Live Reviews


Cantab Lounge, Cambridge, MA

This is the year of the competing birthday shows—Bob’s show is next week but he’s got every band in town booked, so I’ve had to take a couple of unknowns (to me) on recommendation. The first of those are the Jitters, hailing from the Worcester area. They’re here on the good word of Myra Evil Streak—“You’ll like them,” she said…which proves either she’s got legitimate psychic powers or my tastes are very easily read. Jitters are a standard four-piece with one Ryan, one Brian and two Nic/ks. What they’re up to is 1970s-school punk rock. If anything, they sound like the Curses’ younger brothers. While the melody is not their primary fixation (tempo and volume are), they never abandon it and happily never devolve into hardcore. “Haitian Vacation” and “Psycho City” stand out for me. I’ve written this before but it applies here, too: the Jitters play with sincerity and total non-jaded belief in the genre, which makes all the difference.

The Migs are tonight’s second unknown commodity (They’re here on the Jitters’ recommendation). Exactly one and a half songs into the set, the small audience in attendance freezes and turns to the stage in unison, realizing something very very very hot is going on here. Who are these people??? They’re incredible! Young guys doing loud, fuzzy ’60s garage, though not super retro sounding exactly…so I’d say they’re more in the direction of Triple Thick than Lyres. They even mix in a little surf guitar! One doesn’t usually hear the word “bombastic” associated with garage rock, but there’s no other word for the Migs’ approach. Their closer, “Gravestoned,” is as epic as it comes. Proper credits: Keven Lareau and Craig Kowalchuk splitting guitar and vocals, Luke Goudreault on bass and Alex Dyment handling drums. This is absolutely the best band I’ve heard in a long while!

In something of a tradition, Jay Allen & the Archcriminals make their second or third appearance on one of my birthday shows (third for Jay, second for Archcriminals). Jay’s a true stalwart on the scene but continues to go overlooked. I thought that would change when he put together a full band. I’m still waiting. In the meantime, Jay’s definitely got the edge over me—he writes funny and memorable songs like “Cold Bourbon and a Spanking” and “Toaster Oven,” while I write stupid reviews. Usually I like to invoke comparison with Mojo Nixon but in truth, Jay’s real spiritual brother is probably Tom Waites. That’s right—Mojo Nixon or Tom Waites. Sounds intriguing, no? All you aging punk rockers oughtta check this shit out!

Last to take the stage but a whole other world from least are the Sprained Ankles. This is the third B-day show for them, too, and it’s a wonder they made it, being down a drummer, a keyboard player and one Bride of Tankenstein! Solid substitutes in place, the band not only doesn’t miss a beat but they toss in new material as well—“Roleplay,” “Resident Evil,” and “House of Wendell Dunn.” The third one especially is a winner, though I’m a little too far into my cups to figure out what the hell the reference is. Why aren’t they playing “Andre The Giant”? I know what that’s about! Okay, I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Sprained Ankles continue the tradition of the Revillos and the Sic Fucks, reveling in catchy, goofy/campy style punk rock. It ain’t for those people who mistake punk rock for a social statement but those who understand that it’s art. And those who are just looking for a good giggle.   (Frank Strom)


Pour Farm, New Bedford, MA

Tonight I get to walk three blocks and see an amazing band for free instead of driving to Providence or Amherst. Unless you are in the front row or play for the Celtics, it can be hard to see the bands, and you can’t always hear the vocals at the Pour Farm. The bar is basically a long hallway and it can be a nightmare wading your way through the unwashed masses to find the bathrooms in the back. Life is tough. Get used to it. Black Helicopter makes it all worth it. I have not seen the band in a few years. They seem less noisy, less pyche tonight and more straight ahead rock ’n’ roll. Think more Mission of Burma than Grand Funk and you have an idea what I’m talking about. A solid performance, no lasers or jumping around but they hold your attention until the last note recedes back to the netherland from which it came. These guys should do commercials for that law firm on TV, because it looks like they mean business. Black Helicopter is the sound of greatness. (Eric Baylies)


The Middle East, Cambridge MA

These cats are new to the local scene and their unique sound has a few different influences. At times they rock with an edge, and at other times they are more introspective, but I’m enjoying their music. I don’t hear any covers, but I am told they sometimes do Led Zep’s “Ramble On” and a Modest Mouse song or two but I guess I’m gonna have to go see them again to hear their versions. Tonight’s lineup includes: Tim Ahern (on vocals and acoustic guitar and his expressive voice) is the focus of the band. Ezra Landis on lead guitar, Ben Ruddock on mandolin/ keys, Walker Landis on bass, and Owen Landis on drums. The rhythms tightly and crisply back Ahern from start to finish and the combination results in a cool new band I’m gonna keep up with. Some of their music has an almost familiar ring to it but I attribute that to their being right on the top of their genre. The crowd seems to like them a lot. A good band.      (A.J. Wachtel)



Blue Ocean Music Hall, Salisbury Beach, MA

It’s my first time to the Blue Ocean Music Hall and this is a pretty amazing venue. The audience sits at tables in a large sea-like area that has a step-up level half way back. The curvy design gives the feeling of waves—and over to the right, when facing the large stage, is a 90-foot wall of windows that frame the Atlantic Ocean crashing on the beach. I’m treated like a guest and escorted backstage to meet the band.

Bird Mancini is up first and grabs the attention of the settling packed crowd with their rendition of George Harrison’s “Apple Scruffs.” This talented two-piece sounds like a band with acoustic guitar (Billy Carl Mancini is a master), accordion, melodica, harmonica (Ruby Bird), two great voices, and the all-important jingle bells (that create the snare drum effect) on Ruby’s left cowboy boot. Billy’s white guitar looks cool with his white pants contrasted by the colored tie-dye shirt under his jacket, topped off with a derby. They swing with “Magic Flirtation,” Ruby being all sultry, then pop it up with the clever “My Own Brian Epstein.” “You’re My Obsession” is their most downloaded song—and although they think it’s because of people Googling “obsession” it’s really their talent in both songwriting and performance that encourages the downloads. The title track of their latest CD, Tuning in/ Tuning Out, is a good example of how they mix element of acoustic rock/ pop with psychedelic leanings and smear it over with their trademark vocals that love to dance around each other. If you haven’t seen them yet, you haven’t been going out enough.

Between bands, the tunes (“Just Like Romeo & Juliet,” “Tallahassee Lassie”) set the mood for the upcoming act while every table is filled with drinks and delicious looking appetizers.

Jeff Lawerence of the Mill 96.5fm, Manchester NH, gets the audience up introducing the New England act that has been around for 35 years—the Stompers! The band bangs into “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and I can see this will be a night of a real sounds-and-lights rock show. Leader Sal Baglio is in command and has the instincts of how to excite a packed house of Stomper fans. The band executes tight segues between songs leaving no space for the audience’s attention to possible wander off. We’re rolling through “This is Rock ’n’ Roll,” “First Kiss,” and in “You’re the One” Sal loses his guitar cable at the beginning of his guitar solo, but uses the accident to show how in the moment they are—he reruns the solo and he’s got the audience pulling for him with massive applause as he shouts three times—”That’s what we like!”  “Temptation” slows down the rock demonstration and by mid-song we’re at the beginning of Dave Friedman’s slow-building Hammond organ solo reminiscent of the Zombies. The band kicks in and topples it off with Lenny Shea’s big drum-fill ending. On “East Coast Girls,” one of the band’s big radio hits, the guys act more like a doo-wop band with the members all coming out from behind their instruments for the first of many singing-based songs, where the guys, including bassist Steve Gilligan and pianist Jeremy Brown, show off their dancing styles and allow the audience to love them a little bit more. Sal makes fun of their East Boston accents saying the rest of the country couldn’t understand “One Hot for Sale,” when everyone in their neighborhood knew it was “one heart.” They roll through hit after hit: “Rock Jump and Holler,” “Never Tell an Angel,” “American Fun,” and “Coast to Coast” sprinkled in with some old-time favorites to keep the joint a rockin’. Then they bring out Ruby and Billy of Bird Mancini during the extended encore to kick up “Help From My Friends” and Ruby Bird creates a tidal wave that tumbles the tables in the room and it feels like we’re in the middle of a scene from Poseidon Adventure! They continue on a couple of songs but never re-reach the danger zone, letting the audience regain their composure and prepare for their ride home. An excellent rock show of tremendous proportions—Sal Baglio, the ringleader, deserves accolades of gratitude from the gods of rock heaped upon him.    (T Max)


Bills Bar, Boston, MA

I didn’t know Bill’s Bar was around anymore, much less hosting shows. I thought it had been absorbed by the House of Blues, like an amoeba absorbing its dinner. However, here it stands between the other Lansdowne Street clubs with doors open, playing host to the EP release party for up and coming band Eli Whitney Houston & the Cotton Gin & Tonics. On stage as I walk in is Moniker. It’s a blend of prog rock that draws as much from Rush as it does from Radiohead.  The trio experiments with harsh soundscapes and raucous rhythms, creating a complex, energetic melodic set.  Guitarist Socrates Cruz balances well with drummer Peter Bartash as the two intertwine machine gun-style blasts of syncopated notes and streams of sonic harmony.

Next up is the act I am here to see. Eli Whitney Houston & the Cotton Gin & Tonics has got to be one of the longest band names I’ve seen in a while. Led by lead singer and guitarist Elias Bouquillon and accompanied by talented violinist, Sarah Fylak and mandolinist Sean McDermott, this group’s sound is as eclectic as its name.  The band kicks it off and the libations start to flow.  The crowd starts to pick up as well, cluttering up in front of the stage ready to absorb every note that they can. The band bounces back and forth between folk, rock, and blues styles, blending them more often than not. They have some good songs and put on quite a show. I expect there will be some more good things to come from these guys.     (Kier Byrnes)



Spotlight Tavern, Beverly, MA

I head into the Spotlight Tavern on Saturday, August 11th for what I expect to be an entertaining show by Corolla DeVille and the Nervous Eaters. Corolla DeVille is an all-girl band. Cindy Bugden knocks out powerful rhythms on her guitar with her sister, Betsy (Bugden) Sears, playing leads like Chuck Berry. It is very exciting to see and hear drummer Gay Hebert since she sustained a brain injury three years ago. What a heck of a show these girls  put on. Next up are the Nervous Eaters and what a great band they are—one of the greatest bands I have ever seen. They play one song after another, nonstop. Steve Cataldo has to be one of the most impressive artists I have ever met. He just rocks. Robb Skeen, the original bass player, puts on a wonderful performance. Also, I just have to tell you, if you get to see the Eaters or Corolla DeVille, you will just love it! There is so much excitement in the room—it is just flooring.          (Peter Goutzos)


Precinct, Somerville, MA

Having seen MOWE numerous times over the years, it’s high time I said something about them. Question is what? This is one of those rare bands that have had a lot of rosy words written about them and a lot of it has actually been accurate—tip of the hat to Bret Milano here. In very gushing terms, this band gets comparisons to some heavy duty rocksters like Sleater-Kinney, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and even the Modern Lovers and amazingly, that’s pretty much on the money. So what’s left for me to add? I’m pretty sure others have already praised their material as well written and memorable, so I’m out of luck there. Only topic I can think of is the vocals. While deserving praise has been  heaped on Sue, I haven’t seen too many words for Steve and that’s a big oversight. They are both compelling vocalists who give serious weight and meaning to their songs. MOWE is one of those bands like Dirty Truckers who make Boston rock look good—credible and not easily dismissed or ignored!      (Frank Strom)



The Beachcomber, Wollaston Beach, Quincy, MA

At first glance, it might seem an odd billing to have two popular new wave bands from the ’80s, the Drive and the Lines headlining for the area’s leading Americana band, the Swinging Steaks; but all groups share members and the common denominator is that these veteran performers are still at the top of their game (although a bit heavier and grayer). During their soundcheck, the Swinging Steaks rip through a cover of the Stones’ “Country Honk” which kills me. They don’t play it during their set however, and I am bummed I don’t hear this great cover twice in the same night. Their Americana set is red hot and I am tired from dancing by the end of it. Then the Lines come up with all the original members except for lead singer Eric and he’s not missed much during their “hits”: a cover of the Standells’ “Dirty Water” or the new wave “Bedtime.” Next up is one of my all-time favorite Boston bands from the ’80s—the Drive—and these guys haven’t missed a beat in two decades. Remember when they opened for James Brown at the Channel in 1984? I am as excited now hearing them perform “Doing the Countdown” as I was then: great new wave music. Truly a band that should have made it internationally back in the day, and you can still catch them and hear their great music today. How cool is this night? Very cool.                    (A.J. Wachtel)



Machines With Magnets, Pawtucket, RI

I’m back at Machines With Magnets, just outside Providence. This is perhaps the cleanest venue I have ever seen, but it doubles as a recording studio, so that helps. I only really come here to defeat suckers at ping pong in the side room. Is that an explosion I hear in the next room? It sounds like Kintaan is starting their set, I better get back inside. There is a bassist and drummer playing a little bit of rock. What’s that other guy doing? Is he just sampling the other musicians in real time then relooping them and modifying them, like Martin Swope used to do in Mission of Burma? Or is he adding other textures as well? It’s hard to tell with any certainty but the overall effect is mesmerizing. Think White Mice but on a few bong rips instead of 50 thousand hits of everything.

Hector 3 is on now. I’m not sure why they changed the name from Xerxes but these guys are the ultimate underground Providence band. There is not one band in town that is better than they are, but they barely play out at all. They put you in a trance like the first two Alice Cooper albums, or Hovercraft, Heldon, and Neu. I thought they were going into Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” at one point, but they steered the mothership in a different direction. Including Ninja vs. Wrestler, which only the bassist, Miles, played in, the different incarnations of this band have been among my favorite in the world in the past decade or so. Take that, everybody else!

That is one hard act to follow, in my opinion. Does Dead Air care what I think? No one else does, so why should they? One guitar player plays flamenco-ish leads and the other plays kind of a metal rhythm style, except when he plays like Thurston Moore, so it’s up to the drummer to make sense of it all. This is the second time I’ve seen these guys in this venue in two weeks, which is odd in a city with so many bands. They play a little bit different set tonight, so they can mix it up and keep it very interesting. This is a pretty new and exciting discovery for me. Dead Air rules! Or something.

It’s getting late for a Thursday, it feels like five o’clock in the morning. They better have a good band or I’m leaving. Rhythm & Blues Motherfuckers are coming on. Man, that’s all you had to say! The singer’s vocal style reminds me of Mark Smith of the Fall and Iggy Pop, which is strange, because they are the two most opposite people on the planet. This is about the fifth time I’ve seen these guys and I can never hear the singer quite enough to make out the lyrics, so I guess they want it that way, considering we are in a billion dollar studio. The drummer puts his shirt over his face and plays blind for a song, and everything seems to go perfect. Four really good and diverse Providence bands and a short ride that I don’t need Mapquest for. Now that’s a great night.       (Eric Baylies)



Nights on the Neck

All over Rocky Neck, Gloucester, MA

I’m playing at the Center at the end of the night tonight, but I get there early to catch the other acts spread out all over Rocky Neck (Gloucester’s artist colony). Driving in I pass the Adventure Chantey Singers alongside the road in Keith Tefry Park.  I recognize the song by Gordon Boc and want to stop and listen but the parking lot is full and there’s no place to pull over, so I drive down and around, grab a spot right in front of the Center, check in with the Center’s host, Karen Ristuben, then head out with the night’s schedule in hand to find live music.  A short walk down the street and I can hear a slide guitar but can’t tell where it’s coming from, as the sound increase I can tell it’s a slide on a Dobro and realize it’s that Dave Brown sound. A bunch of people are on the street looking up—it’s a bird, a plane, no, it’s Julie Dougherty up on the second floor porch with Dave’s accompaniment. I head up the steps and reach the porch—it’s me, a photographer, and the band. I can hear the duo well up here as they jump into Carole King’s “It’s Too Late.” I look down on the street and the crowd down there is growing—and I see my buddy John walking up the road. I yell to him and motion that he should come up the steps. But he’s staying below with the neck-stretching crowd. So I run down to hang with him. We listen to a jazzy version of “Over the Rainbow” then head back down to catch a little of the Adventure Chantey Singers before they are done. They’re a casual group that’s mostly a cappella singing all sea chanteys. Next John and I trek up Rocky Neck Avenue and get a glimpse of Ryan & Ortolani performing at Imagine Gallery with Julie Dougherty—how did she get ahead of us?  Then, passing by, we hear Deb Hardy in the middle of her set at Rocky Neck Gallery. She’s PA-less but she doesn’t need a PA with her sprightly delivery. Brian King (What Time is it? Mr Fox) is there and is acknowledged for his hand in some of Deb’s recordings. Then Ruby Bird (Bird Mancini) is to my left taking in Deb’s quirky “Bee’s In Transit.” I look over on the next song and Ruby has transformed into Billy Mancini (Bird Mancini)—they are taking turns watching their equipment. It’s time to move on, and John and I head further up the avenue to Ejay’s Kahn Studio where Bird Mancini will shortly be entertaining. I have to thank Ejay for setting up all the talent for the night and she tells me about her book, Tales of the Bong Tree Island, that was financed though a successful Kickstarter campaign. In the middle of our talk we hear music starting outside her gallery and know that Bird Mancini has commenced with George Harrison’s “Apple Scruffs.” I love this husband/wife duo, but read more on them in another live review with the Stompers headlining. John and I have to get back to entertain a group of lovely women who are patiently waiting at the Center.      (T Max)



P.R Matrix Hex, Providence, RI

Here I am back in Olneyville. I park my whip next to a car with smashed out windows and walk alone in the darkness for a couple of blocks. I hear someone screaming like they are getting murdered. This must be the place! I head up the stairs and enter an okay-sized spot which is about to feel very small on a sultry August evening. There is no real furniture but plenty of found art and cool stuff to look at. Austin of the band Sediment Club starts the show with his solo project, 973 Future Yook. For one guy, he sure makes a lot of noise, and I mean that in a good way. He runs back and forth between between playing guitar, keyboards and samples, sometimes within the same song, while screaming and singing, sometimes through a mask, sometimes without pants. I don’t know what 973 Future Yook means in English, but in Portuguese it translates roughly to “come see this awesome kid and get your mind blown.”

One of  Boston’s best invades Providence next as Guerilla Toss take the floor. Guerilla Toss is a nightmare and a dream at the same time. Complex arrangements and noise bump shoulders with an insane frontwoman singing and smashing everything in sight. Proof that Rush and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 can co-exist. I didn’t know what to expect when I heard the band took on a new singer but this rock and noise juggernaut cannot be stopped.

Providence demigods Gila Monster close out the show with their drums, two guitar and no bass asault. It’s getting real humid in here, but I tough it out to the end. How can I not love this band? They remind me of U.S. Maple, Arab On Radar, and Nation of Ulysses, but with their own unique take. Play longer! I sweated off five pounds and didn’t get stabbed on the walk to my car. Success!    (Eric Baylies)


Gallery 263, Cambridge, MA

With the thermometer reading 106 degrees, it’s arguably one of the hottest days of the summer. Thankfully, there’s plenty of cool air to be had at Gallery 263. But it’s not just the air conditioners contributing to the cool vibe of this intimate Central Square art gallery, the Klezwoods are in the house. The Klezwoods are a Boston-based amalgam of strings, horns, and percussion that melds the spirit of traditional klezmer and balkan music with modern grooves, improvisation and east coast attitude featuring music of the Ottoman Empire; tunes from East European countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria. The music instrumentation features accordion, trumpet, drums, hand percussion, stand-up bass, sitting down clarinet, electric guitar, and last but not least, the rabid blue fiddle of the illustrious Joe Kessler. Behind the band is painter, Elizabeth Curran, who channels the energy of the music through her brushes and acrylics onto a nine by six foot canvas. The mural shines with bright blues, yellows and oranges in an abstract style. Her brushes move with the musical rhythms; the experience feels as if you are watching a conglomeration of Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Kline and Pable Picasso create while in a swirl of a Middle Eastern orchestra. Cheers, yells and “Heys” are happily shouted between audience and musician alike.                                       (Kier Byrnes)


Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA

This band is so different from what I normally go to check out that I am immediately intrigued when I hear their first notes. This is a first-class dance band. Their sound comes from an Afro-centric/revolutionary vibe and the music itself seems to drive movement—a true dance band. A lot of people are onstage and a lot of things go on during the performance too. Matt Jenson on keys, Sean Skeeth on drum kit, Steve Derosiers on guitar, Faisal Aswat on bass, Dillon Zahner on percussion, Jonathan Gramling on vocals, Lily D’More on vocals, with Bob Pilkington on trombone, John Sauer playing trumpet and saxists Will Silvio and Erich Ludwig play primary arrangements and compositions of Prince Nico Mbarga, Fela, Femi Kuti, Dawn Penn, Manu DiBango and Sade. The songs I really dig are “Sweet Mother,” “Soul Makossa,” “No No No,” “Let’s Start,” and “By Your Side.” It is so cool that you can see groups like this in our great scene. Check them out when they come to your area. Really cool. Really different. And be ready to dance.   (A.J.Wachtel)



Fred Fest, Billerica, MA

This is my second year coming to this North Shore annual event featuring a whole day and night of rock ’n’ roll under a tent with a backyard full of people; and it just keeps getting better and better year after year. The Roadkings, with Ron Belben and Paul and Joe Harper (the Citizens), play slick southern rock covers: the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out,” “Blue Sky,” “Statesboro Blues,” and “Whipping Post,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ”Call Me the Breeze” and “I Know A Little,” and Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” as an encore. Their music really knocks me out and sets the groove for the gig. The Cannibal Kings, a powerful trio led by the talentedason Vincent, do a set of original and covers including Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Exodus” and their ska/metal sound really rocks too. Spike, led by Jim Alger (Maniacal Reason), is a three-piece metal band and they play a loud set of guitar-driven originals. Throughout the show and in-between set changes, acoustic guitarist John Buonomo plays familiar songs like Eric Clapton’s “Promises,” Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” and Tom Petty’s “Free Falling,” and his good voice and stripped-down sound keeps the crowd attentive as the alcohol sets in en masse. When Brian Bailey and his growling guitar hit the stage, it’s as if Stevie Ray Vaughan has appeared and his great presence and guitar playing put the icing on the cake for a very cool day. They sure know how to party up on the North Shore!   (A.J. Wachtel)


Celtic Celebration

One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME

I realize this is a night of total immersion into the world of reels, jigs, and airs. I think I’m a big fan of Celtic music, but I realize that once I’m among these connoisseurs of the genre, I’m in over my head. The subtleties of the many melodies known to these musicians could be compared to the sensitivity of the palettes of wine aficionados. The musicians mention the names of the reels and the audience knows what they’re talking about!

Uilleann (pronounced illen, which is Irish for ‘elbow’) piper, Tom Wilsbach, an adorable looking, white-whiskered man, is the soft-spoken MC. His gentle, understated presence and appearance cause me to envisage a thatched-roof, a peat-fire blazing and St. Brigit hovering above, blessing the crowd.

First up is the Don Roy Trio. Don is haled as one of the greats of the Franco American fiddling style. Don’s wife, Cindy, is looking as cheerful as a chirping robin, whilst playing the piano. Jay Young is on the standup bass. I once read that he has a kind of psychic connection to Cindy while they’re performing, and often knows what notes she’s about to play before she plays them. Larry Burkett rounds out their sound nicely on guitar. First, they play a rather serene air, peaceful and slow, and as their set progresses, the reels and jigs speed up. Finally, Cindy’s feet are step dancing away under her piano, adding a dimension of spunky rhythm. Let me reprint a quote from the flyer about them because I doubt I could say it better: “Ethnomusicologist Bau Graves, calls Roy the finest Franco fiddler in New England, whose playing, ‘exactly exemplifies what Franco American fiddling is all about. It is simultaneously precisely controlled and wildly danceable.’”

Next is Uilleann piper, Kieran O’Hare, originally from Kansas City, Kansas, (not Missouri!), but who now resides in Portland. He quips that his mother describes the Irish pipes as, “part oboe, part whoopee cushion and part brassiere.” With that, he plays “Paddy’s Rambles Through the Park.” a tune by John Dougherty, which it is said was given to him by fairies. Of note, Kieran tells us that his instrument is a copy of one built in 1820, which is lower in pitch than the traditional pipe. Kieran’s hands are going like mad and the songs are gorgeous.

The evening takes a decidedly feminine turn with Naia, comprised of Danielle Langord on harp and Nicole Rabata on flute. They joke that they sometimes call themselves the cover band of the Mulcahy family. I’m sure that’s an inside joke, but I don’t get it because I don’t know this music like they do! They play original pieces as well as traditional. We fly away on conjured daydreams as their hands fly and the music flows.

Tom Wilbach returns to the stage. Tonight he does not have his Uilleann pipes. Instead, he plays an air for us on the Irish Penny Whistle, which he tells us is a legend about the selkie. He describes the story and it turns out that it must be where John Sayles got the idea for his film, “The Secret of Roan Inish”. Then another sweet tune called, “The Coal Miner’s Reel.”

Oh, my goodness! Then comes the band, Boghat, the delicious icing on the cake for me! Seeing Tom Rota in his element, on Uilleann pipes–along with his two fine companions, Jaime Eller on fiddle and Michael Jeanneau, on bouzouki, who make up the band, is just thrilling. Tom’s hands are miracles; I can’t believe how fast and furious he is playing. Boghat is intense, fresh, and joyous. I’ve seen Tom host many events at OLS, but seeing him playing music truly warms my heart. I can connect the dots between the man who has been responsible for booking so many fine shows and his heart as a musician. By now, the show is ripping. Tom mops his face with a towel and plays with concentration and elation. The band is superb.

Elly Marshall, a young lady fiddler, par excellence comes out and plays a lovely set. She keeps the spirit flying and is both fluid and eloquent.

Finally the Press Gang appears and now we’re really cookin’! Elly’s brother, the versatile Owen Marshall, plays bouzouki and guitar. Alden Robinson plays fiddle, and the way he is sitting with his legs flying up and down in wild abandon reminds me of a performance by Martin Hayes that I once attended. Christian “Junior” Stevens plays his various squeeze boxes with amazing alacrity. At one point, Owen leans down and is squeezing a hand pedal and doing something mysterious in a box while this amazing underbelly of emotional sound wells up and surrounds the tunes like a musical fog. I am wondering what the box is when someone says something like, “Over there, by the harmonium!,” and that’s how I find out what it is! These guys are amazing, just riveting.

I think the one thing that surprises me about the show is that there are no singers. At the same time, the reels, jigs, and airs are joyous, foot stomping and uplifting. I am mesmerized from start to finish, especially when the whole gang, self-nicknamed “the Cumberland County Regiment,” gets up on stage and roars a few more tunes for us. The audience has been screaming with delight all evening. I swear the ancestors are present, clogging their brains out all around us. It is a rousing evening, played to a crowded house, and a great day for the Irish! And Franco Americans and Scots too! (Kimmy Sophia Brown)



Veterans Assisting Veterans

Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA

How can you not be excited for a night MC’d by comedian Steve Sweeney that includes a reunion of sorts by one of the area’s most legendary groups? You just have to be, and I am. North Shore band, Perfect Crime, opens up the show with their tight R&B and when James Montgomery comes out to welcome and thank everyone, I notice a sense of excitement in the air. Not many performers can organize so much talent under one roof, but he has collected the horn section for the Rolling Stones (the Uptown Horns), the lead guitarist from the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan (Skunk Baxter), a famous surf-rocker who last supported Jeff Beck on his 2010 tour (Gary Hoey), and super-talented newcomers Ayla Brown, Chauncey Mathews, and Grace Kelly. He has also convinced Barry Goudreau, Sib Hashian, and Frannie Sheehan from the group Boston to perform onstage for the first time in many moons. Their late-set version of “Long Time” into “More Than A Feeling” with keyboardist Brian Maes singing is extraordinary. To introduce the guys, Sweeney laughs, “How do you introduce them without getting sued?” Pretty funny. Chauncey Matthews performs around town with the Breakout Artist Series and his vocals, along with Skunk Baxter’s ripping and famous guitar solos during a few Steely Dan covers, really point out to me the cool way this night is turning out with the vets getting down with the newbies for a great cause. This feeling continues when young saxist Grace Kelly jumps onstage with James and wails during his hit song “Intoxicated.” Just magic. And again when Ayla Brown and her acoustic guitar fronts the James Montgomery Band for three of her own compositions: “Miss You Already,” a 2010 song about Afgan vets, “Goodbye for Good,” and my favorite, “Pride Of America.” She has a great voice with perfect pitch and I really dig when she closes her eyes and sings from the heart. Her radio-friendly and patriotic songs are impressive and I really like when the audience sings “Happy Birthday” to her (today is her 24th birthday). She shyly grins and makes an American Idol reference saying—”Simon Cowell wouldn’t have liked that at all,” as the crowd laughs with her. It was also cool seeing her dad, Sen. Scott Brown, sitting in the audience and wearing a Veterans T-shirt taking cell-phone photos of his daughter onstage. If this great event happened in New York instead of Lowell, it would be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine—legends and youngsters all supporting a great cause.   (A.J. Wachtel)

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