A reflection on some of these recent days…

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I don’t often wax on the current event side of the fence when it comes to the material I write online. My day job requires me to write news anyway, so usually when I come here looking to discuss something about music the news and political topics of the day are the farthest things from my mind.

But in wake of a suggestion I received recently to talk about the mass shooting in Las Vegas as it relates to music, I can’t help but finally weigh in and wonder why its taken me this long. I mean the first guess is obvious, given that any mass incident of death, heartache and pain is impossible to comprehend as an observer, let alone to try and put it into words. To this point, I’m still not sure if any words I say will even be right.

But despite that, I also can’t pass up the opportunity because in addition to this tragedy taking place at a music festival, it coincided with the sudden passing of rock icon Tom Petty. Now those are vastly different losses that I am by no means trying to equate, but each have hit me together in a way that’s ultimately too hard not to speak up about.

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Unfortunately though, I have to start by returning to the most difficult fact of all in this story. Namely, that another shooting has taken place at a venue for live music. I’m not sure when it started that concerts became one of the latest targets for these atrocities, but it hits especially close to home because of how significant a role concerts have played in the shaping of my life.

I mean as many a diehard music fan will tell you, the live show is the musical equivalent of Mass on Sundays. For those who’ve never felt it, just picture your greatest joy and exhilaration gathered in one place, magnified by knowing that feeling is being shared by hundreds to thousands of people all around you.  In every theatre, festival and concert hall. Those who are there to relive nostalgia perhaps, eulogize that hard breakup they had that *insert band name’s song here* got them through, or just to come hit the high that comes in on the first guitar note or vocal line.

That’s one of music’s many great qualities as a unifier. I have heard it said that in our world today you have to “always keep your head on a swivel” just in case someone decides to create an atrocity. But going to see live music is the universal, gender-neutral, bilingual, bipartisan, multi-racial opposite of this so-called “mantra”, and it deserves to stay that way.

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People deserve a way to escape the world for a few hours, whether thats at a concert or in some other distraction. Whatever country they live in, and no matter how much money they have in the bank. I work in a newsroom five days a week, and with the amount of sadness the world can show you in just that short amount of time…. distractions are necessary just for mental health.

I have to bring Tom Petty back into the conversation at this point. For one thing because he was and shall always be an everyman figure of rock and roll, and we need those figures now more than ever in this increasingly divisive world. I know that in my case, my heart will hurt for a long time knowing his figure isn’t in the same world where I grew up on Wildflowers and Full Moon Fever during trips in the car.

But the other reason is simple: to slightly twist one of Petty’s most famous song lyrics, we can’t back down. And while that might sound a bit like stereotypical cheese for a situation like this, what it really means to me is that we can’t be made to alter our lives in exchange for more fear. No one ever made history or great memory from behind the couch waiting for the knocking at the door to go away.

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So to everyone out there, both music fan and otherwise, stay strong. Don’t let a thing in this world stop you from seeing any of the great concert halls and gathering places and areas where humanity can still figure out how to connect with itself regardless of creed or color.

Those are the places of love, and as granola as that may sound to the most cynical in our midst, in a world where divisive hate has had some of its biggest growth in years we need to hold on to all the love and camaraderie we have.

You belong somewhere you feel free. 

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Threes Brewing Births New Star To Be In Brooklyn Country

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In my prior post talking about the visit I spent not too long ago listening to more underground music at Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing, I mentioned how much I owed the NYC area for the talent pipeline it’s provided me. Not just in the form of great musicians and potential networking possibilities, but also in some really amazing friends.

And I can think of no better friend to both my music journalism as well as personal life than the other person who was on the bill at the brewery that night, Amanda Neill. Amanda has provided myself as well as this little blog with openings and opportunities beyond which I could have ever potentially imagined on my own. She is one of this world’s great pure spirits, and if you are ever granted the opportunity to get to know her you will find your life made better for having done so.

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But her being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met aside, Amanda is also a musician with an absolutely ridiculous level of pure talent. I first watched her sing alongside Jamey Hamm in a Rockwood Music Hall performance with Barefoot & Bankside, then later did extensive work (including an interview that is a must-read on my blog) with Amanda, Mike Beck and Trisha Ivy regarding their sweet as apple wine country-folk trio Ivy, Beck & Neill. I’ve done pieces for both bands actually, all of which I highly suggest you take a peek at.

But I digress. That night at Threes was an especially momentous occasion, because it represented the first time Neill was going to be playing entirely new songs in a solo setting. Not TECHNICALLY solo as she was backed by Mike Beck and Dylan Sneed on guitars & piano, Rob Ritchie on bass and Jeff Rogers on drums, but solo in the sense that Neill was going to be front and center debuting her own songs under just her name for the very first time. The wheel of the ship was going to be entirely in her hands.

The anticipation buzzing around the room waiting for this moment was palpable, stretching all the way from the BK to Neill’s former home in Nashville. Quite literally thanks to the benefits of modern technology and Facetime.

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And once the set got rolling, that excitement immediately hit crackling electricity level as it took Neill no time at all to absolutely dominate the room like it was her second home. Seeing her onstage has always been a matter of pride watching her confidence and strength of musicality build up with each performance, but with a band at her back and solely her willpower as frontwoman to lead them…. seemed to take things to a whole new astral plane, imparting the group with a personality nearly as big as Neill’s own. Their sense of chemistry and flow was instantaneous, and that vibe made every member on the stage at Threes look like they were all playing the most locked in show of their musical lives.

With Sneed playing ferocious bottleneck blues leads, Beck laying down gorgeous piano lines and Neill dictating exact tempo to Rogers that vibe didn’t seem to be too far from the truth as the band danced like a finely tuned machine through tendrils of blues, folk, gospel and Tennessee roots country that was as much sultry as salt of the earth. Early versions of Neill’s “It Ain’t Easy” and “Good To See You” that I’d heard during our interview session last year emerged with a fresh new magic in their full band form, and meshed seamlessly into songs that were still just emerging fresh from the oven.

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Meanwhile Neill’s vocals were also eager to join the party, matching the band’s energetic intensity with a voice containing all the ragged edge and electricity of a Janis Joplin or Joe Cocker. And while those may seem like very broad strokes of comparison, the more you hear Neill sing the more you’ll hear that same world-weary, raspy husk that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s the type of vocal gift that’s always ready to rip up substandard, auto-tuned musical convention and smoke out the metaphorical innards at a moment’s notice.

But that’s just my opinion.

And while that may seem like a bit of grisly-minded comparison, to see Amanda take center stage for the first time was way more about much-deserved glory than guts. More beauty than blood, though when it comes to her songwriting you can sense the blood sweat and tears that get written into every single word.

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It takes pure passion to be that honest. Strength to be so vulnerable. And sheer ability to not just get up on stage, but to hit it like a storm that’s been waiting to strike with the strength of a cobra’s bite.

Neill’s set that night was Joni Mitchell after a lot of nights at the Tom Waits school of late night blues bars. It was the spiritual binding threads of the church of humanity, the equal purity of folk, the essence of country roots, and the joy of Neill’s own performing and songwriting heart (a joy that leapt easily into her band member’s many smiles). In a world of modulating machine beats, perfectly enhanced pitch and dumbed down Top 40 crayon formulas sketched clumsily from A to B, Neill’s solo set was dandelion seedlings amidst a perfect summer breeze. Equally as unafraid to love as to hurt as to bleed as to feel in all their untainted innocence.

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It felt like witnessing a spring bloom turn into the radiant flower it was always meant to be. And if anything, watching Amanda Neill the solo artist finally out on her lonesome put me in mind of two things.

1: That no matter the bands that come and go in New York City, Brooklyn country will always be safe as long as she’s around.

And 2: This was a night of an everlasting pandemonium of musical honesty that not only reverberated on that night, but has continued to for many nights ever since.

I still considered myself rocked.

BK’s Threes Brewing Offers More of NYC’s Best & Brightest

13336042_1048309841871947_5588201981099957425_nSo stop me if I’m getting too far ahead of myself, but much like the musicians who owe their success to certain defining moments, genres or locations, as a freelance music journalist for hire…. I have to give it up to NYC.

High fives and fist bumps all around you guys. And that is by no means any offense to areas like Ohio or St Louis who have been extremely generous to me as well, but my first real underground music talent pipeline has come up through these city boroughs. Think of an explosion equivalent to some of those opened up Brooklyn fire hydrants on a hot summer day circa twenty years ago, and you’re starting to get close to the experience.

Point is, I owe a lot to these bands and artists, and I continued that due diligence last week during my regular NYC visit with a stop to Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing to see the Roots Music Gang. Call it a chance to… experience even more of the local flavor if you will.

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Take the band Von Kraut for instance. Brooklyn based (as you might have expected) and stripped to essentially the bare acoustics, this trio of Jason on guitar, Keira on cello and Rorie on backing vocals was essentially just… what you see is what you get. There isn’t nearly the layering that appears on their music, replaced instead by a few spare guitar loops, delicate cello plucks, and the interplay of the two vocalists strongly complementing one another on the harmonies.

Jason and Rorie’s vocal styles actually might initially seem like strange bedfellows, as his is more of a whisper thin height while hers resembles more of a low set willowy blues. Jason in fact reminds me a bit of a combo of the falsetto of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and the gossamer strand spiderweb murmurs of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. Nevertheless, the two fell in rise and fall with a vocal chemistry that kept me glued throughout the set.

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And speaking of spiderweb strands, I felt that Jason’s songwriting strongly echoed the feelings deeply embedded into his falsetto. The subjects were both light yet tenderly ethereal, laden with the severed heartstrings of breakups and breakdowns that came across as delicate as the cello sitting just to his right onstage. And even when the tempo would pick up into John Mayer-like acoustic blues hopping plucks, the feeling behind it was still that of so many threads of emotion adrift in the world’s sea.

Just… looking for their way home.

And that restlessness was no better exemplified than in the band’s closing cut, a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”. Accompanied only by himself on guitar, Jason took a no-nonsense, rock riffing 80’s anthem and beautifully translated it into a winter worn Elliott Smith narrative of ache and meanderings just simply wondering…. what if?

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I love a good song cover, but I particularly love when an artist takes it and sees a part of themselves in the song that they identify with. They don’t desire to just play it note for note, they desire to completely REARRANGE the notes and show the listener through telescopic interpretation just what they see. Just what they feel.

That’s truly honest music. And it made for a beautiful way to close the moment.

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But while Von Kraut may have made the most out of beautifying the quiet moments that night, solo artist Dylan Sneed took them by the horns of his amplifier, cranked them up “This Is Spinal Tap”-style to 11, and made them stand up straight with their best posture and pay attention.

Sneed has been a sideman, frontman and jack of all trades around the BK scene much longer than I’ve been traveling these alleyways and backstreets, and rarely will you encounter such a sweet and easily affable personality offstage. However when the chips are down and it’s time for the music to be played, Sneed unleashes a force of sheer iron-willed presence that will make you take a step back (even while sitting down).

Accompanied by a pedal steel player, a drummer and a bassist, Sneed ripped through his set with the frenzy and precise passion of a man possessed. One moment he was BB King sliding along the watermarked glass of a Nashville tearjerker, and in the next he and his band were a mental mind fury of jangling frets combined with the eerie psychedelic disillusionment of Carl Perkins on a prod rock acid trip.

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To me, Sneed is the type of guitarist and songwriter who warrants such tangled descriptions as he easily chameleons in and out of country gold, blues, stomp ‘n’ holler rock and roll, and riffs worthy of the Roadrunner himself Chuck Berry. In fact, his easy virtuosity often reminded me of Blake Mills, who has also played sideman and jack of all trades as well as capable songwriter with a couple of great solo records under his belt over the years. Though in either man’s case, despite these many capable skills it’s still the strength of the instrumentation that speaks the loudest.

Songs like the unreleased track “War Song” and “Oxford Town” rocketed back and forth between the anguish of mental push and pull, and the pure fury of Texas roadhouse barn burning rock driven to the peak of it’s finest.

All in all, it made for a perfect way to jettison the night off into the stars.

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Check out Dylan Sneed and Von Kraut through their Bandcamp albums, on social media, and much more! 

Sharing The Passenger Side With Webster Hall & Hugh Masterson

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I don’t often dwell on past accomplishments or significant periods of time in my life. Usually that takes the better part of years or severe emotional embarrassment to do, but luckily this living, breathing entity called music exists that tends to cut that time waiting on significance in half. Or more specifically, it cuts it down to the monster of a week I just finished experiencing.

You see, this aspiring writer may have started last Monday thinking about the occupational hazard of radio station jargon, but by Thursday and Friday he took it up a notch. Make that a notch that was smack dab in the midst of Manhattan, just down the road from Union Square and through the doors of Webster Hall to see the triple billing of The Lone Bellow, Anderson East, and Hugh Masterson.

And while I could certainly spare plenty of opinion about each individually (and a ton altogether), I’d like to take the biggest focus of the spotlight and shine it down on the heartrendingly sparse acoustic storytelling of Masterson.

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Going in to the shows at Webster Hall, I already knew enough about The Lone Bellow to stretch from here to several of our most common planetary structures. And when it came to Anderson East, the moment I first heard him sing “The Devil In Me” on a Daytrotter session was the moment I knew there were big things looming in his future. But Masterson came as the completely unknown wildcard as the first act on both nights, and what I came to witness as a result has left an unmistakable imprint upon me nearly a week later.

Armed with only an acoustic guitar (and later surrounding help from The Lone Bellow’s Brian Elmquist and  Anderson East Band), the Wisconsin-bred Masterson got up and just….sang with an essence of stinging honesty and conviction stretching from the backwoods of his hometown of Butternut all the way to the bright lights of NYC. Looking back on it later, I felt like Mark Ruffalo’s record executive character from Begin Again as he watches Keira Knightley’s musician Gretta sing for the first time.

She goes virtually unknown and unnoticed in a crowded bar as she strums away on a lone guitar, but he can’t keep his eyes off of her as he imagines her song blooming and the instruments (literally) sprouting to life around the talent he sees. It’s one of the more powerfully inspiring scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a music film, and as I watched Masterson’s set I could sense that same spark of potential burning from the rasp in his voice down to the path left by the tracings of his lone guitar lines.

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Up until now Masterson had been mostly known as the lead name in Hugh Bob and The Hustle, but with that band apparently in the rearview mirror it was refreshing to hear him not only play new songs, but present songs from the Hustle’s self-titled debut stripped right down to the nuts and bolts. Not that there’s anything wrong with the original record (it’s a strong slice of alt-country/rock), but the songs that were translated to Webster Hall benefitted greatly from a little less polish and a little more dirt under their metaphorical fingernails.

Tracks like “Passenger Side” and “Ashland County” carried a greater weight of poignancy without additional instrument arrangements, and made Masterson’s already eloquent songwriting stand out as strong as his vocals as they rang out into the depths of that concert hall. It was almost as though he was preparing to give everyone attending something as gloriously dingy and close to the soul as Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska (just soaked with a few more beers first).

It reminded me of seeing Butch Walker open for Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall a year ago during two special nights of acoustic shows. Walker had primarily been known as a pop/rock-leaning musician and a skilled producer, but on that night I was hypnotized by his solo acoustic set of songs that would later become the Adams-produced tearjerker Afraid of Ghosts. It was fragile and more creaky than polished perhaps, but it was also cathartic and real and unafraid to risk anything in order to say everything.

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I got those same rush of emotions watching Hugh Masterson step out on that Webster Hall stage last week. And without even knowing a great deal of his work or music, I couldn’t help but be more and more proud of him for taking that risk. It takes strength to define yourself as one person outside of a band you’ve known a long time, and even more of it to open for two other groups in front of crowds that could very well be completely unaware of what you do and the art that you make.

Kudos to Masterson for owning every minute of it while simultaneously being one of the friendliest, most down to earth and humble individuals I’ve ever had the great pleasure of meeting. I came away with more meaningful anecdotes in a five minute conversation with him after the show than I have in any conversation I’ve had in a very long time.

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Now, if we could just get Hugh in touch with Ryan Adams to do some producing…

You can find Hugh Masterson on Facebook and Twitter, and you can buy his Hugh Bob and The Hustle LP on iTunes or Bandcamp (or listen to it over on Spotify). 

Credit for the first three (and by the far the best) photos in this piece are courtesy of Mara S. May she always be able to illustrate the best words I can sing from my mouth and out upon these digital pages.

Ivy Beck & Neill Prepared To Wow; Break Hearts at Weekend Release Show

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As some of you who’ve read this blog in the past may know, I have a great deal of affection for the sights, sounds, and beautiful experiences that have been my adventures into the land of Brooklyn underground music.

There’ve been the eye-opening discoveries, the intimate venues, the music that’s stirred my soul, and the wonderful friends that have come out of having all three. This weekend’s event is certainly no exception to those rules, and happens to feature my latest loves Ivy Beck & Neill.

Earlier this month I first had the pleasure of seeing the country/folk power trio play a brief set in support of their upcoming release Live at Rockwood Music Hall. Now you’ve likely already read my lavish praise on the musical talents of one of IB&N’s lead vocalists Amanda Simpson Neill. Neill also plays in an edgier folk/rock band called Barefoot & Bankside, and her gravelly, Janis J meets Melissa Ethridge croon played a prominent part in my review piece a couple of months ago raving about their respective set at Rockwood.

However when I saw IB&N in August, those edges were softened a bit as Neill instead paired up on three part folk harmonies with Trisha Ivy and Mike Beck. And while Neill still brings that bluesy growl, Ivy complements it with something that I can only begin to describe as…. blissfully angelic. A voice that can soothe you to daydream then tear apart your emotions with it’s power by the next line in the verse.

The two together (with Beck being the glue that holds it all in place) are like fire and ice. Thunder and lightning. Elements that begin and end each other like that’s what they were meant to do since time began. Voices so strong and so filled with purpose that even the noisiest room would sound like a pin was dropping just to clear the way for it.

And when all three get to harmonizing (as with the unbearably gorgeous “When The Willow Stops Weeping”), the windows and walls of your emotional center will be blown open with a rocket launcher. Apart the three are talented, but together…. they make me glad that music is a thing that’s still as alive and well in this world as it’s ever been.

Go and check out Ivy Beck & Neill at their Live at Rockwood Music Hall joint record release show with the Alex Mallett Band in Brooklyn this weekend. They’ll be playing at 7:30 PM Saturday at the Jalopy Theatre. You’ll be sad if you miss out!

 

 

 

The Lone Bellow: Three Sides of Anything But Lonely….

Oh Brooklyn. You’ve killed me with blazing heat, taunted me with snow and have shown me so many frigid nights that I’ve blown more smoke out of my mouth than a Cheech & Chong film. But still, you keep me coming back. Why is this you ask? Well the music for one, and the continued lure that is local band The Lone Bellow. Prospect Park, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall… the hits have just kept coming since the folk-rockers first broke on to the scene with their 2013 self-titled debut. And sure some of those have wandered a bit closer to the city than Brooklyn, but for 2015 the trio of Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist broke out an exciting two-fold surprise! Firstly, they snapped the curse of the sophomore slump by releasing a superb new album called Then Came The Morning back in January with The National’s Aaron Dessner producing. Then, on the heels of what eventually became an entirely SOLD OUT tour, the much-beloved trio announced that the end of that tour’s first leg would coincide with Brooklyn dates in the Bowery Ballroom as well as the Music Hall of Williamsburg. So as naturally as Batman is called off to fight crime, yours truly responded to the Band-Aid Signal (watch Almost Famous ), found the nearest train and headed due south! Well, it’s more like… going east to go south and there are a LOT of stops, but… that’s not the point. The point is, March 25th and 26th found me front and center to not only see my favorite modern band, but one of the best bands PERIOD. 11082518_431419187022105_9132157320126091366_n

And while I wanna jump right into the action of those two nights, I have to put the brakes on for a moment and acknowledge both the Bowery and Williamsburg. It was my first time experiencing each, and while both are very similar I can’t think of two venues in recent memory that I’ve had more fun being in. 1908275_429246023906088_1456311416115327237_n 11038873_429723223858368_8254736110079099515_n

They’re both extremely intimate (thumbs up from me already), barely-balconied and standing room, without a bad angle of the stage from any side. Not that I was focused much on that in my initial rush to hit the front row, but later I observed just how brilliant the perspectives were from spots around each venue. If I had been of a more casual mindset, I could easily see either the Bowery or Williamsburg being a great place to just tune out to a night of laid back music. Their stage lighting… now that’s a bit of a different story. If I could describe it simply, I would take it in stages. Sometimes it actually looked like watching a great folk band with influences of gospel, blues, country and alternative elements being naturally lit. Then suddenly a transformation would take place (same band mind you), only NOW… I felt like Chvrches or Zola Jesus was committing technicolor sabotage due to some kind of folk-hating grudge. Or in the case of Williamsburg, the crowd would suddenly be bathed in a floodlight so bright it felt like a musical version of Cops was about to take place.   My riffing aside though, lets forget about putting on those brakes and get to why you’re all reading this piece: THE MUSIC. The Lone Bellow. At home in Brooklyn. The trio that made your hearts soar and break, live and in person with a backing band expanded to include horn players (for two nights only!) that helped make the sound of this new record so beautifully glorious. Like a match that went up to heaven, and made it just for your ears. And within these churches of music, within those expectations and hopes and ever-mounting anticipation, The Lone Bellow laid down two sermons of such fiery passion to the congregation that I think Satan himself was keeping watch for the hellhound on his trail.

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From the first moment on the first night in Bowery Ballroom when Zach rushed to the edge of the stage, mic torn from it’s stand as he sang the very fibers out of the new album’s title track… I knew I was home.  Every bit of sweat from his brow I felt like my own, felt like the crowd’s own as we all bled his spirit back to him. Back to Brian, back to Kanene, back to them all. It’s why Lone Bellow fans are some of the easiest and most wonderful to talk to at shows. They’ve experienced that collective emotion and that healing catharsis that’s so startlingly intense… it’s nearly painful. When you talk to them (much like with the band), it’s like talking to family. And in terms of a familial experience, we got two nights of nothing less than the band leaving themselves out there completely. Zach stood out on the title track and left my hair standing on end with “Marietta”, “Take My Love” and personal favorite “Tree To Grow”, while Brian (with his rebellious curl of hair) owned the stark “Watch Over Us” and the choogling gravel of “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” (with Zach providing a homemade choir in the midst of the crowd). Never to be left out though, the ever-angelic Kanene both broke and mended my soul with her latest song “Call To War”, and destroyed a cover of “Slip Slidin Away” that left the crowd absolutely breathless. Okay I can’t speak for the crowd, but to see her hold out her hands and fiercely belt those words into a single mic… she destroys that song. Paul Simon should be bowing down to her. 10409703_429834450513912_3410445970402907472_n

And of course as anyone who’s been to enough Lone Bellow shows will tell you, the band did manage to flex their crazy knack for some unpredictable song medleys. One moment Zach and Brian were bromancing it out with some of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You”, in another Brian was rapping over Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, and in yet ANOTHER the trio took on some classic 80’s rock with Prince’s “Purple Rain”. That last one may not have gone over too well according to the band, but the audience was absolutely in love with every second! Maybe that whole wedding band thing could work out after all….

So… what shows. What fun. What body weight lost from perspiration. Pretty much the whole, delicious musical sundae right? Not quite. Much like how once Batman starts fighting crime he can’t seem to stop, the Band Aid Signal beckoned once more and brought with it… massive train failure! I don’t exactly think that’s part of the band-aid contract, but it did put a pretty nice cherry on that sundae…

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Enter the cherry: The Lone Bellow’s Soundcheck session and WNYC’s Greene Space. I had heard that this session would be taking place shortly after I left the city, but thanks to whatever divine intervention is responsible for train failure, I found myself in a room of 30-40 people along with these wonderful talents. 22706_431418333688857_4181543346400507929_n 11102741_431427843687906_6575469327326800849_n

Sounds pretty good right? Unfortunately (and it’s a minor unfortunately), the whole gathering was only about an hour or so. Still, it was wonderful to hear the band run through four new songs from the record, do a small interview, and take some questions from the crowd. I personally thought the interview segment wasn’t necessary, but as the video below shows I think it went pretty well anyway.

But now I’m back home again, and my review is at an end for this post. Honestly the Lone Bellow material is barely half of my fun Brooklyn music stories, but I think I’ll save the rest of the trip for another post. Until then, I leave you with a picture from Bowery Ballroom. If nothing else I’ve said has convinced you about The Lone Bellow, if my review and my words and my feelings have not done it, read these faces. They’ll tell all the rest of the story that needs to be explained. Oh and Brooklyn? Thanks again. 10997715_429745293856161_2007159500268163582_n

(both videos and all photos but the last courtesy of Mara S., or @watchingforthesigns on Instagram)

Concert Review, St Vincent (Water Street Music Hall, Rochester NY, 3/5/15)

So originally when my concert season for 2015 rolled around, I had every review in mind slated to appear here on my WordPress blog. As sort of a way to keep new posts consistently popping up as the year went on and there wasn’t much else to talk about (should that be the scenario).

However with my opening date to go and see St Vincent, I was presented with an ulterior choice due to a full schedule and not enough time to sit down and present a written review. Plus I had a very serious rant in mind regarding Jenny Hval, who was the opener for that evening and someone… I had a lot of complaints about.

So a video was a better choice for this. Take a listen, and I hope you enjoy!

To Brooklyn, With Love: A Year’s Retrospective

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A lot can happen in a year. I like to think that in 24 of them perhaps I’ve begun to peck at the grains of sand on this eternal beach; maybe taken something back with me that’s going to last. Though more often than not when I think of the years I’ve had, I come to the conclusion that I’ve been asleep until this last one. That the womb isn’t just nine months, but a gestation of years to not only stand on my own two feet, but to feel the dunes etched beneath them when the moments become mine. When these months became mine.

And if I were to confide that in a postcard and take the time to send it anywhere, I would send it with my thanks to music. I would send it with white roses care of love. And I would send it to Brooklyn, where the brightest stars that could ever hope to burn in my night sky began where music and love met with you.

Enter Brooklyn’s Bandshell in the summer of 2013, when the tail of my comet was just arching across that orange sky with yours. Between the sting of the heavy raindrops that day we crossed paths with a young debuting Brooklyn band called The Lone Bellow, and out under that lit up night sky we were forever changed by Zach, Kanene and Brian’s music. “Watch Over Us” hung like a prayer left wondering, their unexpected take on “Angel From Montgomery” dazzled with raw power, and the trio moved like a wrecking ball of intimate catharsis and razor wired passion. I had never felt more alive seeing three people leave every ounce of themselves bleeding out and spent on a stage before. It would never have meant as much as it has to my life since though, were it not for you.

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The Lone Bellow became our music, our discovery so special that it’s become worthy of a movie like “Almost Famous”. Which is ironic considering that several months after the Bandshell came that hometown show for the trio at NYC’s Carnegie Hall, in which getting second row tickets (on that tip from Zach himself) landed us smack dab in the middle of a family reunion. Thanks to that one little conversation with him at the Bandshell, we went from what were simply good seats to a backstage meeting arranged by his mother and the six best words every obsessed music fan wants to hear, “don’t worry…. you’re with the mom”. It was in the span of this night that I think we actually lived a part of “Almost Famous”, and from then on… well, we’re gonna be forever tied to one of our favorite bands of all time.

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And of course there was your fan request in Geneva’s Smith Opera House this year for new song “Diners”, talking casually outside the Smith with Kanene who REMEMBERED us (which will never cease to blow my mind), crazy speculating on their next album (followed by many continued plays of that homemade “Then Came The Morning” bootleg), and watching the band come home again to Lincoln Center just a month ago to play alongside the likes of the famed Roseanne Cash. I could recount to you a mountain of these memories (and the greatest crowd rebellion known to music at that very Lincoln Center show) and I still don’t think it could begin to be a ripple on the surface of that pond. Every note, every bend, every cue and every Zach as Tarzan chest pound…. is like standing in the echo chamber and behind the wizard’s curtain of music and it’s beating heart. And that’s less of a postcard and more of a love letter when it gets right down to it.

I suppose that’s what this is too. I started to write these recollections imagining them for the consumption of a faceless somebody, but instead that face became etched with so many things so personal to me. This band. This year. You. Getting to write the most meaningful musical words I can think of that I didn’t wanna share with just a somebody, but the ones I wanted to share with MY somebody. Even if we’ve already taken the steps in this dance together and know it’s rhythm, it was this beat I’d been waiting for longer than I ever could have guessed in all these years.

As Zach says in “Two Sides of Lonely”, we were alone together in Brooklyn. Little did I know that was the best place to start, pinkies entwined.

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Spoon Scoops Out Sweet, Alt-Rock Savagery At Ithaca’s State Theatre

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Ah, the start of the fall season. It’s that magical period of time when the leaves erupt from their traditional greens into bursts of mottled reds and golds, the apples burst forth in full fruit from their orchards, and tourists suddenly receive the instinctive call to migrate north and sample the latest seasonal Starbucks pumpkin latte. Brings a tear to the eye really.

But for local Ithaca NY residents and music fans in the area surrounding, it means another jam-packed fall roster of Dan Smalls Presents-curated concerts taking center stage in 2014. And luckily enough for yours truly, I managed to score superb seats this past week for the inaugural show at Ithaca’s State Theatre with Austin TX’s own indie rockers Spoon. They’ve been hot off the early August release of album “They Want My Soul” (their first since 2010’s “Transference”), and my anticipation for one hell of a live set was fairly high. Little did I know what was to come….

Though first up was a special treat in the form of Spoon’s own Eric Harvey acting as the opener for the night. While Harvey has opened for the band before, it was apparently a rarity for him to actually appear with a full group of musicians at his back. Gathered from local contacts around the area (who aided in the recording Harvey did in Ithaca for his 2012 solo record “Lake Disappointment”), the added composition of cello, bass, electric guitar, drums, and backing vocals provided added pastels of flavor to the plaintive heart of Harvey’s guitar-plucked singer-songwriter persona. In fact it led to an on-stage versatility I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing many bands do in which the varied players kept cycling on and off in the background.

At one moment Harvey would be alone on stage, then the next two songs would offer entirely separate arrangements until one guy with a voice and a tune on his strings would become a band in full throat…. only to shift right back again. The night would take a much different tempo before it was complete, but Harvey’s easy swing of mostly originals (diverging only on a loving take of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”) provided a heavily folk-inflected coffeehouse swoon that was a welcoming warmth to settle in with. And given Eric Harvey’s extensive ties to Upstate NY, his set seemed like an appropriately brilliant homecoming.

But then it was time for Spoon to hit the stage, and amidst a backdrop of glowing grey screens and a futuristic disco ball of sorts the quintet shake rattled and rolled the State Theatre right down to the screws of it’s foundations. Opening with the title cut off of “They Want My Soul” before shifting into “Rent I Pay” and older tracks “Don’t You Evah”, “Small Stakes”, and “Who Makes Your Money”, the band kept up a rhythmic barrage that barely paused for either breath or banter. Lead man Britt Daniel was a gritty, growling force of Telecaster-contorting energy who could only be matched by the multi-instrumental tornado that was Alex Fishel, though as a whole Spoon was seamless no matter what direction they chose to weave through their catalogue.

I mean one of the greatest pluses of the band’s new album is how reinvigorated they sound as a group following a four year period of downtime, and that easily carries over into their performance and just how connected these five guys seem. Through a set of 20+ songs they made nearly two hours feel like ten minutes, they got a theatre seated crowd to stand, dance and move from beginning to end, and they converted me from a casual fan into one who’ll be regularly inserting Spoon songs into my playlists for a long time to come.

I don’t think I could have thought of a better way to kick off musical festivities in Ithaca, and you can put THAT into your latte fall fans.

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