Live Reviews: March

Shalin Liu, Rockport, MA 1/27/12
“This might be the nicest room I’ve ever been in, nonetheless performed in,” Chris O’Brien states as he takes center stage in the beautiful 330-seat Shalin Liu Performance Center. He steps into “Rosa” with the phrase, “She’s lightning, I’m thunder”— this song was in a competition that led him to being flown to Minnesota to appear on A Prairie Home Companion. He continues to sing along with a combination of percussive strums and finger-picking on his acoustic guitar. Raised by two women, he recently got reacquainted with his father and expresses it in “Blood Like You.” Chris’s clever self-deprecating humor makes him an easily likable guy, and his songwriting and guitar playing skills are bound to open as many doors as he chooses to approach.

The skilled Chelsea Berry is physically young yet possesses an old soul. She takes the stage in totally darkness with poise and a sense of magic. Her lone voice fills the space where light would be in a dramatic delivery of “On Shining Wings.” She’s dressed in black with a banana-neck long-sleeve top and pants. Appreciation of family and friends is always a part of Chelsea’s show, and tonight her mom gets the nod in “Momma’s Lullaby.” Funny, because her mom tells me during intermission that Chelsea at 15 years old first took to songwriting with “Daddy’s Song.” And there’s more family news—her 90-year-old grandma was driven up by her cousin from Pennsylvania without tickets and managed to land seats despite the show being sold out. To add a variation in sight and sound, Chelsea slips between guitar and piano and eventually brings up a band of talented friends. The soundman adds a nice touch of reverb on the acoustic guitar for the final song of her set—Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Her loving audience doesn’t let her go that easily as all stand with heartfelt applause to bring Chelsea Berry and friends back to perform “You Me and Mary.” It’s delightful to see this young woman making strides in her already brilliant career. (T Max)

Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA 1/20/12
The minute I walk in the door I spot one reason the local scene is so cool: soul screamer Barrence Whitfield is fronting the legendary R&B James Montgomery Band and the sum of all parts is equal to an incredible night of motion. Ripping through two sets of non-stop Animal House-like frat party entertainment to a full house of enthusiastic partiers, the intense atmosphere climaxes during songs like Steve Wynn’s “Kerosene Man,” Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” and a red-hot version of Barrence’s own “Stop Twistin’ My Arm.” Drummer Seth Pappas, guitarist George McCann, bassist David Hull (right before his Jay Leno appearance with the current Joe Perry Project) and Barrence and James get better and better song after song and the crowd just keeps dancing. It’s worth the price of admission alone to see doormen extraordinaire Joe and Fernando attempt to get famous local entertainment scribe Steve Morse and his girlfriend off the dance floor to relax and take a break. No one is resting in this club tonight and that’s one reason living in this scene is so great. (A.J. Wachtel)

Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, MA 2/3/12
The Scamps hit the stage and bash through a set of fast, heavy, and ultimately exciting songs. The songs are fairly simple, but are extremely tight, leaving little to no room for empty spaces. I am having trouble pinning the band down to any particular sound, and that is probably a good thing, but I feel a combination of punk/early hardcore meets a more sophisticated garage band. In any case, they are able to create strong rock songs with a lot of energy and skill. As the set moves along I find myself getting more and more wrapped up in their performance, especially when the band unleashes the incredibly catchy tune, “Stuck On You.” Initially, I think it is a famous cover song, but I receive confirmation that it is simply a solid, original number. This stellar performance is another testament to the Scamps’ reputation as a noteworthy Boston rock band.

Up next are Rhode Island’s finest garage rockers, Atlantic Thrills. The Thrills are a New England band I keep in touch with often and over the past year they have developed a small fan base that shares their love for pure, unadulterated, rock and roll. Typically, the Thrills produce vast amounts of high energy, but this show is much more reserved. Though, the fun is still there and the songs take care of themselves without the assistance of any outside theatrics. The songs are classic odes to 60s garage rock and their 21st century revivalists like The King Khan & BBQ Show. This performance helps me get a better sense of their strengths as songwriters and makes me want to further invest myself in their studio recordings. Wildness aside, they still rock hard as performers and my eyes are constantly glued to guitarist Kelly Riley, who looks possessed the whole time. (Chris DeCarlo)

Regattabar, Cambridge, MA 2/4/12
For an old timer, I feel giddy about that fact that one of my ’60s icons moved to Boston (Somerville really) almost fifteen years ago to teach, record, and perform. Here is a gent who lent his talents to many famous situations as a musician and producer and is still alive and semi-active to spread his wealth of songs, stories, and low-key wit. From Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and his own incredible groups, the Blues Project, Blood Sweat and Tears, and the Rekooperators, Al Kooper has been in the rock ’n’ roll firmament for five decades and shows no sign of burning out.

Tonight at the Regattabar, he is celebrating his 68th birthday! Opening solo on keys with two BS&T songs (“My Days are Numbered” and “Just One Smile”), he then brings on some of his current Funky Faculty Band and some other crack sidemen, offering a generous two and a half hour showcase of his own tunes and covers—struttin’ soul, pop, blues, gospel, jazzy tunes that leaves the audience stunned. Booker T.’s “Green Onions,” Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9,” a Louis Armstrong tune, a Rick Danko/ Richard Manuel (of the Band) tribute, all pop up in his set. Kooper has always championed classic soul music above all else, but now he’s graduated from paying homage to his heroes of the ’60s and ’70s to absorbing their essence and personifying the music’s most attractive qualities himself. His thin voice has naturally weathered, but he can still hit the notes he needs to hit and never tries to sound like the brash twenty-something kid who recorded Super Session or Child Is Father to the Man. And the fact that he’s championing his last two releases, Black Coffee (2005) and White Chocolate (2009), speaks volumes to this veteran’s 50-year career.

I haven’t even mentioned his storytelling, which takes up a good chunk of the evening. He has the memory of a rock ’n’ roll survivor, with a natural disdain for the music biz that chews up and spits out real talent. Check out his famous book, Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards—it’s an endless treat. Few people have lived as much rock ’n’ roll history as Mr. Kooper in his assorted lives as performer, producer, sideman, songwriter, author, talent scout, enthusiast, critic, and muse. Keep on, sir! (Harry C. Tuniese)

The Flutie Bowl
King’s at Legacy Place, Dedham, MA 1/23/12
The first thing I see after pushing my way past the crowd in front and around the bowling lanes at this benefit for autism is Doug carrying in his own drum kit for sound check; and I am impressed with his focus and determination right away. As soon as the group starts playing I get even more impressed. The core band tonight is Jon Nelson on vocals, Mike Smith on great guitar, Ted Armstrong on keys, Spencer Hargis on bass with Doug pounding; and when Boston bandmates Barry Goudreau and Sib Hashian join in the place goes nuts. Sib on “Sweet Home Alabama” was a freaking treat ! Although brother Darren is absent from guitar tonght, and singer Sean Jenness is on the left coast for another engagement these guys play well together indicative of how good the individual musicianship is. Highlights include torrid versions of Skynyrd’s “The Needle And The Spoon” and “I Know A Little” Creedence’s “Born on the Bayou” and original “Angels Fall From The Sky.” Tonight’s rumor on the floor is that Goudreau is joining the band. Hanging out with ex-Patriot Teddy Bruschi and ex-Red Sox Jimmy Corsi while watching the band is the icing on the cake. A great band that plays to support a great cause, how cool is this? (A.J. Wachtel)

Empire Dine and Dance, Portland ME 2/13/12
It’s my first time at the Empire. I walk in and immediately take to the old, well-worn ambience of wooden floors, beamed ceilings and large black and white photos of musicians on the walls. The Stowaways are already playing on stage: Erica Brown on fiddle and vocals, Matt Shipman on guitar, Steve Roy on standup bass, Joe Walsh on mandolin, Ron Cody on banjo and for some songs, Dave Talmage on guitar. They have just celebrated their four-year anniversary playing bluegrass on Monday nights at the Empire, and they are very much at home on the stage. Their playing is relaxed, playful, and absolutely excellent. They play two hour-long sets. The bar has the cheerful atmosphere of mostly thirty something folks who work hard and want to kick back with a beer and listen to some great bluegrass. There are lots of beards and pea coats and pretty ladies on the bar stools. A few folks are dancing in front of the stage. From where I’m sitting they look like little trolls bouncing up and down. I don’t know why! The Stowaways play “Hummingbird,” “Turkey in the Straw,” “Black Eyed Susie,” and many more tunes. Dave Talmage says, “Imagine I’m a beautiful woman,” and he sings lead on the song “I’m a Banjo Pickin’ Girl.” It seems for them that taking the stage every Monday night is all about fun and spontaneity. In honor of the passing of Whitney Houston this week, they do a playful version of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” bluegrass style, with Steve Roy on lead vocal. Pretty funny. Like all great musicians they make it look so dang easy and I want to clear my plate from now on to show up at the Empire on Monday nights so I can hear the Stowaways. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

AS220, Providence, RI 1/28/12

This is a charity event for the public library, so the crowd is extremely diverse. We have several generations of music loving fans, the youngest looks to be about five, where as the oldest is easily in her ’80s.

The first musical act is Generations Barber Shop Quartet. They’re dressed in red and white pinstriped suit jackets, with straw boater caps firmly placed on their heads, a definate throwback to simpler times. Their harmonies are beautiful. Due to overbooking, they have a very short but memorable set.

Barn Burning awkwardly takes the stage. Kate Conroy (fiddle) tries waving up the bass and drum players on stage, but they seem to be refusing to join her and (singer/guitarist) Anthony. So they start to play a song, the drummer climbs up as the song finishes. The bass player doesn’t take the stage until the fourth song. It is a good set, up until the bass joins them that is. He doesn’t seem to know what song he is playing, his timing is horribly off, and is distracting from the rest of the band. Kate is the strongest part of this performance, but even her excellent violin parts aren’t enough to save it.

I’ve seen the Denver Boot several times, but this is the first show with the new line up. Billy (singer/guitar) has been the only constant throughout. Tonight he and Valerie Poirot (singer) take the stage first. They play a sweet acoustic duet. Valerie leaves as Amato (stand up bass), and John (banjo) take the stage. I’m amazed how tight they sounds, this has been my favorite incarnation to date.

Maria Monk, my favorite band currently in Providence, takes the stage. Their energy is always incredible and Christian owns the stage. When he sings he opens himself to everyone in the room, tonight is no exception. This band is always amazing to watch. The rest of the crowd agrees with me: the applause at the end of their set is deafening. A few people shout out for more music, but the band breaks down. A large part of the crowd filters out of the club.

I really don’t know what to think as Alec K. Redfearn takes the stage. It looks like a picnic at the local happy commune. A child sits on the stage with a xylophone and maracas. A woman has her piano set up, and several long haired bearded men from various decades hold guitars and percussion instruments. All together seven people are crammed on stage. Alex plays an accordion that chops out small distorted bursts. The music has a Middle Eastern feel. This performance feels like a tale is being told to the masses through short psychedelic outbursts. It is an emotional journey, but highly enjoyable. (Melvin O)

Ryles, Cambridge, MA 2/3/12
It’s been so long since I’ve been to Ryles, I am sure I can be anonymous and sit in the corner and listen to this local jazz guitar virtuoso wail. And from the moment this all-instrumental/no vocals five-piece ensemble starts to play I am in awe, silently staring at the musicians on stage trying not to miss a note. These cats groove. Larry Finn on drums, Joe Santerre on five string bass, George Garzone on sax and Steve Hunt on keys marvelously keep up with Sal’s many notes and feelings and really impress everyone in the crowd with their seemingly instinctual tightness. Jeff Beck’s “Led Boots,” Wayne Shorter’s “Yes and No,” and Sal’s “No Divisions,” “Nothing Without You,” and “Second Half” really shine. Seeing a jazz show is a little bit different: all of a sudden the audience explodes in applause mid-song after a solo and of course there is a drum solo. Sal tries to tell me this is a “jazz/blues/fusion band” but the passionate playing, the intensity of the delivery and the complexity of all the songs is more characteristic of a jazz band then anything else. There is more to this great music scene then five guys in dungarees and guitars playing “Dirty Water” and the Sal DiFusco Project is perfect examples of the special musical diversity we all experience here. (A.J. Wachtel)

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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