Live Reviews


Chandler Travis’ 9th or 10th Annual Boston Christmas Cavalcade Benefit for the Homeless
Johnny D’s, Somerville MA

A great night for an important cause hosted by an incredibly entertaining cast of characters. The Cape Cod’s Chandler Travis holds his annual benefit tonight, and as I enter the door I’m thinking what a cool example of the closeness of our very diverse entertainment scene. The Classic Ruins, Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents (“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”), Boston Blues Society Challenge Winners Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers, the Weissonauts, Miriam, Merrie Amsterburg, Jen Kimball, Shaun Wortis, Bird Mancini (Darlene Love’s “Baby, Please Come Home”—there’s even a floor mic for their holiday ankle bells!), Soul-screamer Barrence Whitfield (!), Stomper Sal Baglio (“Run Run Rudolph”), the Darlings doing their Americana “Mele Kalikimaka,” and Livingston Taylor invoking his homespun holiday spirit on “My Perfect Christmas Day” and “Hush Hush the Baby.” What a blast! What a show! And everywhere Chandler keeps popping up onstage. I really enjoy his Philharmonic Trombone Shout Band doing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” This is a true holiday party that really gives a new meaning to the Christmas Cheer; “Ho Ho Ho” (Whatever that means).               (A.J. Wachtel)


Middle East, Cambridge MA

Running late. Only catch the last couple songs from Radio Control. They’re a super minimalist two-piece (guitar and drums) and remind me a bit of the Konks but slightly poppier. And like the Konks, they raise a helluva racket with only two instruments (that’s a compliment, not a snipe). They’ve got a whole CD and a 7-inch vinyl platter—check ’em out!

Haven’t caught Triple Thick in a while, and they’re sounding pretty fine. The year leading up to their Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble appearance, they sounded so sharp and tight—really the best they’ve ever sounded. Right after that, they retooled a little and have been building back up. Tonight Triple Thick sound like they’re back to totally  awesomeness. Cave-painting minimalism, and 45-second-long songs. They would no doubt laugh at the idea, but to me they’re an art band. New CD alert!

Speaking of new CDs, Lyres have one, too. Guess that explains the new songs. Turn back and reread my other Lyres review this issue. All I can add to it is tonight’s show has a pretty sizable crowd, and Lyres are getting some much deserved love.

Satin Kittens get stuck having to close the night to a near-empty room (maybe six people stayed). No justice, man. SK are another art-minded minimalist outfit: two guitars and two organs played by just two musicians, who switch back and forth. They’re conversely striking, quirky, energetic and definitely intriguing. I’m amused by a Regina Spektor cover they do—I can’t say for certain that it isn’t intended as spoof, but it works for me whether meant straight-faced or as comedy. They’ve piqued my interest for sure.                 (Frank Strom)


Cat in the Cradle, Byfield MA
Finz, Salem MA

As a publisher/editor of the Noise, I actually avoid seeing too much of the same act. One reason is so I see as many different acts as possible, but the other is that I usually don’t enjoy hearing the same songs or watching the same performance too often. This is just not the case with Bird Mancini, the husband (Billy Carl Mancini) and wife (Ruby Bird) powerhouse duet (they do play with a full band sometimes, too). I could see them twice a week and be happy. They are two well-balanced talented artists who totally entertain me. At the Cat in the Cradle show, they play two 45-minute sets on a large four-foot-tall stage and only add one cover to each set. It shows off their sophisticated pop- rock style songwriting skills. They are well-lit with spotlights and everyone in the audience has a perfect view of them. At Fins they fill three hours with music, while set up on the floor in a corner with a column partially blocking the view for some. Although they play many more covers, their originals really stand out. I love “Green Walls,” a song with a beautiful build to an almost dissonant crescendo. They don’t play the song very often, so I’m happy to hear it. A lot of their fans from all over New England show up at Finz and it’s good to see them too.

Ruby Bird is a multi-instrumentalist with accordion and percussion (bells on her feet) her main tools, but she’ll pick up a melodica, harmonica, or glockenspiel to add the right flavor to any song. Her biggest asset is her phenomenal vocal ability. She’ll take it soft and sweet with one song and be belting the next one out like Tina Turner invaded her spirit. Billy Carl Mancini could be Eric Clapton’s younger brother—he’s an excellent guitarist, rhythmically perfect, and he posseses a set of vocal cords that surprise you when you don’t expect it. Their skill at songwriting sets the stage for their musical talents,  proving the one plus one equals more than two. And I’ll keep coming back for more as long as they keep performing.    (T Max)


Club Passim, Cambridge MA

My New Year’s resolution was to see more live music in 2013 and do more live reviews. If you are like me and have made a similar resolution and are interested in reviewing shows, I think there may be information on how to become a writer for the Noisesomewhere in the print issue.  With that being said, I am at one of folk music’s most prestigious institutions, Cambridge’s own Club Passim in Harvard Square. For a guy like me who is used to raucous clubs and loud dives bars, this venue is such a trip. I love it though. The audiences focus so intently on the performers, and if you talk you get shushed. Tonight’s performance begins with the Otis Hill Band. It’s a five-piece country/ folk band complete with a fiddle and drums. Handsome Johnny Ransom on left-handed bass rounds out the sound nicely as guitarist Mike Powers tosses out some tasty licks. Despite hailing from Norwell, the singer, Otis, has a laid-back, southern Texas feel to his singing which immediately reminds me of Robert Earl Keene. He throws in a couple of nicely done Robert Earl Keen/ Steve Earle covers into the set, so I am guessing Otis is also aware of the similarities and influences of his vocal style. In the tradition of folk music, there are a lot of verses in each one of Otis’s songs, making me realize the amount of lyrics Otis had to memorize is impressive.

The Whiskey Boys, led by the ever-talented frontman David Delaney, sound better than they ever have. Mixing traditional Americana, country, Celtic, and sea shanties, their sound is full, loud, fast, and fun. This band has one of the most eclectic sounds out there today and they are a blast to listen to. The music is steeped in richness and completely delightful to the ear, yet still edgy and passionate. The band’s banter back and forth between songs has the audience in stitches, while their songs have the crowd on the edge of their seats, hanging on every lyric. The band debuts a bunch of new tunes, making me think that they are the band to watch out for in 2013.  (Kier Byrnes)


One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME

I’m here to see Winterbloom—which is a kind of ad hoc holiday band made up of Antje Duvekot, Natalia Zuckerman, Anne Heaton and Meg Hutchinson. There’s a nice crowd here tonight, people looking to feed that longing for meaningful holiday music.

From their opening notes, and body language, I can see they have unique musical styles but have joined together with love and humility to create the miracle of Winterbloom. Where to begin? First, each of them is beautiful. The shining Antje Duvekot, is sort of a facsimile of 40’s film star, Maureen O’Hara—large luminous eyes, tall, yet a delicate presence, both fragile and strong. She plays guitar, and interestingly, even though she is the tallest, she has the highest voice. The Celtic-looking Anne Heaton, has magnificent bone structure, like an elegant queen, and embodies power and strength, and is aglow with the bright aura of pregnancy. She plays keyboards. The earthy and sweet-faced Meg Hutchinson has eyes of great warmth and affection. She looks as if she would have a sympathetic ear, and that kind of heart, which comforts and enfolds the other. She has the lowest voice and plays guitar. Natalia Zuckerman is petite and has a fiery, complex and strong presence. She plays bass during many of the songs, as well as guitar. She has a beautiful goddess face, a sultry voice and deep heart. Her Jewish roots are evident, they permeate and glow, and she imitates her grandmother’s Yiddish accent with playful humor.

I’m so glad to be in their presence. They exude the joy of friendship, as well as musicianship. Their harmonies pull at my emotions, they blend in a haunting and longing manner. This is not just a Christmas show in the traditional sense. They sing a collection of known and unknown songs. I think my personal favorite is a Yiddish folk song called “The Riddle,” or “Tumbalalaika.” Natalia Zuckerman, who learned it from her grandmother, introduces it.

What is it about the longing minor key of Yiddish folk songs? Oy! I can’t even explain what I’m feeling—it’s something about the suffering and joy at the same time. They also play favorites like “O Holy Night” and “The Water is Wide,” as well as individual compositions.

They are selling CDs in the lobby after the show. I find out I can buy one called “Winterbloom: Traditions Rearranged,” They end with Antje leading her pals and all of us in a Christmas carol from her native Germany; “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night”). The audience joins in and we end this lovely evening. All is calm, all is bright. It is almost two weeks until Christmas, and I’m so glad I came to this.         (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


Hubba Hubba, Cambridge MA

Tonight is the occasion for celebration. Not only is MILK performing their debut CD, Hubba Hubba, in the store of the same name, but drummer, Jesse Galkowski is also having a birthday. No, it is not surprising that Cambridge’s legendary alternative adult boutique makes a kick-ass rock venue. In fact, I enjoyed the art rock of Box Patrol’s mixed-media show right here over a decade ago. Yet, Hubba’s owner since 1978, Suzi Phelps, has never hosted an event of this magnitude—three young, up and coming groups rockin’ a packed house of elated, energetic celebrants. It seems everyone knows and loves Jesse. No doubt you may recognize Jesse’s name from his two previous CDs, Speaking Cheekish (2010) and Picture of an Echo (2011) under the Easy Elliott nom de plume.

Milk’s line-up is Matt Brady (lead vocals, guitar), Jesse Galkowski (drums, vocals), Luke Savoca (bass, vocals), and Sam Taber (keys, vocals). Females covering a wide age span “confide” in this writer how easy these guys are on the eyes, but what impresses me most is how musically proficient they are (Okay, not to be a killjoy, but I like MY men like I like my wine—with a vintage and full bodied!). Their poetry-spouting MC, Evan, calls the band intuitive. In fact, Milk reminds me a bit of how the Sonics might sound if they were jamming at the Big Pink! The show was opened by the Great Pattern, who the Jackal rated A-plus, and Taxidermists, whose CD I bought because they impressed me as a tasty cocktail of rootsy Americana and garage punk.        (Nancy Neon)


SCOTT ALARIK (reading)
Old Sloop Coffeehouse, Rockport MA

If you are seeking a comfortable relaxed live experience of music, the area coffeehouses are the place to go. You won’t hear people chattering while the music is playing, alcohol isn’t for sale, and during the intermission you can enjoy coffee, pastries, and/or pick up a CD from the performing artist. The Old Sloop Coffeehouse (a favorite) is but one of the many area coffeehouses. Search for one near you. Tonight there’s a packed house and I’m stranded in the back on a small stool, but when it is announced that Scott Alarik will read from his book Revival, I’m psyched. I’ve read the book, which has since won the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association, and I believe it should be read by every musician.  He reads a couple of passages, the second is about Pete Seeger being invited to sing on foreign soil, then handed a list of songs that the government will not allowed him to perform.  The list includes every song in his set. He gets around it by strumming the chords to the songs and letting the audience sing his lyrics.

After Scott, six musicians position themselves evenly across the entire width of the stage. In the center are Aubrey Atwater (dulcimer) and Elwood Donnelly (guitar) and from the a cappella start, I know this will be an amazing folk music journey. Flanking them on the left are Cathy Clasper-Torch (fiddle), Heide Cerrigione (autoharp), and John Cerrigione (double bass), and sitting to right of them is Kevin Doyle (percussion). By the third song we see the first sign of something more than music, when Aubrey shows a sample of her percussive dance—clogging. Before long Kevin is up doing his Irish step and old American tap dancing—and it’s like a fun battle of the tappers! John sings an amusing song about getting to know his adult children and then does a demonstration of limberjacks (including a horse, a rooster, and a green hippie)—for those who don’t know—a limberjack is a wooden percussive instrument with a human stick figure on top that looks like he’s doing some crazy step dancing.

When intermission arrives, I go to the merch table and buy my own limberjack and notice there are many different CDs on sale by all the individual musicians on stage. I also purchase a coffee and a piece of blueberry pie. Like I said—these coffeehouses are a different breed than the rock venues I’m use to visiting.

The second set begins and I’m starting to notice how many other instruments make their way into the hands of the musicians—an accordion, a cello, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, and Indian and African drums. The core of this group is celebrating their 25th year of playing together. Elwood states, “Any more than 24/7 would be too much,” and Aubrey follows with, “If you ever leave me… I’m coming with you,” before they sing “We Go Together.” They do an ancient French song with lovely instrumentation of the harmonica, an accordion, a and a violin. Coming near the end, Aubrey takes us on a wonder trip, showing us all the dancing rhythms she learned in story form—she dances the entire time she tells the story—quite a workout for an 81-year-old—no, that’s just her joke. They end with “I Believe I’ll Go Home” and the entire audience is filled with goodness. Geoff and Celene Lyons are thanked for organizing the show—excellent job by Geoff on the sound too. I leave with my new pal limberjack in hope he’ll be a good dancer.         (T Max)


Sally O’Brien’s, Somerville MA

James Christensen can normally be found Tuesday nights, hosting Precinct’s weekly trivia night. However, tonight he is in a different role, as he bounces down to the opposite end of Union Square to play with his band, Birds of Play at Sally O’Brien’s. He and his band waste no time and quickly pour out some heavy-hitting pop-rock tunes and catchy ballads song after song. Their melodic, upbeat originals have the bar swinging and swaying.  Sitting behind the drums is the queen of the strapless dresses, Melissa Misicka, who is looking very festive tonight. She’s not just another pretty face though; she can hit those drums with the ferociousness of a tigress. After the rock portion of their set, they go full holiday jam, as it’s only a couple days before Christmas. They do some excellent covers and soon the holiday spirit is rushing through the bar. Some of the highlights of their holiday set include “Do You Hear What I Hear,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and the Christmas classic, “Silent Night.”  My favorite song of their holiday set is their closing song, a version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Next Christmas, I’m asking Santa for a Birds of Play Christmas CD in my stocking.     (Kier Byrnes)


Precinct, Somerville MA

Given the amazingly stellar band line-up (best of the year for a non-benefit show), it’s no shock Precinct is packed. Usually with so many rock geeks crammed into one room, you can’t ever find more than two people agreeing on anything, but tonight’s poll results show a different attitude: Virtually everyone here feels guilty that they’re not at the Coffin Lids’ show at Radio! We’ve no good excuse, but c’mon—look at this line-up! Hopefully Skinny Mike is a forgiving soul…

Lyres are the opener. Yes, that’s Jeff “Mono Man” Connelly’s Lyres. Boston rock legends Lyres. And they’re on first?!?! I think Jen and Evan must be playing a practical joke on Jeff, but that’s only speculation. Most of the set is spent struggling with uncooperative monitors that are “squealing like a pig,” according to the band. Whatever the problem, they sound Grade-A FDA approved to me. Having been awesome and essential for 20+ years, Lyres have no burden other than maintaining their rep—play the favorites and play ’em well. But tonight they also pull out new songs. Four or five of them, in fact! Pretty thrilling, lemme tell ya!

In other news, rumor has it this is Muck & the Mires’ final show before moving out of the area. Luckily, this is complete misinformation! They’re just getting some out-of-town gigs again. They are coming back, Evan assures me. He’s observant enough to know such a monumental loss is all it would take to send a suicidal depressant like me right over the edge. Luckily I can step back from the ledge since Muck’s got new material as well—more of that winning “yeah yeah yeah” Beatles meet “gabba gabba hey” Ramones stuff (“Three Steps Closer” is my pick). Ahhh! I can already smell a sixth Muck platter on the horizon. I want to live!

How best to describe the music of Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents? An exploration of auditory ambience with more than a touch of drone that expands outward from the inner mind to create intriguing space vistas of sound? No friggin’ way!!! Jen and crew are rock ’n’ roll, damn it! You will be charmed or your ass will be kicked. Possibly both. That’s what I call a band with range. Bouncing back and forth between ’60s girl-group sound and ’70s glam rock, JD & D make it seem natural, logical, and at times inspired. New material includes covers of “Fox on the Run” (natural) and Graham Parker’s excellent “That Moon Was Low” (inspired). If you’re taking requests, I could use some more originals and would happily make the proper blood sacrifice for a second Deelinquents album. I’m sure they’ll deliver.        (Frank Strom)


One Longfellow Square, Portland ME

Rachel Ries (pronounced rice) is tall, and wears a flowered dress. I see that she likes the color red. Her tights are red, her guitar is red, and she is wearing a red sweater. A young man with curly hair, clothed in as much yellow as she is in red, sings and plays with her. He is Ben Davis, and they both also play in Anais Mitchell’s Young Man Band. They make me think of ketchup and mustard with their outfits, but they play some sincere songs, sing well in harmony, and play their instruments like champs.

We find out that Rachel Ries was raised as a Mennonite in North Dakota. I’m not surprised. She has an atmosphere of purity about her —I sense the prairie grass and the plains, the bitter winters and broad summer sun. She shines as she speaks and sings, and looks trustworthy. She looks kind, like a friend.

Her set is short but heartfelt. She sings songs of love about her new husband, Adrian. She makes us laugh when she asks for help re-titling a song that is presently called, “With or Without You.”  Something in her imagery and originality reminds me of Emily Dickinson. At the end of her set she plugs her CDs, which are being sold in hand-sewn cases! You don’t see that everyday. Plus she is selling jars of homemade plum jam. Wow!

Anais (pronounced, a NAY us) Mitchell  introduces her band as the Young Man Band, which includes two beautiful young ladies. Her latest CD is Young Man in America, inspired by American manhood, British ballads, and her father.

She wears a short black skirt, black tights, a red camisole—and a little cream-colored blouse, formerly owned by her late great aunt Harriet. Aunt Harriet was a dedicated peace activist until she was very elderly. Anais tells us an Aunt Harriet anecdote. Later, she tosses the blouse and looks fetching and pretty as a summer day in the camisole, even though it’s a chilly night in late autumn. She has a passionate, little girl voice that reminds me a little of Rickie Lee Jones. She doesn’t use a pick and I wonder if her fingers hurt.

The Young Man Band glows as they deliver the Mennonite hymn, “I Bind My Heart This Tide,” with pristine harmony. It is lovely, with crossovers of chord and discord. The line, “Every day a dyin’ day,” stands out.

Ben Davis reverberates with guitar, xylophone, and drums, simultaneously! Quite a feat. He also sings harmony. Keyboardist, Rachel Ries, who opened the show tonight, has a wonderful aura about her, like polished marble. While singing harmony, she holds her left hand up and open, somewhat like Mary in Michelangelo’s Pieta. It’s as if the notes rest in that gesture. Noah Hahn, Anais’s husband, stands in the background, tall, lean, and handsome as a Rohan horseman. He plays a fretless, electric bass. She says he defretted it himself with a clam knife.

Anais moves while she sings, and shakes the guitar as if to get more notes out of it, like musical salt from a shaker. It always astounds me how some folks who are tiny in stature can have such immense presence. Ms. Mitchell is a petite little fireball, confident as Annie Oakley, taking aim with her guitar. Her presentation is interesting, the melodies are engaging and the harmonies gorgeous. All I can think of while she’s singing is that “she’s-so-original-she’s-so-original-she’s-so-original.” In fact, I write it in capital letters in my notebook.

She performs a couple of songs from her folk opera, Hadestown, based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The songs from this are beyond excellent. If this was the only thing she ever wrote it could stand on its own as her magnum opus. The original recordings feature the talents of Bon Iver singer, Justin Vernon, and Ani DiFranco, among others.

There is subtle beauty in her enthusiastic and free style. I am usually reluctant to compare anyone to Joni Mitchell because no one is as good as Joni Mitchell. But Anais Mitchell, (hmm, maybe the same last name is no coincidence!) writes lyrics as unusual as Joni Mitchell’s, and her melodies and chords are as unpredictable. She is earthy and spiritual, passionate, and present. I see her pour her all into each song, overflowing with warmth and prettiness. Her Young Man Band is wonderful and so is she. I see her growing to international stature as an artist in years to come. What an energizing concert!   (Kimmy Sophia Brown)

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