Thursday night I agitated the backstage gravel in the Gray Ghost with the Tin Man riding shotgun to catch Leon Russell at Party in the Park. Upon our arrival, Ithaca-based Driftwood was serving up its whirling stomp-and-shout spin on bluegrass. The group brought excellent vocals and intensity, especially when the fiddle player wound up and bowed for the clouds. The crowd was one big, howling smile. This band needs to come back soon...
Russell Rascal'd his way to the stage set up on the by-then packed parking lot under the bridge. Russell is a study in white, and looks a lot like how I thought god looked like, when I believed in god. Russell is way-cool and understated as a vocalist, and at times it was hard to make out his words. The piano, however, rang loud and clear as the man's digits summoned the boogie.
Rolled by the Dinosaur with a backseat full of females to catch the blue symbiosis that was Steve Grills with his special guest -- and big brother -- Arizona-based guitar slinger Tom Grills. The two duked it out family style. Steve is an encyclopedia while Tom is a shredder. It was cool to hold them both up to the light.
Friday night, Los Straitjacket, Hi-Riser, and all-around rock 'n' roller Greg Townson celebrated the release of his most excellent solo CD, "On Your Side." Townson's stripped-down performance -- just the man, a Harmony Rocket, and a Jerry-rigged suitcase -- showed how beautiful his songs are even without the polish and dressing. Townson is a treasure.
Later that night I went from the sublime to the subsonic pummeling of Water Street for the Officer Friendly reunion with guests Eyesalve and Nasty Habit. Eyesalve's set was an earsalve of big 90's, not-too-grungy rock as it set off in its mid-tempo thunder and drive. Nasty Habit -- the stars of the night, for me anyhow -- rocked its collective brain out with period-correct 80's-inspired metal. These guys have it down; the screaming guitars, the soaring vocals, the hooks, and the moves. The kids went bananas. Officer Friendly didn't miss a beat and came out as tight and as loud as ever. It was nostalgia for a lot of the big crowd, but still made sense to first timers. Good rock will do that.
Sadly due to Shakedown obligations, I only got to hear three songs from Nikki Hill at her packed show at Abilene Sunday night. She sounded dangerous and beautiful and it broke my heart to leave. So you tell me, what did I miss? Be gentle...
I know it's lazy to describe a band's sound with another band -- bands as adjectives, I call it -- but sometimes it's a good kick start in the right direction. So when I tell you the new Rochester band The Bygone Few sounds like a Misfit Concrete Blonde, you'll understand why...and hopefully accept my apology.
The quartet caught me a little off guard when I saw it Tuesday, July 2, at the Bug Jar. Maybe I was used to guitarist Ryan Hurley's upright-bass-driven psychobilly leanings (most recently in the late, heavy, fast, and sorely underrated Quartershots). What I got instead was a loud and heavy slug of dark rock 'n' roll. Too swift to be called a dirge, but too noir to ever flirt with pop sugar. All around it was a pretty cool debut for this band, which hopefully won't be bygone too soon.
Coming at you straight outta Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, JD McPherson played an amazing set of gen-u-ine barroom rock 'n' roll Saturday night at Abilene. The place was boiling to the brim and spilled out on to the sidewalk, where the music ricocheted as well. Hipsters, greasers, unawares, ne'er-do-wells, Betties, boppers, freaks, and geeks all lined up to see what is one of the next great saviors of vintage and classic American music.
McPherson's guitar work was tight, tart, terse, and twangy as his band flawlessly pumped along like a casual locomotive. When not dishing out delicious originals, the band dug into the Chess catalogue to shake tails in the sardined crowd even further. Its spirited take Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley didn't hammer on the cliché licks and rhythms, but rather the subtle flow of this unmistakable Windy City wail.
Because most of the audience couldn't see the band due to the large crowd and McPherson's diminutive size, everything around us -- the pretty girls, the duck-tailed boys, bluesers and boozers -- became part of a 3-D sensory onslaught of pure rock 'n' roll glee. Fun, fun, fun. Shazam!