I met this character named Jim Trick when I played a Beatles Benefit where each performer did one or two songs, and I made a mental note to check him out when I could see his whole set. So, what happens on the day off Jim’s show—I end up running late, and miss his first two songs. To make up for the songs I missed, I’ll tell you what happened at the Beatles Benefit. This guy Jim Trick appears to be pretty cocky at soundcheck, telling the sound guy that it doesn’t really matter what it sounds like. What kind of performer would say that? Later on when it comes his time to play, he steps right passed the mic and immediately leaves the stage… down the center isle into the audience, singing a cool adaptation of “All You Need is Love.” He is in everyone’s face, getting them to sing along and he’s singing directly to each individual, moving around the room to make sure his message reaches everyone. His kind, open spirit makes it work. Pretty ballsy performance—his romp off the stage with an acoustic guitar was obviously why he didn’t need a soundcheck. Back to Friday, 3/28, where Jim is dressed in a dark suit with pale green shirt, and tie. His eye glasses are almost a prop, in the way Elvis Costello first appeared, stealing a bit of that Buddy Holley look, but on Jim it’s different. He sings about loving people who are hard to love in “Truth About Vernon.” Then jovially talks to the audience and mentions finding his apartment in Marblehead. He says God wanted him to live there… he (God) called the previous dwellers and told them to offer the place to Jim when they moved out. At the end of the next tune, “Long Road,” the whole audience harmonizes on one word—”love.” He end with a touching song about a relationship between a son and his dad. Jim Trick is sensitive and open with his communication, and the audience responds by raising to their feet with applauds. He has touched the hearts of many.
Tonight, Jim is opening for Susan Werner from Chicago, so because of The Noise’s focus on New England-artist-only, I can’t review her, but I will say she’s the most entertaining act I’ve seen so far this year (and I go out a lot). At the end of her set she has Jim Trick join her to perform the Police’s “Message in a Bottle,” and the audience is really digging the heartfelt performance. On the line “one hundred million castaways,” Jim points to the audience to let them know that they are the castaways, and then points a big circle around his own head—showing he’s also one of those castaways—all of who are sending an SOS to the world. The combination of Jim and Susan on the same bill is brilliant. Both extremely real people, who’ve mastered how to personally communicate with an audience. (T Max)
GUNS OF BRIGHTON
CD Release Maddy’s Lounge,
Saugus MA 4/5/14
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to spend a Saturday night on Route 1 in Saugus next door to the miniature golf place with the big orange dinosaur! This is what it’s come to with Rosebud, Radio and Precinct dropping out of the live music biz and T.T.’s and Middle East betraying us to the disco/dance crowd. Sigh. Maddy’s Lounge sure is a strange venue for a CD release show, but what’cha gonna do?
Guns of Brighton are a pretty decent punk rock band of the Clash/Rancid variety with a dash of Green Day to loosen it up a little. I can’t form much of an opinion of them, though. As they’re playing out here in the boonies to an audience of (presumably) yokels who just want to hear familiar material, the band sticks to a vast number of cover selections: Hard rock hits from AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Sabbath, Nirvana, Motorhead, etc. Wedged in between this junk are Guns’ own punk originals (“Waiting on Salvation” is the only title I heard), which are quite nice. I’d like to catch this band again under better circumstance so I could get a more fair idea of what they’re really all about. (Frank Strom)
Middle East Upstairs,
Cambridge MA 4/4/14
The combined frustration and rage over gentrification in the Boston and Cambridge vicinity is being channeled through the heavy music and lyrics of the Dot Rats. Unleashing their opinions with this much hardcore force of will connects the raw facts with the raw emotions. Mark Doherty and Tony Bangs are deadly in their sincerity, marching about the stage like unfinished business, reciting dark verses about the invasion of unearned money, disrespectful people and ideas into the city. The audience empathizes, becoming a threshing tangle of aggressive movements, the heaviness driving them. But the physical energy on the stage soon outpaces even the human Cuisinart of flailing limbs upon the dance floor. Tim, Eric and Alex are working hard to keep something dying in the city alive and vital, their instruments dark conduits for disenfranchised sentiments. THIS is what the strength of Boston sounds like. THIS is what is in danger of being lost—the true character, muscle and sinew of Boston, succinctly stated through well crafted chords, meticulous bass lines and precise drumming. Here lives the attitude behind the generations of characters who forged this city from swamp mud to shining glass and steel. The Dot Rats are putting the same craftsmanship into their discharge, commanding the respect of the room by earning the day’s pay. The pit reacts–surging, sweating, spinning, driving the unyielding force upon the stage. Then, like a steel toed boot making contact with porcelain, the power of the room’s combined effort cracks and the Dot Rat’s set comes to a cement wall end. Another day’s work is over, but their job is far from done. (Joe Hacking)
Blue Ocean Music Hall,
Salisbury MA 4/11/14
As soon as I walk in there’s Martin Sexton’s merch table to the left and wow—the guy has eleven CDs, two vinyl 12” records, two T-shirts, cellphone covers, stickers, and more. The concert room is impressive room with about thirty tables and a wide ocean view. With Bill Winn at the sound board, I come to expect only the best in sound. I get seated at my little table and order some raw veggies and hummus. Two nice looking women sit down at the table in front of me. I tell them I’m writing a review of the show because I want to use them as my reference to the audience. They are Kim (brunette) and Sharon (blonde) from Hampton, MA.
The show starts when the four-piece acoustic band, Brothers McCann, takes the stage and fills the room with a slow drone, accented with exceptional three-part harmony. The band consists of the brothers Pat and Mike McCann (keys and guitar), Erik White (guitar), and Lawrence Scudder (violin) and they are well rehearsed and tight. Their style isn’t easy to pigeonhole as it dances around folk rock but never seems to land there. The bouncing “Invisible Sling” is from their spankin’ new CD Days of Ease, as is “In the Mood,” a modern folk ballad about skipping work. Pat jokes about the “poke” no longer being on Facebook, then sings “Each second I am living for this day.” When he holds out an especially long note Kim starts hooting’. In the next song Pat plays a black melodica and my audience gals both look to me for the answer to what was he was playing? The Brothers McCann start hyping up Martin and encourage more hoots. The band has a tendency to lay back, until Mike gets a little vocally aggressive in “Crown”—their “oopsie” tune about messin’ up. They end with their country-flavored “hopeful sinner’s anthem” about greeting St. Peter with a smile at the gates of heaven. Both my audience gals at this point are busy cellphone messaging.
During the break the gals invite me to join them at their table. They’re interested in this thing called The Noise. They’re drinking white wine and I’m sipping water. Sharon (the blonde) is the big Martin Sexton fan who’s brought Kim (the brunette) to check him out.
Martin appears on the stage and rolls right into “America,” which I learn is his trademark opener. The sound of his guitar is quite remarkable. The low end is so rich, that when he taps the guitar, it sounds like a bass drum. When he slaps the higher side of it, it rings like a snare. Combine this with his oral beat-box and you have one BIG sounding drum set that he can turn on at any given moment. He dedicates the next song to people who have given up their corporate jobs to be organic shellfishermen, or the like. Make note that Noise writer Kevin Finn falls into this category. Martin’s guitar can really bounce with that low-end thump keeping the beat. He shouts, “Everybody good!” and the crowd roars affirmatively. “Diggin’ Me Diggin’ You” is dedicated to everyone on a first date, and I’m temped to say something to my new friends, but that would be stretchin’ it. He ads an oral trumpet solo to the song—and the sound is exceptionally right on. Then Martin says of the opening act, “Those guys do not suck,” Kim turns to me and says, “Write that down.” I smile. He sings what he calls his chicken dinner song because it includes breasts and thighs. Sharon turns to me now, and says, “He is fun” followed by, “Write that down.” I smile again. I think he’s more than fun—he’s gracefully talented and has the whole audience in his hand. John Mayer has said, “Martin Sexton is the best live performer I’ve ever seen,” if you need someone else’s opinion. He moves me personally when he does the song, “Friends Again,” written to celebrate the fixing his broken relationship with his son. I’m tempted to talk to Martin after the show about detailed tips on the subject. Sharon breaks me out of my self-absorbed thought when she asks, “Does anyone go skinny dipping anymore?” I’m not sure where that thought came from, but I don’t think it’s an invitation. Back to Martin who shows he can be a bluesy master of dynamics—and offers another oral solo that sounds like an instrument that hasn’t been invented yet. He tips his hat to Led Zeppelin and asks the vocalists of Brothers McCann to join him with an operatic background. A twisted take on Zep, if I’ve ever heard one. He continues with a nun song, a tune derived from a Lisa Lobe tape, covers of Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles,” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” The crowd is revved up when Martin leaves the stage and there’s no way he’s getting out of the building alive if he doesn’t come back for an encore. He does, and includes Brothers McCann in “Black Sheep,” and rolls it into “This Little Light of Mine” and “Amazing Grace” with a frenetic gospel feel to get everyone up on their feet. Hey—I had a great night and I comment to soundman Bill Winn about that amazing full guitar sound. I go home agreeing with John Mayer’s statement, and think good thoughts about the friendly blonde and brunette company. (T Max)
WET DRESS/ UNSTRAIGHT
The Cantab, Cambridge MA 3/29/14
While winter is finally over and the natives are free to venture forth for some live music, tonight’s torrential downpour sure is a deterrent. But I must check out Unstraight—former Furiousity frontwoman Madeleine Ashley’s new band! From the size of the crowd, it’s obvious I’m not the only one so determined. Actually, it’s clear Unstraight has already amassed a following after just a few shows. It’s also clear that I’m not the target audience, as their chosen musical styling is Alt-Rock. Probably 1990s or 2000s variety (Not a clue). Probably influenced by somebody like The Pixies or Salem 66 (No idea). However, there’s an obvious conviction/belief in what they’re doing, and that makes it appealing to me. Also some good songs help—“Hooks” and “Clarity” are the ones I like best, as they allow Madeleine to really wail on the vocals. Terrific voice! Seems like a short set, so that’s gotta mean Unstraight is doing something right.
Wet Dress is a minimalist/primitive two-piece (just guitar and drums) from New Hampshire. Their website describes them as “anarcho feminist queer garage punk,” someone in the audience here says “Velvet Underground,” but they make me think of The Konks, in that they’re raising a helluva racket from such few instruments! True rock ’n’ roll, pal! I’m a sucker for minimalism and this band makes deft use of it. I could see them fitting in nicely on a bill with like-minded favorite Triple Thick. (Frank Strom)
ANNALIVIA/ ARI & MIA
Shalin Liu, Rockport MA 4/6/14
Billed as an evening of Roots Americana—I’m starting to think this newest of music genres is becoming as expansive as the term rock ’n’ roll. Before the show starts, I run into Geoff and Celene, who book the popular Old Sloop Coffeehouse that’s located right across the street. They do a lot of scouting, as I run into them at almost every show I attend.
First up is Ari & Mia, two attractive and super talented sisters, both Boston Conservatory graduates. They have the Atlantic Ocean as their backdrop with the back curtain of Shalin Liu open. Mia asks if the duo can play turned around so they can possibly see a dolphin during their show. Ari twists her head questionably, “A dolphin?” It’s sisterly moments like this that sprinkle throughout the set. Ari is a virtuosic cellist with wild long dark curls, while Mia sits on a higher stool and plays guitar, banjo, and violin (not all at once) with expertise—their harmonies blend in a way that only sibling voices can. Their songs have depth both musically and lyrically—”He’s Just Keeping My Heart Warm” is my favorite of the day. Besides filling the air with lovely sounds, the two are really fun to watch—Mia has this cool little bounce to her (almost like a marionette) and Ari could be a wild fashion model. They end with “Dusk,” a song Mia wrote in a cross-artist project. The song is based on a photo, and the photographer’s job was to take a shot to represent one of Mia’s songs. I make a note to pick up their new CD, Land on Shore, before I leave.
After the coffee/wine break upstairs on the third floor, where you can walk right up to the large windows that show off Rockport’s Front Beach and the Atlantic Ocean, the next act, Annalivia, is ready to go. They are a folk trio with Liz Simmons (guitar/ lead vocals), Flynn Cohen (guitar/ mandolin/ vocals), and Emerald Rae (fiddle/ vocals). Liz starts off by saying we’re going to sing you a murder ballad before the sun sets. The beautiful background does add to the sweet sounds these three deliver, and as an added bonus a seagull flies by. Still, no dolphins. Liz, who pleasantly runs the show, is a pleasure to watch and listen to. She wrote “Where We Are Bound” with an old friend before the days of hand-held devices. Their three-part harmony rings as clear as the sky behind them, and when they play the next instrumental medley the fire starts to ignite in both Emerald’s fiddle and Flynn’s guitar. They do a string of hard luck, bad relationship, and down devious songs, but the just the mention of winter being over draws a large round of applauds. Near the end of their set, Ari & Mia are welcomed back on stage in to fill out the sounds of another instrumental with fiddles flying. The two groups end the night knocking out the 18th century folk song, “Shady Grove.” When they’re done it’s a mob scene with people buying their signed CDs. I’ve got mine. (T Max)
Live soundtrack for
Phantom of the Opera 4/12/14
Cape Ann Cinema, Gloucester MA
I’ve seen Alloy Orchestra play live soundtracks for many silent films and it’s always an uplifting experience. Tonight’s film is the original 1925 Phantom of the Opera starring the man of 1,000 face, Lon Chaney Sr. The sound of a big pipe organ played on Roger Miller’s synth starts things off as the opening credits roll. Ken Winokur (percussion/ clarinet) and Terry Donahue (percussion/ accordion/ musical saw) wait attentively ready for the upcoming action to build. One of the first shots of the opera house stairway looks amazingly like a scene in Gatsby, only that was done with a whole lot of computer generated imagery. Think about what they had to work with 89 years ago. And here in 2014 the band may have a modern synth, but there is also a wall of junk to just bang. I’ve seen this 12-feet long by 6.5-feet high percussion rack before and notice that the bedpan is missing. Ken, who also wears the hat of group’s director, later tells me the bedpan has a specific sound necessary for some films but not the Phantom. This is a colorized print that generally tints most sections, but there are four scenes that have been tediously hand painted (with a two hair brush) by Helene Bromberg in Paris. Besides the deep bass drum to rumble up some moments of horror, they have sheets of metal that can be bowed to create the scariest screech you’ve ever heard. The exaggerated acting in the silent film can be almost humorous at times, but it’s best to roll with the emotions they’re portraying to get into the feel of the story. The Phantom is truly hideous and tries to win the love of Christine, the opera singer, by threatening harm to Erik, the man she loves. The scene of the Phantom hiding/ease-dropping on the top of a building with the wind wildly blowing his cape is dramatically pushed by the thunderous drums played by both Ken and Terry. The pounding continues while the whole town rushes to find the Phantom, who has kidnapped Christine and killed a stage hand. Lon Chaney puts on a horrific act when showing his evil side and running from the massive crowd that’s out to get him. When he’s caught, they beat him and throw a dummy (props weren’t so life-like back then) into the channel that runs under the opera house. The film end abruptly, but the overall essence is cool. The music is outstanding. And if you want more proof, the late film critic Roger Ebert has called Alloy Orhestra “the best in the world at accompany silent films.” (T Max)
GRACIE CURRAN &
THE HIGH FALUTIN’ BAND/ LYDIA WARREN
Beverly MA 4/5/14
FUN BUCKET/ GREG HAWKS/ STEVE CARAWAY
Gloucester MA 4/5/14
On this beautiful Saturday afternoon I head over to the Dog Bar for a private birthday party for David Robinson, drummer of The Cars. People from all over show up; Richie Parson, recently back from recording in France, John Felice and Jimmy Birmingham of The Real Kids, Miss Lyn—the female half of Boston Groupie News, and Eric Law—the Boston guy who sees more music performances than anyone (and he documents it). Now while everyone is out on the sunny porch with a nice spread put out by owner Andy Mulholland, I hear live music ruminating from within. It’s Steve Caraway on his trusty 12-string acoustic. Steve is a master songwriter who specializes in wide range moving melodies and thoughtful lyrics that have made their way into my memory bank. He recently finished recording his new CD and is itching to get it out to the public. He plays for about 15 minutes before the crowd catches on and comes inside. Next Greg Hawks (The Cars) sets up his keyboards to entertain those… oh wait—there are no keyboards here. He’s got his ukulele in hand and wishes David a happy birthday, then launches into his light-wight, almost comical versions of big hits by The Cars. He gets everyone singing along to “Just What I Needed,” as more stars brighten up the room (Henri Smith—the current Noise Big Shot, the ever-present Godfather of more than punk, Willie Alexander, and the owner of the iconic Rathskellar—Jim Herold). It’s time for Fun Bucket! They are a wild three-piece group with a guitarist, Mike “Mr. Bogus” McMahon, who isn’t shy about shining. Along with drummer Greg Dann and Steve Caraway, now on bass guitar, this band grooves with a wallop. Their volume is too much for my already damaged ears, so I take off to prepare for my next musical destination.
I head over to Beverly’s Larcom Theatre (built the same year as Fenway Park—1912). I run into master sound technician Bill Winn and he tells me the theatre has improved its sound system, but they still need to do more.
We’ve got a blues show about to begin and Lydia Warren is the first act. I’ve seen her in before in a much smaller venue with Dave Saggs band backing her up and I was kind of blown away. Tonight she’s limited to bass and drums behind her, so it’s a really stripped down sound—no other guitar to play off, and zero extra vocals. White light hits her hard, and any visual mystery of this woman in a short, sleeveless, leopard print dress is washed away. It’s up to her to make this show sound good. She makes very note from her silver Strat count. By the third song she gets a break with the lighting when she’s bathed in red light, making “Straight to My Heart” work on more than one level. She shares with us that she’s not feeling well tonight and one loud customer lets her know, “You look good!” And she does, with her long brown hair with bangs that nicely frame her pretty face. I’m sure she’d rather people remember her music, and she keeps pushin’ to make that happen. Lydia uses no pedals to enhance her sound, just what comes out of the box—a little amp distortion and a dab of reverb. The dynamics come way down on a silky version of “You Shook Me” where she steps aways from her mic to address the audience directly using the ample acoustics of the room. She strolls from one side of the stage to the other with hoots accenting her every step. Then she whacks us, jacking the volume up on her six-string for a Jimmy Page-like solo. A steady bass drum thump backs her goodbye words before she launches into “Turn it Up,” a rocker that brings half the audience to its feet, pleading for more.
Next, seven-pieces line the stage that make up the High Falutin’ Band—double saxes, trumpet, keys, bass, drums, and guitar. While they’re getting into a blues rhythm, out bounds Gracie Curran, throwin’ her hands up in the air like she’s part of a raving gospel choir. She’s full of expressions and energy with her pointing and shaking. She’s excited because this is the first time she’s got the whole band together that recorded her latest CD. She’s also going to the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, as she is a nominee. Then the band appropriately rolls into “Been All Over.” Gracie bought new pantyhose earlier today but they’re already running. That’s what happens when you run around a stage with no shoes on. During “Can’t Get It” she flirts with a guy in the balcony who is threatening to jump to be by her side. And she keeps encouraging him! When the group end the set there is a lot of noise (chair banging, and stomping) until the band returns with just bass and drums, and dim lights on Gracie. It’s a sweet dreamy number that moves on to warbling wah wah, floating keys, and a crazy trumpet solo accented with balls of light flying ‘cross the room. Lydia Warren comes back out to rejoin the show for the second encore. Her hair is up and has a light scarf around her neck. Physically she can’t compete with Gracie’s energy—but does her best, taking the back seat vocals on “Got My Mojo Workin’.” Then Lydia belts out an Etta James song in jump jazz style. This extended encore finally comes to a close with a slow bluesy ballad in the vein of Otis Redding, “When Push Comes to Shove.” A full standing ovation sends everyone home happily. The Larcom continues to build a good reputation for its rockin’ presentations. (T Max)