The Natick Center for the Arts is a 290 capacity theatre with an excellent sound and lighting system and a 24 foot wide/18” high stage that holds a grand piano. Diane Young (the organizer of this monthly event) greets the audience and reminds them about the 400 high school bands that have graced this stage. Since 1998 TCAN (as they call it) has hosted the longest-running all-ages event (Rock Off Main Street) in the Boston area, but I think she’s being modest—it’s probably the longest in New England.
The first high school band up is Fins from Sudbury. Their tall guitarist/vocalist sports some old-style eyeglasses and his hair sticks up a bit. In the band’s first song, “Carnivor,” I’m pleased to hear that their sound is rooted in ’80s new wave—somewhere along the lines of Talking Heads and maybe less so the Cars. The four-piece (guitar/bass/keys/drums) plays well together, opting for interesting rhythms and unexpected time changes. “Blackberry Jam” starts with the drums and hand claps and displays how well each player adds to the recipe of their sound.
Awesome Express from the Wellesley/Needham area uses the same four pieces but offers up something totally different. A bunch of impressive guitar shredding collapses to a gentle touch, and then the band crushes in. They’ve got kind of a blues/metal thing going, throwing in a little bit of jazz here and there and a megaphone on the vocals pops up for effect. The keyboardist is their main vocalist with a good, easy going feel, while the guitarist runs across the stage, stands on the bass drum, and basically plays the part of the in-your-face performer. They cover the Allman Brother’s “Whipping Post” leaving out the signature double guitar lines, maybe because it’s the guitarist dong the lead vocal. Awesome Express ends with the first song they ever wrote, “White Light,” that starts off light and rumbles into a rocking’ romp.
Odd Man Out from Belmont, again with the same pieces, stars out with a jazzy piano and wholesome guitar melodies that wash into a four-chord rock jam. Then Rosey, their female vocalist, enters with her pretty Ingrid Michaelson-type voice. Now they have a groove feeling. But in the next song they’ve become a reggae band, jammin’ out an instrumental version of Bob Marley’s “Jammin.” Their fans arrive up in front of the stage for their last original song, “You Too,” that ends with “screw you too.” Now could that be U2? They get a lot of applause but just weren’t as rehearsed as the first two bands.
Next up is the oldest high school band I’ve ever seen. I mean these guys must have been left back over 30 times. Oh—it’s Bag O’ Nails, Mach Bell’s latest stage show that sports an authentic late-’60s rock sound. Tonight, they’re doing Jimi Hendrix tunes only. Note for note, guitarist Dave Zolla follows Hendrix’s licks on his self-constructed one-of-a-kind lefty/righty Strats through a double Marshall stack (scaring the audience during the set up). Mach takes Jimi’s vocal parts a step closer to lead vocalist territory but stays pretty much to the book. They cover some unforgettable songs, “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady” (dedicated to Diane Young), “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” and “Voodoo Child.” I’m told they also cover Cream and some Black Sabbath. The kids who stay for the show enjoy watching the experienced performers. (T Max)
SAM REID & THE RIOT ACT,
SUMMER VILLAINS (CD release),
Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA
I always try and get to a show at the Lizard Lounge. They have a great bar menu with tasty sliders and an amazing selection of craft beer that is just too delicious to pass up. In addition to the fine bar cuisine, tonight they feature a musical line up that is as delicious as their curly fries. Sam Reid and company kick off the night with a bang. It’s modern bluegrass at its finest and Sam Reid and left-handed Johnny Ransom are a duo like no other. Of course, it helps to have talented players like blue fiddlin’ Joe Kessler and Aaron Goff on mandolin on stage with you. Aaron’s tune “New Zealand” is one of the highlights of the night.
The crowd is feisty tonight and the music is certainly playing a hand in it. When Joe Pleiman and the Summer Villains take the stage, the room feels like it’s about to burst at the seams. It’s a fun show. There’s lots of crowd participation and sing-alongs. The band seems as excited about the release of their new CD as the crew of rowdy fans surrounding the stage. The Summer Villains load up their set with cuts off their new album, Canasta and the audience reciprocates with thunderous applause.
Tik Tok is a new band to me but like the other, I find equally charming. The band’s lead singer is a knock out who can sing and play the keys with the best of them. The music is a cross between Tori Amos and Tom Waits with a little Portishead thrown in for good measure. The night is getting late and we’ve got to split, but this is a band I definitely want to see again. (Kier Byrnes)
THE CHANDLER TRAVIS THREE-O CD release party
Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
Travis is not your typical folkie: in fact, he is one of the most creative songwriters on the scene, and he has been for three decades. Three-O actually has four members—Chandler, John Clark on upright bass (he also uses a bow), Berke McKelvey on keys, sax, and clarinet, and vocalist Fred Boak. The fifth member of the combo, Dinty Child (wearing a Morphine T-shirt), adds his virtuoso on mandicello and accordion to the mix. Before the set, I am told they will perform the whole new CD from beginning to end, but this promise quickly fades. In the first of their two sets they play the Incredible Casuals’ “Paper Roses” and in the last, they perform “Sweet Haven” from the Popeye movie starring Robin Williams. This ensemble is Chandler’s folk/jazz tribute to the Andrews Sisters and the uniqueness of the sound makes me proud to be part of this great scene. Do you think bands like this gig in Oklahoma, Alabama, or Montana? Ha. Not a chance. New songs like “Little Things,” “Still Drink My Coffee Blue,” and the great “One Step Forward” treat the audience of old friends and typical Cambridge sweater-vesters to a fascinating blend of folk, jazz, and pop with five part harmonies to boot. Amazing. I usually hate solos, but I listen to every note each artist plays. Sometimes it’s just the bass and acoustic guitar softly backing the soloing horn or clarinet or eight-string mandicello, and it’s always mesmerizing. Chandler informs me: “It won’t be visual; it will be all sonic”—and he is wrong again. Various onstage clothing changes add to his brilliant satire. One of the members wears a Christmas Santa hat and another wears pink sunglasses and matching tie.”It’s all about the suits and the songs,” Travis explains as he changes for the third time between songs. At another point, the band decides to do a different tune than planned and Chandler laments: “I have to change guitars. I have four guitars. What a joke.” The audience laughs along. Great songs. Great harmonies. Clever arrangements, visuals, and just a whole lot of fun. (A.J. Wachtel)
JOY KILLS SORROW
One Longfellow Square, Portland ME
I arrive at One Longfellow Square early and sit near the front. A lot of people seem to know this band and the place is filling up. Again, as with many shows here, there is a wide span of ages present.
Joy Kills Sorrow is loosely rooted in the bluegrass genre, but they are so much more. Emma Beaton can belt out a tune with the best. She has spot-on pitch and can sing soft or wail. The band is a group of award-winning musicians, each one a stand-alone genius in their own right. The musical upshot is dazzling.
Flat-picking champion, Matthew Arcara, looks as if he could play Stonewall Jackson in a Civil War movie. He holds his guitar up high and tight and plays with dignified strength. Jake Joliff, whose beard and hair resembles Wolverine, is a master mandolin player—the first, full-scholarship mandolin player to attend Berklee school of Music—and has fingers like hovering hummingbirds. Wesley Corbett is the banjo player extraordinaire, who also teaches banjo at Berklee School of Music.
Their new bass player is Zoe Guigueno, formerly of Fish and Bird, who replaced Bridget Kearney. Tonight Zoe looks like a cross between Greek singer, Nana Mouskouri and Tina Fey, with her pointy glasses, dark ponytail and bright smile. This band has played long and well together, and though this is Zoe’s first gig with them, she participates as if she has always been a member.
Vocalist Emma plays it straight most of the time, with rather a serious expression, rarely cracking a smile. I keep getting a mental image of her as a shy, quiet child, but then the mood of a song brings out her pugnacious side, and, I think, she is an enigma. Her voice holds back a lot in the style of Aoife O’Donovan, but sometimes she delivers a kind of Bonnie Raitt heat and power. She is only twenty-three, so I think her style will grow as she lives and experiences more of life. I admire the fact that her voice is able to sustain its clarity in front of some very intense and complex accompaniment. Joy Kills Sorrow is a class act, rivaling the best of the best. (Kimmy Sophia Brown)
THE DANK TOPS
Powerhouse Breakout Artist Series
Wonder Bar, Allston, MA
The Wonder Bar, formerly Bunratty’s, is having regularly scheduled live music again and every Sunday I may be first in line to see the show. The Dank Tops’ music is funky with soul and R&B. Their originals, “Hip Joint” the clever hip hop/R&B instrumental, and “Sometimes,” a tune with a pop/R&B feel written by guitarist Bill Kenny stand out. Lead singer Emily Jones has a great voice and stage presence, and the band including Chris Sublette on bass, Dominic French on keys, Matt Ohlheiser on drums, and Steadman Graves on second vocals, sounds smooth and exciting. I dig their soulful versions of “Mr.Big Stuff” (Jean Knight) and Justin Timberlake’s upbeat “Senorita” for their last song. They also do an Erykah Badu tune I don’t know the name of. They are a good band to hear. Another cool part of tonight is watching Wonder Bar bartender Han Nguyen work her magic on the crowd. Good music has finally returned to this venue on Harvard Ave. in Allston and that brings a smile to my face. (A.J. Wachtel)
Rosebud, Somerville, MA
Of course whenever reviewing the Fagettes, I can’t help but mention how bizarre, but equally clever, their moniker is. In fact, I think that’s an adequate way to describe this band: “bizarre, but equally clever.” Tonight is a Halloween show and each band is covering the songs of an artist from decades passed. Fagettes perform as Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood and, being garage rock revivalists themselves, they are able to truly capture the steamy, feisty and rebellious attitude of the original composers. In particular, I adore their renditions of classic tunes such as “Sugar Town,” “Jackson,” and “These Boots Are Made For Walking.” This is my first time experiencing a Fagettes performance, but I can tell they have mastered the vintage, ’60s sound they are emulating on this evening. Overall, it is a fun set and I seriously cannot wait to see these guys perform original material live.
The legendary Wipers are on second, well, not exactly, but, Fedavees are the next best thing. Fedavees are a Boston band I have heard tossed around these parts for quite some time now, and on this evening I finally get a chance to see if everything I’ve heard is correct. While I am not flabbergasted by their set, I am impressed and I thoroughly enjoy myself. Although Fedavees are decked out in gory zombie masks, they are able to charm the Rosebud’s attendees by passionately covering Wipers tunes and evoking emotional responses from various crowd members. I notice several patrons enthusiastically singing along to each and every Wipers tune. Alas, I am not too familiar with the material of either Fedavees or the Wipers, but I am positive Fedavees have done justice to their work. In any case, I hope to see the band again soon.
By the time the third act, Earthquake Party comes along, the crowd begins to loosen up and some slam dancing ensues. Considering Earthquake Party is covering Nirvana, slam dancing only makes sense. Instead of performing the classic Nirvana tunes, Earthquake Party instead, focuses on the more aggressive, noisy Nirvana songs. There is no “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “All Apologies.” Instead we are bombarded with the brutal cacophony of “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” “Territorial Pissings,” “Breed,” “Scentless Apprentice,” amongst other noisy Nirvana “hits,” foreign to the pop charts. For Nirvana fans, such as myself this is a real treat and I think the band does a decent job of simulating a chaotic Nirvana performance. I have seen Earthquake Party! before, and while I was impressed, they did not stick with me overtime, yet this performance forces me to keep my eyes on them in the local scene.
Anyone that has paid attention to my live reviews from 2012 knows that the Fat Creeps are my favorite local band and simply one of my favorite bands in general. That’s all there is to it. Now, in terms of rock ’n’ roll as a whole, the Ramones are amongst my top five favorite bands. So, when you have the Fat Creeps performing as the Ramones, I am hysterical! I am not alone in this Fat Creeps-Ramones hysteria, however, and as soon as the band kicks into “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the crowd erupts into a tornado of dancing, pogo-ing, and moshing. Practically everyone seems to know all the words, so it is great to see everyone having fun and singing along to all the hits. The Fat Creeps often profess to keeping things “light,” but on this night they ditch that rule and as a hardcore fan, I can safely say this is a wise decision. (Chris DeCarlo)
Rhumb Line, Gloucester MA
For a Wednesday night, the Rhumb Line is respectfully filled with an audience chatting away. Sitting on a stool under the lights, an un-introduced Fly Amero begins to play and the people hush down. Fly plays lefty with a righty guitars flipped around, making his finger patterns unrecognizable to most guitarists. He’s a master player and has all the skills of a well rounded performer. He slips into “Early Morning Rain,” which he picked up from Ian & Silvia in the ’60s. At one point, Fly stops picking and continues the song a cappella, creating a dynamic build up when his rich-sounding acoustic returns. Elaine O’Rourke enters the Rhumb Line and throws me a happy smile of recognition (we know each other from a previous marriage). Fly squeezes some ragtime piano out of his guitar on Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When you’re Down And Out.” He tells a story of how his mom was superstitious, and that she passed away on the last Friday the 13th of the millennium, and then he touches us all with his song for her, “Paint It Blue.” He swings uptempo with Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” taps out percussion on the body of his guitar, and goes back into the ballad “Remember My Night With You” with his masculine delivery. His Californian friend Rob Bolton (aka Rotten Rancid Robbie) sits in on bass for a few tunes—funny thing is that Rob is also a lefty playing a righty bass. Fly gets jazzy with vocal scatting and then brings it down with the most romantic song ever written—Nat King Cole’s “That Sunday, That Summer.” The audience is eating out of his hand.
Time for Elaine O’Rourke to display her new CD, Silence of Time, in a live setting. Fly’s gracious introduction states her material to be “unique and compelling.” An Irish folky version of Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance” gets it rolling. Elaine’s proud voice and guitar playing leave enough space to let Fly strut his guitar mastery, and that’s exactly what happens when Elaine offers up the title track. Fly adds a new dimension to Elaine’s songs, and she knows it as she quickly quips as the song ends, “I’m gonna put Fly to work.” So you’ve got Elaine supplying romantic melodic tunes with Fly adding the exotic spices to sexify the night. All three women at my table are fiddling with their cell phones as Elaine hits her stride with her moving rendition of “Crazy”—maybe the gals are setting up their after-show dates. “Black is the Color,” “My Kiss Will Do,” and “You Are the Light” close the set with Fly getting more and more into his accompaniment. Elaine is elated and the audience calls her back. “Autumn Leaves” is her encore, but one more song is left to sing. Elaine announces that a little bird has informed her of a big birthday for Fly. She says he’ll be 30—and although she may be half right, she continues, “You’re only as old as the ass you grab.” The gals at my table seem amused by that idea. (T Max)
THE BRIAN BAILEY BAND
Hugh O’Neill’s, Malden, MA
One of the results of the recession is that many restaurants are pushing away their tables at night and having live bands attract another crowd. Since they already have entertainment and liquor licenses and insurance, there is no extra cost in their quest for more paying customers. Sometimes seeing a great band makes me hungry, so it’s a good change in environment for me. The Brian Bailey Band is a real Stevie Ray/ ZZ Top three-piece act with growling guitar, loud and powerful bass, and a pounding drummer with interesting chops. And this is in a restaurant in the suburbs! Some of the stuff I hear: ZZ Top’s “Nationwide” and “Jesus Left Chicago,” SRV’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” “Tightrope,” and “Pride and Joy,” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talkin’?” Their originals “Branded” and “Devil Woman” follow in the same screaming guitar vein. Brian, Rick D’Amante on bass, and Balint Bulldog on drums play like a tight fist and you can check them out here a couple of Thursdays each month. Say “hi” to manager Karen Robitaille when you go. (A.J. Wachtel)
ASSEMBLY OF DUST,
The Paradise, Boston MA
We arrive late and have missed the Boom Booms. This is a damn shame because we had listened to their music online beforehand, and we dig it.
Dirigo is onstage and I instantly recognize Russ Lawton behind the drums. Russ’ rhythms create a solid foundation with bassist Erik Glockler. Dancing upon this foundation are guitarists Luke Patchen Montgomery and Steve Jones. Although they alternate, Dirigo is at their best with Erik singing lead, the guitarists harmonizing and performing intricate guitar lines, seemingly with ease.
Assembly of Dust hit us hard, opening with “Filter” from their debut album, smoothly sailing into “Samuel Aging,” likely my favorite of frontman Reid Genauer’s epics. Bassist John August Leccese sings tight harmonies throughout the night and is locked into a danceable groove with drummer Andrew Herrick. The crowd dances hard for well over an hour. Other first set highlights include: “Songs We Sing,” “Revelry,” “Honeycreeper,” and Erik Glockler (Dirigo) returning to the stage to join AoD for the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.”
The second set opens with “Arc of the Sun” from their latest release Some Assembly Required and continues with as much energy, the crowd loudly singing along to the choruses of “Telling Sue.” Guitarist Adam Terrell takes off on “Speculator.” Adam is always a delight to witness, balancing an obvious technical prowess and control of his instrument with a delicate touch for melody he shares with the rest of AoD.
Jason Cohen, on loan from Ryan Montbleau Band for the evening, sits poised behind his keyboard smiling throughout the set, laying down full rich sounds and stepping up when called upon to solo wildly. Reid cordially invites Ryan Montbleau himself to lead AoD for “Forty Five Degrees.” This assembly ends a long night with “Roads” and days later, I find myself humming the chorus. Reid and AoD have won me over. Again. Once A-gain. (Joey Jives)
SCHOOL OF ROCK BOSTON
Hair Metal from the ’80s
Johnny D’s, Somerville MA
When I enter the club, doorman extraordinaire Willie Ivory Carpenter gives me a smile and a warning look as I check out all the pint-sized young artists in wigs and spiked hair running wild. I look around and see a bunch of ten-year-old kids with their hair saluting the moon. First the covers: “Somebody Save Me” (Cinderella), “Rescue Me” (Y&T), “Round and Round” (Ratt), “Heaven” (Warrent), “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (Def Leppard), “Seventeen” (Winger), “Piece of Me” (Skid Row), “Here I Go Again” (Whitesnake), “Modern Day Cowboy” (Tesla), “Fallen Angel” (Poison), “Fire Woman” (the Cult), and “You Give Love a Bad Name” (Bon Jovi). Song after song, I am surprised at the good musicianship, great harmonies, and all around level of excitement I see onstage and in the audience. The musicians are brothers Xavier and Benoit Zinssner, Molly Martin, Alex Santos, Mason Clapp, Lee MacWilliams, Kevin Damon Cronmiller, Luca Swinford, Matt Martin, Peter Belsley, and Kate Marenis. They are great kids, Great talent. High points include the double lead guitar in “Round and Round”and Xavier singing “I’m hot” in soprano on “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” Kudos to their teachers Anders Lynn Mar and “Mighty Slim” Habal (also a WMBR DJ) for showing these youngsters how to rock with a capital R! Good job! (A.J. Wachtel)
THE BLUE RIBBONS featuring DIETRICH STRAUSE
Toad, Cambridge, MA
It’s a Tuesday night, but have no fear. There’s always some good music cranking on the Cambridge side of the river, thanks to places like Toad that showcase live music seven nights a week, with never a cover. The Blue Ribbons have been getting a lot of hype in the Americana scene so I had to check them out. With kicking grooves, well-crafted melodies, and an extremely talented band, I do believe this band has earned their reputation. Fronting the band tonight for several songs is also the up-and-coming singer/songwriter Dietrich Strause. The Blue Ribbons lay down some tasteful arrangements and both Dietrich and the band shine. It’s a great set, and me and my friends are having a ball. As if the great music that Toad brings in isn’t enough reason to go check it out. I have to mention one other thing; the bartenders at Toad are perhaps some of the friendliest in the city. (Kier Byrnes)
Animal House Party
The President’s Rock Club, Quincy, MA
There are three clubs I go to in Quincy Center and see shows: one offers boogie-woogie and blues, another is hard rock and R&B, and lastly, the President’s Rock Club delves in punk with an attitude. God-emperor Colin Campbell Soup welcomes me at the door with, “Fasten your seatbelt” for tonight’s show. I see a few walls covered with local artists’ work and I like this. Then the music starts and lead singer Al Sexxx and his band unleash their fury on this captive small universe—and they take no prisoners. They’re like the Ramones meet the Surf Nazis from Hell. Loud with an attitude is all I need to know and I immediately prepare my body and mind for this audial assault. I tighten my stomach muscles and squint my eyes to no avail; I am pummeled by this South Shore/Allston group; I forget to fasten my seatbelt. This is a great club within walking distance of my house. And check out a local artist’s huge outdoor mural of Jimi playing his white Strat with Obama’s face on it: Campbell Soup fought the law to keep this local artist’s work intact and he won; how’s THAT for a club with attitude? (A.J. Wachtel)