Live Reviews

Guillermo Sexo-webLiveGUILLERMO SEXO

Middle East Upstairs

Cambridge, MA                


18-plus night at the Middle East Upstairs, and the place is banged out. Barely room to stand anywhere without almost getting the chicken kabob knocked out of me. It’s a full four-band bill but I’m here to catch the infectiously haunting Guillermo Sexo.

I’ve been listening to Guillermo Sexo’s latest CD Dark Spring for several days prior to the show and loving it. Let’s take our magic music blender and toss in some Sonic Youth, a little early Pixies, sprinkle some Throwing Muses, a touch of Jesus & Mary Chain, and hey, let’s get crazy and just for fun we’ll dump in a taste of Pink Floyd, and then crank up the guitars and direct them toward U2’s The Edge. You get a fabric which weaves into Guillermo Sexo.

It’s standing room only for the GS set, and the quintet takes the stage. Lead vocalist Noell Dorsey is front and center with her miniature keyboard. Tonight is a very special night—it’s the debut of their new drummer Pepe Anzalone, and the band is clearly amped. They come out loud and strong with their first song, “Echo Out My Call.” The guitars are roaring, which surprises me a little as the sound is somewhat more subdued on the CD. Leave it to the Middle East Upstair’s PA system though—the music is thunderous in the room.

The guys obviously have a penchant for Fenders—P-bass, Mustang, Telecaster… they create a thick, textural sound together. Lead guitarist/ songwriter Reuben Bettsak has mastered the art of chimey chord technique and paints a melodic background to the song.

As the set progresses I’m surprised to find the guitarists are using capos on their instruments for many of the songs—something you don’t see very often. Another thing not often seen anymore is a bassist who actually uses the fingers of his right hand instead of a pick. Well done.

Soon the band kicks into their song “Bring Down Your Arms,” the second track from Dark Spring, and the number which for my ears has to be the single. Surprisingly melodic for such an otherwise shoe-gazey band, it has a powerful hook, and the crowd is loving it.

They end the set with a new song, “Telegrams,” and Bettsak has busted out a sweet silver-sparkle Danelectro for the tune. All in all great musicianship, cool songs and a band that’s rising.             (Joey Ammo)



Old Sloop Coffeehouse, Rockport, MA   1/9/15

Mark Woodbury has the honor of introducing the show tonight. He reminds us how the artists get almost all that is taken in at the door at the Old Sloop, and that Mark Erelli’s show tonight is all about the music of Bill Morrissey.

First up is Charlie Rose—the musician, not the popular TV talk show host—who simply states, “Happy to be here tonight. Going to play you some songs.” He heads right into “Me vs. the Mini Bar,” skillfully picking melodies from his acoustic Gibson dreadnought. “Fancytown” was written while sitting outside Fort Sewall in Marblehead, MA, and the waltz “Stowaways” is the title track of his debut CD. He’s been a long-time sideman and only recently has stepped into the singer-songwriter spotlight. Before “Natural Disaster” he says he wants to get the complex angsty songs out of the way so he can play love songs later on with Mark. And after playing five songs solo, he invites Mark Erelli up to play with him by asking, “You want to play your tiny guitar?” referring to Mark’s mandolin. With Mark playing along and harmonizing, Charlie’s songs take take on a bigger sense of completion.  My favorite of his set is “Cumberland Blue Line” that actually sounds like a old train song before they even start singing, and Charlie adds a speedy banjo solo to really set the train in motion. He ends with “Oh Darling,” a fun song that has a refrain that advances the relationship every time he puts away his banjo. Charlie’s enjoyable set is over but like he said, he’ll be back to accompany Mark Erelli.

Mark sets the tone by talking about who he plays with (Paula Cole, Laurie McKenna, and the band Barnstar that includes Charlie Rose) and that his new CD, Milltowns, is all about the music of the late Bill Morrissey. He starts with the slow groove of “Handsome Molly” and the sound of Charlie’s pedal steel is melting the room. Then they bounce a number with Charlie on banjo. Mark says he loves seeing street signs that have been mentioned in songs. One time looking for a route to New York’s East Side Highway he was directed to take 23rd Street—which is the name of a Bill Morrissey song that he proceeds to do. Then the pair go from the depressing “These Cold Fingers” to the wonderfully funny “Morrissey Falls In Love At First Sight.” Mark performed with Bill a long time ago in the past at the Iron Horse (Northampton, MA) and was invited to an after party where they played a lot of popular folk tunes that slowly turned into complicated songs where Mark was totally lost. He now realizes it was a form of “folk hazing.” He triggers a sample of what sounds like an old pump organ to get the right feel for “Man From Out of Town” and states that Bill would not appreciate this modern musical trickery. The one song that isn’t written by Morrissey on Milltowns is the title track that Mark penned about his relationship with his idol. It’s really a touching song that pulls together all of the between-song banter and the musical performance. The show continues with more of Bill’s songs and some of Mark’s originals, a tune about Mark’s high school band, one that is sent out to another entomologist in the house, a good folk anthem sing-along, and a couple of songs by his current band, Barnstar, that will be releasing a new CD in Cambridge on February 4 at Obertron. Mark encores with the appropriate “Time to Go Home” and a warm satisfied audience heads back to the cold real world.          (T Max)

AL KOOPER (Blood Sweat & Tears)/



BILL JANOVITZ (Buffalo Tom)/

THEO EPSTEIN (Chicago Cubs)/



TANYA DONELLY (Throwing Muses)/



Hot Stove Cool Music Benefit—Theo Epstein’s The Foundation To Be Named Later Charity,

The Paradise, Boston, MA  1/10/15

If for no other reason than to see reunions of The Cavedogs and The Juliana Hatfield Three, who haven’t played together in two decades, I just have to attend this year’s great gig. Another thing I want to do is to thank the charity’s founder, Theo Epstein, who used to be the general manager of the Red Sox and is now with the Chicago Cubs: for finally ending the “Curse of Ruth” by bringing the World Championship back to Boston.

Seconds after I walk into the heavily attended event, I hear Al Kooper and his unique BS&T sound and see a lot of grinning and appreciative faces. As soon as his set ends, I figure now is my chance to go backstage and meet the artists; and with the help of head honcho Billy Bud and club security Joe Pino I breeze right in. Telling everyone I am really T Max may have something to do with my quick entry but it doesn’t matter as I go straight up to Theo, introduce myself, and thank him for being so instrumental in winning the 2004 World Series. As I’m talking, I spot Robin Lane, Kay Hanley, and local sports reporting legend Peter Gammons holding court on the other side, so I go over and listen in for a while; before the music starts again downstairs.

Highlights to this cool night are many but space allowed only lets me list a few. Here ya go: Peter Gammons and Bill Janovitz doing the cool R&B song “Tanqueray.” Jen Trynin doing her hit “Better Than Nothing.” Kay Hanley rocking out “Here and Now” and “Because of You.” Tanya Donelly covering Carly’s “You’re So Vain” and her own “Super Connected.” Eli “Paperboy” Reed taking over the stage for “Come and Get It.” The Juliana Hatfield Three doing killer versions of “Supermodel” and “My Sister.” Another great annual event on the local music scene that supports a great cause. I can’t wait for next year’s show.                   (A.J. Wachtel)


Gallery 263, Cambridge, MA   12/12/14

Over a decade ago, I was fascinated by a local progressive rock band called Fluttr Effect, who reminded me of a cross between No Doubt and King Crimson. They eventually splintered and two of the members, Valerie Thompson (cello, vocals) and Vessela Stoyanova (MIDI marimba, melodica), formed a lovely, vivacious chamber duo called Goli, focusing on songs, banter, and evocative world-folk instrumentals. They released their debut album about six years ago and have been cruising on its laurels ever since. Oh, one more thing—they took a couple of years off to study and graduate from N. E. Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation Program. Yes indeed—training for the modern era!

    Tonight, they dazzle a packed room with two sets: the first celebrating that first album and the second—all new material—from their upcoming release, which is being produced by Peter Moore (of Count Zero)! This post-grad work is even more stunning than could be expected. Their playing is tighter and more disciplined, even educated, as Vessela’s marimba spins out a tapestry of varied colors and tones against Valerie’s deep, rich cello accompaniment. And the tunes sparkle with wacky adult wit. Valerie is still singing about her personal hang-ups, romantic failures, facing the void, and other self-deprecating adventures. I make note of her themes: “We Are Not Alone,” “The Greatest Mistake,” “I Don’t Love You—Wish You’d Go Away,” “Restless Wanderer,” and “Maybe Goodbye.” Makes you wanna go up and hug her with reassurance, though there is no lack of confidence in their musical approach. Charming and irresistible, these ladies are a local treasure and a must-see!              (Harry C. Tuniese)


me&thee coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA   12/12/14

Connor Garvey hails from Portland, Maine, and he’s been on the road for the last year. The first couple of things I notice about this red-haired guy with a trimmed matching beard is that he has a very warm friendly smile and he uses a double capo set up; one normal capo near the head end of his sunburst acoustic guitar and another smaller capo (that looks like it just affects the A and D strings) used higher up on the neck. This double set up lets Connor create unique possibilities of open-string chords. His first song says “When I grow up I wanna be old.” By his youthful presence I guess that means he hasn’t grown up yet. By his second song he’s already off his set list—he realizes that his song “Long Way Around” relates to driving on the backed-up Rt. 114 into Marblehead, MA. After the tune he happy comments that it was the best whistle solo he has ever taken. Little quips like that make me smile and heighten my happiness quotient during the performance. His next song “Backup Plan” was written by retelling a conversation he eavesdropped on at a coffee shop. He actually heard someone say, “I was sad when we got married because I always thought of you as my backup plan.” He has another one, “The Bird,” that’s about life’s transitions through the eyes of a trapeze artist. Connor ends that one by bending the neck of his guitar and slowly lets up bringing his instrument back up to pitch—kinda the way a trapeze artist swings up and down. Instead of asking us to sing along, he says “I’d love to thank you for singing along at the end of this song,” then goes right into some interesting fingerpicking. To end his performance he brings up Tim Harrington (guitar) and Paul Wright (cello) from Tall Heights to add extra texture to “Old House.” The crowd at me & thee loves the performance—he’s creative on many levels—an artist to seek out.          (T Max)

MUCK & THE MIRES (CD release)/



Church, Boston, MA  12/12/14

Hokay, looks like this super shindig will hafta keep us satisfied for the duration of the typically dead holiday stretch (Thanksgiving through January, when most of the local musicians are vacationing on Pluto or something). Lessee now… Thee Itchies? I know I’ve seen ’em before, but when? According to my notes, they’ve been kicking around for the last… TWENTY YEARS?!?!?!  That would make them a ’90s-era punk band, though they sound more like a 1970s band rather than a ’90s band influenced by 1970s bands. If that makes any sense. I dunno anymore. However you slice it, they’re rock solid, energetic and somehow sound like AC/DC (I think it’s the vocals). For the last few songs they’ve got guest vocalist Jennifer Lahurricane (Midnight Creeps), who looks hot and sounds hotter (Jordan Valentine-esque in fact).

Unlike Thee Itchies, The Dogmatics I’ve definitely never seen before… and I’m definitely an idiot for having not gone out of my way to do so. A local name act from the 1980s Lyres era, it’s surprising they’re not the headliner tonight. Not familiar with The Dogmatics’ catalogue, I’m not spotting the originals from the covers, but even I know these guys penned “It Sure Don’t Feel Like Christmas Time” and “Sister Serena.” They genuinely defy comment as their playing is so confident (not smug) and material is so on the money. Nothing I can say here other than I’m all set for another helping of this stuff.

Nobody’s really made a big deal of it, but let me point out that the Muck & the Mires statistics are now at six albums and 14 years in action! I am so deliriously pleased to be able to say I’ve seen ’em a million times and continue to see them with great frequency. That is way better than “Boy, I sure miss Muck”! I never have to feel nostalgic as they keep chugging along. And that’s definitely “chugging” not “limping”—live performance is as good or better than ever, and the new CD (Dial M for Muck) shows they still haven’t gotten to the grade-B material yet. Recently reactivated guitarist Pete Mire is starting to click, too, and his songs/ vocals are a highlight.     (Frank Strom)



Cat in the Cradle Coffeehouse, Byfield, MA    12/13/14

About 30 miles north-northeast of Boston off Rt 95 is the small Massachusetts village of Byfield.  A little treasure I found there is the Cat in the Cradle Coffeehouse. Located less than a minute from the highway makes the venue as close to Boston,  as Jamaica Plain is from Somerville if we measure by traveling time. And aren’t I lucky tonight that the place brings in two talented performers—Ray Mason from Haydenville in Western Mass. and Kirsten Manville from Lynn, MA.

Kirsten has the opening slot, and on the four-foot-high stage she is bathed in lights as the audience sits below in what is close to darkness. She starts with a natural—”I Think I’ll Just Play My Guitar”—and that’s what she does on her cranberry-colored Luna acoustic—”made with women in mind,” she previously told me. Then she introduces her musical accompanist for the night—violinist Jackie Damsky. Kirsten encourages her audience to waltz if they’d like to “Can’t Fool My Heart,” but then retracts the statement when she realizes the danger of people stumbling in the dark. She asks the audience to help out on percussion with “You Ain’t No Good for Me,” then share her knowledge that “people don’t know what’s best for you—you know what’s best” before she rolls into “Just Wanted to Love Somebody.” Jackie adds talented melodies to fill out the arrangements.  Kirsten plays her dad’s favorite song, “Someday Soon” and recollects a time long ago when her school group was part of a show with Judy Collins. My favorite Kirsten song is one about being the third wheel of a love triangle, with the main refrain, “Too bad you belong to someone else.” It being a couple of weeks before Christmas Kirsten includes her own Christmas original, “That Candle Night.” It isn’t ’til song number nine that Jackie adds her first vocal accompaniment—and I wish she made more use of that. Their voices work extremely well together and add an extra dimension to the sound. Kirsten leaves us with a lesson to follow your dreams in “It’s Our Time.”

Half time means coffee and bakery items are for cheap downstairs—always a nice little break in the action—or it’s own fun action itself.

Ray Mason, in his Raisin Bran T-shirt, flannel shirt, loose jeans, and long gray hair, climbs the stairs to the heavenly stage and bounces into “I’m Not That Kind of Guy.” Ray is a mature performer who kind of takes pride in his musical upbringing, and still uses his second guitar—a 1965 Silvertone.  After “I Told You” he reminisces a time when he would voluntarily lock himself in his room to listen to his 45s while his dad worried that his son wasn’t getting out to play sports. Ray’s song “Listenin’ to Records In My Room” completes the story. His style is in the same sphere as 1980s Boston band Men & Voltz with his own eclectic mannerisms thrown in. He dedicates “Monkey in a Convent” to Graham Parker, plays a one minute, fifty-eight second cat song, and expresses the desire to be a holiday—that way everyone will look forward to him.  He lets us know that his song about a frozen guy named George could have been performed by Rick Danko (The Band) and it’s obvious that he’s correct. His wisdom has taught him to “start slow and taper off.” That cracks me up. And he’s worried about his guitar staying in tune—because, “it’s an old guitar,” as if the guitar has human-like ailments and can’t do exactly what it used to do very well. And even though the tuning does not cooperate on one song, it adds to the charm and realness of his performance. To end Ray’s set he plays a very cool cover version of “Are You Ready,” originally made a hit by his non-relative Barbara Mason.  Another wonderful night at the Cradle.     (T Max)     


One Love, One Heart – Winter Solstice Celebration

One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME   12/21/14

It’s a dark and lovely winter night and I am excited to see Inanna again. I am a big fan. The four women Annegret, Lizzie, Tori, and Shirsten only get better with age. The event begins with lights off. Local ceremonialist Deborah El’elia Knighton Tallarico comes up on stage and strikes a crystal bowl and gives a beautiful invocation to release burdens and call in the light on the longest night of year. Ten pillar candles are lit, the music begins. Lizzie reads the myth of the Sumerian goddess Inanna, about her descent and emergence from the underworld. Shirsten starts throat singing, and is joined by Annegret on violin. They play the mesmerizing “Bee the Moment.”

Music of unimaginable beauty flows from djembes, frame drums, tambourines and other percussion instruments, and from their voices in four part harmony. The sold out venue does not have much space for dancing, but there are little clusters of people dancing their hearts out in wild abandon. They make me think of the Snoopy cartoon captioned: “To dance is to live!”

Amanda Parkhurst comes on stage to tell us about “Music & Magic Maine,” a charity she founded to give musical instruments to children who otherwise couldn’t have them. She shows us a hot-pink violin that was to be presented to a little girl who couldn’t be here. (She’ll get it later!)

The second set features a Brother in Rhythm, the nephew of Annegret’s African drum teacher. His face is beaming and he dazzles us on his djembe. They play “The Little Drummer Girl” and Bob Marley’s “One Love, One Heart,” as well as a lot of original compositions and spontaneous rhythms. The final song is based on the Hawaiian prayer of forgiveness, “Ho’hoponopono.” We sing along, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, I love you, thank you.” I feel a shift in the atmosphere in the room as we sing it together over and over. Inanna is fully present, powerfully feminine, enthrallingly joyful, energetic and beautiful. I want to be like them when I grow up. If you ever have a chance to see them, don’t miss them, they are a living blessing among us.      (Kimmy Sophia Brown)


me&thee coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA   1/16/15

It’s a cold night and tonight’s host Tony Toledo welcomes everyone with “I love it that New Englander’s are willing to come out when the windchill factor is 111 degrees below zero.” The 44-year old venue, me&thee, is featuring headliner James Keelaghan from Canada (who claims he filled his van with as much cold weather as possible) and a wonderful opening act of Barbara Kessler with her  18-year-old daughter Emilia Antonaides. The two attractive women from separate generations sit on the stage with one guitar between them. They start sweetly harmonizing to “All You Need,” a tune that Barbara tells us is full of retail therapy: “All you need is a little good news/ all you need is new shoes.” “Happy With You” was inspired by her travels. Her daughter sings the lead and toward the end their harmonies split off into rounds. Barbara executes some nice finger-picking on her acoustic guitar and sings the lead on “You Get What You Pay For,” then Emilia takes her one stab at playing the guitar on a triangular love song she wrote called “Daisies.” The duo ends with “Little House,” a song Barbara wrote for her family to perform together. It nice to see a mom and daughter team performing so well together. I’m sure they inspired many in tonight’s audience.        (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.

Comments are closed.