UPDATE 5/21/13 to correct the spelling of Pat DiNizio's name.
The Slackers are just so cool. The Bug Jar was like a Frigidaire when these Brooklyn cats rolled through town to rock steady last Thursday night. The band's groove is punctuated by an understated beat; it hits your hips and feet but never clobbers you over the head. And sure the groove is a solid, mid-tempo, pulsing ska, but elements like David Hillyard's funky phrasing, hint at much more. The band sounded fantastic, though I would have dug a few more selections off its "Redlight" CD.
Friday afternoon marked my first plunge of the year into the sea of flowers and fried dough that is the Rochester Lilac Festival. Mikaela Davis was on stage with her abbreviated band and her mysteriously captivating sound. Davis' harp dwarfed its diminutive master as she coaxed a wash of electric, eclectic color from the instrument. It was further complimented by some colorful guitar accents and trills that in spots sounded psychedelic. Her overall sound was gentle and sweet. This is what I imagine lilacs sound like.
After Davis' dewy delights, came the sweat, leather, and denim of the upstate troubadours in The Brian Lindsay Band. As I've said many times before, Lindsay is our version The Boss -- imagine "Darkness on the Edge of Smugtown." Lindsay and his tight band of outlaws were loud and solid and rocking with a set of hard-hitting Americana, celebrating where we stomp, hang our hats, pick up our women, and brag about all of it. And there's just something about a Telecaster turned up and banged on and twanged on by a man with something to say.
Power-chord masters from New Jersey The Smithereens followed with a cool set of hits opening with "Only A Memory" and closing with "A Girl Like You" with plenty of nods to The Beatles and The Who, along with the band's own lengthy catalogue in a generous 90-minute set. The guitars were big and loud and front man Pat DiNizio -- also big and loud -- still has his smooth baritone intact, and was a charming host as the crowd lapped it up in the glow of the setting sun.
Made it back to the festival one more day to see Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys play some simply perfect Western swing. Dressed in Hawaiian shirts and cowboy boots, the band was the stylistic equivalent of the sound on stage. Guitarist Ashley Kingman was on fire as the band wove in and out of its 25-year catalogue, playing for the rug-cutters who adapted to the grass and dandelions.
[ Slideshow ] Lilac Festival 2013
Friday night marked the first part of The David Mayfield Parade's two-night stand at Abilene. By the time I made the scene the place was packed and sufficiently lubricated on Genny, Jim, and Jack, and show openers The Tarbox Ramblers' opening set was full of lowdown, drop-tune, and swampy Beantown voodoo.
The headliners from Columbus, Ohio, kicked off in high gear, playing hella loose and reckless, and succeeded in winding things up high and tight like a first-time inmate's haircut. Mayfield's guitar work is utterly brilliant and mad in a sort of demolition-derby way. It sounds as if the guitar can't make up its mind, or has ideas of its own as the frets shout at Mayfield's fingers, "Go here; no, go here. That's right, now here. That's it, that's it. Now doesn't that sound cool?"
Cool collided with beautiful when, toward the end of the set, Mayfield and his stage-right bottle-blonde vocalist ventured into the crowd to harmonize a gorgeous lament over each other's honky-tonk heart.
Saturday night was a big surprise as I discovered a fantastic Rochester singer/songwriter named Jeremy Laurson as he played at Tala Vera. Backed by a thrown-together-yet-capable back-up band made up of members of Meta Accord and Moon Zombies, Laurson went from hook-laden heavy pop to gentle-as-the-dust-in-the-air salvos. His guitar work was efficient and interesting but hard to classify (in a good way). It was understated and casual, leaving room for the material to swell sweet bordering on epic in its impact.
From the jungles of Vermont, Bow Thayer & Perfect Trainwreck rolled into town and followed Laurson's killer set with a banjo- and guitar-driven set that riffed heavy with the ghost of Dylan floating between the lines.
Drove the Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry, so I drove the Caddy to The Dinosaur and stumbled in as The Teressa Wilcox Band was sinking its teeth into Lucinda Williams' "Joy," with blood running from its grin down its chin. Sure, it's Wilcox who all the eyeballs gravitate toward. But every single player up on that stage is a major-league heavy hitter.
The audience at Thursday night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performance (Peter Bay, guest conductor) was treated to a "sound bath" - there is no other way to describe the beautiful and interesting composition "From Me Flows What You Call Time," by Toru Takemitsu, performed with NEXUS percussion ensemble. Paired with Karen Tanaka's "Water of Life," this is a must-hear concert.
The first half of the program was only the Takemitsu work, and it deserved to stand alone. The stage was filled with the orchestra musicians, as well as the five percussionists of NEXUS. Each of the percussionists occupied a large space. Two percussionists were in multi-sided, multi-rowed sound cages filled with all sizes and types of bells, gongs, cymbals, drums, wood blocks, wooden jiggers, and rain sticks. These areas were approximately 7' high by 6' wide per side. The middle percussionist had xylophone and, primarily, several large steel drums. The two back percussionists had xylophones and more bells, gongs, and cymbals. On each front wing of the stage was a tall, wide bar, supporting more than 20 long chimes. The metal instruments were made of all types of metals, thickness, shape, and sizes. And each percussionist used a variety of mallets.
NEXUS was a feast for the eyes, as well as the ears. Each percussionist moved as if taking part in a water ballet. The entire arc of their bodies was part of the creation of the sound. At one point, percussionist Bill Cahn created the loudest sound of the work, a sort of rolling thunder on a huge cymbal that began with the smallest of movement, but rose gently and surely through larger and larger movements, creating more and more sound until it started to recede to where he was barely moving, even as the smallest of sounds still penetrated to the upper reaches of the hall.
The Tanaka piece "Water of Life" was a world premiere with the composer in the house. Like the Takemitsu work, the Tanaka piece captured nature with perfection. I could just as easily have closed my eyes and believed I was standing at the shore, so closely did the music emulate both the surface and the undersea experience. Even so, each composer's work was distinct. The Takemitsu composition was as highly abstract as wind, while the Tanaka composition had a sufficient blending of recognizable elements to give it a more grounded, standing-at-water's-edge feeling.
As per the program notes, Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was a Japanese composer. Karen Tanaka was also born in Japan (b. 1961). The Takemitsu piece was inspired by a poem, "Clear Blue Water" by Makoto Ooka, and the Tibetan "Wind Horse." The Tanaka piece found inspiration from the Biblical reference to the water of life, and is a prayer for the tsunami victims in Japan.
The RPO always impresses me when it takes on these grand works that couldn't possibly have a readable score. Works that seem to lack the Western version of a metronome tick-tocking.Works that depart, or maybe never begin, with classical form. And, while there has been much intentional public relations coming out of the RPO to advertise its purpose in seeking out lesser-known composers, what I would say is look for more of these spectacular, memorable works from anywhere around the globe and then allow your audience to say, "I want to hear more of that."
I was not, however, as "joyeuse" with the performance of the French composers' works on the program. By Maurice Ravel, there was "Menuet antique" and "Le Tombeau de Couperin," and by Lili Boulanger, there was "D'un matin de printemps" (On a Spring Morning). My first consideration was whether these pieces were an appropriate pairing with the Takemitsu and Tanaka because, as performed, the styles were too different. My second comment is that I was not convinced as to the performances being in the true style of the composers, the eras, or the opportunities for performance idioms that could have used a more French romantic interpretation to generate a more cohesive overall concert.
The RPO will perform the program again Saturday, May 11, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. $15-$82. RPO.org.
It takes a lot of guts to leave the party while it's still hoppin', but that's exactly what Hate Machine did Friday night at Montage Music Hall to a rabid -- albeit bummed -- crowd. Early in the set singer Jed Seaver stopped between songs to explain. "We've hit the plateau and have nowhere else to go," he said. I can totally dig this; bowing out before you undo your cool, before fans start referring to your old material as your best.
Still, it was a shame to see the band go (unless this is a break-up a la The Who and KISS and countless other "retirees" who get back together whenever their kids need braces or the alimony gets a little steep). So far this was a farewell in style, with a brilliant, thundering, and exuberant set of heavy and hard from the band and a volatile mix of flying elbows, pumping fists, and general mayhem in the crowd. I suppose you could call it a love machine for Hate Machine. RIP.
Absolution Project offered heavy absolution prior to The Hate Machine send off as I shuffled into the packed house. In the same vein and strain as Hate Machine, AP punctuates its punches with patches of melodic free-fall. Consequently, when the pounding returns it takes your breath away.
What a splendiferous day it was for City Newspaper's annual Best Busker Contest in Rochester's East End. Competition for those precious little guitar picks was heated, as artists of varying degrees of talent and style whipped it out like there was no doubt. The streets were teaming with the curious, the converted, and the convinced. That begs the question: why doesn't our fair city implement buskers everywhere, all the time? Everybody needs a soundtrack. I know there's more cut in my strut when I hear a mellow saxophone or a snaky walking bass. However, banjos sometimes make me run in circles reciting, "Be my girl, Sally" by The Police. That ever happen to you?
One thing that struck me was that there ain'tno room for melancholy on the streets of Rochester. Those who pined or waxed forlorn did it alone. The highlights had to be the cat plucking at a genuine washtub bass, all the Delta-inspired bluesers, and one dude who would write a tune for you on the spot -- and I mean on the spot. Mine was entitled, "The laws against busking make Baby Jesus cry."
For photos of this year's contest, a list of the winners, and more information, click here.
Dreams don't come true. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you want it to happen, make it a goal and just do it. It's all about hard work and focus, pal. Dreams come to those who sleep.
Let me explain what I do, and what prompted this rant. As a music journalist I am a conduit between the mouths of musicians and the ears of the audience. I've interviewed hundreds of bands, asked hundreds of questions, and received hundreds of the same answers back. One point of intrigue is "making it" -- achieving stardom, wallowing in the excess and the spoils of war. Rochester bands: you know I love you, but a lot of you won't "make it." Not because you're not good enough (though let's face it, there's work to be done here and there). But you won't "make it" because "making it" is a dream.
However, I saw one band last weekend that will make it, and in fact did. I was there the moment it happened. AFR -- with members from the uber-frenetic metal-esque Safety Off -- was thrown on to a multi-band bill at the last minute Saturday night. By the time the band was set to go on, Montage Music Hall was a ghost town. The soundman gave the band permission to opt out. But AFR held fast and delivered an energetic set as if the place was choked with bodies. As a musician myself, I know that hollow feeling brought on by an empty room. I know that heavy feeling in the arms, the total lack of sustained energy. I know how it feels when it's uphill, for nobody and for no money. But I also know that's when you know you love music.
And AFR loves its music. The band plays metal core of sorts, with a dynamic trade-off between heavy riffing and everyone joining in on the thunderous one. The vocals are stock scream/roar. And though it's a lonely cry when unleashed in an empty room, it's the best sound in the world when you believe in it and don't just dream about it.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Rochester-based Slayer tribute act Raining Blood, which played before AFR on this Montage bill. I'm not much on tributes or covers, but when you tackle Slayer's whole body of work with its hellacious hyper speed and relentless drive, you've set yourself up for a challenge. Raining Blood met that challenge as it effortlessly whipped out the band's trademark double-kick gallop and its fleet pentatonic scream.
Also, this just in: Rochester rockers JJ Lang, Melia, and Tivoli Skye all won awards at the 2013 Indie Music Channel Awards Sunday night. Could I be wrong? Is there actually something to this dreaming thing?
Digging deep into its catalog, and adding generous doses from its new "Divinity of Purpose" album, Connecticut hardcore harbinger Hatebreed pummeled the heavy crowd at Water Street Music Hall Thursday night. The twin guitars were l-l-l-loud yet discernible as they lead the rhythm-driven onslaught. There was plenty of push and pull between instruments that antagonized the audience ebb and flow, but it was when the group collectively pounded the down beat that shit got nuts. It was loud, mesmerizing, and infectious. The dance floor -- or the area typically reserved for dancing -- was a sea of pumping fists and flying elbows as Hatebreed summoned a tumultuous tantrum with its thunder.
There was a little confusion Friday night on the club side at Water Street Music Hall. Who were the Slide Brothers? Well, this Robert Randolph-sponsored ensemble features Aubrey Ghent, the nephew of godfather of sacred steel Willie Eason, along with Calvin Cooke (sometimes called "the B.B. King of gospel steel guitar"), and Chuck and Darick Campbell of our beloved Campbell Brothers. Alas, the Campbell half of the outfit was absent Friday night, but Ghent and Cooke percolated a blistering set in a more bluesy, secular vein. It was utterly righteous. The steel was definitely the focal point, but I could swear I heard the ghost of Johnnie Johnson, the original Johnny B. Goode slithering out of the piano.
Split that scene and headed to Tala Vera to catch 34 Feet Deep, an interesting Rochester band with subtle groove. The sax kept it cheery and the guitar gave it balls, but I think the band is still searching for its "wow factor" as far as material goes. It's getting close...
Saturday was Record Store Day, to the delight of the boys and girls all over the land. My first stop was the Bop Shop to dig Austin, Texan Wammo flexin' some spoken-word exasperation above a hip, hip groove. The Big B, Buzzo, followed with his band and with his trumpet, and swung mad/cool like Herb Alpert taking a stuffed moose head though a revolving door. It was a lot of fun, with DJ Tanner punctuating the madness and gladness with lacquer cracker spins from The Cramps and The Sonics, to name a few.
Rounded out my afternoon with the fun-lovin' dopes in The Isotopes at the Record Archive. The band opened its irreverent show with a beautiful Ventures-meets-Louis Prima-and-gives-him-an-atomic-wedgie take on "Sing, Sing, Sing." And of course, as always, there were dancing girls. Look for the new 'Topes record out soon on the Record Archive's recently resurrected record label.
Before the concert started Thursday night, I heard a woman say to the man next to her, "If you don't want to stay, we don't have to. It's not like you haven't heard 'Eroica' before."
It's good that they stayed, because last night guest conductor Courtney Lewis led the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra through a definitive interpretation of Beethoven's monumental Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, the "Eroica" symphony.
The RPO has been put through more than its share of guest conductors recently, and the entire next season will feature a different guest conductor for every program. I have had my share of worries and doubts about the situation, particularly because I consider the RPO to be a world-class orchestra with tremendous potential.
What Lewis gave the RPO last night was the workout the orchestra has needed. Lewis found a way to exploit the many strengths of the RPO, from its scintillating pianissimos in the strings to its reverberating fortissimos. Lewis got the musicians off the backs of their chairs, kept their elbows high, and left them walking out the back door of the Eastman wearing child-like grins.
How did he do it?
There were two crucial elements to the success of Lewis and the RPO. First, Lewis set the perfect tempo for the first movement. The "Allegro con brio" (I would translate that as "briskly with brilliance and sparkle") was firmly set at the first measure. This is a long movement, and it requires terrific skill and stamina from conductor and musicians. There was not even the slightest falter in the tempo transitions, the turns of phrase, and the sharp contrasts of dynamics.
Of course, setting that pace for the first movement had me thinking ahead about the tempos for the third and forth movements. Relating the first to the second movement, the "Marcia funebre: Adagio assai" (a funeral march, but not so much so), not too difficult. The third movement was a "Scherzo: Allegro vivace" (a lively Scherzo), which Lewis nicely took at a brisk and elegant pace. With only a single beat between third and fourth movements, Lewis plunged the RPO into the "Finale: Allegro molto" (a finale, with much gusto). It turned out there was still speed, agility, and dynamic range enough to bring the lengthy symphony to a thrilling conclusion.
Which leads me to the second major compliment: Lewis' interpretation of "Eroica," capturing all the glory and the madness of an authentic rendition of the great Herr Ludwig van Beethoven. Too often, a Beethoven composition is performed because it is a "core work." And while those performances might be technically sound and following the markings written on the page, the very soul of the composer is not even considered.
When I interviewed Lewis for our feature article in this week's City Newspaper, Lewis talked about the moment he first hear the "Eroica" and how he carried around the CD and played it until he wore it out. He spoke as if he knew Beethoven as a contemporary, explaining that Beethoven said the "Eroica" was "about me, about expressing my feelings; it's not about me writing a symphony," and Lewis used big, emotional terms like "triumph," "dread," "loneliest music he wrote." All of this came pouring across the stage through Lewis' baton and the RPO musicians.
Also on the program was the Concerto No. 2 in d-minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op.22 of Henri Wieniawski, with violinist Corey Cerovsek. Cerovsek performed on the "Milanollo" Stradivarius (1728), which has been played by, among others, Niccolo Paganini. The Stradivarius violins are so remarkable and memorable that I could not help but compare and contrast it against those used at the RPO by Augustin Hadelich (romantic throughout its range) and Itzhak Perlman (deeper, cello-like). Cerovsek's Stradivarius was unquestionably a high soprano en pointe, yearning to get into the highest notes of the upper ranges of the Wieniawski concerto.
Cerovsek demonstrated his long-standing knowledge and multiple performances of the piece, which he had described to me during his interview for this week's feature in City. He was at once technically capable and sufficiently relaxed to give us his enjoyment of the composer and the work.
The challenge for Cerovsek and Lewis was Cerovsek's intimate knowledge of the work versus a first-time performance for the conductor and the orchestra. In a few spots, the violin and the orchestra had quickly to catch each other. It's a simple matter of familiarity between all the players, and, given the roar that went up from the audience at the end of the performance, I may have been the only one making this note.
The other work on the program was "Remembrances," by American composer Margaret Brouwer (b. 1940). The work was full, warm, and lyrical. It swept across large arcs of sound and color. It made particularly good use of the French horns. In some ways, it reminded me of RPO performances with Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman and his favored British composers, where I often found myself comparing it to the moods of the North Sea.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the program again Saturday, April 20, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information visit the RPO website.
Though the answer sounded rather obvious, it had never dawned on me before upstanding, upright bassist Brian Williams spelled it out.
"That's because you can't clog on grass," he said. Williams was sitting in on the bottom end with The Ruff Alley Rounders, bringing extra happy to Abilene's Friday night happy-hour hootenanny. He was explaining the board lying in front of the four-piece band as it fiddled away in the corner. The young lady that mounted this board -- there to amplify her red-cowboy-booted feet -- bobbed and clogged and stomped in an exuberant gallop that resembled step dancing if the Irish ever moved their arms. The band huddled around a single mic King Biscuit style and bopped instrumentally rural and Tin Pan as folks washed it all down along with the dust of the work week.
Boston soul-shouter Jesse Dee is getting bigger and better, and a little more polished. I don't begrudge the man success, but I liked it better when he served up his shaggy blue-eyed soul a little more close to the bone and medium rare. The kids still ate him up as he warmed the stage for the Ryan Montbleau Band Friday night at Water Street Music Hall. Walking in off of Water Street I had sort of dismissed Montbleau as one of those mixing-in-a-lot-of-everything jamsters. Well, I was right to a certain degree, except for the indifference I expected to feel. It wasn't there. I've got to tell you, I was knocked out by the band, the groove, the tone, and the dynamics. It was all wonderful. Sure, the band jammed. But when you've got cats with a well-rounded vocabulary, you tend to listen a little closer and dance a little longer.
Mochester from Rochester was sandwiched between the two acts, rocking steady and in earnest with an exemplary drummer that really stood out as the band plugged though its own mid-tempo rockers and took a detour into Stevie Wonderland.
On Saturday night I was due for something hard and heavy and stuck my head in the metal blast furnace that was Lowkey at the Firehouse Saloon. The band was a volatile mix of old-school heavy with new-school arrangements, kind of like Pantera, just not as over the top. The band bounded about maniacally and chugged full steam beneath vocals that roared in melodic urgency and guttural intimidation.
There was something regal about Jessye Norman during Sunday night's concert at Kodak Hall. A certain calm, unhurried presence that gave her performance the exquisite touch that only a mature and self-confident artist can bring to her audience.
You could argue that the three-hour event went on too long. There were various introductions going into this benefit concert for the organization Action for a Better Community. There was the awarding of an honorary doctorate upon Norman. There were several changeovers that bordered on intermissions.
But the moments of Norman's singing and the collaboration of Norman's singing with Garth Fagan Dance were so extraordinary that one simply didn't want to reach the end of the program.
Norman performed 12 songs with pianist Mark Markham, and four songs with Garth Fagan Dance. Norman opened with "Oh, What a Beautiful City," and from the opening notes she was generous with her gift of song. There was a deep, spiritual theme to the programmed works, including "There is a Balm in Gilead," a breathtaking a cappella rendition of "Oh, Glory," and "Great Day!"
When Norman sang "His Eye is on the Sparrow," she was seated at the curve of the Steinway concert grand, her flowing caftan draped around her, and her humming was as soothing as if we were all her children. When the words came, they were intimate, tender, and sweet. Even when her voice unfurled its power through volume and the extent of its low range, Norman's technique was delivered with ease.
By far the most dramatic piece of the concert was "Another Man Done Gone." It was listed in the program as a traditional song. Its structure is simple and the lines repetitive. But Markham used the piano in a manner reminiscent of Helmut Lachenmann's "musiqueconcrèteinstrumentale," a sound world accessed by drawing sound out of instruments in ways one wouldn't expect. Markham pounded the fleshy side of his right fist upon that small flat space at the top of the keyboard while depressing the damper pedal. The unusual sound captured drum tones and bell tones, which, combined with Norman's voice, was a heartbreaking expression of oppression to the point of death.
Three of the four works performed by Norman with Garth Fagan Dance were an extension of that same emotional space. The first work in particular, "I Want Two Wings," combined three female and one male dancer, illustrating the futility of the emotions that trap and weigh us down. The dancers' movements were as bold and strong as Norman's voice, and their whirlings that failed to take flight reflected our own states when we are sad, angry, and frustrated.
The third combined piece, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," was a brilliant execution of tight, tense movements, akin to a troupe bound by leg irons. The dancers' bare-footed rhythms were like percussion instruments, while their hands and arms created visual wind instruments. Joining the performance was a cellist, creating a soulful and complimentary line (the cellist was unnamed in the program).
This amazing benefit concert for Action for a Better Community had some empty seats. All I can say is this: there is a reason certain artists become legends, and when they are in town, you need to make it a point to expose yourself to their gifts. You just might find that a little bit of magic travels out the door and onto Gibbs Street as you leave.
hard to find show times.