Monday, April 29, 2013

Concert Review: AFR, Raining Blood at Montage

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 12:11 PM

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?

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Concert Review: Hatebreed, Slide Brothers, Record Store Day

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 12:19 PM

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.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Concert Review: RPO performs "Beethoven 'Eroica'"

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 10:41 AM

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.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Concert Review: Ruff Alley Rounders, Ryan Montbleau Band, Lowkey

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM

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.

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Concert Review: Jessye Norman, Garth Fagan Dance at Kodak Hall

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 11:03 AM

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.

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Concert Review: Deerhoof, People Get Ready, The Demos at Water Street

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:51 AM

The members of Deerhoof have said that they are never sure what kind of music they will create next. Since the band's formation in 1994, it has kept fans and critics guessing, too.

While the San Francisco group's earmark may be unpredictability, a Deerhoof show is sure to include batty stage antics and a kaleidoscopic sound. Those who were lucky enough to make it out to the group's set at the Club at Water Street on Saturday night were not disappointed.

Local mainstays The Demos opened the show with a 30-minute set filled with seriously infectious indie pop. Among the Rickenbacker-based jangle, falsetto, and feedback, the band had a distinct edge. The set standout, "Careless", showcased the group's ability to meander through the sweeter chimes of alt-rock into the noisier side of power-pop while making you forget when and how the barrier was crossed.

Next up was People Get Ready and its Brooklyn brand of indietronica. With its loose, irregular guitars and bass-driven, technically orchestrated songs, the band also gave off a little of that mod revival vibe. Among the dueling male/female vocal harmonies was a certain reverberating world beat and layers of disparate soundscapes that seemed to find a common coastline to call their own. The set was nothing if not danceable.

But, as solid as the supporting acts were, it was Deerhoof's room.

"The Tears and Music of Love," from the band's 2008 album "Offend Maggie," opened the set and immediately shot the audience into a frenzy. The dissonant, grating guitars placed over front-woman Satomi Matsuzaki's cute, melodic verses are the perfect example of what makes Deerhoof's sound so enigmatic.

Crowd favorite "Panda, Panda, Panda," aside from its silly and simplistic lyrical content, is an exhibition of genius instrumentation -- the band fell in and out of recognizable time signatures at will, pushing and pulling the audience along an art-rock rollercoaster ride.

John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez's guitars filled the room with an assemblage of vivid tones and complex fuzz. They burned through musical styles like marathon runners sweat through socks, jumping from heavy, plodding funk to almost arena-like jazz-rock riffs. All this while drummer Greg Saunier got more out of a five-piece drum set than the Sioux got out of a buffalo. Saunier was violent, in the Stanley Kubrick, destruction-is-beautiful sense of the word. But his technical prowess was just as impressive, as he led his bandmates on a charging symphonic onslaught.

The show was a meet of musical gymnastics: the band soared and twisted and twirled, only to stick the landing every time.

Set closer "We Do Parties" wrapped it up perfectly. Satomi crooned, "I am coming to you from a speaker deep inside." She sure was. And that speaker was crackling with resplendent, soul-shaking noise.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Concert Review: Meat Puppets, Heavenly Chillbillies, This Life, Bogs Visionary Orchestra

Posted By on Mon, Apr 8, 2013 at 10:23 AM

In an attempt to see Methanol's extension project, The Atomic Swamis, I stumbled upon Buffalo bar-room heavyweights The Heavenly Chillbillies instead. I landed at Sticky Lips Juke Joint on Friday as the band was plowing through Dave Alvin's tribute to Hank I in "Long White Cadillac." So naturally I warmed to these guys in a hurry as I slammed back a couple of chocolate milks. The band hit heavy on the blues without overdoing it, and stuck close to blues-heavy rock with a spicy dash of the South like a punch in the mouth.

Next I hustled over to Lovin' Cup to catch This Life wind down its set, which was reminiscent of neon-free alternative bands like The Modern Lovers. Bogs Visionary Orchestra came out next and played like a four-man carnival full of ironic lyrical and musical quirks. The bearded Bogs led the parade on guitar and slide banjo (you heard me, slide banjo) in a suit that featured as many colors as his musical palette. He copped the stance of Zappa (or was it Beefheart?) playing the part of a barker pitching the ballyhoo on the midway. It was Tin Pan Alley on Easter Sunday. It was country-ish twang on account of the rhythmic 2/4, it was klezmer-esque on account of its accelerated percussion and groove, and it was just straight-up out of sight. I hung out and hung on every word.

GZA couldn't be bothered to show up for his Water Street show Saturday night, and the rumor is he played a whopping 10 minutes the night before. But there was zero pretense on the club side as The Meat Puppets played a fat and sonically soaring set that frequently detoured into monstrous guitar melees, especially on the excellent and extended free-fall free-for-all on "Lake of Fire" and the set-closing "Backwater."

Making the Water Street scene a little late caused me to miss the mellow indie shot-in-the-arm from The World Takes, a cool new band from Philadelphia that features DJ Bonebrake of the seminal L.A. punk band, and one of my all-time faves, X. Bonebrake was floating about and stopped to chat as I made a serious effort to not sound like a squealing bobby soxer. What a great night, what a cool dude.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Concert Review: Green Day at Blue Cross Arena

Posted By on Tue, Apr 2, 2013 at 9:39 AM

It was a two-hour rock 'n' roll slugfest Monday night as Green Day came out swinging to a frenzied and frozen crowd at the Blue Cross arena. Some kids wrapped in blankets had camped out overnight and looked like frostbitten refugees as they stumbled about.

The place warmed up and filled up slowly to a meandering set from Los Angeles-based show opener Best Coast. The band wasn't bad, but sort of forgettable, hitting its plateau early and sticking there for the remainder of its brief set.

But no amount of energy could have adequately warmed the boards for Green Day. Following salutations from a drunken Easter Bunny, the band tore out on stage to the theme from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" (just like The Ramones) and then ripped into "99 Revolutions." After that a set cross-cut the band's incredible catalogue with generous cuts from the new trilogy of discs "Uno!" Dos!" "Tre!" as well as hits off "Kerplunk" and "Dookie."

Green Day is a well-oiled machine and has perfected the extrapolated audience-band call and response, which the band did constantly Monday night. Look, I know it's cool to have the crowd sing the words they all know -- it's kind of like being in church without all the guilt -- but I came to hear the band sing, not a bunch of maniacs juiced on $10 Blue Cross brew, waving their cell phones.

But hey, it was all in loud, fast fun, and the band's ironic demeanor earns forgiveness and points. I mean, how about that LynyrdSkynyrd, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, medley from one of the best live bands in the world today?

Prior to the Green Day majesty, I prowled the local scene Friday night to see Rock 'N' Roll Social Club split Tala Vera in two, like the jaws of life, as it loudly and proudly opened for Amanda Lee Peers and The Driftwood Sailors. Peers' voice is simply incredible, hanging above the shag carpet of a band well-versed in the blue and classic rock. Nothing short of awesome, and it was a packed house, too.

Saturday night at Skylark Lounge I got to hear Greg "Stackhouse" Prevost play a set of hellacious, salacious, monstrous, and primitive blues, sandwiched between sets by St. Phillip's Escalator and the recently reunited Moviees. Prevost's new album, "Mississippi Murderer," rocks and is currently at the top of my play list. But this particular set was too loud to make out the subtleties and nuances included in his original stabs at the form, as well as on classics like "John the Revelator."

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