THE JON BUTCHER AXIS (CD release)/
Larcom Theatre, Beverly, MA
I arrive at the Larcom minutes before the show and see that the wall of Marshall amps on the stage is ready to go. Larcom owner David Bull and presenter/promoter Peter Van Ness welcome the excited audience to an evening dedicated to the music of Jimi Hendrix. Before we enter the time capsule to the late ’60s, Evan Goodrow and stand-up bassist Mark Zaleski warm up the crowd with an acoustic opening set. Evan, on guitar, is a high-energy, good looking guy. He mixes originals with some covers that he puts his own twist on. He takes Peter Gabriel’s “In the Air Tonight” and changes it just enough to make me think twice before I figure it out, and his nimble fingers add a cool acoustic guitar solo. He smartly mixes in some slower tempo songs, “Airplane” and “Hearts,” to ease the hyper feel of his expressive playing. He admits to uncharacteristically ending his set with a cover of Tears For Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” By now, the audience is thoroughly warmed up and ready to go.
Playing the music of Jimi Hendrix is no easy feat. I have first hand experience of the world’s most innovative electric guitarist and know there are not many guitarists who could come close to cloning his presence. Jon Butcher comes with all the credentials of a great guitarist and, up until this year, has avoided the comparisons to the late great guitar hero. I should note that Jon does not intend to continue these Hendrix music celebrations. As the band enters the stage, a recording of Hendrix’s lesser known playing of “My Country Tis of Thee” blares through the speakers as if to announce an American event about to take place. Then live sound fills the theatre with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band,” the way Hendrix did the song on the release date of The Beatles’ most famous album. But it’s just a short teaser and they’ve crossed into “Them Change,” a song that Buddy Miles wrote and sang for the Band of Gypsys. After it, Jon greets the audience and states: “We’re going to visit my hero, Jimi Hendrix, and do some Jon Butcher Axis.” From there, it’s a dynamic string of songs that we’re all familiar with: “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Are You Experienced,” “Machine Gun,” and “Wind Cries Mary.” Though the vocals may have a more conscious delivery than the master versions, Jon and band capture a majority of details to keep the fans beaming. In “Manic Depression,” drummer John Anthony excels with the bouncy rock/jazz beat as Jon Butcher freezes the classic one-arm up Hendrix pose and switches the Strat pick-up selector back and forth at the fade of the song—he’s done his homework. “Up From the Skys” sounds a bit jazzier and the Butcher-written “Wishes” and “Kiss the Sky” have as many Hendrixisms in them as Hendrix originals. This is no accident since Jon was writing for (and acting in) the feature film, Kiss the Sky, that is in production. In the middle of “If 6 was 9,” Chris Martin takes a deserved spotlight with an extended bass solo. Mr. Butcher exits the stage and re-turns with a freshly tuned white Strat to fire up the crowd with the classic “Foxy Lady.” From all the whammy bar use, the guitar lasts one song and is replaced by a finely tuned sunburst Strat that is needed for Hendrix’s most beautiful tune, “Little Wing.” Keeping true to our ears, the simple bells that accent each chord change in the original recording are mimicked by keyboardist Bill Rosenthal, who stays out of the spotlight but adds those very important parts that would easily be missed. Segueing from the beautiful “Little Wing” melody, the song transforms into a drum solo by John Anthony. John has a massive, well-tuned set and is hot with his double bass drum pedal. Mid-solo, he gets the audience to supply a clapping quarter beat as he goes John Bonham on us, replacing his sticks with the slap of his hands. He makes a real show of it. “Voodoo Child,” “Purple Haze,” and “Wild Thing” bring the Hendrix show to a head. The audience showers the band with cheers and cries for more. Of course, The Jon Butcher Axis deliver the extra goods with “Red House” and “Fire” that culminates in one of those endings we expect in a large rock arena. Bravo. In the words of Jimi Hendrix—”Have you ever been experienced?/ Well, I have.” (T Max)
Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA
Having immediately sold out two shows at Club Passim, what are honest Anais Mitchell fans to do? Hop in the car and trek out to western Massachusetts, that’s what! Performing solo as displayed on her lovely new album,XOA, we are treated to one of her best sets ever! Her delivery—both savvy and snappy—has ratcheted up several levels. Her voice is now endowed with even more subtlety and strength. Totally on top of her game, she performs a career overview: a few new songs (“Now You Know” is a standout, as well as a Bonnie Raitt style tune she hopes to offer her), several from her early period (“Your Fonder Heart” and “Old Fashioned Hat”), a couple from her masterpiece, Hadestown, (“The Wedding Song” and “If It’s True”), a few from Young Man in America (“Ships,” “Tailor,” and the title tune), an offering from her award winning Child Ballads collection (“Clyde Waters”), and even answers to several audience requests. Two friends who joined us—and had never seen her before—were rapturous in their praise. Wow—wow—wow! Perhaps giving birth to daughter Ramona has endowed this “Queen of Modern Folk Music” with newfound focus and determination. Long may she rule! (Harry C. Tuniese)
ERIN HARPE & THE DELTA SWINGERS
SARA COLB & THE SAGAMORE JONES BAND
Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA
It’s always a blast to go see one of the best blues/R&B bands in the area, Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers and tonight they are celebrating the release of their debut CD, so I know I’m gonna have a great time joining in on the festivities. The opening group, Sara Colb & the Sagamore Jones Band, are from Jamaica Plain and they have an Americana, folk and country rock with a bit of hillbilly thrown in, sound. Sara plays an acoustic guitar (with a capo on the second fret) and has a powerful, almost operatic, voice – sorta like Janis Joplin meets Loretta Lynn meets Maria Callas. Her weepy and fluttering vocals are perfect for the songs and add a lot of authenticity to their sound. She is sometimes sultry, sometimes bluesy, and always loud and powerful. The band includes Darren Ray on guitar and vocal harmonies, his brother B.J. Ray on drums, Jeremy Dryden on bass and Ryan Duchene on lap steel. They play all of their latest CD, and I like the yeehah ballad “Don’t Wanna Wait.” “Roll Away” and “Subway Song” are two other melodies I really dig. During their last song, “If It Hadn’t Been For Love,” an Adele cover, people are busy two-stepping on the dance floor along with the music, too!
When Erin & The Delta Swingers start their set, even more people rush to the front of the stage to be as close as they can get to the band’s great energy. They play all of the songs on their new releas: and the ones that really stick out for me tonight are: “Love Whip Blues,” “Delta Swing,” “M&O Blues,” “Good Luck Baby,” John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” and “Charles River Delta Blues.” Every tune showcases Erin’s great vocals and fingerpicking guitar, Rosy Rosenblatt’s legendary harp, bassist Jim Countryman’s thumping lines, and the heart and soul of the group – powerful pounder Bob Nisi. They even have slide guitarist “Sonny” Jim Clifford onstage at this gig. Harpist extraordinaire Rosy Rosenblatt is unavailable to go on the road and Sonny is part of their touring band. He also plays blues harp when the master isn’t available for live shows. They are one of the best delta blues bands around and tonight’s red hot show, like all of their other performances, just proves it. This was a fun evening of county and blues for people who dig a couple of hours of good, live music on a Saturday night. (A.J. Wachtel)
TIM GEARAN & THE TUESDAY NIGHT LOOP
Atwood’s Tavern, Cambridge, MA
It’s Tuesday night and while most clubs are dead, Atwood’s is dishing out good music alongside their amazing late-night menu. Tonight, I’m having one of Boston’s best turkey burgers with an amazing arugula salad on the side, while listening to the soothing tones of Tim Gearan. His critically acclaimed residency at Atwood’s is becoming a bit of a Boston institution. Tim does a full band set every Friday night. However, on Tuesday nights, the set is stripped down and a bit more mellow. Judging by the crowd of onlookers out this late on a school night, tonight is no exception. Any special night with Tim Gearan is a show not to be missed. Lou Ulrich’s bass guitar matches perfectly with Tim’s voice and Tim’s guitar tone is as good as a bluesman can sound. Atwood’s is doing something right every night of the week: good food, good music, and great beer equals a great night. (Kier Byrnes)
THE EMPTY HEARTS
Rhode Island Center For The Arts at Park Theatre, Cranston, RI
Their set list is online so I already know what songs to expect as I walk in the door of this cool club in the Ocean State. There are many hits on the group’s fantastic recently-released debut CD and I can’t wait to hear them all. This great band, including guitarist/ vocalist Elliot Easton from The Cars, drummer/vocalist Clem Burke from Blondie on drums, Andy Babiuk from The Chesterfield Kings on bass and vocals, and fronted by lead vocalist/rhythm guitar/harmonica player Wally Palmar from The Romantics, start the night with the opening cut on their CD, “90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street,” and I am very impressed. These cats play so well together and the mix is so good I can actually hear what everyone is doing onstage, and I love it. Hearing Wally’s chords join Elliot’s stunning leads backed by an incredible rhythm section of Clem and Andy really knocks me out. Clem on drums is killer and is surely one of the best pounders I’ve seen in a long time; he plays ahead of the beat and his taste and power drives the band on all of the tunes. When Andy breaks a string on his bass (!) during an incredible version of the new song “Jealousy,” it doesn’t feel that extraordinary an event because of the overall intensity of their performance. It almost seems expected and part of the act. Of course, Babiuk continues his great low end with only three strings, which impresses the hell out of me.
The group plays their whole new release and songs that really kick it up a notch for me include the hit “I Don’t Want Your Love (If You Don’t Want Me),” “(I See) No Way Out,” “Soul Deep,” and “Meet Me ‘Round The Corner.” I really dig Elliot’s country and western guitar playing in “I Found You Again.” After his pedal-steel sounding solo, he quickly smiles onstage. I notice this and grin, too. He sounds like he was born in Tennessee. Hearing his Chuck Berry two-string note leads during the band’s cover of The Romantics’ “What I Like About You” is really cool, too. During the tune, Palmar hushes the four-piece and gets the crowd to sing along with the well known words. The audience loves being included in this famous melody. Throughout the set, the band sprinkles their covers of The Cars’ “Let The Good Times Roll” (with Elliot’s iconic lead riff) and a three song encore that includes “Just What I Needed” with Andy on vocals, and Blondie’s “One Way Or Another.” They even do a punked-up version of “I Wanna Be Your Man,” a song Clem sings and introduces as one done by The Beatles AND The Stones- punk power pop with new wave influences and no time waiting between songs. These cats came to play and everyone in the audience can see this. I really like when Wally sings lead and Elliot and Andy sing backup to him. It’s a fantastic visual and it sounds great too. After the last song, all four musicians walk to the front of the stage, and just like you’re watching The Fab Four end a show in 1964, the members of this supergroup stand together with their arms around each other’s backs and bow in unison. A great night. (A.J. Wachtel)
MOLLY PINTO MADIGAN
me & thee coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA
Back at me & thee, voted best listening room in the Northeast by the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, singer/ songwriter Molly Pinto Madigan is opening for Jeff Black. Molly holds the title of artist of the year at Salem State College, and host Tony Toledo makes note that she also has the power to bring sunshine. Without a word Molly and her acoustic guitar start “On the Hunt.” A nice reverb adds angelic quality to her already sweet voice and her long brown curls create an impressive mane. “Here Comes the Night,” like the majority of Molly’s songs, has a traditional folk quality to it. The stark “Bloom,” from her first CD Outshine the Dusk, uses simple finger picking on the top three strings of her lovely sounding Martin acoustic. Though her lyrics tend to be on the darker side, “Star Spangled,” one of her only major key songs, was written in opposition to all the negative news we are fed. The last tune of her short set, “Bound Away,” won her first place in the youth division 2009 Folk Festival Songwriting Competition which just happened to be judged by headliner Jeff Black. Jeff is from Nashville, Tennessee via Kansas City, Missouri, and, although he’s been voted one of the most important folk artists in the past 25 years (by WUMB), he’s not eligible for a review in The Noise. At the end of his set, Molly is invited up to join in on Jeff’s second encore, and he states that Molly’s song “Bloom” destroys him. Another wonderful night at me & thee. (T Max)
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 or acknowledge these requests. The Noise has always had 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. If you’re horrible, same thing.
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