Live Reviews

Store 54, Allston, MA  5/30/14

The skies are spittin’ tonight outside the coolest second-hand store in Allston, run by Wayne Podworny… I mean Wayne Viens, no, make that Wayne Valdez. Anyway, Wayne steps up to the mic and gives a little history of Store 54 that includes naming the first musician to play there about 25 years ago—Roger Miller. Roger is the leader of Trinary System—a band that unfolded out of the piano/drum duo—Binary System. Adding one digit to the system replaces the piano with a modified Fender Strat in Roger’s hands, keeps steady drummer Larry Dersch, and adds a new face to the mix—P Andrew Willis on bass and extra voice.

The first song, “Misunderstanding the Time,” sets us up for how the Trinary System will deliver the math. First off, it’s loud and noisy, but not ear shattering. A jagged-edged distortion rings from the Strat (the biggest focus of the sound) while Roger sings into a Copperphone mic that automatically pinches the EQ. Andrew roots the sound with his Danelectro Longhorn bass, while Larry slices time into increments like a tide rolling in (he plays a vintage Sonor set with some logo letters blocked out to spell only NO—and his cymbals are flown low to keep him visible). On the third song, “Big Steam,” Roger sticks a kitchen fork through his strings on the fifth fret and slaps it to get an extended flapping of harmonics. I dig the high-end funky guitar action of “This House” in the verse in contrast to the heavy metal riffs in the chorus. They cover Mark Sandman’s “Like Swimming”—Larry played drums on Mark’s original recording. While Roger destroys what you know of guitar, Andrew activates an effect that treks us back to early Sci-fi-ville.  “Black Satin” has ridged chopped guitar rhythms and a solo played in one of those unidentifiable modes that Roger masters. Then he tops it off with tooting melodies out of an old cornet. Then it’s “HOV-1 Violator” (not “Fryolator”—though that would work too) with echo on a slide painting everything with crazy psychedelics until Larry breaks down the door with a heavy downbeat—then we’re off to the races with speedy riffs that seem to go where ever Roger’s fingers feels like running. They encore with Sid Barrett’s “Lucifer Sam” and the familiar phrase, “That cat’s something’ I can’t explain” has everyone in the joint rockin’ nostalgic. It breaks down to the point where Roger is done and Andrew’s sci-fi effects beep and bop as Larry dissolves the tide into a puddle, leaving Roger proudly smiling with the realization that this feels like a real band, not a solo project, that is headed into the future.

I look around the room at the many Boston rock notables and get quotes from as many as I can… Bill T. Miller: Bounced down off the wet streets of Allston Rock City into Wayne’s basement of lost nostalgia into a sonic delusion of Roger’s micro-dot dreams in sync with Larry’s pounding groovz with Andrew’s Longhorn bass while the crack in the wall taunted me to enter the vortex of dimension of T Max’s fabled land of pyramid excursions. Eric Van: Opener “Misunderstanding the Time” is a contender for Roger’s best non-Burma guitar song—a great way to start. “Living By Flashlight” is very Barrettesque. I wonder if Roger thinks so. Roger’s reply: “Never occurred to me but he’s always in the back of my mind.” Wayne Valdez: My fave part was when Roger was shredding and dipping into psychedelia.  Bob Colby: I’m fascinated looking at that tube-shaped microphone (the Copperphone).  Sheri Hausey: It’s exciting to see Roger doing noise on guitar (instead of the piano in Binary System) with different interplay with Larry. Greg Shea: Write it up as a smash. Roger shakes his nervousness and wows the crowd.  Debra McLaughlin: There are so many facets of Roger’s projects—look at the range from Alloy Orchestra, Mission of Burma, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Trinary System, composing for an orchestra, and a night of surrealist games.  Nick Moon: Songs so memorable that you swear you heard them before. And as far as the volume—it wasn’t terrible.

There you have it. Trinary System invades Store 54 and history rewinds to a new beginning.          (T Max)

Celebrating the Music of Jimi Hendrix
Larcom Theatre, Beverly, MA   4/26/14

If you haven’t ever been to the Larcom Theatre in Beverly to see a show, I suggest that you do as soon as possible. It is a beautifully restored theater that originally opened in 1912. The venue is bright and clean and the sound is tremendous. Everything about the theater is welcoming and pleasant.

Jon opens with the national anthem, rolls into “Spanish Castle Magic” and on to “The Wind Cries Mary.” A solid version of “Manic Depression” comes along next. It’s a fine version but I find myself missing Jimi’s manic guitar playing, as Jon favors a more refined style for this song. The band’s interpretation of “Little Wing” is fabulous, made even better by a bass solo which brings to mind Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days.” In my opinion, “Foxy Lady” is maybe the one misstep of the night. The cheesy, funked-up version they play is a little kitschy for my taste. They roll on through the set of classics clearly enjoying every moment—and they should. I can’t imagine what would be more fun than jamming through a set of Jimi Hendrix classics. And as an audience member—when would I ever get to see a band as accomplished as the Jon Butcher Axis take a swing at these tracks. I’ve spent a lifetime watching crappy bar bands destroy these songs. What a treat to see them given the respect that they deserve.  They absolutely rip through an hour and a half of Jimi Hendrix’s greatest hits. Jon’s reputation as a tremendous guitarist precedes him and he is more than up to the task of taking on the works of the most venerated guitarist in rock history.  “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Purple Haze,” Crosstown Traffic,” “Fire,” and “Wild Thing” close out the night with a bang.    (George Dow)

Record release party for Driven
Sculler’s Jazz Bar, Boston, MA   6/11/14

Although this gig is billed as a record release party, it is also a public lesson in guitar playing and making a four- piece band sound like the footsteps of Agamemnon. For the past few decades, starting with The Streets, then Hidden Secret, Hearts On Fire, and stints directing both Peter Wolf and Derek & The Dominos legend Bobby Whitlock’s bands: there is at least one thing you can expect and count on from Mr. A.’s guitar sound: his love for The Beatles and for Jimi Hendrix will be audibly evident and mixed with his own expertise, will enthrall and impress everyone with ears.

The set starts with long-time DJ legend Carter Alan announcing the show. Johnny mentions a bit later that Carter first started playing his music back in the late ’70s at WMBR; M.I.T’s great college station. He verbally appreciates that Carter continued this trend during his almost twenty years at WBCN and now continues it by his just airing the new release over the air at WZLX.

Johnny sits on a stool with four thin wooden feet and starts to play. The songs that mesmerize me and the audience tonight from his new release Driven are: “A Mask You Wear” with its great George Harrison-sounding slide guitar, his opener “Ghost,” “From A Dark Place,” “Out Of Nowhere” with more Harrison-like slide, “Gone… (Like A Sunset),” and “C’mon C’mon.” The stunning band includes second guitarist Greg Tawa, bassist Evan Coniglio, and drummer Marty Richards; and is phenomenal. Listen-ing to Greg’s beautiful chord’s and picking during the Fab Four’s “The Night Before” from Help is really cool, as are Richard’s crisp pounding and Evan’s thumping bass lines.  Johnny introduces the psychedelic “Yes It Is” as the B-side of “Ticket To Ride” and his use of effects like the wah-wah pedal, reverb, delay, and an occasional octave pedal are tasty and spellbinding. I also love how this hard driving group plays like a whisper behind Johnny during “Superstition,” which is much more Jeff Beck than Stevie Wonder, and “Get Inside” the title song of his second album, where he includes a few measures of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”  You don’t often hear great dynamics as part of a set these days. He throws in brief snippets of classic melodies a few times and the crowd goes nuts when he does his own “Jimi Jam” from One November Night and breaks into Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love.” What’s REALLY cool is how Johnny ends this cover with the opening six notes of Jimi’s “Star Spangled Banner,” and I’m left with a taste of “Ooooh Say Can You See…” in my mind as the amps get quiet and the tune terminates. Hearing The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” done by this guitar virtuoso is a real treat. My mind nearly explodes when right in the middle of a very jazzy version of The Allman Brothers’ “You Don’t Love Me” he does a few measures of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” and then goes right back into The Allman Brothers but with a Wes Montgomery slant.  About two hours and seventeen instrumentals  later, the festivity may be over but the stunning discourse remains; there are not many other guitarists alive who play with the same passion, creativity, and dexterity that Johnny does.  What a guitarist. What a band. What a night.  (A.J. Wachtel)

Right Turn, Arlington, MA   5/10/14

The inimitable Sal Baglio does a lot of fidgeting during these rare performances, where he gathers some of the premier talent of Boston to adorn his meticulously crafted pop songs. Away from his legendary Stompers, Mr. Baglio’s solo repertoire cannot be put on a shelf. And despite the single rehearsal he puts this night’s performers through, only Baglio can hear the stuff that bugs him. Such is the burden of perfection. This speaks to the heart of the great progressive songwriters of any dynamic musical age. That Mr. Baglio can somehow summon Sam Cooke, Brian Wilson, Ray Davies, and Ray Charles into the swirl of his influences and still arrive quickly before them at his own doorstep of invention is something joyous and alarming to behold. Joyous because the melodies possess a mystery of chords that beg for a hundred repeated listening’s; alarming because his songs awaken us from the slumber of sameness to which today’s generic pop music has so numbed us. But first…

The Right Turn in Arlington is an intimate place to hear such beautifully crafted and performed songs. It is more than a concert venue. As CEO and Founder Woody Geissmann says, “Anyone with a desire for artistic expression, recovery from substance dependence and the support of a kindred community will feel welcome here.” So people come here with their hearts full of something else other than fist pumping and recycled riffs.  It is with this spirit and generosity that Sal introduced Annie Keithline for a brief opening set.

Clearly nervous and unaccustomed to the stage, Ms. Keithline informed me, “The songs I’ve been playing recently I mostly wrote while walking from Massachusetts to Florida to California. I sometimes played for people who let me stay with them, if they asked. But mostly I just played by myself wherever I was.” With her nylon stringed guitalele and a whisper in her voice, she opened with “The Holy Mountain”:  “Do you wish to hear with me the songs of his sparrows / Do you wish to feel with me the bite of his arrows / In that place, way up high, / On the Holy Mountain.” Quiet in the extreme, the song was stunning. The melody was complex and gorgeous, exploring chord extensions and risking everything for the lyric. Two more songs, “Spring on the Delta” and “Living on the Interest,” completed a very short set, but left the impression of a bright, adventurous songwriter, a fellow traveller—literally and figuratively—and an interesting talent we should all hope to see again.

In contrast to Keithline’s fragile voice, Mr. Baglio’s incantations, the four part harmony, the grinding bass vile chords by Annie’s father, Jeff Keithline, and the heavy toms by drummer Jon Cohan, lifted Rolf Harris’s “Sunrise” as the gospel light that shone upon what would be a set of tunes special for those who have come to know this performer’s capacity to surprise. Sal Baglio (guitar and lead vocals) is also joined by the fabulous Bird Mancini— Billy Carl Mancini (guitar and vocals), Ruby Bird (accordion, melodica, harmonica, percussion, glockenspiel, and vocals), and the elegant Erica Rodney (vocals). As I said, though Baglio fidgeted, he and his band do not disappoint. The rest of Baglio’s set consists of ten stunning originals, most of them new, all of them sounding familiar by virtue of what makes good writing accessible: risk, wit, and mystery.

Song after song crackles with the crisp playing of the entire band. It is nice to see Billy Carl not have to play three guitar parts at once and instead supply the nuanced fills, leads and counterpoints that beautifully decorate Baglio’s songs, especially “Water Colours”—a glorious XTC-like pop ode to a heart-of-many-colors in love: “Some see art in a gallery/ Some on a motel wall/ Some believe in Jesus Christ/ Others in John and Paul/ She believes in a velvet kiss/ And the sun shines on us all/ I paint her in water colours/ Each day in the afternoon/ Apple, red, and yellow orange / Water colours sure look good on you.”

On “Butterfly Twins,” perhaps the night’s most sonically tempered song, Ruby Bird’s accordion, her vocals and those of Erica Rodney, combine with Baglio’s to make the solemnity of the words recall a more terrifying memory of beauty and innocence: “Do you remember when they were young and pretty/ The farm outside of town they called home/ In the hall/ The alcohol/ The pinning of pretty things/ And butterfly wings/ On the wall.”

This is the great thing about smart pop—it never lets you off the hook. And I’m not just talking about Sal’s penchant for writing catchy tunes. As Aristotle once said: “Spectacle without cerebration is candy floss.” Actually, I said that. But a tale of woe chasing a melody or three is often just the thing for you and me. Case in point is Baglio’s homage to Bill Haley—“Black Windows.” Apparently at the end of his days, when the clock struck twelve, Mr. Haley went insane and painted his windows to block out the world. While that’s not funny, what inspired Baglio to write this is the universal desire we all have to, on occasion, block out the windows. Yeah, I know, nobody will boogey to that.

Finally, the performance of “The Boy with the Amplifier Head,” from his box of lo-fi miniature song masterpieces, Memory Theatre, always tears me in two. As a teacher I had to intervene with the culture of bullying for my entire career, and no song captures the oddness of its cruelty better than this tune: “He was the kind of kid in the neighbor hood/ He was always told that he was no good/ And everybody let him know it/ When he went to school, you see/ The kids there would not let him be/ They would make him grovel and cry/ Everybody knows the Emperor’s got no clothes/ But nobody really wants to see/ The boy with the amplifier head/ Everybody thought that he was born that way/ When they shut him down/ He made that awful sound.”

Noisy or quiet, aggressive or restrained, Sal Baglio and his ensemble never deceive the melodies he writes, nor the delicate subject matter, which make these rare “solo” performances even more special. Baglio may fidget during these performance, but I’m certain a lot of us fidget for more.   (Ed Morneau)

The Lynn Auditorium, Lynn, MA   5/17/14

Rhode Island’s first family of rock, The Cowsills, are back in town at an oldies show and ironically enough have two next-generation members in their family band. Bob’s son Ryan is now on keys, and Paul’s son Brendan is on electric guitar. Welcoming two talented members of the next generation at an oldies show: I love it. Susan on acoustic guitar and vocals, along with Bob also on vocals and acoustic guitar, and Paul on vocals, are the last of the original siblings still in the group. They do their own hits “Hair,” “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “Indian Lake” (Paul introduced this tune saying “older brother Billy HATED this song until he heard that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys loved it; then he loved it too!” as the packed house laughed), “We Can Fly” and the TV theme for “Love American Style”; and their incredible five-part harmonies are just out of this world. On songs like CSN’s “Helplessly Hoping,” The Mamas and The Papas’ “Monday Monday,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” and even Paul singing lead on The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” (an inside joke the crowd appreciates. The Partridge family was based on The Cowsill family) their instinctual, always perfect harmonies make me think this group should be considered one of the Modern Wonders of the World. Powerful pounder Russ Broussard and bassist Mary Lassaigne  are the only band members without the last name Cowsill onstage in tonight’s seven-piece band. Susan’s “Just Believe It,” brother Bill’s Americana “Deliver Me” and Brother Barry’s “River Of Love” are all great original compositions that the crowd loves. It’s almost like The Cowsills are playing to a packed house of friends and relatives and this feeling adds to the good feeling during their show. Also in the oldies show is the non-local Jay & The Americans who are still a tight band and do a bunch of recognizable hits including “She Cried,” “Cara Mia” and “This Magic Moment” and the audience is singing along to all of their songs. The Brooklyn Bridge do a bunch of doo-wop classics including “Lonely Teardrops,” “16 Candles,” and The Platter’s “My Prayer” and I’m standing offstage loving it. All three bands are red hot and it’s cool to see a show like this every once in a while to keep my ears in perspective. Music from another era I am enjoying a lot in the present.              (A.J. Wachtel)

In A Pig’s Eye, Salem MA   5/23/14

I’m back at the Pig and here to do another group review—that means getting the audience to contribute to what I’m jotting down in my notebook. At 9:15 Frank Rowe, leader of the Classic Ruins, straps on a resonator guitar and approaches the mic. He holds one long vocal note, basically getting all 24 people in the room to realize the entertainment portion of the night has begun. The long note slips right into a song about a pub performance and how buying beer keeps the whole economy of the night rolling—all to the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The volume’s low on Frank’s voice and the natives are restless as the bubbly Marianne Palmer asks, “Where is Chuck Barris [The Gong Show]?” By the time Frank pushes the gain on the vocals, singin’ “Dogs begin to bark all over my neighborhood” from Jeff Beck’s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” the crowd starts settling in. After a suitcase song and one about a pet tarantula, Frank is ready to invite the other two thirds of Classic Ruins on to the stage to beef up the proceedings.

He switches to his cool-looking Epiphone Wildkat and “I Can’t Spell Romance” gets  the Ruins rolling. Immediately I get a clever response from the guy sitting behind me—who happens to be Bob Cenci (Jerry’s Kids)—who quips, “They could improve on that song if they tried to spell romance, and got it wrong.” He spells out, “WRO—MANCE.” My response is, “How ‘bout ROWE—MANZ?” In “Rocco’s Wake,” bassist Carl Biancucci turns up the heat with his explosive Jack Bruce-type fills hammering up and down the neck. Artist Sue Grillo plops herself in front of me and proclaims, “Carl is a bad ass mofo bass player.” Drummer Dave Kowalchek (The Time Beings/ Muscle Cah) is solely responsible for keeping the downbeat—his black wife-beater exposes a lot of tats. When Frank introduces a song by a great 1990’s songwriter, Bob Cenci perks up again, noting that Dylan’s “Highway 61” wasn’t written in the ’90s. Chalk that up to Frank’s sense of humor. George Hall (Kingsley Flood) scribbles out a whole paragraph on a napkin that reads—“Frank is the best kind of documentary songwriter. His secret weapon is brevity, a bone-dry New England wit, and a deep understanding of rock ’n’ roll fundamentals.” Classic Ruins run through Terry Brenner’s request for “He’s Got It,” “Slow Down,” and an instrumental version of The Beatles’ “Please Please Me.” Drummer Dave’s wife, Michelle, says with her Australian accent, “Nothing’s loud here and people will get up and dance.” She’s adds, “It’s purer.” The band cruises through the “Peter Gunn Theme,” The Beatles “Bad Boy,” and the well-suited Cream classic “I’m So Glad.” In the audience, harp player John Devine adds, “I love Frank’s songs. I was a big punk guy—he plays it well, with his own signature.” John’s wife, Peg, admits, “I’m a child of the ’70s and it’s not my genre, but I appreciate the diversity on Derby Street.”

With his 1960’s Fender Esquire strapped on, Frank starts the third set with a Lawrence Welk introduction. By now the patrons are wobbling, Sarah the bartender is cleaning up empties, and Marianne Palmer and Paula Worsley have been designated the official go-go girl dancers for the band. Frank tries to put one over on us when he brags, “Last time we played this, I got compliments on my vocals,” and the Ruins proceed with an instrumental. I’d still like to know if he writes the lyrics or the words first. The band goes for few sloppy seconds including another attempt at spelling romance, and then they finally do my favorite, “Geraldine.” I ask about the wacky time signature of the song and Frank says it’s in 16/16. The room starts thinnin’ (maybe spinnin’ too) as Paula leaves us with the last word—”My favorite bar, my favorite band.”      (T Max)

Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ, Brighton, MA   5/29/14

Dig no longer is a new wave artist and is now into Americana/folk/pop rock; and he puts on a great show. In a purple shirt and acoustic guitar, Digney leads his quartet through two seventy-five minute sets that showcase songs from all of his career; along with a few very well done covers. Backing him are Chris Leadbetter on harmonies, guitars, lap steel, and mandolin. Most of the song’s solos are done on mandolin by this virtuoso and this is different and very cool. Russell Lane on drums and  local legend Wolf Ginandes on bass.  Songs I really like tonight are: “Gone Little Sister,” and “Fallin’ For You” from his 2006 album Trouble on the Levee, “Never Mention My Name” and “No Worry For The Berry” from his 2008 album Talk of the Town, “High Heeled Shoes” from his 2011 album Last Planet on the Left and a ska-version of his ’80s Columbia Records mega-hit “Girl With The Curious Hand.” I also dig two new songs of his he introduces as “Margarita and Juan” and “She’s Good Lookin’ .” In both sets, he occasionally does a cover Digney Americana/folk style: “Fisherman’s Blues” by The Waterboys, Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and The Stones’ “Spider and the Fly.” A lot of fun tonight seeing Digney and his band.   (A.J. Wachtel)

RUBIN BETTSAK (Guillermo Sexo)/
LEESA COYNE (Naked on Roller Skates)/
ERIC WAXWOOD (Sugar Blood Jinx)
Bo & Rachel’s House Concert, Somerville, MA   6/8/14

I luckily spot this invite to a Sunday afternoon house concert in Medford—no it’s not Medford? It’s Somerville—who knows where the town lines are drawn? Edible treats are on the kitchen table and it’s a BYOB affair. Warm tones of red and orange soak the performance area where 12 members of the audience sit comfortably and more peek in via the kitchen—there’s a feeling of comfort and friendly excitement in the air.

Eric Waxwood (who plays every Sunday at the Independent with Sugar Blood Jinx) sits facing the audience with his metal resonator guitar with little F holes and knocks out some authentic old time Delta blues. He covers Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, and does one tune in Hokum Style (dirty and vulgar) called “Gimme Some Of.” Linda Viens asks out loud, “When is that from?” “1932,” Eric responds. He’s flashy and slippery with his own originals “Loose Like We Used to Do” and “Under Heavy Water.” Eric is a great player that can keep the excitement up—and I love his goat beard.

Kingdom of Love, the duo of Richard Lamphear and Linda Viens stand before their listeners and dish out cool interplay of vocal melodies, always mixing it up between unison, harmonies, octaves, and echoing lines. “Solitair” starts with the chords of “A Space Oddity,” then the two trade lines throughout, repeating the refrain “Don’t forget to Tell Me.” “My Lady Day” uses counter vocal melodies and then join together on the line, “Oh, don’t go away.” It’s a new modern type of folk rock that is friendly and easy on the ears.

Slant of Light fills the room next—they’re a three-piece with banjo, guitar, and standup bass, and most importantly they all sing. Tight three-part harmony fills the living room—and so does the standup bass. They play short songs that tend to end abruptly—showing that they’re well rehearsed. They cover Cake’s “Stickshifts and Saftybelts” with the funny chorus, “I need you to be here with me, not way over in a bucket seat.” The trio has a folk feel that mixes half the time with more of a Grateful Dead sound minus the jams. They display their 12” vinyl sleeve jacket as if it’s a drum head with a logo on it. “Business” (Mississippi Hurt) is the one that really catches my ear with it’s slap bass and interesting lyrics that grow out of “Ain’t no body’s business how my baby treats me.”

Leesa Coyne follows with her soulful vocals and a style that runs from folk to blues to acoustic rock. It’s her voice that really hold your attention—she’s in league with Adele—but Leesa carries an underground cred that would fit more in a pub with a bunch of drinkers getting rowdy. Leesa (a member of Naked on Roller Skates) asks some other members of the band to join her but they are instrument-less—and she can carry the show alone anyway. She picks up the entertainment by sharing a story of a recent breakup. Instead of going whacky on the guy, she put the energy into a song and got a real keeper with “F**king in Your Sheets.” That’s how she’s going to pay him back—and return his used sheets after she’s done.

The hosts of the day, Bo and Rachel Barringer, make up the next act that steps up the presentation. The Wrong Shapes incorporate an acoustic guitar, a cello (with loops), generated beats, and vocal effects, all adding up to a full band sound of modern rock from this good looking duo. Their first song “Right Man” ends with the cello purposely degenerating in sound quality, adding to the creative aspects already established. For “Gonna Be Right” the cello loops a bass pattern that the two can play off of. Bo’s low effected vocals on “I Put A Spell on You” add creepiness to a familiar witchy tune, that they’ve further mangled into a dark cha cha. I like. Rachel, frustrated with a pre-amp rips it out of her effects chain saying, “I’m taking this piece of crap out of the loop.” Bo responds, “It’s only $300.” They end with a punish refrain of “Alright alright” and Rachel displays a nifty little harmonic solo that loops into the mix. This duo is refreshing.

Rubin Bettsak of Guillermo Sexo plays solo next with a hard banging right hand on his  acoustic guitar that takes on many different open tunings. “Revolutionary Earthworm” came to him when he read a sign on an old building—but he read it wrong—it was Earthworks. Did I say this guy chops hard on his guitar? Most of his songs are filled with inventive chords that sometimes include droning bass strings. He sings deliberately and focuses the movement of his songs on that right hand rhythmic chop. He end with “Transformation”—one long drone of alternate tuned chords. I can see how the extra colors a band would provide would flush these songs out.

Last up for the day is photographer Mary Flatley on bass and Curtis Wyant on acoustic guitar. They call themselves Cat Sounds and sing some fun pop songs. The audience responds with lots of meowing.  This duet has a gentle sound reminiscent of the ’70s chart-topping band Bread. Mary’s bass is smooth and rhythmic and Curtis has a very gentle way of presenting his vocals. They mention that they usually have a trumpet, keys, and drums in the band—now that would totally transform what’s being displayed today. They end with a wonderful pop song called “I Love You” that has some super Paul McCartney quality melodies and harmonies.

This house concert added up to a quality Sunday of music and people.  (T Max)

The Beehive, The South End Boston, MA   5/22/14

The Beehive is a good example of what is happening on the local scene today. New clubs aren’t opening up much anymore because of high insurance costs, antiquated state blue laws, and angry neighbors. The new phenomena in the Boston scene is restaurants already armed with food and entertainment licenses are pushing tables back at 9pm, and inviting bands to help them increase their bottom line during this recession. The Beehive is a high-end restaurant bar in my South End neighborhood within walking distance of my house and I am looking forward to hearing this very talented R&B/blues band while I sit comfortably eating and drinking at a table. This is a great atmosphere to hear “Evil Gal” Michelle Willson, and seeing an after-dinner show makes me feel like I’m in Vegas waiting for the Rat Pack to appear onstage. Standing in front of two downstairs rooms filled with tables covered in white tablecloths and candlesticks, the band starts and I listen to two cool sets of Dinah Washington and Ruth Brown-inspired swing and jump blues. Guitarist Mike Mele, with his big hollow body jazz guitar, bassist Sven Larson, and local legend Seth Pappas on drums, back up Michelle’s awesome vocals. My foot can’t stop tapping along with Dinah’s “Fat Daddy,” “Fortune Cookie” the title track from their last live at Sculler’s CD, and “Hallelujah, I Love Him So,” a Ray Charles cover that shakes the roof. I also love when they do “Summertime,” the George and Ira Gershwin song from the opera Porgy and Bess. “It’s to kick off the Summer,” Michelle smiles at the audience. How many bands play music like this anymore? Not enough. Great music in a great place.   (A.J. Wachtel)

Crowell Chapel, Manchester MA   5/31/14

It’s hard to believe that last night I was enjoying a blasting noise fest in Allston and tonight I am in a chapel about to take in my first sample of kirtan—a peaceful but joyous call-and-response chanting of mantras and hymns. It is a major practice in Vaisnava devotionalism, Sikhism, the Sant traditions, and some forms of Buddhism. For a rock reference to this kind of music, see Kula Shaker, who had a number one British release in 1996 titled simply K—their song “Govinda” is sung totally in Sanskrit.

At the front of the chapel sits four performers. From left to right are Richard Davis (lead guitar), John de Kadt (percussion/voice), Brenda McMarrow (rhythm guitarist/ lead vocalist) and Irene Soléa (harmonizing vocals). Brenda sets a peaceful tone and John adds a short history of kirtan—how this form of playing and dancing our way to God spread all over India.  We start with a long “om” then it’s into the first chant that honors Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Abundance. The repetitive melody of Jai Ma (literal translation: victory) rolls on and on, building to a peak, then brakes down where John speaks, “In the end all that matters is how much we gave and how much we loved.” The piece ends gently and then to my surprise it’s as if a giant vacuum sucks all sound out of the room for a good minute—people fall into meditative state of blissful emptiness or abundance (depending on how you’d like to look at it). John puts his hand drums down and moves from his chair to the floor where an object sits before him that looks like the base of a legless upside-down round barbecue unit. It’s an inverted steel drum that he proceeds to play with a melodic flair. Another chant is repeated for eight to ten minutes and then it’s back to silence. These songs have an appeal similar to the endings of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” or “Hello Goodbye”—long and somewhat simple repetitive phrases that everyone can join in on easily and raise the overall effect of the music on the entire group. Brenda says she chants to get to the time of silence, then opens a direct channel to the divine, originally written in old German—”Om Namah Shivaya”—for another round. Irene Soléa, the harmonizing vocalist, has this beautiful way of expressing her singing with simple hand movements and a smile that can only come from someone totally at peace with themselves and the world in the moment. She sings lead in one verse in the Rumi poem “Oh Beloved.” Richard adds delicate guitar melodies when he is nodded to—this is not a rehearsed music—he has pages of notes on the floor to follow his way through the chants. This is the first sacred music event at the Crowell Chapel. Brenda is headed to India and Puru. They complete the evening with a lullaby to the divine mother—“Bliss Filled Mother,” a slow soft chant that John adds his warm gentle words to. Then it’s a big om in octaves and unison—and the final parting words… “I honor the place in you that holds the universe—namaste.” (T Max)

Club Passim, Cambridge, MA   6/01/14

Ezekiel’s Wheels is a Klezmer band and when I first hear them I start to grin widely. They are all first-rate musicians and they remind me right off the bat of Fiddler on the Roof music. Think “If I Were a Rich Man,” and then suddenly mid-song, the clarinet, two fiddles, upright bass, and trombone start going avant jazz for a bunch of measures and then go back to the original melody later in the song. Very interesting and a lot going on in terms of creativity and arrangements onstage right now. Nat Seelen on clarinet, Peter Fanelli on trombone, Kirsten Lamb on bass, and Abigale Reisman and Dr. Jon Cannon on violins play so well together even though in each song there are periods where they are all going off in their own directions! They sound like The Klezmatics and I laugh out loud when I hear them start to do Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and later Britney’s “Crazy.” Their originals “Moldovan Wedding,” from their 2012 EP and “Honga” from last year’s CD Transported are also very good and creative.

Alba’s Edge draws mainly from Scottish and Irish traditional music with all-original, layered arrangements using jazz, latin, and funk influences. In other words—original jazz with folk sensibilities merged with traditional Celtic melodies. Neil Pearlman is on piano, Lilly Pearlman on fiddle, Charles Berthoud on bass, and Jacob Cole on drums.  Neil’s “The Sordid Life of Scientists,” “Blue Graze,” and the opening song “For Grada” are the names of a few of their original parts incorporated into the traditional tunes. I’m having a blast in Harvard Square listening to the creativity of a bunch of young artists and I remind myself how great our diversified music scene really is.    (A.J. Wachtel)

The Cavern, Plymouth, MA   6/14/14

According to Mapquest, I walk 1,536 miles tonight, even though in reality it’s only three blocks. I double check, because I think I somehow ended up at DBA on Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, but in reality I am in downtown Plymouth at one of my favorite hangs, The Cavern, where I’m about to immerse myself in the N’awlins funk and R&B of HDRNB, aka The Henley Douglas Rhythm & Blues Band.

If you’ve seen and heard these guys play, then you already know what kind of night I going to have. They are about as good as it gets when you want some down and dirty Pontchartrain funk. The band features the smooth but in-your-face vocals of Douglas Gimbel and funk sax hero Henley Douglas, as the more than capable frontmen, with a rhythm section that would have made Stax Records proud—Dave Walker on bass and John Iltis behind the kit. The guitar duties are left up to Charlie O’Neal and Eric Reardon who trade off leads and rhythms on more than one occasion while bringing the songs to atmospheric levels. Squantch on trombone adds the final touch of N’awlins seasoning. If you ever get the hankerin’ to visit southwest Louisiana but are stuck locally, find this band and make haste to a watering hole near you, and while you’re at it, grab an Abita or two! (Mark Bryant)

Sweetree Ink, Watertown, MA   6/7/14

Tonight I’m off to the Spring Spectrum Art closing party, an art exhibit/rock show at Sweetree Ink in Watertown, the gallery/studio of partners Dave Tree and Tyler Sweet. The place is adorned from ceiling to floor with artwork of all kinds. One wall is covered with original silk screen T-shirts—Dave’s forte. Pacing the floor is Luche, a white Siberian husky, who is getting attention from everyone she passes. As I make my way through the somewhat narrow confines of the room, free Pabst Blue Ribbon is flowing and people gather around the exhibits. It’s always good to see artist Alvan Long in attendance.

Besides the aformentioned Dave Tree, tonight’s party features four young female artists—two are in bands that will perform. The first artist I speak to, Antonia Villa, works with fractals. She explains it’s mixed media work that has to do with the interaction between surfaces. For a more detailed explanation you can look her up on the web. The work is very textural and I want to touch it. Two very large matching pieces dominate her exhibit.

Katie Baker’s work seems almost familiar to me. She creates dimensional art as well, although its imagery and found pieces are more earthly than Antonia’s. There is a picture frame with a painting inside, and then objects in front of the painting flowing out and onto, or perhaps into the frame, defying the purpose of the frame itself. Katie Baker’s home page is on Twitter under snappybakes. Seeing a gallery with all this work can cause you to reconsider some of your own limitations.

When I walk into the studio there are hundreds of small pieces of cardboard hung from the ceiling throughout the room. This is artist Jessica Jarva’s exhibit. Upon a closer look they are miniature works of art. They hang from above because there is art on each side. Jessica says each two-sided piece is done on a separate day, and each is dated. They are very intricate, small, and detailed. I think of how many places around the house it would be cool to have one hanging. Jessica Jarva can be found on

I was already familiar with and enamored of Katie Coriander’s paintings before attending tonight show. I had met her once at Curve of the Earth with her drawings. Katie works in bright, basic colors for the large part, and her painting sketches are often symbolic. I like them. She paints things that are personal to her, or what is right in front of her, such as a box of mac and cheese that has wonderful colors in it. Katie borrows her philosophy from the old adage D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself)—she calls it D.I.A. (Do It Anyway). Can’t play guitar, paint a picture, or write a song? Do it anyway! No one likes your music, your band, your drawings? Do it anyway! I love this concept. I’m adopting it.  Much of her work can be seen on Facebook under thisluckybrush.

It’s time for the first band, Jarva Land, to go on. It features the young blonde artist Jessica Jarva who wears a jacket and tie, louvre glasses, and a painter’s hat emboldened with the F word. She looks like a cross between Deborah Harry and Marilyn Monroe. This works to her advantage as she cries out the stream-of-consciousness lyrics of her songs. Swinging around an imitation red Stratocaster, at times the music sounds like Velvet Underground, although it defies conventional form. Suddenly Dave Tree dims the lights and Jarva explodes with emotion in her performance, charging the audience with reaction. Jarva seems to write what she feels without filtering it through any particular song process. Find the music on Band Camp under jarvalandandco.

After a short intermission it’s time for Earth Heart, Katie Coriander’s band. Keep in mind that in both cases the bands consist of two people—the artists on guitar and vocals, and a drummer (Travis Long and John Glancy, respectively) playing a custom trap kit that consists of an eight-inch snare drum, a paint can, a tambourine, and a trap case.

The slender Katie hangs an infamous 1964 Fender Jaguar around her shoulder and begins by having Dave Tree sing a couple. Soon she on to her own rather pensive and brooding song. It is clear that she is a more experienced guitarist than Jessica, and the songs have more conventional form. She smiles while talking and introducing songs to the audience. A tune about the NSA has many pogoing in place. She’s feeling it, as are the spectators, then suddenly folds down to her knees, her white skirt billows around her as she jams out on the Jag.  Her music reminds me at many times of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Katie is expressive, even taunting, working her eyes and smile to drive the song into the audience. Earth Heart can be heard on Band Camp under earthheart1.     (Joey Ammo)

PEN New England Song Lyrics Award for Literary Excellence
JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA   6/2/14

On a beautiful Monday afternoon in June I decide to fight my way through cross town traffic to see Randy Newman and Kris Kristofferson receive the PEN New England Song Lyrics Award for Literary Excellence at the JFK Presidential Library.  After waiting in line for about an hour my singer/songwriter friend Craig Carter and enter the hall and sit behind the velvet rope.  The first several rows are reserved for people with nicer clothes and hairstyles than us.  We notice actor Chris Cooper sitting a few chairs away.

Elvis Costello is the funny and well-spoken master of ceremonies.  He introduces T Bone Burnett who speaks reverentially and a little teary eyed about Kristofferson.  Then Elvis, with his little Guild acoustic guitar in hand, and Roseanne Cash perform Kristofferson’s “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” followed by a slightly shaky Kris on his well-worn gem “Me and Bobby McGee.”  The audience is riveted and clearly touched.

Next up is long-time New Orleans session guy, pianist, and songwriter Allen Toussaint in his psychedelic blazer and white afro to perform Randy Newman’s classic “Louisiana 1927.”  Randy Newman is blown away by this performance and mentions that he could never play those kind of elaborate, embellished chords.  Newman then takes to the piano but has trouble adjusting his mic stand.  He requests that a “gentile” come fix it but no one shows up. I overhear a sound tech guy say “We’re all Jewish here!”  Randy stops several times in the middle of his rendition of “The World Isn’t Fair.”  Seems he forgot the chords to his own song.  It doesn’t matter—the audience is spellbound.

Boston rocker Peter Wolf reads letters and emails from the likes of James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and John Prine, all singing their praises for Mr. Newman’s abilities.

I run into several local Boston singer/songwriters as I head for the door, including Susan Cattaneo, Thea Hopkins, and Michael Borkson.  We all agree that it was fun to sit in the same room and breath the same air as the big boys.  It all had the feel of an elaborate open mic coffeehouse gig… no pretense and lots of talent.    (Billy Carl Mancini)

We get a lot of calls and emails from bands requesting coverage of their live shows. Please be advised that shows are never assigned for review. Noise writers cover what they choose to attend. It’s logistically impossible for us to honor these requests. The Noise has its ears close to the ground in Greater Boston. If you’re doing something even remotely exceptional, we’ll be the first to tell the world.


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