Live Reviews

Club Passim, Cambridge MA

Having observed the local music scene for so many years, I often wonder about the hubris of “making it.” There’s enough blather, bling, and prattle out there on the boards to make the rafters weak. And then, there are those artists of pure poetry and substance that, once discovered, will never fail you. They keep on reaching and achieving, knowing that the work must get done—songwriters who show me the enviable task of touching both my heart and mind. Anais Mitchell is such a woman, and we were thrilled to see her move past her folk-opera masterpiece, Hadestown, into an even more mature sense of personal discovery.

Tonight is the first night of her tour supporting Young Man in America, her brand new album, so the flow hasn’t settled yet. Fronting a small combo (keys/ bass/ trap kit), she is demure, a bit giddy, but invigorated by the new tunes which touch upon the struggles of working class people in a modern day America. She throws in a few twists—antiquated terms and dialogue that suggests the same quandaries of folks more than a century ago. She plays most of the album—opening with the three-song wallop of “Coming Down,” “Wilderland,” and “Young Man in America”—explaining the themes she is attempting, which seems to parallel with Hadestown. These are all unfamiliar tunes that are in turn comforting, poignant, emotional, and acutely inquisitive of the human condition in the tales they tell. She wows the audience by stopping midway for some requests—“If It’s True” and “The Wedding Song” (both tunes from Hadestown, of course). A few more new tunes and then concludes the show with the disc closer, “Ships.” Her vocals are crisp and soulful, her guitar playing is subtle, and her energy is infectious. Once again, I am awed by her ongoing talents. Anais is not to be missed! (Harry C. Tuniese)

The Paradise, Boston MA

It hits me like a cold splash of water in my face when I recognize the Rat contingency standing in front of the club as I approach. There are Granny and bartenders M.J. Costa, Brian Stoker, and Joe Duffy. And I spot Richie Parsons (Unnatural Axe, Newbury Comics), Rick Harte (Ace of Hearts Records) and Wayne Viens (Store 54). For a second, I’m not sure if I should continue down memory lane or just run and hide, but the allure of hearing Robin Lane AND the Del Fuegos is too strong for me to overcome—and the room is packed when I enter. Robin’s voice is sweet and powerful and songs like “It’ll Only Hurt A Little While,” “Loneliest Night,” and “It All Makes Sense” really showcase her talents. It’s really cool when fiddler Marnie Hall comes up for “Fly With Broken Wings” and “All Fall Down.” Her fiddling and Robin’s voice mix well together and Tim Jackson and Pat Wallace provide a very solid rhythm section song after song. And boy are they sensitive. This is the first gig on their reunion mini-tour and it is very appropriate the Del Fuegos start it here in front of a ton of old friends who are having as much fun being here as the band is. Dan Zanes is a very good and affable frontman and hearing old favorites like “Don’t Run Wild,” “Backseat Nothing,” and “I Still Want You” is a real treat. Brother Warren Zanes fronts a song he wrote from their just released CD, Silver Star, and they prove they are still the great groove-oriented new wave dance band they once were. Mid-set Dan grabs his mandolin and with Tom Lloyd does an acoustic duet of the old standard “My Babe.” Marnie comes back onstage to join them for “Have You Forgotten” and the song I think I like best is “Out For A Ride” from their first album The Longest Day with its Bo-Diddley beat. Woody is bigger and balder but is still the driving force behind the band and Brother Cleve and his keys/accordion is still such an important part of their sound. Twenty years from now, countless local wannabees will be claiming they were present at this gig. What a night. (Brother Cleve fun fact: He was married in Las Vegas at the Graceland Wedding Chapel by an Elvis impersonator). (A.J. Wachtel)

Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead MA

“It’s like deja vu,” Heather Maloney says to me, having seen each other last in the same spot of this legendary Marblehead venue. Talented and uniquely pretty, Heather plays songs from her two CDs, Cozy Razor’s Edge and Time & Pocket Change, a cover of “Her Majesty’s A Pretty Nice Girl,” and “Turn Yourself Around” from her upcoming CD. Then Heather leads the audience in a big rock drum beat (think “We Will Rock You”) as she sings “No Shortcuts” a cappella. On the surface the song may sound like she’s lost in a car out in the sticks, but it’s all a metaphor for having to go though every little turn in life to get to where you want to be. And it’s obvious that Heather is serious about getting there. She’s touring all over so don’t miss the extremely talented Heather Maloney when she’s in your neck of the woods.

Caravan of Thieves is a refreshing four-piece with lots of vocals, two guitars, a violin, and an upright bass. Their show is wild—kinda like gypsies on Mexican jumping beans. They go from ultra speedy double solos into a major percussion romp on what looks like homemade drums. They play a lot of their own material but score highest when they dismantle “Bohemian Rhapsody,” put it through a stylistic blender, and create the most amazing arrangement I’ve ever heard. They also do a hillbilly medley of the disco-era with “I Will Survive” and “Stayin’ Alive.” The spontaneous show stays physically lively and they make use of the audience when ever they can—tonight those in attendance became naughty knitters with lots of hissing snakes. A very fun show. (T Max)

Cafe 939, Boston MA

To most sports fans, March Madness means playoff college basketball, but to music fans it can only mean the annual trek to the South By Southwest Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. Each year thousands of bands saddle up their wagons, hoping to find their just rewards by mingling with labels, agents, producers, press, writers, and like-minded aspirants. And so it is that the Grownup Noise celebrate their send-off to a packed room with a rousing show at the Red Room at Cafe 939.

In a streamlined nine song set, Paul Hansen (vocals, guitars, keys), Adam Sankowski (bass, keys, occasional vocals), Rachel Arnold (cello, vocals), and former drummer, Kyle Crane, (substituting for Aine Fujioka, stuck in Japan with visa problems) display the progressive pop forte they are becoming noted for. Recent album tunes (“Artist Type,” “Carnival,” “Outside” ) snuggle neatly with newer offerings (“Try This Again,” “New Outsiders,” “Paranoia” [with its middle meltdown!], “Astronomy As Therapy,” and “Fife & Drum”). I give major bonus points for a well-chosen cover tune, “Sledgehammer” (funky heart be still!). Everything about this group smacks of abundant talent, gracious audience respect, and good vibes. Hope they bring home the gold! (Harry C. Tuniese)

Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead MA

This afternoon’s show is one for the family (read: kids) and Jeremy Lyons has the perfect aura to entertain young ones and parents alike. He’s real, in the moment, and gentle with his presentation. He introduces his instruments with little explanations of how they work, and does demonstrations when necessary (I’ve never heard a jaw harp played so effectively). The wonderful thing about performing for kids is their openness—when Jeremy says, “This is a banjo,” one boy in the front row exclaims, “I know that!” And Jeremy rolls into the fingerpickin’ of “The Sweet By and By.” He includes classics like “You Are My Sunshine,” “I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad,” and “Oh Susanna”—in which he talks about the inconsistency in the lyrics (“it rained all night and day/ the weather it was dry”). And the kids love singing along to “Five Little Ducks,” “One Meatball,” and “Ten Green Bottles” (a kids’ version of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”). Like the kids who attend the show, I learn something and I’m totally entertained at the same time. I want to attend more of these kids’ shows! (T Max)

One Longfellow Square, Portland ME

I’m excited because I’ve seen Inanna before and I know we’re in for a treat. The stage is set with a large array of world drums, percussion, and rhythm instruments. The house is rather full and everyone is excited. The four women, Tori Morrill, Shirsten Lundblad, Lizzie Derecktor, and Annagret Baier are dressed in tunics with a flame pattern. They are beautiful—bursting with feminine strength and energy. Their music is a composite of African, Indian, and world rhythms and original compositions. Not only are they accomplished and powerful musicians, an alchemy occurs that feels like a vibrational sound healing. The synthesis of drumming, voices, and all they embody is quite enthralling. We are lifted into a totally euphoric place for the duration of the evening. One of the most incredible pieces is “Bee the Moment” which is also a play on words. It begins with violin and drums creating a drone like the sound of bees. This song should be the anthem for the world—“This is what I choose, this is what I know/ If I knew a better way, I’m sure I’d walk that road/ Bee the moment, in your presence/ All we have is now/ Bee the moment, in your presence/ All we have is now.” Poet Martin Steingesser is invited onstage during each set to offer a poem and later, a story, which adds uniqueness to the evening. Inanna ends with a lullaby, and we’re encouraged to join in singing, “Namo Amitaba, Kuan Yin, Bodhisatva.” Then there’s a last rousing African drumming song and two standing ovations. We come home flying. I’m playing their Jewel in the Heart CD all morning today, dancing around the house like a priestess looking for a temple. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

The Burren, Somerville MA

The Burren is feeling a bit rowdier than usual as Zac Taylor takes the stage with his worn down Taylor acoustic guitar. Zac has spent the last few weeks touring with comedienne/singer Sandra Bernhard, as part of her backing band. Tonight Zac himself is accompanied by a gentleman playing a blue trombone. The music jumps from in-your-face pop rock to soft- spoken ballads with a dark and often humorous twist, like “Leave Me the Hell Alone Michelle.” The trombone helps fill out the sound and meshes harmoniously with Zac’s voice and strumming. Zac tells some funny stories and has the audience hanging on his every word. Between songs, he announces how he’s really glad to be back home in Somerville, and his hometown buddies cheer in response, showing some true appreciation to this up-and-coming singer/songwriter. (Kier Byrnes)

Chum’s Coffeehouse, Waltham MA

Make It Up is a tour de force on stage and they make sure every second of their performance counts. The band is a four-piece (two guitars, bass, and drums) and initially their set strictly features instrumental music, but after a few songs, vocals come into the picture. Every member has decent musical chops, but the singer/guitarist steals the show. His energy and positivity is endless and he often jumps up and down and swings his guitar around in tune with the songs. His vocals are passionate and he is able to convey a lot of emotion each time he opens his mouth. The band reminds me of Fugazi both in sound and in performance; at times I even think they are doing Fugazi covers. And in a Fugazi spirit, the singer concludes the set informing the audience that he loves everyone for being here. (Chris DeCarlo)

Providence Social Club, Providence RI

Done Right Productions is living up to their name tonight. The Toasters are the headline act tonight, and they are celebrating 30 years of playing together. The club has a large draft of Harpoon for very short money. The show starts early giving several local bands a chance to play, and the best part is that it is all FREE!

Second Hand Goal is faced with the worst possible scenario: a sound guy who doesn’t seem to care about the openers. On stage four mics are set up, but only two seem to work, and only one of those two are actually working properly. The singer keeps pleading to have his vocals raised; he is being drowned out by the music. By the third song, he gives up the fight and just yells out all the lyrics. Second Hand Goal definitely brings in a large teenage crowd, and they’re eating it up. Even with all the technical difficulties, the band is having fun and it is carrying through the crowd. It is only the first band, and I’m already in a good mood.

The Copacetics’ singer steps out in a full on black suit, complete with the skinny tie. I’m excited for some classic ska, and I’m not disappointed. The sax player owns the stage tonight. The band starts to reach that point where they may have overstayed their welcome, the crowd is thinning, the chatter is getting louder, but the band works through it. They actually manage to bring it back by the last song, leaving with a decent crowd of people gathered in front of the stage, sweaty from having danced so much.

Tonight is a major night for ska. Ska and punk have always played together, but for some reason Senior Discount doesn’t seem to do it for me. The best way to describe them is Rhode Island’s version of an unfunny NOFX. This is the first time the band has played together in a very long time and the crowd greets them with open arms. It doesn’t take long before they start pulling out their generic bag of tricks to get the crowd pumped. They play audience favorite covers like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” They also get the crowd cheering “hey yeahs!” for hotdogs, pizza, and cheese. The majority of the crowd seem to like them. I’m really not feeling it—they’re trying too hard and it doesn’t seem genuine to me. (Melvin O)


Johnny D’s, Somerville MA

How cool is this? Two different shows on the same night: blues in the opening performance and retro and Americana in the closing sets. All three local groups are currently at the top of their different genres and when Toni Lynn hits the stage I hear a few things right off that really make me dig this band. First, her passionate voice is wonderful. Her delivery, timing and powerful vocals are unparalleled in the scene and make her truly a unique artist in the blues world today. And the honky-tonk piano playing of Bruce Bears (Duke Robillard Band), and the tightness of Mike Williams on guitar, Jesse Williams on bass and Marty Joyce pounding the skins makes tonight’s gig really shine. I recognize a few covers including Taj Mahal’s “Buy You A Chevrolet” and a terrific trio by Earl King—”Give Me One Reason,” “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More,” and “Down The Drain.” They are simply magnificent and the walls of the club are shaking!

After a short break where the club is cleared and the crew sets up the stage for the next act—JJ Rassler & Thee Cuban Heels. Right before the band starts, I corner JJ Rassler and notice he is wearing PFC’s (Puerto Rican fence climbers), he laughs and shouts back at me “You ain’t seen NOTHING yet.” This is his first gig since surgery on his hand and he is ready to go. The band unleashes its blend of ’60s rock, British invasion, R & B, country, and soul fury on the crowd. The wounded warrior and legendary local drummer Dan Styklunas drive their rocking versions of Dion’s “Ruby, Ruby,” Eydie Gormé’s “Blame It On the Bossa Nova,” and some originals from their just-released CD Behold. This is a band with an attitude! And FYI, Cuban Heels can be found at the bottom of “Beatles Boots.”

By the time Girls, Guns & Glory starts, the crowd is ready and waiting for their Americana sound. I like Ward Hayden’s vocals, and their covers of the Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” are pretty good. Originals “MaryAnne” and “The Old Horse” from their new CD Sweet Nothings are real radio friendly, too. A lot of good music. A lot of fun. (A.J. Wachtel)

Johnny D’s, Somerville MA

This the official final “injury comeback” review from me unless in a fit of passion JJ Rassler reforms Second Cousins, the Odds, or DMZ, which would force me to continue on the theme, ooh and ahh over his awesome magnificence and write run-on sentences about how thrilled I am he’s once again making a racket. The doc may have told him to rehab the hand a little longer, but listening to him wail that geetar surely confirms the healing powers of rock ’n’ roll. Unlike Taco Bell, JJ serves up product that meets the FDA standards for actual meat. All-beef originals like “Shades” and “Tiger Beat” mix seamlessly with top round covers “Suspicion” and “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” for a stew so perfect even the vegans in the audience are converted.

God, I’m hungry. Main entrée tonight are those darlings of the Saturday morning Roots radio shows, Girls Guns & Glory. (“Roots” being a term invented by Baby Boomers refusing to acknowledge rock ’n’ roll not born of their generation.) As it turns out, there’s a reason this band is so well loved: they’re impeccable in both aesthetics and craft. It’s always a treat crossing paths with a band doing traditional country—even more so when they’re doing it well. And GG&G do it well… in some instances inventively. Example: while they hit on the expected Johnny Cash cover, they then turn around and make with an ace version of the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” (which wanted to be a real country weepy to begin with). Pal, this is the stuff! Take notice! (Frank Strom)

Black Box Theater, Providence RI

I didn’t know where I was going, but the Black Box is part of AS220. It used to be part of Perishable Theater, so there are bleacher seats and you feel like you are literally in a big black box. The results can be suffocating, but it was the perfect setting for an evening of claustrophobic rock and noise. The solo performer known as Timeghost sets the tone with an excellent, albeit brief set. Dressed all fancypants like, kicking it in an old school suit, Adam looks like Anton LaVey tonight. Samples, synths, and keyboards that sound like a greasefire amped up back up his set that features more singing than usual, more structure and less feedback, controlled chaos.

Another solo performer, this one billed as Arc, takes the floor next. He looks like Brian Eno circa 1973 but the sound is much more modern. How modern is it, you ask? It is so modern, it sounds like a dentist using a chainsaw to pull a tooth after bludgeoning you with a hammer to knock you out. It is like hearing Cabaret Voltaire or the Virgin Prunes serenading a computer. In other words, it is awesome.

Ancestral Diet follows up next, but perhaps I should explain. Ancestral Diet is basically two people, kind of. However, on some songs they are accompanied by the four members of Taboo, whom they always tour with. It is as much a seance or a summoning than a concert. As the frontwoman of the band reads from an ancient looking leatherbound book of spells and incantations, or grocery list—it’s hard to tell with all the effects—the rest of the band lights candles, drinks from some kind of artifact, looks solemn and makes eerie effects and music on violins, guitars, and pounding, dirge like drums. This is about the fourth time I’ve seen this band and they just keep getting better and better, and maybe a little stranger.

After the blood is hosed down, it only takes a minute for Taboo to start flailing way to more of a 1970’s New York’s punk sound. Taboo is great as always, with a frontman as wild as Iggy, Mike Mountain, or Patti Smith.

Man, what a variety show. Who promoted this show, Carol Burnett? Well, I’m so glad we’re spending this time together and all, but one more song before I go. That song is supplied by Humanbeast, a male and female harsh noise-with-singing duo who perform some shows with Eli suspended from the ceiling, bound by his feet. What a night, five for five, all very good and something for everyone. What a great Valentine’s Day! (Eric Baylies)

Great Scott, Boston MA

I get told by many folks that I should be sure to get to Great Scott in time to catch the first band of the night, Energy, but frankly, I’m way too old to make it through four bands in a night anymore. It sucks, but I’ve come to accept it. I hear that it’s my loss, so I’ll try to catch them next time. When I arrive just as Tijuana Sweetheart is setting up, the place is already packed, and it is absolutely hot as balls. It seems like there are enough Tijuana Sweetheart fans in attendance to have sold the place out themselves. It’s the band’s CD release show, and a good chunk of the set comes from the fine new Under the Gun. The band’s tremendous energy and good cheer are matched by the crowd, who eat up the ladies’ take on the theme song to Heathcliff as well as drummer LoWreck’s hardcore song about her hatred of trolls. I know I’m not the only one who buys their new record on the way out. Well, technically, the only other person that I know for a fact bought the record is my friend Sean’s dad, but that does indeed prove that I wasn’t the only one.

The Ducky Boys take the stage following a raucous set from the Hudson Falcons, who aren’t local, but might as well be given how personal their bond with the Boston audience seems to be. In a recent interview, frontman Mark Lind was quoted saying something along the lines of how he never really considered The Ducky Boys to be a punk band. Well, the strong smell of body odor in here begs to differ, sir; this is definitely a punk rock show. It’s a CD release party for the Ducky Boys as well, but they decide to warm the crowd up with a career-spanning selection of old favorites before touching any of the material from the excellent Chasing the Ghost. It’s a smart move because the crowd is bonkers right from the start. Adding Rich Crimlisk from Morgan Knockers on second guitar also proves to be a smart move because he gives the songs a fuller, more robust sound. The closing pairing of “I’ll Rise Up” and the Operation Ivy classic, “Knowledge,” manages to simultaneously spawn nostalgic memories while indicating that the good old days might truly be right now. (Kevin Finn)

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.

Comments are closed.