C.J. Chenier certainly laissez les bon temps rouler at Abilene Wednesday, August 21. The joint was one big percolatin' dance floor as Chenier and his able crew rocked up the zydeco. The show went well past most bedtimes, and into those hours known as wee.
I don't believe I've seen Houston, Texas, blues rocker Chris Duarte perform since the Milestones days -- the first Milestones, that is, back in the 1900's -- and I remember him as more of a blueser than the progressive bruiser I saw play at Abilene Sunday night. The show, a stop on his "My Soul Alone Tour 2013," was initially slated for the patio. But given the fear that Duarte's Stratocaster would stratocast and bust clouds, causing it to rain, management horsed the whole affair indoors.
Duarte rocked the crowd as if it was one big bag of Shake 'n' Bake ("And we helped"). Working within the flexible confines of his three-piece band, Duarte took songs based on a riff -- often a blue one -- and explored and enjoyed and extrapolated it, frequently giving a toggle-switch tour along with all his stomp boxes and their myriad purr, growls, and screams.
Duarte doesn't shy away from the mic either, and I imagine he needs to give his fingers a reprieve. So songs like "I Bucked It Up" were sing-along crowd pleasers for the mostly male, cargo-shorts-wearing crowd, which also needed a break, what with all the air-guitaring, fist-pumping, and head-banging going on. A blend of Stevie Ray and Jimi, Duarte proved song after song (including his expert stab at "Manic Depression") why he is up there and out there on the upper deck when it comes to the classic American guitar hero.
Earlier the same day I was gnawing on a lamb shank at the Greek Festival on South Avenue as two cats on stage played some beautiful bouzouki. Mixed in the traditional flutters and trills of the Greek selections were some surf flutter and trills. As they played Dick Dale's "Misirlou" I found myself wondering if all the things Dale captured in his sound included not only lava, but baklava?
Dammit, someone lied to me and told me I was going to a country concert!
Wednesday night, me and nearly 15,000 music fans piled into CMAC to dig on country superstar Kenny Chesney's "No Shoes Nation" tour. The smattering of cowboy hats throughout the crowd looked as if a giant can of Pringles had been dumped over the people and furthered the country ruse.
Now, I'm not waxing purist here. Yes, I'm a fan of traditional twang-and-heartache country and its godfathers, like Hank and Lefty and Willie and Johnny (Paycheck, Cash, and Horton). But I'm also a rock fan. And this was a rock concert. Chesney's Tennessee twang, hat, and boots, and songs that salute a rural state of mind like "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," only added to the country charade, and the crowd eagerly lapped it up.
But just as Chesney sings in a beautiful Dixie-drawled baritone, he's also singing songs like last night's opener "Feel Like Rockstar" over a loud band that was essentially a rock band looking for any opportunity to put the hammer down. The jumbo-tronic set was classic big-arena rock, too.
For close to two hours, Chesney bounded across the stage, working the crowd and bro-ing down with the guys in his band. Everyone was singing along and there was an ever-present rush of starry-eyed, starstruck cell-phone camera photogs crushing against the barricade.
Chesney's songs adhere to simple pop/rock hooks and immediate accessibility. But as far as I'm concerned, it was more rock 'n' roll than country -- and that ain't a bad thing...unless you wanted to hear some country.
Marian McPartland, a beloved figure in the jazz world locally, nationally and internationally, died Tuesday, August 20, at the age of 95. She died of natural causes at her Long Island home. McPartland was best known as the host of the National Public Radio show "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," which ran for more than 30 years. But long before she started the radio show, she was a fixture on the New York jazz scene with her trio and in other settings at a time when women were rare in jazz. Since her first album in 1951, McPartland released more than 100 albums.
McPartland had a long association with Rochester, playing often at the Eastman School of Music. She was also a featured performer at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Her extensive archives, consisting of memorabilia, photographs, recordings, etc., will go to the Eastman School's Sibley Library according to her executor, Rochester jazz radio host and attorney Tom Hampson.
"We're going to have the damnedest memorial concert in New York City that you've ever seen," said Hampson, who served as McPartland's lawyer for three decades. "As an artist she was remarkable for her open mind and her willingness to grow and play new things. She evolved, as did jazz. On a personal level she was interesting and fun, and much more complicated than you might think. We all know the very proper English lady, which she certainly was. But she could also mix it up and swear. She was very human."
McPartland loved the Eastman School and set up a scholarship for piano players there. She also played a concert to endow the Rayburn Wright Fund at Eastman.
"She was a very generous person," says Eastman professor Harold Danko. "I met her at the Manhattan School of Music when I was hired to teach there in the mid-1980's. She was also on the piano faculty and had a big name. But when she was asked to play a concert she said, 'Why don't I do a concert with Harold?' She extended that kind of generosity. She would give you her blessing."
Danko also recalled McPartland's adventurousness. "Nobody could believe that she could play free jazz or Irish tunes; her range was remarkable. Her playing was not cliché in any way. When I did 'Piano Jazz' I thought there would be rehearsals, but it was totally spontaneous. I'd name a standard and she'd say, 'What key do you want to do that in?'"
Danko confirmed that McPartland had what he called her "jazz mouth." "To hear her curse in that proper accent was one of the finest things in life."
As the summer comes to a close, the time for music festivals is winding down as well. On Saturday, radio station The Zone 94.1 squeezed in its annual Scion's Bonzai, a music festival celebrating radio-friendly modern rock.
"Keep in mind that we only came here to have a good fucking time with you!" yelled Kaleo Wassman, vocalist for the band Pepper, as I entered the Main Street Armory. The room felt like a frat house, complete with plastic cups littering the floor, shirtless guys in backwards baseball caps roaming about with done-up girls on their arms, and the stench of cheap beer lingering in the stale, sweat-infused air. It seemed as though everyone in attendance shared Wassman's sentiments: they were only there to have a good time. And with eight hours of acts such as Sick Puppies, Panic! At the Disco, and Crash Kings, that mission was sure to be accomplished.
Following Pepper was Reel Big Fish, a true highlight of the night. The much-celebrated ska band put on an impressive display of musicianship, featuring a solid brass section and an energetic, magnetic frontman. At first listen, the band may appear to be silly or inane. But the lyrical childishness is saved by a clear understanding of the way music works, with structures and melodies that feel as classic as any Phil Spector song and frequent, jazz-influenced trumpet solos from the supremely talented John Christianson.
The main event of the night was Celtic-rock band Dropkick Murphys. The band opened with the relatively new "The Boys Are Back," and I found it impossible not to tap my feet to the beat of the drums, or to move my body in some way. It seemed that my fellow concert-goers felt the same exact way. As I stood in the back of the Armory, a young girl standing next to me pumped her fist in the air, head-banged, and marched in place to the music. Set apart from the rowdy pit, she celebrated her love for the band in her own way. It's easy to peg Murphys as being a Boston-bred tough-guy favorite, but Saturday it was apparent that the music can reach that niche as well as it can reach that dancing teenaged girl or the young kid in the Green Day t-shirt who watched the band, flanked by his parents.
In the end, regardless of age or niche, by the end of the night it seemed that everyone was having a good fucking time. Mission accomplished, Bonzai.
Saturday night at the Bug Jar was a local music showcase, with five solid Rochester-based acts on the bill. The underground hip-hop outfit Tugboat was first up, and entertained with an — at times comical — yet impressive display of smooth rhymes, provocative samples, and engaging beats.
People Can Be More Awesome followed with what was apparently the group’s second-ever live performance. While the band was still tuning, the lead singer announced “We only have 17 minutes worth of material, so if we get jam-bandy, bear with us.” On the contrary, the six piece powered through a short set of synth-laden, ride-heavy rock that would probably fall somewhere between emo and post-hardcore. Despite PCBMA’s lack of stage experience, it acquitted itself pretty damn well.
Fowls produced about a half hour of reverb-soaked, calypso-esque indie rock, which at times sounded very akin to Vampire Weekend. The two vocalist/guitarists traded math-rock riffs and control of the microphone, but when it clicked on the distortion, and dropped into heavier chord progressions, the songs seemed to have a little more meat.
Headliners Joywave had heads nodding from note one, and it was easy to see why these guys have a nice little following. The group’s extremely danceable electronica roots were on display, as was its knack for throwing down some seriously catchy hooks. Daniel Armbruster’s breezy falsetto was the perfect accoutrement, as he willfully whispered some beautiful melodies on top of the sample-driven beats and reserved, but responsible, guitars. All in all, a very alluring performance.
But the highlight of the night was definitely the 20-minute explosion authored by The Branch Davidians. The four-piece took the stage rather unadorned: keyboard, no-frills drum kit, some digital toys, guitar, one loud amp, and a plan. The set raged with the sludgy gorgeousness reminiscent of early British shoegaze, but the driving, minimalist rhythms anchored some of the more “out-there” moments. “Right Time” was a great example of the quartet’s ability to drown the room in dense, textural sound. Although the vocal mix was a bit low, it worked, adding to the vulnerable-yet-affecting aesthetic. The pretty, muffled melodies of “Bridges of Madison County” had a psychedelic pop feel that was shattered with a wall of feedback that always seemed to land on its feet. Set closer “Blessed Water” was an exercise in how transcendent noise can be when there’s a concept behind it. Not sure what that concept was, but, well, the meditative waves of dissonance washed over me, and I was clean.
It's an interesting thing to review a show like the Wavves concert that took place at Water Street last Friday night.There are some shows that feel passive enough that being a quiet observer, lingering on the outskirts of the crowd, feels barely outside the norm. At these shows, the focus tends to be the music versus the crowd, placing the spotlight entirely on the shoulders of whomever it is that takes to the stage that night.
Then there are shows where the energy of the crowd is equally as important as the musicians who hit the stage. It’s a special thing when a band inspires their listeners to get up and get rowdy. And Friday night at Water Street, I was fortunate enough to witness such an event.
The venue was packed with excited fans from the very first act, which was Rochester’s own Dumb Angel. The band set the stage for the two follow-up acts, laying down a tight, psychedelic vibe, while combining sweet, poppy vocals with distorted, fuzzy guitars and a heavy drum beat.
Following Dumb Angel was another local act. Skirts, previously known as Meanagers, had a much different vibe than the other two bands in the lineup. Surprisingly melodic and irresistibly catchy, Skirts takes an old-school rock-and-roll vibe and somehow makes it even cooler. Frontman Hayden Ford looks, moves, and sounds like Buddy Holly (and, quite naturally, Rivers Cuomo), borrowing but not stealing from that iconic attitude and style.
The crowd was already revved up from the two fantastic opening acts when Wavves took to the stage. From the beginning of Wavves’ set, the energy of the crowd was palpable. The floor shook under the weight of a legion of devoted fans, jumping up and down, fists in the air, screaming the words to favorites like “Green Eyes” and “King of The Beach.” The majority of the band’s set consisted of old material, playing just a few songs from the recently released “Afraid of Heights.” Wavves presented a wall-of-sound quality, its separate parts barely distinguishable, even launching into noisey, jarring interludes at several points during the set. Wavves has mastered the ability to combine light, pop-punk vocals and melodies with lo-fi, heavy instrumentation.
Mid-set, a man emerged from the crowd to take a break from the action and happened upon me writing. “Are you writing an article?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“It’s getting real slimey up there! Everyone’s slimey! Putthatin your article!” he said.
I think that really says it all.
I have often rejoiced as technology has brought music back to the musicians and out of the grabby paws of the too-long-established charlatans and racketeers. Bands are embracing and forging a new honesty, even a new sound.
You've got, for instance, Brooklyn's Lucius, a band so full of unpretentious joy that I smiled until my skull almost popped out of my mouth. The band wowed the crowd, and my skull, Thursday at yet another swell edition of Party in the Park. The instrumentation was minimal, with everyone in the band resorting to percussion, sometimes all at once.
The five-piece band was fronted by two identical ladies in half-black, half-white dresses, kind of like the black & white cookies we used to get at Sibley's bakery when we were kids. When the two played it was as if one of them was playing into a mirror. The quirk and Talking Heads-esque slant was overshadowed only by the women's constant and stunning harmonies. The guitarist played a complete Sears Silvertone set up, which was all kinds of cool.
Straight outta Seattle, headliners The Head and the Heart pounced the stage to the delight of the extremely enthusiastic mob. In much the same bare-bones vein, THTH had instruments laying about the stage, with each member picking one up as if on a whim. The melodies were gorgeous. Everyone was singing and jumping up and down. I left smiling in a cloud of Gray Ghost exhaust, my skull still inside its wrapper.
Took a chance and rolled up on the singer/songwriter showcase at The Club @ Water Street Wednesday night. Half the battle in supporting local music is encouraging it to stay original. Most artists I talk with want to play their own stuff exclusively, but demand often dictates differently. Kaylin Cervini is one of those artists. Though the young lady in all her barefoot elegance pulled out a couple of covers, including a passionate take on "Summertime," she mostly stuck to her original guns.
Her lyrics aren't necessarily that unique or profound as she addresses love, love lost, and the endless confusion and twilight in between, but her voice demands attention. Cervini serves up a heady and sensuous contralto that sailed above her abbreviated backing band. She can belt, that's for sure, but when she hovers in that lower, throatier register, it gets downright steamy.