is so fresh, it won't even be on his late-summer release with the rest of the "future hits of America."  While most of the tunes were from this forthcoming LP, hid did play "Atom Smashers," a peppy rush of clever lyrics from 2008's Living in the Aftermath.  Though his guitarwork could've been a little more adventurous, that's really just nitpicking because rarely do you see an artist at this level of vocal control, songwriting, and stage presence.  Ken Stringfellow would have to do a lot to live up to his opener.

And holy shit, did he?  I picked up Ken's album Touched back in 2004 when I had a radio show in college, but until last night, I'd never seen him live.  He started out onstage with "You're the Gold," establishing a set of songs mainly culled from his recent LP, Danzig in the Moonlight.  But he didn't sing into the microphone.  He stood all the way at the stage's edge, perhaps even perched on the monitor, to serenade us.  Had I seen Stringfellow before, maybe I would've known about his tendency to enter the audience, but I hadn't, and magically found myself in the front row when he parted the crowd like Moses to play "110 or 220V."

I'd previously commented on how intimate the Valentine's Day Alabama Shakes cruise was, standing ten feet away from Brittany Howard.  Now mere inches away from Stringfellow, I learned what intimacy was, as he played his guitar directly in front of me.  It was such a strange feeling, almost uncomfortable, yet welcoming at the same time, as the show transformed from a concert in a room of people to an incredibly personal experience.  "I'd like to do this for awhile," he informed the astounded crowd.  "It's a way to break New York into bite-size chunks."  After dipping back to "Find Yourself Alone" (and silencing the bartenders speaking to each other through that little drive-thru window in the wall), a fan requested a song by Stringfellow's short-lived band, Saltine.  "We played that at Brownies," said Stringfellow.  "I know.  I was there.  Brownies is no longer there," responded the hopeful fan.  "Yeah, neither is Saltine," Ken retorted, though he would later play "Any Sign at All."

Ken ventured back to the stage for the wonderfully sly "Shittalkers" on keyboard, but that didn't mean he was ready to use a mic.  That would have to wait until the next song, "History Buffs."  And before I knew it, he was back on the floor, making eye contact with me.  After a quick "O Tannenbaum" tease, he asked for the mic, turning audience members into roadies.  "I hope we don't blow up the PA.  If we each chip in 500 bucks, we can have that and a pony keg," he laughed.  For "Doesn't It Remind You of Something," a love song from the POV of two dead meth heads ("They're ghosts, but they're on meth, so they're super fast.  'Hey, who stole my bike?'  Fast ghost."), he was joined by a singer named Darling Cait.  Stringfellow typically has a different woman perform the duet with him every night (They even differ on the album, with Margaret Cho on the LP, and Charity Rose Theilen on CD.), but the interplay with Cait was so Nancy & Lee-perfect, it's a marvel that she's not on a recorded version.  Maybe Ken should release a compilation of all the duets at the end of the tour.  Climbing back on the stage for the final song before we had to clear out for the next concert, Ken said flatly, "I had a few requests, but I'm going to ignore those," preferring "Pray," another Danzig track.  Do whatever you want, Ken.  It's clear you already do, and it's magnificent.

CHRIS MILLS - 02.16.13 - MERCURY LOUNGE (42 minutes)

Wild Places / Alexandria / Rubicon / Blooms (aborted, string broke) / Blooms / Slumberland / Atom Smashers / Sweet Hereafter / Castaways / When We Were Young

KEN STRINGFELLOW - 02.16.13 - MERCURY LOUNGE (1 hour, 12 minutes)

You're the Gold / 110 or 220V / Find Yourself Alone / Any Love (Cassandra et Lune) / Shittalkers / History Buffs / Superwise / Even the Forgers Were Left Fingering the Fakes / Any Sign at All / O Tannenbaum (tease) / You're the Beautiful One / Known Diamond / Doesn't It Remind You of Something (feat. Darling Cait) / Pray

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Broken Anchor Drops on East Coast at Rockwood Music Hall

"For the first show of a tour, we like to play small, unimportant markets," Austin Hartley-Leonard of L.A.'s Broken Anchor informed the New York crowd.  "That's a joke.  It's important.  It's also large."  Their first time touring in the Northeast, they drew a pretty sizable Friday-night audience at Rockwood Music Hall's Stage 2.  When their debut LP is finally released this summer, I have no doubt the Anchor's going to make a big splash in this little town.

I got to the venue early and caught the last two songs of Portland's McDougall, stomping his feet to accompany himself on a banjo with a guitar's neck.  There were maybe ten of us in the room, but his gusto was infectious.  He was a nice, bearded amuse-bouche for the meal I'd been waiting for since I first heard Broken Anchor on NoiseTrade a little less than a month ago.  I've listened to all three of their EPs about sixteen times, and as you may remember, they grabbed the number one spot on my Top 15 Most Anticipated Albums list, beating out the likes of Bowie and Phoenix.

Austin took the stage with his lone bandmate, Mike Duffy, who manned the drumkit and a laptop that provided backing vocals and electronic washes.  They eased in with the song that shares their name, "Broken Anchor Blues."  For "Dear Diary," Austin slapped a vocal effect on his microphone that would remain for several more songs in the night.  I was initially turned off by it, but quickly realized its purpose in doubling his output to make everything sound like it was coming from a bigger band than the duo onstage.  "Say Serenity" was great all the way through its explosive ending, and halfway through "Stencil Heart" it ultimately hit me how relieved I was to finally be hearing these songs live.

For new tune "Head is a Hole," Austin cut his number of strings in half, trading his guitar for a bass with only three strings that he played capoed and with a pick.  While most of Hartley-Leonard's lyrics at least flirt with melancholy, this was clearly the most despondent song I've heard from them, with the chorus "My head is a hole in the ground."  "Automatic Midnight!" yelled someone from the balcony at its close.  "We have a Hot Snakes fan in the audience.  Dad?" deadpanned Austin.  It was, however, the perfect spot for the dour ditty, juxtaposed against "Always," which soared to anthemic heights, propelled by Duffy's blows on the toms with mallets instead of sticks.

After a more upbeat newbie, "My Marie," Austin took the opportunity to hawk some CDs: "Hand-stamped. Cardboard sleeve. Ink. Hand-stamped by me. You're welcome. Makes a great stocking stuffer."  He suggested more seasonably, "Late 'I'm sorry' Valentine's Day gift?"  After 
"Leave the Light On," which was more relaxed than its recorded counterpart, the sound guy noted the time.  "We got two more songs.  Right on track.  Pros," said Austin.  They chose "Ghosts," which was recently heard on "big-ass TV show," Private Practice, and "Never Leave Me Alone," the first single off the upcoming album.  The latter actually got a few crowd members dancing, which is a good sign.

I talked to Austin after the show, who told me the album would probably come out in June.  It's still at the top of my wantlist, and I'm predicting this band to take off, especially if they snag a bassist and keyboard player for live gigs.  Broken Anchor are performing a live acoustic concert at on the 19th, and will play a free "stripped-down" show as part of the American Folk Art Museum's Free Fridays next week.

P.S.  I stuck around to watch the thirteen members of King Holiday cram onto the tiny Rockwood stage.  I wanted a bit more range in the sparkly lead singer's voice, but he impressed me with his pained shouts into a telephone during "Dub of Love."  The Bed-Stuy crew will be playing Pianos on February 20th.

BROKEN ANCHOR - 02.15.13 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL (40 minutes, 30 seconds)

Broken Anchor Blues / Dear Diary / Say Serenity / Stencil Heart / Head is a Hole / Always / My Marie / Leave the Light On / Ghosts / Never Leave Me Alone

Friday, February 15, 2013

Alabama Shakes Play Zeppelin on a Boat on Valentine's Day

With all the news of the poop-filled drama aboard the Carnival Triumph, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to go on a cruise right now.  That is, unless you were one of the 125 fans lucky enough to win the chance to buy two tickets to see Alabama Shakes kick off the 13th annual Rocks Off Concert Cruise Season on the Destiny.  Fortunately for me, two of my friends won the lottery, so I didn't have to spend another Valentine's Day alone, weeping at home.

I had no idea there was going to be an opener, so it was a complete surprise when Brooklyn's Daddy Long Legs took the stage.  A three-piece blues outfit, they looked like they'd just stepped out of a photograph of a mid-'60s British rock band.  They got the crowd pumped up over the course of their rowdy ten-song set, spearheaded by some fantastic mouth harp-playing from the lanky singer only identified as Daddy Long Legs.  While his Shure Green Bullet may be the best mic for amplified harmonica, when it comes to vocals, it has about the fidelity of a school bus driver's loudspeaker, making it very difficult to discern the lyrics.  I almost bought the LP, but I'm waiting to hear samples before I commit to buying a record that I'll never know the words to.

A half-hour later, Alabama Shakes entered to the theme from Gilligan's Island over the PA.  "Thank you for coming to our boat party," greeted Brittany Howard, strapping on her guitar to start things off with "Hang Loose."  Having blown up even more since last I saw the band at Virgin Festival, the whole crowd sang along to "Hold On."  "Welcome to the Love Boat," said Brittany, handing out vulgar valentines like the two pictured here.

Due to the lack of a proper stage and minimal overhead lighting, the vibe on the boat was like a living room... if your living room was always floating down the Hudson River and full of people you don't know.  And with really great sound.  This was the second Rocks Off cruise I've been on, and I'm kind of amazed by the care the crew takes in making it sound better than many venues I've been to on land.  The intimacy of it was insane.  I'd always been able to see Brittany practically dislocate her jaw the way she opens her mouth when she sings, but now ten feet away, I could look down her throat!  In the past, I had expressed my frustration with Zac Cockrell's stage presence, but last night, he was my favorite one to watch.  Sporting overalls, a bushy beard, and a ballcap, he came out chewing a toothpick, looking more like a farmer than a guy in a Grammy-nominated rock band.  I think he was probably stoned or had really bad indigestion, as he played, the expressions on his face contorting along the gamut from pained teeth-clenching to cross-eyed ecstasy.  Keep making me eat my words from last June, Alabama Shakes.

The boat really started rocking during "Always Alright," and the band were determined to rock even harder, fogging up the windows.  "Who woulda thought we'd get some boat windows steamy here tonight?" laughed Howard.  Following that was "Rise to the Sun," which featured a new spaghetti Western-style intro that was likely a tease of a song I couldn't place, so any insight is appreciated (Comment below.).  "I'm sorry I have to sing this to you on Valentine's Day," apologized Brittany ahead of "Heartbreaker."  She introduced the next song as a story about a friend she grew up with, who had told her they were getting too old to be friends.  "And I thought that was some bullshit," she proclaimed, easing into "Boys & Girls."  It was a little ridiculous how many people began talking during the slow number.  Don't you know where you are?  You're on a fucking boat with the fucking Alabama Shakes!  Some fans had enough of the chatter, and resorted to shushing and one yell of "Shut up!"  While I obviously always side with the quiet ones, yelling "Shut up!" in the middle of a song is even more disruptive.

Brittany put down her six-string and won everyone back with what I've come to see as their signature live song, "Be Mine."  All the more poignant on Valentine's Day, Brittany erupted in the last chorus, grabbing a few guys in the front row to dance with.  "Y'all warmed up?  I wanna rock and roll with this boat," she said.  Encouraging the crowd to sing along to the opening guitar lick to "Mama," she urged, "Come on now. You won tickets to here. Don't be shy."  I thought the performance was awesome, but Brittany wasn't feeling it from the room.  "Y'all didn't seem to like that one.  I'm not offended," she admitted, and offered up "Makin' Me Itch."  Some people started talking again (I feel bad for respectful fans that didn't win tickets.) during the slow build of "You Ain't Alone," but this time Brittany took action, inserting a "Listen to me now!" into the lyrics.  "I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time tonight," shared Brittany before plunging into "Heavy Chevy," which sounded even better at a less frantic pace.  "This has been the best Valentine's Day of my life," she revealed, and I'm sure the feeling was mutual among some of the passengers.  "Heat Lightning," with its built-in thank yous, closed the show, Brittany getting right up in the faces of the front rowers, throwing the mic on the deck at the song's conclusion.

The chants for one more song began almost immediately.  Brittany looked to guitarist Heath Fogg (I wonder if he's related to Kirk Fogg from Legends of the Hidden Temple?) with a face that said, "We have to," and the band made their way back to their positions. "I wanna hear it for Daddy Long Legs!"  Cheer.  "I wanna hear it for Valentine's Day!"  Cheer.  "I wanna hear it for New York!"  Cheer.  "I'm on a boat!"  Guffaw.

And then it happened.  They covered Led Zeppelin's epic "How Many More Times," with Brittany modifying the lyrics to fit her gender.  More than nine minutes later, the show was actually over, the band making their way to the ship's head.  Bruce Springsteen's "Adam Raised a Cain" was listed on the setlist before "Heat Lightning," but I'll take Zeppelin over the Boss any day.  Especially Valentine's Day.

ALABAMA SHAKES - 02.14.13 - ROCKS OFF BOAT CRUISE (1 hour, 11 minutes)

Hang Loose / Hold On / I Found You / Always Alright / Rise to the Sun / Heartbreaker / Boys & Girls / Be Mine / Mama / Makin' Me Itch / You Ain't Alone / Heavy Chevy / Heat Lightning

How Many More Times

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dave Grohl Brings His Sound City Players to NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom

"It's gonna be a long fucking night. You know that, right?" announced Dave Grohl Wednesday at Hammerstein Ballroom.  He wasn't lying.  Over three hours later, legs sore and ears ringing, I left the venue having witnessed a show with one of the strangest (non-festival) lineups ever, with Alain Johannes, Chris Goss, Brad Wilk, Lee Ving, Rick Nielsen, Krist Novoselic, Rick Springfield, John Fogerty, and Stevie Nicks taking their turns fronting the Foo Fighters.

What united this odd collective of musicians known as the Sound City Players?  Sound City, a recording studio in Van Nuys where albums like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, and Nirvana's Nevermind were all put to tape.  The dumpy studio had the luck of great acoustics combined with one-of-a-kind analog sound through a custom-built Neve 8028 mixing console.  Grohl is convinced that Nirvana would have never achieved their immense level of success had it not been for that board, so when Sound City was forced to close its doors as a commercial studio in May 2011 as a result of the domination of ProTools, he purchased the Neve from the owner, and installed it at his house.  Grohl could have been greedy with his new property, but instead, he invited a number of the musicians who had recorded with it at Sound City to create some new tunes with him.  The result was a documentary called Sound City (in theaters and up for download now) and a record (to be released in March).  With the mentality that if you release an album, you should tour behind it, Dave assembled the cast for a small number of concerts, the third of which was last night.

Around 8:40, the lights went out and a screen dropped from the rafters.  The opening five minutes to the film played out, beginning with Dave Grohl's narration over time-lapse footage of the trip from Seattle to Sound City.  A parade of talking heads, from Trent Reznor to Rick Rubin to Lars Ulrich, spouted off the names of bands that recorded there, as well as a few anecdotes.  Eventually, the interview subject it came to rest on was Alain Johannes, a member of bands Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age, and Them Crooked Vultures.  A title card with his name appeared, and the screen lifted to reveal Johannes with the Foo Fighters.  Opening with "A Trick With No Sleeve" from the Sound City LP, he followed it with some Eleven numbers, and a QOTSA track he wrote, "Hanging Tree."  I wasn't very familiar with his work, but he was a good axeman.  "I wish Al could play all night," said Grohl, who then corrected himself, "He could fucking play all night." Rest assured, he would return for several of the other sets.

Now with the theme of introductory vignettes established, the next two performers shown on the screen were Chris Goss of Masters of Reality, and Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk.  Sadly, no Rage songs were performed, but new song "Time Slowing Down" was one of my favorites of the night.  Its rhythm and closing guitar solo reminded me a little of early Jimmie's Chicken Shack.  A long slide down the neck of the guitar linked it seamlessly with another burner, "Domino."  "Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Goss has been our hero for fucking years!" screamed Grohl as the white curtain descended again.

Up until this point, the genre of the night had been "desert rock," but as Lee Ving's wild face appeared on the screen, the punk fans in the crowd whooped loudly.  As leader of the seminal California hardcore band Fear, Ving and his bandmates recorded their debut, 
The Record, at Sound City Studios.  I was very curious as to how the crowd would react.  Would there be moshing like at Fear's infamous 1981 Saturday Night Live appearance?  A splash of beer from a thrown cup was as rowdy as it got in the crowd, but onstage was a different story, amplified by Ving's howling harmonica in "Your Wife is Calling."  P
icking up his guitar, he introduced "I Love Livin' in the City" as an "old-fashioned singalong."  Counting off every song with a rapid-fire "1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4!" Ving and company blazed through six songs in 16 minutes.  Dave divulged, "People ask me, 'What's it like playing with Paul McCartney?  What's it like playing with Stevie Nicks? What's it like playing with John Fogerty?'  You know what it's like?  It's like playing with Lee fucking Ving!"

Rick Nielsen and Krist Novoselic came next, a gaggle of white balloons appearing out of nowhere at the start of their set.  Taylor Hawkins traded spots with Grohl, and got to live out his rock fantasy camp dream of singing Cheap Trick songs with Rick Nielsen.  Before the final song, the exhuberant Hawkins admitted that he was merely subbing for the guy who sings on the record, Corey Taylor of Slipknot.  "Hey, fuck him, Taylor. You're way better," Rick shot back, and they kicked into "Surrender."  Noticing Pat Smear singing along to the chorus, Nielsen attempted to coax him to the microphone, but Smear shook his head, happy enough just to share the stage.  Brad Wilk, however, had no problem returning to grab the mic on the opposite side to finish the last chorus, as Hawkins and Nielsen tossed out handfuls of shiny confetti onto the crowd.

The screen sank yet again, and heartthrob Rick Springfield's face garnered screams from the crowd, be they ironic or authentic.  Springfield may seem the odd man in the bunch, but he's essential to the Sound City story.  After years of being turned down by every manager in town, Sound City signed him to a record deal.  The first LP was 1981's 
Working Class Dog, which featured a little #1 song called "Jessie's Girl."  I personally like power pop, so I had no issue, but to any naysayers, this wasn't just Rick Springfield; it was Rick Springfield backed by the Foo Fighters.  The music was much heavier, especially the opener, the Sound City track, "The Man That Never Was."  His consistent p
ointing into the crowd felt a little cheesy, but with such catchy tunes as "Love is Alright Tonite" and "Love Somebody," I didn't care.  "God damn it, I love Rick Springfield," remarked Grohl between numbers. "I think it's time for the next performer... unless you have one more song?" Dave teased.  Springfield started up the classic riff before being interrupted by Grohl: "He wrote a song that you know by the fucking first three notes.  Teach me, Rick. Teach me. You're like fucking Yoda."  At the song's conclusion, Grohl exclaimed, "The original star of Sound City, Rick Springfield!"

The video clip preceding John Fogerty dealt with the loss of the human element with the advent of digital editing.  "It sounded too perfect," he lamented.  Though "Born on the Bayou" featured a nice jam, his set was far from perfect, the singer's swampy, gritty voice blown out after so many years of growling out his throaty vocals.  Halfway through the set, I realized that I was experiencing the concert in the wrong way.  Instead of comparing his vocals to how they sounded 45 years ago (an unrealistic expectation), I should have been delighting in the fact that he was up there still rocking out.  To watch the Foo Fighters smilingly accompany their idols was something special, particularly when the legends were the ones who actually appeared to be having the most fun.  "Hey, man. I don't know about you, but I'm up here playin' with the frickin' Foo Fighters!" giggled Fogerty, open-mouthed grin fixed on his 67-year-old face.

I'd been thinking that any of the previous three sets could've feasibly ended the show, but at the revue's conclusion, it was evident that Stevie Nicks was the only one who could've done it.  After recording Buckingham Nicks at Sound City, Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham hung out around the studio, having made friends with the staff.  When Mick Fleetwood came in one day searching for a guitarist, he heard a sample of Buckingham's playing and had to have him.  Fortunately, his girlfriend came in tow, and they joined Fleetwood Mac.  Their eponymous 1975 LP and the smash follow-up, Rumours, really put Sound City on the map.  After "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," Nicks told the story of her 18-year-old godson's death by overdose that inspired her contribution to the Sound City record, "You Can't Fix This."  She proposed to Grohl, "Knowing our history, do you wanna go there with me? And he said, 'I'm going with you, babe.'"  The dark song was probably my favorite of her set, considering I've never really listened to Fleetwood Mac.  The two were left alone on the stage for "Landslide," with Dave on acoustic 12-string, though they were supported in the song's second half by a violinist and the accordion that had been sitting so presciently for the entire show.  Dave was visibly choked up at the song's end, and it took him a few minutes into "Gold Dust Woman"'s spacey intro to compose himself.  "God bless Stevie Nicks! God bless Sound City!" he shouted when the song had finally ended.

I wish I would have appreciated the spectacle of the whole thing sooner than I did instead of focusing so much on musicianship.  I paid the most amount of money I'd ever paid for a concert, so I'm still struggling as to whether or not it was worth it.  There were a few 11-year-old girls in the audience who probably saved up a year's worth of allowance to attend, but I'm sure they'll remember it forever.  At the very least, I've been inspired to look into the catalogs of the artists I'd never listened to before.  And the documentary has given me the itch to start recording music again.  In hindsight, yeah, I guess it was worth it.


A Trick with No Sleeve / Why / All My Friends / Hanging Tree / Reach Out


She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On) / It's Shit / Time Slowing Down > Domino / The Blue Garden

LEE VING - 02.13.13 - HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM (16 minutes)

Your Wife is Calling / I Love Livin' in the City / Gimme Some Action / Beef Bologna / Foreign Policy / I Don't Care About You


Hello There > Stiff Competition / I Want You to Want Me > Ain't That a Shame / Surrender


The Man That Never Was / I've Done Everything for You / Love is Alright Tonite / Love Somebody / Jessie's Girl


Travelin' Band / Born on the Bayou / Centerfield / Keep on Chooglin' / Bad Moon Rising / Proud Mary / Fortunate Son


Stop Draggin' My Heart Around / You Can't Fix This / Dreams / Landslide / Gold Dust Woman