It was my first-ever trip to The Thirsty Turtle in Victor to dig some ska band called Some Ska Band, led by the stingy-brimmed man of the saxophone and poison pen, Charles Benoit. The place was packed and pleasant as the band rocked steady at a comfortable gallop and volume. More than a few in the happy-hour crowd left as new ska fans. How cool. How rude?
I've been watching Break of Reality grow from metal-inspired coffee-shop upstarts to a chamber quartet powerhouse that filled Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre Friday night with a noisily enthusiastic crowd. The group's talent is rivaled only by its humility and the no-frills kick in the ass it gives nu-classical music. The sound was mighty big and the drums were a bit muddy (I preferred when the drummer worked the hand drum as opposed to the full kit), but overall it was majestic.
Walked over to Montage Music Hall after that to dig a multi-band punk bill. Trophy Lungs was delivering the blast-furnace three-chord joy as we made it through the door. The guitarist had obviously mastered the dead-string bar-chord octave slash, because that's pretty much all he did. No matter, it still sounded cool. The Off-Season followed and spent a good amount of the show airborne; the kids gave it right back. That's how you wind up with a good show, jack.
Saturday I caught the air-tight slapstick ska (that's right, more ska) of 5 Head on the Record archive stage. The sound was magnificent, with the band's charge-up-San-Juan-Hill horn section over the skittery bop of the rest of the band. Made me wanna jump, jump like a mack daddy.
Thursday night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert was the one to attend if you were in the mood for "big." Big, huge orchestra filling the stage.Big, 100-plus-voice choir on risers. And big-voiced soloists, front and center. It was a night of Beethoven's Ninth and a Boulanger Psalm.
The RPO was led by guest conductor Hugh Wolff. Wolff has recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies, and his interests range from Baroque to new compositions. Wolff's studies included conducting with Charles Bruck and composition with Olivier Messiaen. Having lived and studied in Paris was no doubt a contributing influence to Wolff's fine interpretation of the Boulanger.
The Rochester Oratorio Society shared the stage for the entire concert. The ROS is under the direction of Eric Townell. Founded in 1945, ROS pulls its voices from Rochester and a surrounding seven-county region. We would do well to realize that works like the Ninth Symphony can only be mounted because we have so much vocal talent in our region, making it both literally and financially possible.
Four soloists were featured: Kelley Nassief, soprano; Rebecca Ringle, mezzo-soprano; Vale Rideout, tenor; and Jan Opalach, baritone. Each one deserved the audience's applause, and I would welcome an opportunity hear each one in a solo recital so that I could sit back and enjoy the clear, warm sounds of each voice.
The first half of the program consisted of one work, Lili Boulanger's "Psalm 130, Du fond de l'abîme" ("Out of the Depths of the Abyss"). Eerie, unmistakably French, and hypnotic, it is a 30-minute work that must be seen live. If you've watched it on YouTube, you've completely missed the vibratory sensation that can only come through the live experience of the low register in which this work is couched. Low percussion. Long, low pulls across the bass and cello strings. And, the surprisingly low and resonant voice of mezzo-soprano Ringle. Ringle's tone was perfect for Psalm 130, and her emotional connection to the work was evident in every note.
I would expect that last night's audience turnout was enhanced by the billing of the Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, the only work on the second half of the program. Who doesn't love the Ninth? At more than an hour, I'm guessing that many in the audience were simply waiting for those special cello and bass notes signaling that we were coming toward the moment of the chorus bursting into the "Ode to Joy."
The performance of the Ninth Symphony won an immediate standing ovation, and so it should. Compliments across the board.
But, is it enough to mount a massive masterwork of classical music? Or should audiences still ask for more?
What felt to be lacking from go was a vision of the work as a whole - not as something singularly huge, but as something nuanced, surprising, and full of discoveries to be made. With a piece that long, the consistently high volume and tempo became anti-climactic. Where is there to go when a work is already so loud and so fast so often in the first movement, even though it is marked "Allegro ma no troppo, un poco maestoso" (meaning fast, but not too much so, and with a touch of majesty)? The dynamic tension is taken away by that approach, as surely as if a state dinner consists of course after course of luscious sachertorte, flown in from Vienna.
One of the most particular attributes of the RPO under current Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman is his ability to take the orchestra's string section to a level of volume that is so far beyond "piano" (soft) and with such clarity as to do the seemingly impossible. I've written high praise about this fantastic technique in more than one review over the years. But, last night, with the exception of passages consisting only of cello and bass, I would suggest that the RPO didn't go any softer than a mezzo piano. Bowing furiously in a work such as the Ninth Symphony is not the quest; it is achieving a full range of dynamics that allows for an enhanced, uniquely Beethoven, emotional experience.
I would also question, from a review standpoint, whether a season led entirely by guest conductors is by now presenting challenges for me on benchmarking performance. For critical basics like clean entrances and crisp attacks, is it a particular guest conductor or is it a progressing season without a consistent captain at the helm? Last night's orchestration was a packed stage, along with a guest chorus and four soloists, meaning that even for a full-time music director and conductor there would have been a critical mass of extra work to be done. All things considered, to my sensibilities, I'm going to put a question on whether large works can reasonably be programmed during a season of guest conductors coming off a protracted period of disquietude.
The RPO also performs the program Saturday, January 18, 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 19, 2 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets cost $15-$92. For more information call 454-2100 or visit the website.
After successfully shoehorning myself into two shows of the three I sought to attend this weekend, I'm left with one burning question: are all these ugly people getting laid? No, I kid. My real question is: how do you draw a crowd in this town? Begging? Milking social media? Lap dances?
Friday night I thought I'd head over to Dub Land Underground for the Alexander Street joint's swan song, its ride into the sunset, its big adios. Apparently a million people had the same idea, as roughly 300 of them were piled up in line up the stairs and out to the street just to get in the door. I got to wondering -- if this wasn't the club's last night, would all those people have stormed the place? If they had done that routinely, would this have had to be the club's last night? It seemed too little, too late. It's a shame that Dub Land was the one of the last -- possibly the only -- remaining bastions of live music in this supposed entertainment neighborhood.
I swung over to Abilene, which provided a little more room with its leftover-from-happy-hour-crowd. They were all pumpin' and sweatin' to The Ghost Peppers' funky soul as the band stood on shaky ground and rocked it.
The Three Heads Brewing 3rd Annual Homegrown hootenanny at Lovin' Cup Saturday was totally off the hook as a ton of bands rocked a huge crowd. I suggest waiting a few months when it's warmer and move this event outside, as it was impossible to move indoors. I caught sets by Moho Collective, which didn't just play a set of music, but took listeners on a salaciously seething, sonic sojourn. The band's wonder and thrill was shared by the audience -- shaking asses, dropped jaws, and all of that. Subsoil followed and absolutely killed it; the horn section, the interwoven MCs, the funky bottom end all were just perfect. Best show I've seen in a while. That's how you get a crowd, sweetheart.
Ventured out in the cold in search of hot rock 'n' roll Friday night with the old lady and found what we were looking for at Lovin' Cup. Not even a year old, Sycamore Four was there putting four on the floor when we arrived. Though a little less breakneck than some of the members' previous outings -- Flour City Knuckleheads, The Spaces, The Enemy Ace -- this band still rocked raw and loose with plenty of tongue still in cheek and a ballsy bravado. That included dangerous stabs at Huey Lewis and Bob Seger, which I thought I could do without...until I caught myself driving home humming "Katmandu."
The wonderful thing about discussing, arguing , or evaluating music is that everyone is right. The Record Archive turned into a brilliant forum for this debate on Sunday as it presented a listening party for the highly anticipated new Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings album "Give the People What They Want." The album was put on hold due to Jones' bout with cancer. But Jones is back and the album (due to land January 14) is absolutely brilliant. I listened to it front to back at least four times with a handful of music aficionados who dug the band's reserve as Jones wailed on top of the exquisite soul music. We debated the finer points and brought our own libraries into it, and even collectively gave Ike Turner a posthumous pardon. And you know what? We were all right, alright.
On the rock 'n' roll road to ruin, you'll pass by plenty of bands that came close. Bands that tasted the sorbet but never made it to the big kids' table. Bands whose legacy is prefixed with an "almost" or suffixed with a "so close."
Rochester hard-rock outfit Hard Rain is a prime example of a group that made it -- as far as I'm concerned -- when the band came together to play its brand of incendiary hard rock in the early 90's. And the band made it again Saturday night to a packed, borderline frenzied crowd at Nola's BBQ on Lake Avenue. It was the first time in almost 20 years that Hard Rain -- John Akers, Paul Akers, Erik Welsh, and the now-living-in-Deutschland Rudy Valentino -- had stood on stage together.
Despite the icy conditions and the, well, hard rain outside, the place was a sardine tin, nut-to-butt, floor to the ceiling, jammed up by the stage and swinging from the balcony. The band came out blazing and played as ferociously fun as ever, the only difference being the radical change in the amount of hair on stage. Back in the band's initial launch onto the scene, it was hirsute Hard Rain that banged its head under wavy locks. Those waves of hair have since waved goodbye, replaced by three shaved-clean chrome domes up front. Honestly I thought the new look gave the band an ominous presence even more suited to the music.
The band played virtually everything off "Peace is not a Fashion," and vocalist John Akers never had to sing alone as everyone in the joint (bartenders and bouncers included) knew all the words. The band was in fine form, never missed a beat, and came on big and loud. There was a hint of nostalgia and a collective reminiscent tear shed when a toast was made to the late, great champion of local music, Unkle Roger. I can't believe it has been 10 years without Unk. What a fantastic show, what a wonderful night.
I love seeing bands play at The Beale on South Avenue, as they shoehorn themselves onto the windowsill the restaurant calls a stage. I braved the ass-chapping cold this past Thursday to catch Genesee Johnny and the River Rats. The last time I remember seeing Johnny, it was solo, foot-stompin' Delta style with a cross-section of Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt and so on. It was the same thing this time around, except Johnny had a band this time around to stomp and flesh out the man's finger-picked, lo-fi slide and electrified country blues.
As it was also Son House night at the joint, musicians got up to add to the jam, including Washboard Dave. Dave's rag-tag assembly of pots and pans and assorted cymbals and things that he whacks at with thimble-covered fingers gave the show the feel of a garage sale come to life.
Friday night was a blast at Abilene -- unless you were under 6'5". The Hi-Risers completely sardined the joint to the delight to those who could jockey for a look-see, and all who could hear. I imagine the crowd was no big deal for guitarist Greg Townson as he just returned from a gig in Mexico City with Los Straitjackets where the band drew 50,000 rabid fans. That's 50,000, baby.
It's hard to get out to get down on a cold Monday night, but thankfully I did just that to catch one of the best shows I've seen in a long, long time. Pennsylvania punkers Moistboyz packed Lovin' Cup and painted the walls with the enthusiastic crowd's brains. It was an incredibly tight set of angry, breakneck sing-along, anthem-esque rock.
Shirtless singer Dickie Moist -- a la Henry, a la Iggy -- was a tantrum personified as he seethed and raged and wallowed about the stage, all the while defiantly chain smoking cigarettes. The band, which also included guitarist Dean Ween (Ween) and bassist Nick Oliveri (Queens of the Stone Age), played tight and furious, without overshadowing its reckless energy, false starts and all. And with MDG at the board the sound was incredibly big and loud. It made me moist...
This is a band so new, it ain't got a name yet. It got slapped together after Denver, Colorado, strummer and crooner Eddie Clendening sat in for an impromptu jam at Abilene with The Lustre Kings. Clendening is here on business. It just so happens that rockin' is his business, and business is good. He's performing as part of "Good Rockin' Live: A Salute to Sun Records," now playing at the Winton Road location of Downstairs Cabaret Theatre. So on his nights off he's plugged into a locomotive rhythm section with Hot Rod Mike Graham (Electro Kings) and Jason Smay (Hi-Risers, JD McPherson) to make up this killer nameless combo. They rocked The Record Archive's Black Friday house on, well, Black Friday.
You may recognize the name from when Clendening played the part of Elvis Presley as part of the hit Broadway sensation "Million Dollar Quartet," which came to the Auditorium Theatre a few years back. But salutes to the King and all the King's men on the Sun label and beyond are just a mere whisper of what this mile-high rockabilly cat is capable of, especially in this line-up.
Clendening knows the great American rockabilly songbook inside and out, as well as the more obscure names like Johnny Powers, Joe Clay, Ronnie Dawson, and Mickey Baker (of Mickey and Sylvia fame). But it's when he digs into his own material off his killer album "Walkin and Cryin'" that the man truly shines with a period-correct reverence and contemporary sting. Clendending's guitar has teeth, with a naturally nasty tone driven by his bare hands. His thump-and-scream leads remind me a lot of the late Paul Burlison's work with The Rock and Roll Trio. It's some of the best rockabilly I've heard, ever -- and I listen to a lot, man.
Don't blame Danielle Ponder. She can't help it. No matter what kind of band you put her in front of, the soul is there. You can't hide genuine soul. That's not to say she was trying to hide anything with her grooving set following Clendening's trio at the Archive, but her new band, Tomorrow People, is abbreviated and a little more straight ahead -- a little less r&b than Black August and a bit less angular than Filthy Funk -- and it comes off sweet and rocking. What remains is Ponder's passion. She doesn't just sing the notes, but rather wrings the blood and tears out of them. She is an incredibly gifted singer that is felt as much as she is heard.
The Little Theatre Café has always struck me as temporal twilight, a layover in a caffeinated limbo if you will, on your way to or from cinematic bliss. While in this holding pattern and holding a cup of hot joe, you can dig any number of bands on the artistic fringe as they punch out acoustic or lightly amplified sets of electrified eclecticity. It's momentary, fleeting, and beautiful in its brevity.
Folks come from the reaches to dig the tunes. Most are passing through. The café isn't what you'd necessarily call a destination. But last Thursday it was crowded with fans of local gypsy-jazz sensations The Djangoners. Sure, some were there on their way to one the Little's assorted left-of-Hollywood offerings, but the majority of the crowd that packed the house was there start to finish for two sets of the quartet's thrills, trills, and, augmented fills.
The sound centered around the material of gypsy-jazz guitar godfather, Django Reinhardt. When you ponder the fact that Reinhardt did what he did with just two fingers on his fret hand -- the other two digits were rendered useless in a fire -- it's staggering. But honestly very few guitarists, or those in the supporting fiddle and bass roles, have mastered the style's syncopation, jump, and zing as well as the Djangoners.
At the band's core is Bobby Henrie, a six-string-slingin' southpaw wunderkind raised on bluegrass and red-hot rockabilly. Watching this man play on his upside-down guitar is a study in the style's confounding elegance and complicated simplicity. Five-string fiddle player (and maker) Eric Aceto offered up a similar blur of bowed notes that countered the melody when not countering it or harmonizing with it. His brother and rhythm guitarist Harry Aceto was absent, leaving Ithaca guitarist Dave Davies -- no, not that Dave Davies, Kinks fans -- to add the percussive chop, charm, and trombone. You might think that last piece would be a bit out of place, but in reality it just added to the parade. Dog-house bassist Brian Williams kept the bottom end thumping and hips twitching as he served up his trademark locomotive swing.
You can see The Djangoners at The Little Theatre Café every Thursday in December. See a movie too, if you're so inclined.
Beethoven might be the headliner, but the attention grabbers from last night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert were guest cellist Edward Arron performing Saint-Saëns and living American composer Kevin Puts. Perhaps you have heard of neither? All the more reason to get to Saturday night's concert.
Arron's performance demonstrated what happens when you do everything right going into a concert. The work was the Concerto No. 1 in A Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33 by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Arron clearly practices consistently and has practiced and performed this work a sufficient number of times over the years for it to be sufficiently ingrained in his muscle memory. There is a huge leap made by a soloist when the music is memorized. There is an even larger leap that is made once the soloist has become one with his instrument and the music.
Arron also avoided one of my pet peeves: every time he returned to the theme, he gave it a different and organically progressed expression. Not once was the theme boring. Watching Arron's face, it was almost as if he was imagining an opera, with an infinite variation of the word "love" passing between himself and some coquettish maiden.
Arron deserves a "best of" for capturing an analysis of the notes, practicing, absorbing, and then letting it all go in a Top 3 soloist performance with the RPO (the other two being Augustin Hadelich, violin, in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 and Juliana Athayde, violin, in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14). Arron is a graduate of The Juilliard School, and now serves on the faculty at New York University. His performance credits include all the top performance halls and festivals, and he has performed with Yo-Yo Ma and as part of the Silk Road Project.
Also on last night's program was "Inspiring Beethoven" by American composer Kevin Puts (b. 1972), an Eastman School of Music alum. It's a really terrific composition. The layers and the mood changes capture what one can only imagine would be the multiplicity of sounds in Beethoven's head. Somber, sad, tortured, delusional, a brewing tempest, the tempest, and then the release of a joyful composition.NirKabaretti, guest conductor, transitioned the moods through single-note pivots.
And then, of course, the mighty Beethoven was the star of the night, and received the lion's share of the time. On the program were his Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a and his Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (the "Pastoral"). These works are on the pleasant and enjoyable end of the Beethoven spectrum, providing the kind of orchestration for strings perhaps only Beethoven could supply, along with a range of dynamics from quiet to loud without all the explosives. Perhaps these works were written in better days for Herr Beethoven? Conductor Kabaretti certainly was afforded an opportunity to smile with much greater frequency than would be typical for Beethoven -- or the RPO programming, for that matter -- and Kabaretti took that opportunity to share his enjoyment with the musicians and the audience.
Kabaretti, born in Israel, educated in Vienna, residing in Florence and now Santa Barbara, brought the kind of universal warmth to these works one should expect. I'm not sure I was sold on the opening passage to the Leonore Overture, which started the program, either as to tempo or as to precision of entrances, but credit must be given both to the guest conductor and to the RPO. This is a season of 100 percent guest conductors and if there is anything to be observed, it is that every week the musicians are learning the sign language of a new captain at the helm.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will repeat the program Saturday, November 23, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information call 454-1200 or visit the website.
Typically anticipation runs pretty low for a Monday early-evening gig. Often, it's a low-dough slot with minimal risk for promoters and minimum return for the band. That is unless, you're in This Is Home and it's your first gig ever. I braved the bluster and wind Monday, November 18, to stand in a modest sea of teenagers so that I could watch this band lose its live-show cherry, live. The anticipation was palpable as the kids danced and grooved around the stage to the diametrically disparate drone of Dr. Dre coming in over the PA. The angst and urgency were all legit and 100 percent grade-A genuine -- this band is made up solely of teenagers and 20-year-olds.
The band, though a little stiff (nerves no doubt) hit heavy and strong, enjoying the ride as much as the crowd. Not sure what they call it these days, but This Is Home played a screamingly aggressive metal-esque set with a full-on drum attack beneath the six-string buzzsaw and chugga-chugga-squeal up front. It was in direct contrast to the sanctuary found in the band's name.
There were the typical feedback and volume issues that arise at every show (newbie or otherwise), but the crowd danced and head-banged in approval as it stood and ushered yet another bunch of rock-music hopefuls into the fold. Welcome to the dark side, boys.