LIVE REVIEWS: March 2009



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The Paradise, Boston, MA
Tonight my friend Shaugy of WUMD accompanies me to the Paradise. The
occasion is the seventh annual Rodfest, a fundraiser for the Greg Moynahan
Scholarship at Stonehill College. I’m familiar with a couple of the
bands playing, but do not expect to see this big club sold out for local
bands at a 21-plus event on a night that was minus 500 degrees Kelvin
outside, especially since the tickets are not cheap. Greg Moynahan must
have been important in a lot of hearts. Maybe time has healed the wounds
SLIGHTLY. I’m sometimes wary of these events; they can make for a
sad night, but this is a celebration of life going forward, and even
a party, in a respectful way. The night starts with three 10-minute
acoustic acts that I do not quite catch, as I’m trying to get my bearings
and defrost my glasses. I bump this tall woman and almost get thrown
out before the night begins. She is the hottest bouncer I’ve ever
seen. Of course, I never see female bouncers, but it’s still
a compliment.
After host Ric Gill, clad in full baby costume regalia, gets things
going, Cassavettes take the stage with their mix of Replacements via
Fastball garage rock. They set the tone of the night with signs of things
to come, equipment wise. The downside of a show with many bands is often
not enough time to get everything tested. All night there are broken
drumheads, strings and amps, just about every band is delayed, but it
doesn’t seem to kill the enthusiasm at all.
Girls, Guns & Glory play next. Picture the singer of Simply Red
sounding like Roy Orbison in a cowboy shirt doing a Boston-style southern
Next up are Rogue Heroes. I’m not sure if the guitar player is always
playing the same song as the rest of the band, but it is fantastic Stooges-type
fun. With a man in a dress keeping time on the drums, they do “While
My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but instead of Eric Clapton, imagine a very
angry Neil Young doing the solos, while the band changes the swing to
“25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. It works, somehow. Rogue Heroes are awesome,
but they seem to be breaking apart on stage—I hope that’s all part
of the act. I would love to see them again.
Three Day Threshold takes the stage to the strains of the Rocky
theme, so I know it is going to rule. Singer Kier Byrnes strolls on
stage in brown leather pants, black Stetson, and big bossman shades
looking like he owns the place, and for 45 minutes, he does. With a
kickass band behind him and an enthusiastic crowd in front of him, the
band barrels through their set of 16 Horsepower beating up Uncle Tupelo
and go shot for shot with Hank III originals. They have a great mix
of songs that somehow combines the feel of “The Seeker” by the Who
with the storytelling of Charlie Daniels. It’s their penultimate song,
a cover of “All Right Now,” that tears the roof off the Paradise.
Good thing it stopped snowing. Just when you think you can’t squeeze
any more life out of that song, they pull 20 tambourines and cowbells
and drag a small army of pretty mamas and one fat guy from the crowd
to dance onstage with them. Of course, everyone wants to yell “more
cowbell,” but that’s okay. What a great ending to a fun night. (Eric

Sally O'Brien's, Somerville, MA
Sally O'Brien's afternoon show keeps Ray Mason and his band waiting
outside in the cold with their equipment before they can set up for
their 9:00 show. The resulting bonus of the delay is a pretty packed
house at the beginning of their set. They start off with "Holes
in Your Liver" and the sound mix is excellent. Every word is understood
and every instrument has its own place. The towels on the snare and
tom heads keep drum volume under control. Ray references the Rockin'
Ramrods from his youth and claims they got it just right in "English
Leather." Throughout he carries Neil Young, the Band, and NRBQ
on his back and actually names the latter the best band in America.
He covers "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" and my friends
join in on the la-la-las in the chorus. The band has eleven CDs for
sale—you know they've been around for a while—and their stage experience
is evident. The band has two birthdays and a recent engagement—so
there's reason to party. Frank on drums (one of the birthday boys) delivers
a message to the people of Somerville—which translates into a drum
solo. Ray promises all different songs in their second set. I'm sure
they have enough for three sets. (T Max)

The Middle East, Cambridge, MA
Have Nots take the stage to a very sparse crowd. It’s odd that they
are on first considering they just banged out T.T.’s as a headliner
a couple weeks prior. This is a band that truly feeds off the audience’s
energy, and it isn’t until a few songs into their set when the place
starts to fill up a bit that they really hit their stride. When they
do, they show why, more than any new band I’ve seen in years, they
have the potential to become huge. Their mix of ska-influenced punk,
although no longer trendy, sounds novel and natural. The high points
of the set are the thoughtful “One in Four,” about the plight of
veterans, and the anthemic “Used to Be.” The night is off to a good
start. It’s just too bad more aren’t here to see it.
Movers and Shakers throw a nice curveball into the evening’s punky
proceedings, as their sound resides somewhere between alt-country and
Dinosaur Jr-ish rock. Even if they sounded like crap, I would still
enjoy them just because their drummer looks like Animal from the Muppets
when he plays, only a little more graceful. The songs are catchy; I
dig the swapping of the vocals, the punch of the early part of the set,
and what might have been the best organ sound I’ve ever heard in a
club. I just wish the whole set would have been as lively as the first
third. Despite being impressed with what they do, my mind does start
to wander a bit.
The Side Effects appear to be playing at a completely different gig
for an entirely different audience than the rest of the bill. As they
hit the stage, a few dozen in the audience storm forward, while the
rest of the crowd retreats to the back. The singer looks and acts completely
bombed and plenty of beer showers the stage. This has train wreck written
all over it. Fortunately, as loose as the singer is, the band, featuring
James Lynch of Dropkick Murphys on guitar, is tight as hell, and their
infectious mix of glam and 1977 punk, best evidenced by their cover
of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy,” does get my foot tapping.
It’s an interesting performance, to say the least, often straddling
the line between brilliant and awful.
By the time Lost City Angels hit the stage, the house is surprisingly
only half-full. Maybe everyone’s out for Valentine’s Day, but I
would have figured that LCA’s brand of tortured dramatic punk would
function as a shrewd bit of counter-programming, especially given that
this is LCA’s first show in years. Despite the layoff and an occasional
botched lyric or note, the rust hardly shows. Singer Ron Ragona is all
spastic energy, a herky-jerky dynamo who has me worn out just watching
him by the third song. Guitarist Nick Bacon contributes a sparkle to
the songs and aptly compliments the brawn of fellow guitarist Drew Suxx.
On recordings, LCA exhibits a glossy shine that suits them very well;
live they are far grittier, offering the perfect sound for a dark basement
club on Valentine’s Day. (Kevin Finn)

High Street Grill, North Andover, MA
Located a half hour north of the city is a terrific find, High Street
Grill in North Andover, MA. Specializing in barbeque and soul food cuisine
with a healthy side of Americana and roots rock, the recently opened
High Street Grill has been bringing some of Boston’s top musical talent
up north. Tonight they’re hosting Sam Reid & the Riot Act,
a modular bluegrass band featuring Jess Fox on fiddle and Aaron Goff
on mandolin alongside flat picker Sam Reid and left handed bassist Johnny
Ransom. The band plays a mix of traditional bluegrass but isn’t shy
about belting out some of their own original ballads as well. With bellies
full of tasty home-style meals, the patrons of High Street Grill get
a treat for their ears, too, and it’s not long before I hear some
hootin’ and hollerin’ from the crowd as they tip back pints of cold
craft beers. As I snack on some of High Street’s amazing homemade
pickles, my ears are treated to a cornucopia of sizzling guitar and
mandolin licks. The band plays some samples from their album Dreaming
the Life
and the audience cries out for a second helping, but the
evening ends too soon. It’s a great show, a terrific place, and I
hope to be back here soon. (Kier Byrnes)

Something Like Love
Empire Dine and Dance, Portland, ME
On Valentine’s Day, non-profit organization MENSK puts on a benefit
show, Something Like Love, at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland. Members
from many local bands perform, including As Fast As, the Cambiata, Rustic
Overtones, and so on. I decide to round up a few friends and attend.
I’m listening to many brand new songs here tonight, but because they
are being played by bands that will only stay together for one night
only, it is useless to have a real name. You see, it works like this:
a guitarist from one local band gets together with a singer from another
local band, and they write a song to perform at tonight’s event. This
occurs in many variations and the outcome is a shoulder-to-shoulder
dance fest in the upstairs part of the bar. From what I hear, this is
a yearly event. Although it would be impossible to name each song and
each band here tonight, I do want to say thank you to all the local
musicians, singers, and songwriters who got together to make tonight
a success. I’m having a great time listening to all of the original
music, and from the sight of this packed venue, I'd say that MENSK will
make out pretty well. (Jill Harrigan)

The Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA
It’s a beautiful thing when a band just gets up on stage and with
their first song, they completely captivate you. Tonight, Glenn Yoder
and his boys do just that. One song in and I’m practically knocked
right off my barstool. Ten songs, a plate of delicious pepper jack covered
sliders later (with some curly fries from the bar menu, of course),
I’m still hooked. Glenn’s band is essentially a four piece that
plays a mix of Americana that is sort of along the lines of the Jayhawks
before they got poppy. Sometimes Glenn tones it way down and brings
in guests like singer Sarah Blacker on backing harmonies, which gives
the music a sensitive Joan Baez folk rock feel. At other times, the
band explodes with playful energy. It’s at those times that Glenn
especially reminds me of a young Paul Westerberg. Coincidentally, just
as Westerberg did with the Replacements, Glenn is exploring a solo career
and branching off from Cassavettes, his main band. There doesn’t seem
to be much tension between the boys however, as Glenn’s Cassavettes
bandmates look on proudly, even jumping up and joining in for a few
songs. It shows some real class and support for their friend and fellow
musician. Overall, it’s a great night of music. (Kier Byrnes)

Lord Wakefield Hotel, Wakefield, MA
The Lakeside Pub is a hidden little gem located within the Lord Wakefield
on picturesque Lake Quannapowitt. The pub, dingy as it may be,
offers weekend entertainment to patrons of the hotel, as well as to
the public. The Transistors are frequent entertainers here from
8:00 pm until the early hours of the morning. A four-piece, these
guys specialize in sounds of the sixties. One song into their
three-part set and it’s easy to feel transported back in time; they’re
just that organic. Rockin’ Tommy is an absolute powerhouse as
the band’s lead vocalist as well as its tambourine and harmonica player.
His inexhaustible energy is unbelievable, his jump and jive infectious.
Silvertone Steve captivates as an innovative rhythm and lead guitarist,
while “Wando” impresses with timely bass-thumping grooves, and “Double-O”
packs a punch on the drums. The band breezes through a vast catalogue
of sixties favorites including the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,”
to Dave Clark 5’s “Glad All Over,” the Beatles’ “Ticket to
Ride,” and every Bostonian’s favorite, the Standells’ “Dirty
Water.” What are you waiting for? Revisit the ’60s with the
Transistors! (Julia R. DeStefano)

House of Blues, Boston, MA
I’m at the opening night of the new House of Blues. Apparently the
show was cancelled for about a half hour, but the place is still at
capacity and it’s only 8:00 pm (although it doesn’t seem very full—plenty
of room to move around, and it’s easy to get close to the stage).
Sex is already onstage by the time I get through the extensive security
checkpoints, and the crowd seems really into them. I’m impressed by
how good the sound is here. Sex plays through a great set, and second
to last they play their crowd favorite, “Chevy Nova.” Everyone dances,
and the band plays especially energetically. The crowd goes crazy as
they finish. This has got to be one of the best local bands in Boston
right now, and I must add that House of Blues is a nice improvement
over Avalon. (Emsterly)

The North Star Café, Portland, ME
Maine native Jason Spooner and Boston-based Chris O’Brien are playing
to a packed house tonight at the North Star Café. As soon as I walk
into the warmth of the venue, the ambience is calming. I make my way
to the last open table, sit, and await the free acoustic concert. The
audience is an eclectic mix of people and ranges in age from six to
sixty. Jason Spooner takes the stage with his guitar and harmonica,
sits center stage on a stool, and immediately begins to play. The rhythm
of his music is relaxing and his voice is soothing. He reminds me of
a cross between John Mayer and Jack Johnson. During several songs, he
plays the guitar and the harmonica at once. This is truly impressive.
He mentions that he is usually accompanied by a band, but I am content
with hearing his solo performance.
Chris O’Brien walks onto the stage, carrying his guitar and a smile.
He is accompanied by bassist Andy Dow. O’Brien begins his show energetically,
playing his guitar fast and singing emotionally charged lyrics. He sings,
“There’s a hole in my heart and it’s swallowing the room.” When
he hits high notes, his voice can be likened to that of James Blunt.
Be assured, however, his high notes are the only things that are comparable
to Blunt. O’Brien’s finger-picking skills are positively outrageous
and I have no choice but to tap my feet. Throughout the show, O’Brien
and Dow play off of one another and both get really into the music,
which makes it even more entertaining. O’Brien talks to the audience
between each song and exudes such a humble demeanor. He is the kind
of musician and singer/songwriter you want to become famous because
he has true talent but also because he’s amazingly unpretentious.
(Jill Harrigan)

Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, RI
With a name like Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, it’s hard not to picture
a dingy, cobweb-infested hole in the wall. But what I see upon entering
is a spacious, dimly lit venue with an odd blue glow to it. The first
band of the night, the Coming Weak takes the stage, and by the end of
the first song I’m hooked. Their sound falls somewhere between the
lines of rock and pop with slight traces of hardcore. They demonstrate
an incredible ability to change beat mid-song and still carry a smooth
melody, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the crowd. In addition
to this, lead singer Tim White has great control of the crowd and encourages
clapping, jumping, and everything in between. Midway through the heavy
riffs and thunderous drumming, White holds the mic out to the crowd,
and for a second, I worry there won’t be a response. But the crowd
sings back, powerfully and excited, and for the remainder of the night,
that energy sticks. (Angela Mastrogiacomo)

Porter Belly's Pub, Brighton, MA
Once upon a time, there were three great bands: the Beatles, the Stones,
and your band (and Led Zeppelin). Now there are five…or six. Your
old band was pretty good too. So I walk into Porter Belly's at around
10:40 and the place is pretty close to packed. The band called Dogs
on TV is playing a Willie Dixon tune (I think he did it first… can't
remember). So far so good. Then the mothertruckers do a couple of other
cover tunes, which are totally fine…but then…they play their own
stuff—deep, dirty, yummy, dirgy (but not too dirgy) grinds that make
me stomp my foot and order some Jim Beam, straight up. I slug it down,
and on to the next tune which has some killer guitar with an octave
pedal—man, good stuff. Turns out that this is their first gig. And
rumor has it they never rehearsed. Damn. Damn good. Hopefully they'll
be back to the neighborhood bar.
During the 20 minute break, I buy the
hottest chick in the bar the cheapest beer, the only one I can afford,
and after she totally disses me (can you imagine?), the Soap Stars jump
out and play a set. Someone tells me their name comes from the fact
that the lead singer in the band used to be on a soap opera called
The Young and the Breastless
. I digress. It’s good stuff: simple
tunes but much more than I IV V chord or whatever other chord cliché
you can think of. There are lots of good hooks, and a great rhythm section.
It’s simple pop rock—did I say simple? I generally don't like this
kind of music, but it grabs me tonight. My only beefs are the out-of-tune
background vocals and that they play stupid cover songs at the end of
the night when they run out of their own tunes. Oh, that, and the tie
that the guitar player is wearing. (Oliver Gunther)

North Star Cafe, Portland, ME
I'm doing afternoon distribution in Portland, Maine, and run into some
free entertainment at the cozy North Star Cafe. Squashing Gourds is
a family band that has members as young as 10 and 12. Four of them—the
dad, Dan Pierce, on acoustic guitar, his two boys, Tucker on mandolin
and Jack on lead fiddle, and daughter Samantha on stand-up bass—roll
though a bunch of instrumental country fiddle tunes with a Celtic/gypsy
feel. They gather around one condenser mic and rotate positions for
solos. After a few songs, a few more members show up. These two are
from the Logan family—dad Carter on slide-dobro and Sarah on fiddle.
The two new additions announce that they did not score points when they
left Grandma's 60th birthday party to come to the gig. Vocals get thrown
into the mix with some lively chanteys and folkie tunes. Family members
communicate while playing with the slightest of looks, nods, and finger
points to conduct arrangement, show approval, or laugh at the minor
mishaps. The community feel of the performance and the cafe is ultra
comfortable. During the group's break, the coffee-sipping listeners
gladly fill the bucket being passed—the up-lifting spirit of the families
is contagious. (T Max)

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