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.
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!
With just two shows to officially cover I hit the Jazz Fest scene amidst a sea of people. The streets were teeming with eager bodies, but the fun stopped there. Now perhaps I’m showing my ass here, and heating up my self-perceived cool, but I thought Tim Berne SnakeOil at Montage was the worst thing calling itself music I have heard in my life. I know the importance of improvisation and the application of noise in jazz — at least I thought I did — but these guys took the stage with music written down. It was ridiculous, it was insulting. There’s no way anyone wrote that down. It was just random, screeching note generation with no logic at all. It sounded like a gaggle of geese fucking or an ambulance demolition derby. It was shrill, it was loud, it was utterly awful. Call me a heretic if you want, but I wasn’t the only one leaving with "WTF" written across my face. Maybe I didn’t get it, or maybe it was truly snake oil.
At the other end of the spectrum was the Big Apple’s Amy Lynn and the Gunshow’s delightfully cool cabaret at the Little Theater. The material was extra fun with a wry twist, and the bari sax’s odd, clickity-clackity rhythmic mouthpiece attack was different and tres cool. The music came off like a less-abrasive Bette. They weren’t show tunes, but they could’ve been. Lynn's voice was beautiful, sassy, and sexy, and the horn-centric Gun Show was tight, alright, and outtasite.
So there you have it, another Jazz Fest down. I think we’ve reached cruising altitude with this one and don’t think they should make it any bigger. Logistically it’s already quite a sprawling affair. I would like to see more local bands plugged in to the mix and perhaps more free show stages — that seems to bring out the masses and really stir the social pot. And of course, I’m still holding out for Tom Waits. But for now it’s no jazz for me for a coupla days...right now it’s chocolate milk and my wife and my cats and Motorhead in my headphones. G’night.
Ah. The last night of the jazz fest. That went by quick, didn't it? First up tonight was Marianne Trudel, tinkling the ivories in the beautifully intimate Hatch Hall. I stuck around for her first song (coming in at a lengthy 15 minutes), and her soft stylistic playing was perfect for the pin-drop-quiet acoustics of the hall, but it was conceptually lofty and more than I could sit still and grasp at the time. Her tune (an original) also made me realize that unlike other shows, for a solo jazz show like her's, it is quite hard for a reviewer to tell where the line between improv and a piece's regular ebb and flow is, as well as how close a player's work is reflecting the original idea. There were a few odd note choices; but I can't say if they were purposeful, or not. I guess that's jazz for you.
Next up, and closing off the festival, was Jazz Fest veteran Trombone Shorty on the super jam-packed East and Alexander Street Stage. He's almost become a staple of the festival at this point, and there's good reason why. He's more of a brass rock explosion than what might come to mind when you think of a more traditional jazz ensemble, and he is one simply put, one hell of a trombone player.
Trombone Shorty is damn good at what he does - and strongly consistent - but I just wasn't as blown away this time as when I first saw him. He is a perfect festival musician: loud, vibrant, powerful, charismatic, and full of swagger, and he always brings in those much needed non-hardcore jazz crowds to the street stages. He's just become a safe and expected part of the festival at this point. But, he does give hope for trombone players everywhere that one day they can leave the back of the band and be rock stars some day, and that's something.
Not to end on a sour note, but one last side note on the festival as a whole: To all the rude patrons who camped out in folding chairs taking up almost the first entire block of the East/Alexander stage where Trombone Shorty was playing; please don't. I don't care if your feet hurt or it's uncomfortable or hot or whatever. It's a music festival: it isn't supposed to be comfortable. These are standing events. Everyone is there for the music and deserves the same chance to experience it that you do, and it continues to boggle my mind that the jazz fest (unlike most other concerts/festivals/etc.) continues to allow chairs. A few people should not be able to commandeer nearly the entire viewing area of a show to the detriment of the rest of the crowd behind them. It's really quite inconsiderate.
Pianist Gwilym Simcock brought just the right mix of tradition and experimentation to Christ Church Saturday night. He played mostly straight-ahead, but occasionally went under the hood to spice things up. At one point he played totally inside the piano, strumming the strings percussively as if they were on a mandolin.
Simcock took care to talk to the audience about his music. He explained that he’d had classical training before falling for jazz, and he still loved the second movement of Grieg’s Piano "Concerto in A Minor," so he made a jazz tune out of it. It was a good tune, but much better given the introduction.
His song “Northern Smiles,” he said, was prompted by his move to London after spending time in smaller cities in the north of England. He wanted to capture the small-town friendliness that he missed. But, it’s a lot more difficult to do with only music, compared to a song like “Penny Lane,” in which Paul McCartney used words to convey a similar idea. Simcock’s introduction made it interesting to search for what he was trying to say within the more abstract context of the song.
Simcock played mostly originals but, in one of his extended improvisations, he threw in tunes like “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and a rousing rendition of “On Broadway,” in which he seemed to have about four different musical ideas going simultaneously.
Earlier in the evening I heard Five Play at Max of Eastman Place. If jazz wasn't so dominated by men, it wouldn’t matter that Five Play is an all-female band. But their concert left no doubt that these women were on a par with their male contemporaries.
The first among many outstanding solos came from multi-reedist Janelle Reichman on clarinet during a Latin-flavored tune. Trumpeter Jami Dauber followed with an outstanding flugelhorn solo on “Que Sera, Sera.” If you’re wondering what that tune was doing in a jazz concert, the band’s leader, drummer Sherrie Maricle explained that it was popular in Vietnam where the group recently toured. If it wasn’t jazz before, it is now. Maricle and bassist Noriko Ueda provided solid support (not to mention their own strong solos) throughout the set. And Tomoko Ohno lit up the room every time she soloed at the piano.
Torben Waldorff brought an excellent band to the Lutheran Church, featuring Gary Versace on keyboards, Orlando le Fleming on bass and Jon Wikan on drums. Unfortunately, the band was so loud that the music sounded better out in the hall. Waldorff is a superb guitarist in the high, liquid, Pat Metheny tradition. He often plays beautifully in the spaces between the lines that would normally be the verse. Because of the sound problem, my favorite tune was a ballad near the end of the set. Waldorff is a top-notch composer and it was nice to be able to hear one of his compositions without the filter of earplugs half-way in.
Over the last nine nights, the highlights never seemed to let up. It was great to hear straight-ahead artists like Anat Cohen and Kurt Rosenwinkel at Xerox Auditorium, Christian McBride’s Inside Straight at Kilbourn Hall and Terell Stafford at Montage.
I love the opportunity the festival provides to hear and see (they tend to be just as fascinating visually) edgier artists like the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Youn Sun Nah & Ulf Wakenius at the Lutheran Church. And it’s a treat to have brilliant musicianship showcased at Hatch Hall where I was stunned night after night by pianists like Matt Herskowitz, Geoffrey Keezer, and Alfredo Rodriguez.
Looking over the above names it’s clear that the international aspect of the festival remains one of its greatest qualities. And, of course, despite my complaints about how loud some things are (I seem to be from a different planet when it comes to volume) there is no denying that the XRIJF is the best thing that’s happened to Rochester in the four decades I’ve been living here. For nine days Rochester is truly alive.
His hair may be grey, but his eyes still sparkle that Frampton blue and his voice still croons his ballad, “Baby, I Love Your Way.” Frampton’s Guitar Circus was the headliner show tonight at the Eastman Theatre, and for two hours Peter Frampton delivered a non-stop powerhouse show that brought the audience to its feet on multiple occasions. The night started with a set by Robert Cray, and Frampton’s show included several numbers with Don Felder, former lead guitar player of The Eagles.
The stage at Eastman was fully open to the back wall, where a huge screen had been installed to run everything from photographs of a young Frampton to psychedelic digital art. The stage was packed with electronics -- the row of stomp boxes at Frampton’s stage right microphone easily spanned five feet. Frampton and his two accompanying guitarists changed instruments multiple times, and a man in the wings was in charge of several dedicated guitar closets from which he was extracting instruments and continually checking before handing them off.
The guitar hand-off was basically the only time Frampton stood still during the two-hour concert. Frampton remains every bit as wirey, as frenetic, as pump-that-body-down-as-you-pulse-to-the-beat-of-the-drums. It’s clear that he loves what he is doing and he sends that joy out to the audience with every note. Hailing from Bromley, England, and performing since the mid-1960’s, it was his fifth solo album that sold more than 6 million copies and catapulted him into the status of a legend of rock.
The show was 12 songs plus two encores. Frampton’s performance of “I’ll Give You Money” was grounded to a relentless drumbeat that swirled the guitars higher and faster to the end. By the time Frampton got to “Do You Feel Like We Do?” the audience was in such a frenzy that Frampton seemed to be having a good time wandering around the ending for several minutes before bringing it to a big bang of a close.
Felder joined Frampton for two songs and then the encores. It was The Eagles’ “Hotel California” that had the audience loudly singing along. But, for me, the night was made in their rendition of my favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan song, “Pride and Joy.”
Performing with Frampton were Adam Lester on guitar, Stanley Sheldon on bass, Rob Arthur on keyboard, and Dan Wojciechowski on drums. Every member of the band added superb skill, particularly in their abilities to follow Frampton’s spontaneous extensions of instrumental sections, engage in full-frontal duels, and respond to invitations to ping-pong the rifts. Lester, in particular, was something of a surprise. Don’t let his British pub-boy appearance fool you -- his technique and musicality are fantastic.
But here I’ve skipped to the main performance without telling you about Mr. Robert Cray. I’m going to have to call him that because I was bowled over by his towering strength. Every word he sang told a story with a lesson, from confessionals about being the lover and hearing the wife get taken to task by the husband “through thin walls” to another song with that dark touch of humor that one needs to be the main course, not the side dish. There’s a simmering anger with purpose that rises to the surface of Cray when he sings, and you just know that he’s telling not just his truth, but The Truth, and you had better listen up.
So that’s a wrap for me on Jazz Fest 2013. There is no doubt in my mind that the transition back to classical is going to be tricky. If you see me swaying a little in my seat or pencil drumming in 12/8, you’ll know I’ve reverted to the land of Cray. If I’m dipping my chin to let my hair slide over my face while fingering an air piano, I’ve slipped back into memories of the insanely great jazz pianist Michael Wollny. I’ll simply have to do my best not to air guitar Frampton or it will surely be time for the ushers.
Thanks to the luck of the spirit of jazz, my two top acts for the week both fell on the same night. Join me on my highlight night of the 2013 Jazz Fest.
First up was New Orleans-based The Dirty Dozen Brass Band under the Big Tent. I've been wanting to see this group for a while now, as it is one of the few jazz groups that is actually on my iPod, and which I listen to outside of the Jazz Fest every year.
The brass-heavy band has been playing since the 70’s, so I was a little surprised when the group played songs from its back catalog that I actually knew. Aside from hitting my tuba quota for the fest (represent!), the group included trumpet, bari and tenor saxes, drums, guitar, trumpet, and flugelhorn. It was tight, and a whole lot of fun -- a real brassy and reedy onslaught. Where else are you going to get a solo with somebody playing a trumpet and a flugelhorn at the same time?
Sadly, the group did seem to be battling sound problems. Both the sousaphone player and the drummer kept motioning to try to fix sound issues or switch mics, and not all the instruments were clearly audible at all times. And as fun as the group was, I'm not sure if it completely met all my expectations. But still, the group knew how to keep and rock out on a groove, and it was easy to get lost in it.
The night only continued to heat up from there. Next up was my highlight of last year's festival, Dwayne Dopsie and the ZydecoHellraisers, playing at Montage. I gushed over the group upon discovering it last year, and it was great to see the fiery zydeco unit back in full form. Electric guitars, sax, bass, and yes, washboard, formed the powerful backing band behind accordion master Dopsie himself. His sweat-soaked fingers were flying so fast that it nearly made my head spin, and he created a loud and powerful blend of explosive Cajun music. The band calls him the best accordion player in the world, and after sitting through a set, one would be hard pressed to disagree.
Last year I was completely caught off guard by the group. This time I knew what to expect, and the nearly two-hour set did not disappoint. This is how you play with energy, this is how you perform on stage, and this is how you should do it at the Jazz Fest. Solos passed between players, each one as in-your-face as the last. Having seen the group before, it does rely on a few of its same tricks. Dopsie always takes the stage after a warm-up song or two, band members will form dancing lines through the audience, so on and so forth. But boy, can Dopsie squeeze that squeezebox. Mercy.
And yet, words still seem to fall short of the enjoyable musical chaos. The Hellraisers will be back on the Jazz Street Stage at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, so if you see one act this week at the Jazz Fest, make it this one. You won't be disappointed.
hard to find show times.