LIVE REVIEWS DECEMBER 2011
CARAVAN OF THIEVES, HEATHER MALONEY
One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME
I arrive full of anticipation of this show dubbed the Caravan of Thieves Freakfest. The crowd is mostly over forty and everyone is eager for the entertainment to begin.
Fooling us into thinking she is a substitute act named Amelie, Heather Maloney comes out in a black pageboy wig and long red dress, accompanied by a little ceramic gnome sitting on a stool beside her. She seems at home on the stage, comfortable in her own skin, precise and practiced on the guitar and possesses a voice that can’t be pigeonholed. I realize that even though she is reflecting something of the style of modern female singers of her generation, she has the pipes and creativity that exceeds them. Her warmth and stage presence is endearing (and I want her to meet Moira Smiley from VOCO and try some world music). Her voice can go to astounding places. Her songs are full of youth and heart and charm. I think of Audrey Hepburn when I look at her. Or Amelie, come to think of it.
The Caravan of Thieves blast off with “I’m Gonna Eat Ya” (which they could have written for Deborah Harry) and “Love Made a Monster Out of Me.” Then we’re swimming in the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Adorable lead guy, Fuzz, flirts and cajoles the audience into hissing like snakes and snapping our fingers. Soon, we’re all a-snakin’ and a-snappin! I want to grab Fuzz and pinch his cheeks and adopt him. The band is wearing Halloween make-up and the stage is decorated accordingly. They play a devil medley. A disco medley. A rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Fuzz on vocals and lead guitar, Ben Dean on fiddle, Brian Anderson on standup bass, and the beautiful Carrie Sangiovanni on vocals and rhythm guitar all work their magic on us. The Caravan of Thieves is the band that gives everything! They are pied pipers of enthusiasm and joy, fun to the last moment! (Kimmy Sophia Brown)
LISA MANNING THE SINGING POET
The Dog Bar, Gloucester, MA
Reminding me of a character out of Charles Dickens right up to the black top hat she is wearing, Lisa Manning takes the stage. I am about to hear the social concern of a poet put to music. Lisa starts her set with what she describes as a spiritual type of song about being lost and then finding one’s way. Her somewhat offbeat classical guitar style combined with her harmonica is a perfect blend with lyrics that offer thought-provoking philosophical content. The melodies are simple, yet stick in my mind… haunting and mesmerizing, perfect for a Sam Shepherd music score. She next presents a children’s song, “What If I Had Something That Made Me Happy,” about how this can be more than another expensive toy… perhaps an apple, a shell, a pine cone, a precious moment spent in the little everythings. “Modern Violence” reflects on what could be anyone’s child of the times we live in with words such as, “I’m just a looney with a gun.” Lisa’s range allows her to sing both the child and parent vocals. She asks, “who is to blame, faults that we need claim.” “Don’t You Hear Me Calling Can’t You Hear Me Falling,” is a love song lament to her muse, whimsical and unpredictable spirit of inspiration. She closes her set with a composition about earth, “our only mother, gentle elephant,” and sings about a creation that has been brought to its knees by greed and the desire to see us share the world like a family. Lisa Manning is a unique performer with unusual songwriting talent, able to convey deeper meaning regarding what we are experiencing around us in today’s world. Her songs give us something to ponder. (Anne Brown)
SIOBHAN MAGNUS’ HALLOWE’EN DREAMS, MITZI DAWN
The Wilbur Theatre, Boston, MA
Opening act (from Nashville) Mitzi Dawn does a short four-song set that is really impressive. Her song “Razor Blades and Whiskey” is the best of her Americana set.
Next up is the Barnstable belter, Siobhan Magnus—she sure can sing. From the first notes, her more metal than goth, and more goth than pop style showcases her wonderful voice. She sings. She wails. She screams. And she wins the crowd over quickly. You may remember her from American Idol but as I watch her onstage, her passion and presence are the things that are immediately noticeable. Every note she vocalizes seems to be squeezed out of her larynx as she closes her eyes and emotes the experience. And the tweeners, many of them dressed for the ’tween sets Halloween costume contest, are swaying along with her delivery, squealing in delight and really enjoying the introspective and professional performance. The two sets, the first called The Eulogy or Dark Set and the latter called The Big Collapse or Light Set consist of her debut CD Moonbaby with a few covers including the Ramones’ “Poison Heart,” “Zombie” by The Cranberries, “Halloween” by Siouxie & the Banshees and even Led Zep’s “All of My Love” done more soulfully in the original Betty LaVette way. Backed by a steller band with 20 year old Kyle Thompson wearing a Misfits’ T-shirt on drums, my favorite originals of hers include “Beatrice Dream,” “Black Doll,” and “Moonbaby.” She delivers rock ’n’ roll with an attitude and does it in a very personal way. (A.J. Wachtel)
THE NEW COLLISIONS, ALOUD
O’Brien’s Pub, Allston, MA
I walk into O’Brien’s and the place is pretty full for a Wednesday. I run into, like, 10 people I know on the way to the bar, which is one thing I love about Aloud shows—they have a dedicated core following. Tonight is night two of their month-long residency, but I received an anonymous tip that this would be the night that they’d be playing all the best songs (songs from their 2006 album Leave Your Light On.) The New Collisions go on moments after I walk in the door. Despite the fact that these guys and girl have been practically omnipresent in the Boston music scene in the past, I haven’t seen them before, but I like their vibe almost instantly. When it comes to live music, there’s nothing I love more than a badass frontwoman, and between Sarah Guild of the New Collisions and Jen de la Osa of Aloud, there’s no shortage of confidently talented women in this room. Anyway, the New Collisions sound awesome and fun and everyone seems to be enjoying their set. Yay.
Then Aloud gets set up quickly to play for about an hour. They play “Beaches” early on, and it’s a pretty epic rendition with lots of fervent crowd singalongs. Then they play “Godspeed”—far and away my favorite Aloud song—which Aloud has been withholding from their live shows as they teach their new drummer their catalog from newest to oldest. Just before launching into the four-minutes of fiery-folk-rocky excellence that is “Godspeed,” Jen says they’re going to play “Freebird,” a reference to my last Noise review, which proves definitively that people actually do read the Noise! And despite what I said about the old stuff being the best, I’m blown away by the intensity of “The Cash and the Pearls” (Aloud’s newest song), which they play towards the end of the set. After they finish this song, the bar is so quiet you could hear a pin drop if you weren’t wearing ear plugs. The rest of the show is equally energetic, including the encore that Aloud graciously grants us after the entire bar erupts in raucous “ONE MORE SONG!” chants. I wonder, once again, why people aren’t talking about this band in the streets. Or maybe they are, I don’t know. All I know is that this show was totally worth the drive from the ’burbs into the city on a Wednesday night. (Emily Diggins)
STALIN GO, WITCHITA, NEW HIGHWAY HYMNAL
Dirty Douglas, Lowell, MA
The New Highway Hymnal is one of the most exciting bands I have come across this past year in the Lowell underground music scene. The band is a four piece (vocals, guitar, bass, drums) and they mix punk inspired rock ‘n’ roll with pure, relentless noise. Despite, or perhaps because of, the loud quality of their music, their songs are quite melodic and memorable, and tonight is no exception. As usual they are great entertainers and they can connect with their audience beyond simply playing their instruments; instead, they bring a rather physical nature to their performance. The brute, cathartic treatment they dish out to their instruments reminds me of Sonic Youth and the experimentation they are known to incorporate into their showmanship. Ultimately, their set is a sweaty, invigorating experience for both members and fans; a nice way to blow off some steam after a long, draining, school/work week.
The first thing I look for in every band I see and/or hear is personality. Amherst’s Witchita is a young band, but they show great promise and potential because of their contagious personality. Witchita opens the set admitting to the crowd that this is only their second show and that they are prone to technical difficulties. Technical difficulties aside, the duo is more exciting and energetic than most bands I’ve seen. Whatever musical skills they lack, they more than make up for in their charisma and personal charm. In particular, I love the in-between song, inner band banter: cracking jokes and arguing over which songs to play. In spite of their callow character, they do manage to create an effective performance filled with genuinely strong musical attributes. By the end of their set, I find it astonishing that this is only their second show. Hopefully, the future will bring more and more Wichita shows.
Stalin Go wraps the evening up, adding their own slimy flavor of high energy noise rock to blow everyone’s mind. Like Wichita, Staling Go is a duo with one member on drums and the other on guitar, but unlike their predecessors they are much more diabolical and sinister. The group is fairly bizarre, as if their moniker was not enough to indicate this, and they play mostly instrumental fuzzy tunes. The guitar sound is quite loud and almost as eccentric as the members themselves. Stalin Go wears vintage wrestling masks throughout their set, creating a simultaneously comical and bestial vibe to their performance. On top of that, the guitarist often leaps into the audience, sometimes playing extensively in the middle of the crowd and even on the floor. With these identifiable features, it is not hard to see why Stalin Go has become somewhat of a familiar face around Lowell.
ROOMFUL OF BLUES, BRUCE MARSHALL GROUP
Showcase Live, Foxborough, MA
Pulling into the huge parking lot at Patriot Place, I’m thinking, 20 minutes out of Boston and I can eat, drink and be very merry here, and I laugh. Bruce Marshall is just beginning his set when I walk in and he plays a bunch of cuts from his latest CD, Misspent Youth. Marshall is a premier songwriter and his tunes are all hummable with memorable hooks and after many of the melodies you wonder if it was a cover you just heard or if it is an original composition; his radio-friendly music is of the highest-caliber and guitarist David Cournoyer (ex-the Vex) is one of the best unknown six-stringers in the area. “Say A Little Listen A Lot” is one of his typical uptempo power-pop tunes with jazz chords and a bit of swing mixed in and the crowd loves the sound. This is a good opening band for Roomful and everyone in the audience is here to have a good time. Bruce’s band sets the partying mood for the night.
The headliner’s set is so diverse: Jump. Swing. Blues. Rockabilly. R & B. Soul. And the sound system in this club is so good that their eight instruments surround you and sweep you away with them as they crush the room with their musical momentum. “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” by Big Joe Turner. “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams. “T-Bone Boogie” by T. Bone Walker are some of the covers they do and “She Walks Right In,” “Just A Little Love,” and “Time Brings Bout A Change” from their latest CD “Hook, Line and Sinker” showcase vocalist Phil Pemberton’s sweet and personal vocals. Every word he sings sounds like he’s singing it just to you in the audience. Chris Vachon’s great guitar is a treat also. And when trumpeter Doug Woolverton walks through the crowd while soloing in “Jambalaya” the night really catches fire. There is a lot going on during their music. During one song everyone onstage becomes quiet as baritone saxist Mark Earley plays the bass lines for a bunch of measures while alto/tenor saxist Rich Lataille plays the melody. Moments like this really shine the light on how good the musicians in this band really are. A great night just a stone’s throw from downtown Boston. (A.J. Wachtel)
THE PARKINGTON SISTERS,
Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA
Heather Maloney starts off addressing her audience very gently (after all we are in a church), saying her first song, “Fifty Lines” (also the opener on her latest CD, Time & Pocket Change) is dedicated to the muse that aids her creative process. Continuing the still, gentle approach, her precise fingerpicking is understated and the house sound is so unobtrusive I feel like I’m listening to an acoustic performance sans PA (thanks to Tim Rowell at the board). The unpretentiously attractive Ms. Maloney has developed a voice that is so accurate in detail, she can capture fast melodic passages the way pitch-correcting audio processors do mechanically). The audience is directed to start her song “Grace” by singing the opening verse of “Amazing Grace” in four-part harmony—and we do. Picking up a four-string tenor guitar (named Baby), Heather tells us that time and pocket change are two things that we have more of since we’ve quit our day jobs, and then rolls into the title track of her CD. She covers a Beatles song that I’ve yet to hear anyone cover—“Her Majesty’s a Pretty Nice Girl”—and adds a playful second verse full of random syllables. She is slowly mesmerizing the audience. There are more of her playful improv melodies in “Turn Yourself Around” and then all too soon this Audrey Hepburn-styled young woman is starting her final song. She once again directs the audience (including Betty Bones on wooden bones) to lively engage in a rock beat to which she sings along.
Between sets I get to talk with the smart and engaging Heather Maloney and we’re joined by Betty Bones, who is quite the character. Betty explains that pigs’ ribs are the perfect bones for her musical instrument of choice, though hers are custom cut from oak to better fit her hand.
After the break, the stage fills with four decorative gals known as the Parkington Sisters from Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Lately they’ve been touring with the Dropkick Murphys, which I can imagine is a great culmination of male and female energy. The sisters possess four strong voices, three violins, floor tom and percussion, an acoustic guitar, and a grand piano. They start and I’m thrown back to the days of loving the Roaches (another all-sister band). Rose, on far right in a blue dotted dress and thick soft boots, does a lot of the lead singing while playing guitar or piano. She looks kinda like an indy rocker. On the other end of the stage, Ariel, with long brown hair, tall black boots, and red dress is the most serious of them and displays her classical virtuosity on the violin. Center left is Sarah with a wonderful performance smile, long wavy dark hair, a white lacy top and black riding pants. She could improve the looks and sound (violin) of any country band. Then there’s Nora—the ever-entertaining wacky rocker-type. Her long bleached-blonde hair with bangs is decorated by a red flower places over her ear. She wears black lace on arms and legs, and a ’90s black zipper dress. She’s the one who bangs the tom while shaking things—she can also pick up a violin when three parts are needed. Together they perform like a unit and in between songs their family closeness becomes evident. They poke fun at each other, finish each other’s sentences, and love telling stories—creating a loose feeling that balances well with the musical tightness and accuracy of their lovely harmonies, whether in voice or violins. They can play traditional, classical, rock, folk, and even have an impressive tango number. During their set they separately invite up two other women to accompany them. There’s the cute eight-year-old, Megan, from Newton who fits right in with the way she shakes those green maracas. And on the other end of the age scale is Betty Bones once again—this time playing her C harmonica! The Parkington Sisters end their long enjoyable set with “Sail Home” written by their late uncle then are demanded an encore, so they comply with June Carter Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Watch for the Noise’s special Cape Cod issue next summer that will feature these gals!
Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA
I do not fancy myself as a garage rock aficionado in the traditional sense, but in the past few years I have taken a massive liking to several current artists that have emulated the style in their own unique ways. Atlantic Thrills is one of those bands. Perhaps not as adventurous as the Box Elders or as ambitious as Thee Oh Sees, but most of the time the Thrills are just what the doctor ordered: fun rock ’n’ roll to dance and go wild to. Notable influences include legendary ’60s Peruvian Garage Punk pioneers Los Saicos as well as the much more modern example of Atlanta, Georgia’s notorious Black Lips. In both instances, high energy is valued above everything else and that is certainly true in the case of the Thrills. Admittedly, I only recognize one song, and that is “Acid Rain,” but as predicted, it gets the crowd moving, shaking, and singing along; safe to say it was a successful night. (Chris DeCarlo)
THE SWINGING STEAKS
The Beachcomber, Wollaston Beach, MA
The first inkling I have that the Swinging Steaks are a true party band is when I glance around the club and see a few cowboy hats in the crowd. You don’t wear a 10-gallon hat into a drinking establishment in the Northeast unless you plan on having a good time and some drinks. It’s just not proper barroom etiquette. And as I looked at the set list on the soundboard, with song titles including “Saddle Up,” “Mountain,” “Adelaide,” “Bone Bag,” and “Trainwreck,” it didn’t take me long to figure out what kind of music these cats play. And they play it so well. The vocal harmonies of guitarist Jamie Walker, bassist Paul Kochansky, guitarist Jim Giovanniello and keyboardist Jim Gambino are extraordinairy and the powerful pounding of Andy Plaisted keeps the tight sound sharp and riveting. Much of the music is from their current CD Live in ’93 culled from their Jason & the Scorchers tour and a highpoint of the set is Walker’s great extended guitar solo during “Dancing on the Water.” Another highpoint is watching the cute blonde waitress hold her tray above her head while dancing and serving drinks to the patrons on the packed dance floor throughout the night.. She didn’t drop a bottle and the band didn’t miss a beat. (A.J. Wachtel)
Wilbur Theatre, Boston, MA
Tonight, I’m at the Wilbur to see Ani Difranco. I have no idea who Melissa Ferrick is, but I show up early enough to see her. Melissa comes to the bare stage armed with her acoustic guitar hanging across her shoulders. She is dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, her confidence is apparent in the way she struts to the mic. She thanks Ani for allowing her to play then breaks into a very deep moving song about how she fits into the world around her. I’m captivated by this little dance she does while playing, it amuses me highly. The dance is part pee dance, part I have a stubborn wedgie and it is making me uncomfortable. A fan in the crowd yells out, “I love your shoes.” She responds “Thanks, there is an old Chinese proverb that says never let a lover wear your shoes, because they will always walk away in them. This is more common in same sex relationships, because the shoe sizes are more common. That’s one thing the straight couples have right.” Banter like this goes on between each song as she tunes up. The crowd shouts out loudly when Melissa says, “I’m going to play a fast one with lots of words in it.” She catches a good solid groove. This room is very responsive, dancing, singing and letting loose obnoxious shrill ear piercing screams. Her lead into the last song is greated with the loudest applause of the night so far: “This is for all of the hippies, gypsies, queers, and for all lovers of music. This is for you.” She leaves the stage, but comes back out to play Ani’s encore with her. I came for Ani, but honestly I was more impressed with Melissa tonight. After seeing her play, I can’t express how disappointed I am in myself for not knowing of her. I already googled her next set of performance dates and plan on seeing her again. (Melvin O)
THE INVISIBLE HOURS, BROADCASTER, GERTRUDE ATHERTON
The News Cafe, Pawtucket, RI
The News Cafe’s outdated décor is glowing under the neon that lines its walls. A pale light is cast on the crowd. I miss the opening solo performer but arrive in time to catch the second band plugging in.
There is a good crowd gathered up close to watch the debut of a band called Gertrude Atherton. Three women dressed in black plug in and deliver a combination of distorted picked and strummed guitar, driving bass, and steady drums. The vocals go from straight singing to an occasional controlled scream. I would have never guessed this is their first show. They have a unique sound, confident delivery, and the crowd is responding favorably to their short set. I’m excited to see how they will develop over future shows.
Broadcaster sets up and plugs in. As they begin their set I notice the different textures created between the two guitars. They have a dynamic, layered sound. The rhythm section is tight. I feel exhausted watching their drummer. The singer/guitarist shifts between singing and screaming. He is able to conquer the shoddy PA system and really puts on a show swaying and stumbling to the sound. At one point his guitar strap becomes unhooked. A memorable set.
I have seen the Invisible Hours once before and was impressed with them. They sound very full for a three-piece. The rhythm section packs a wallop. The drummer’s kit has extra toms and he consistently makes use of all of them. The bass compliments the guitar lines and adds emphasis with a powerful rumble. The guitar is loaded with reverb and at points, soars in a gritty echo. I can’t recall a band in Providence with a sound comparable to theirs. They close out the night strong and the crowd files out into a cold October night.
MASON DARING & JEANNIE STAHL
Salem Theatre Company, Salem, MA
The cozy Salem Theatre Company, located at 90 Lafayette Street, is now offering some pretty cool musical acts between their theatre productions. On this Saturday night, it’s quite an event to see two iconic folk performers, Mason Daring and Jeannie Stahl, who perform about once a year. As I arrive the show is underway and I hear the vocal harmonies of “Chatanooga Choo Choo” by the two acoustic guitar performers. The setting is casual with only two rows of audience wrapping around the front of the stage—probably no more than 50 seats. Mason barely needs a microphone to be heard—and his between song banter is always entertaining. Much laughter and audience comments evolve the discussion of the local newspaper’s preview of the show. And Mason does a great job of subtly hyping one of his old CDs that he saw on eBay for $200—he went down into his basement, found a box of them, and dusted them off. The tunes range from traditional folk to 1940’s pop swing, the latter being most evident in their medley of Busby Berkeley film songs, “42nd Street,” “Lullaby on Broadway,” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” Mason gets more musical when he picks up his electric Gibson semi-hollow body played effectively with a volume pedal through a Fender Princeton Reverb. “Chocolate” is a novelty song about all the varieties of that yummy darkness that eventually gives us zits. “Nevertheless” was once used while the credits rolled in the film Liana and Mason’s solo delivery of “The One Thing I Could Never Do Too Much is Loving You” is touching. The double melody song, Marblehead Morning,” is enthusiastically rewarded and they end with the classic “River.” The lively audience won’t let them go that easily and the two reply with an encore of Robin Batteau’s “I’m Counting the Stars.” A delightful evening. (T Max)
BLACK FRANCIS, MARK D. THOMPSON
The Spot, Providence, RI
The stage is draped in orange cloth, which makes it look like it is surrounded by small waves of flames. Little white Christmas lights float in between the waves. Large painted pictures are on display in almost every corner. The club lights are low, the main sources of lights are the small candles lit on the tables, the spots illuminating the paintings, and a low backlight shining on the black painted bricks of the back of the stage.
Mark D. Thompson walks up to the single mic. “Hello, I’m Mark,” he says in a deep voice. He is holding an older sunburst acoustic, complete with the flowered pick guard. He looks like he just stepped out of an old country bar looking for a fight. He is no fuss on stage, cramming as much as he can in short time allotted for his set. He never stops playing, and it seems to be one depressing song after another. The club is filled though, and everyone is quietly listening to his tales of woe. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anyone sing about having to cut someone else out of a vehicle with the Jaws of Life, and after the horrific image I was left with I hope I never do again. The crowd ate it up, loving it judging by the applause when he was done.
Black Francis is Frank Black from the Pixies, for those of you who don’t know. Tonight he has filled The Spot. There isn’t very much room left in front of the stage, so I decide to block the fire exit by occupying the steps leading out. Frank walks out onto the stage in a black T-shirt, jeans, and dark sunglasses. His well-worn guitar is strapped around his neck, held together with electrical tape. He opens with the Pixies’s “Nimrod’s Son.” Patiently, he waits for the applause to die down: “Thanks for coming to my show. If you think I just drove in from Boston you’re wrong. I drove around for hours so I was sufficiently fatigued.” The club as a whole is hanging on his every word. One guy is kneeling in front of the stage like he is having a religious experience. “I did my first performance ever, down the street at the Biltmore. I performed ‘In the Midnight Hour’ at my prom,” he shares. A fan consistently shouts out a request, but Frank just seems to ignore him. He plays another song. Apologizing he says, “I’m a nervous Nelly tonight and I’m not doing requests, but I got a request, applaud if I make it through a whole song without fucking up.” The crowd cheers, clapping instantly. “Hey! Hey, that’s premature, wait until I do it.” The same fan that was yelling out his request then shouts out, “Play ‘Until the Midnight Hour’ then.” Frank starts playing, again ignoring the fan. He makes it through a few more songs, before he says “I want to apologize to the guy yelling out songs.” The crowd is silent waiting for the fan to yell out, but someone new yells out, “he left.” Frank responds, “Really? I was just kidding. Truth is I practiced a few songs but I couldn’t get through them. Sorry.” The next time he stops is to announce that he has been compiling all of the Frank Black and the Catholics tapes that he could find, in hopes of releasing a full box set next year. He finally gives in and plays the song that the fan kept requesting apologizing beforehand, “Hopefully I don’t fuck this up too badly.” He thanks everyone again, ending the night with “Dog Gone.” (Melvin O)
We get a lot of calls and emails from bands requesting coverage of their live shows. Please be advised that shows are never assigned for review. Noise writers cover what they choose to attend. It’s logistically impossible for us to honor or acknowledge these requests. The Noise has always had its ears close to the ground in Greater Boston. If you’re doing something even remotely exceptional, we’ll be the first to tell the world. If you’re horrible, same thing.
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