Live Reviews

Caravan Of Thieves-txt



Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA  


“My mom always wanted me to be a priest,” Billy Carl Mancini, the droll half of the carnivalesque Roslindale-based duo Bird Mancini, tells the rapt listeners at the Me & Thee, “then I became a musician. She wasn’t happy.” But we sure are.

With his bowler hat, shades and quiet demeanor, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Mancini suggests a hipper, bearded Boston version of the Captain from Captain & Tennille, while his partner, the effervescent Anita O’Day-on-acid Ruby Bird with her sexy librarian style yodels and wails on the accordion, melodica, glockenspiel, cowbell, vibraslap and pretty much any percussive device within reach.

The twosome fills the hall with a delirious roadshow wackiness that sets the tone for what promises to be a night of cosmic cabaret, the perfect, life-affirming antidote to a somber anniversary.

Bird Mancini kicks off with “If You Wanna Get to Know Me,” bubbling over with bossa-nova hip swingy juicy double entendres and sinuous melodic that has the audience swaying in the pews.

On the earnest and playful “(I Want My Own) Brian Epstein,” from their delicious disc Tuning In/Tuning Out, Bird Mancini suggest a warmer They Might Be Giants while Bird changes gears for the soulfultour de force shouter “The Listener” with its dreamy sighing accordion.

If Bird Mancini’s smoking and dizzying set leads us down the rabbit hole, then headliners Caravan of Thieves has us seated at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with their demented, rollicking gypsy jazz klezmer gospel disco soul folk punk, etc. This joint is really jumpin,’ as Fats Waller would say.

From the first finger snappin Djangoesque strains of “Disappear” from 2015’s Kiss Kiss with its sweet lovey-dovey shim-sham slinky jazz-inflected strains, we are transported to the Hot Club of France with a disco ball spinning overhead and funhouse mirrors all around.

With its raucous, eclectic fusion of blues, gypsy jazz, 1930s-era swing, a bissel of klezmer, a twist of hallelujah gospel, a hint of classical, and the “four-on-the-floor” Bee-Gees disco beat, the Thieves’ sound brings to mind the Squirrel Nut Zippers but this band goes further.

They perform an everything-but-the-kitchen sink version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” replete with heavy metal head-tossing from the double bass player and then slink into a seething, sighing take on The Beatles’ “Girl.”

The quartet, hailing from Bridgeport, Connecticut, has serious chops, with Fuzz on vocals, guitars and pots and pans (This kit has to be seen to be believed), Carrie on vocals and guitar, Ben channeling Stephane Grappelli on violin and Brian on double bass. By the end of his pots and pans solo for “Love Made a Monster Out of Me,” Fuzz’s shirt is soaked. It’s been a long time since I have seen a band play with such delirious passion. These guys are not phoning it in!

This audience doesn’t want to let the Thieves off the stage and they return for not one, not two, but three encores—which may be a Me & Thee world record.  “There’s no reason this aisle should be empty,” says Fuzz, inviting us to get up and dance.  “Let your freak flag fly!” The final encore, a rousing gospel-tinged 9/11 tribute version of “Raise the Dead,” performed in front of the merch table where the Thieves plus Ruby Bird on accordion and Billy Carl Mancini on guitar, has everyone stomping their feet, clapping and snapping and singing in unison. We are healed.   (Linda Werbner)


Essex St. (East India Mall), Salem, MA


Any weekend in October you can catch Marblehead resident Joshua Rodriguez doing his junkyard jazz drumming on plastic bins and metal pans on Essex Street in the outdoor walking mall area. The kid is a talented street performer. He first gathers a small crowd around him by doing a short drumming display. Then he gets his newly acquired fans to attract more people by getting them to scream and make a lot of noise. He’ll yell “free beer” or anything that will allow his natural circle of listeners to grow. He introduces his manager “Phil” – no wait, hat must be “Fill” since his last name is “The Bucket.” He plays a melody on his pots that sounds familiar and picks someone in the audience to “name that tune.” He rolls into his junkyard jazz beats lifting everyone’s spirit, constantly engaging with the audience in spontaneous ways. At the end it’s time to fill the bucket with money that will take him to a new town next month. Where is he going next? Los Vegas is his destination. Good luck, Joshua.  (T Max)


WZLX 30th Anniversary Party

Harbor Lights Pavilion, S. Boston, MA


Opening the night is Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople. He is an icon and it is very cool hearing Mott’s catalog of English rock classics, including “All The Young Dudes” live and onstage in 2015. To see an artist in his early 70s  perform with so much fire and zeal is a real pleasure. This outdoor venue is the perfect place to see The J. Geils Band. But then again, ANY club is an ideal spot to catch Boston’s best band. Starting with the instrumental “Sno-Cone (Tribute To Albert Collins),” Wolf casually walks onstage and puts his beer bottle down on an amp. He joins Seth Justman on organ, Magic Dick on harp, D.K. on bass, Duke Levine and Kevin Barry on guitars, Tom Arey on drums, and two great and animated female backup singers in black dresses. Then it’s “Hard Driving Man” – five minutes of sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and I’m thinking “fasten your seatbelt, Wachtel, you’re in for another two hours of perfection and passion.” In fact, I don’t sit down in my seat again as I join the crowd and sing all the words to all the songs as they play! A bunch of high-energy hits follow: Otis Rush’s “Homework,” Smokey Robinson’s “First I Look At The Purse,” their own “Centerfold,” “Love Stinks,” with two very little girls who bring out bouquets of red roses to offer the lead singer, “Give It To Me,” “Whammer Jammer,”  “Looking For Love,” with Wolf on his knees and emptying his heart and soul out to the packed house, and the first song Seth Justman and Peter ever wrote together, “Wait.” They even do a KILLER cover of The Supremes’ “I Hear A Symphony,” where Wolf brings a woman up from the audience to dance with him onstage, for an encore. The last song of the night, “Nothing But A Party,” has thousands of different colored pieces of paper dropping down on the audience. When was the last time you saw THAT? The best show of the year by the best band in Boston. It doesn’t get any better than this!   (A.J. Wachtel)



CD Release/Farewell Show

Davis Sq. Theater, Somerville, MA


It’s always a bittersweet moment when a tremendous band decides to break up, after many years of successful gigs, tours, album releases, and acquired and lasting friendships. For ten years, The Grownup Noise, led by Paul Hansen (vocals/guitar) and Adam Sankowski (bass/vocals), have created a literate collection of progressive folk-pop tunes that have amazed me. They have always been approachable, focused, and earnest within the local indie rock scene, using their collective of talented members [Aine Fujioka, Rachel Barringer, Todd Marston, Katie Franich, Kyle Crane, and Dave Middleton among others] to enhance their presentation. Heck, for this show, they even roped in ex-Morphine sax legend, Dana Colley, to spice up the mix. Mesmerizing!

As background, I must quote from Paul’s final press release: “It is strange to release a new album in the heat of summer because it was written in depths of last winter, when all of us were collectively crazy. The collective isolation. Sometimes trapped indoors close to a radiator or sometimes in my van, stuck in snow somewhere, trying to finish a song with cold fingers. I had so many reasons to finish writing the songs for this album. I knew that our beloved band members Todd (keys/accordion) and Aine (drums/vocals) were leaving in the Fall and it would break my heart and piss me off if we couldn’t have one more run of new songs together. I just didn’t expect them to come falling out of my mouth onto the floor without a chance to catch them and analyze them closely. But here we are, and it feels like we kicked and screamed and, in turn, received some serious love from the muses to produce a worthy ending to this chapter of the The Grownup Noise. Also, along the way, I started hearing Dana Colley’s (Morphine) bari-sax sound in my head and, lo and behold, a couple unnecessarily long emails later, he’s recording on our record. These songs came from slow, simmering anxiety mixed with apocalyptic snow storms. Maybe like food absorbing flavor in a hot kettle. Hence the title, Stewing. I like to think of this album as grouchy minimalism, compared to our previous three albums. It is good to know that something good can come from raw floundering.”

    Tonight, they open with ten songs from the new album, which epitomizes the intent Paul discussed, and the response is respectful enthusiasm. The sax adds some unusual heat and the group’s playing is both dynamic and reserved. A few of these songs (“Eating Our Own,” “Bratty Bones,” “What I’m Told,” “Leaving Home”) sound prime for radio play, poppier and effervescent. Then, as homage to Dana’s presence, they whip the crowd into a frenzy with Morphine’s tune, “All the Way”, which opens the flood gates for the rest of the night. People are up & dancing, cheering, stomping, and the band delves into their back catalog with “New Outsiders,” “Carnival,” “A Hill to Die On,” “Vampire Love Song,” and “Just So You Know.” There are bows, hugs and kisses for this spectacular farewell. Best wishes always – The Grownup Noise will be missed!   (Harry C. Tuniese)



The Beehive, South End, Boston, MA


What a very cool club. It’s got little round tables with white tablecloths and a big bar, with a small stage right in front. And this is a special night that is very typical of the local music scene. Organist Bruce Bears, upright bassist Brad Hallen, and drummer Mark Teixeira usually gig in Duke Robillard’s band, but on an off night they just jam to get their ya-ya’s out. This time with ANOTHER legendary local six-stringer, Willie J. Laws. Just fantastic! Songs I REALLY dig are Willie’s older tune “Love Letters” and “Cornbread Moan” from his 2014 release, and “Sneaky Child” by the trio. Soundman Dennis D’Angelo Barretto does a great job of separating the sound as the crowd eats, drinks, and listens to great blues. Very up-scale and very enjoyable. I’m having a blast!    (A.J. Wachtel)


Mass. Ave. in Central Square, Cambridge, MA 


Perhaps you’ve seen this oddball fellow singing and playing his very avant garde accordion around town – and if you haven’t you should try. I’ve seen him along the outskirts of Harvard Square as well, on Friday evenings, confounding the general public. He went to New England Conservatory and it shows: his skills are impressive, like he’s the bastard child of Igor Stravinsky and Kate Bush, with classically-trained chops… but you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a feral idiot raised by wolves in the Swiss Alps. (That’s if there are wolves in the Alps.) (I’m not looking that up!) He’s unforgettable: maybe 6’3″ with wild and messy long blond hair and a beard, and usually wearing something preposterous (am I the only one who thinks “preposterous” sounds like the Greek God of absurdity?) – no pants (just colored briefs!) and post-hipster jackets and shirts (one time I saw him in a lovely dress). He’s deliberately obtuse, and his banter with passersby is even more strange than his lyrics (which I think may be improvised). At first, some people assume he’s mentally insane, but the longer they watch him, the sooner they see he’s quite funny and kind of a mad genius. I told him he needs a better stage name, and he went into a two minute “song” about how he needs to improve his stage name. (Shauna Erlbaum)




Johnny D’s, Somerville, MA


This is a great bill in a cool cabaret. I live for shows like this. Opening, yes opening, the night is Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers. For you neophytes, these cats won the Boston Blues Challenge for the third time last year, and they were also presented the 2012 Best Blues Band award from The Boston Music Awards. Tonight is sorta like seeing Clapton opening up for Blind Faith. Erin is influenced by Memphis Minnie’s singing, and delta blues guitar picking is first-rate. Bob Nisi is pounding on his Christmas lights adorned kit (and singing those high harmonies) together with Jim Countryman on four string, are a rock solid rhythm section.  Their harp player, Matt Charles, is an artist they picked up in Chicago during their recent two-month cross-country tour. They are tight and red hot from being on the road so long. Their uptempo jump/country blues sound is well rehearsed and sharp as a tack. After so many recent shows in front of so many different audiences they know exactly what works and what doesn’t — and this is a real treat for the packed house. Everyone is on the floor dancing as the band plays. Songs I like are, “M and O Blues,” the train song about The Missouri and Ohio line, their dance version of “Angel From Montgomery,” and a cut with a great bass line, “Good Luck Baby” planned for their new CD. I always love when Erin jumps up a full octave for a measure or two at the end of the song.

Next band on stage is Looker, a rock/alt rock quartet led by two women, Mary Beth Cahill and Suzanne Hinton both on guitar and vocals. Mike Weidenfeller on bass and Ned Armsby on drums round out the group. Looker plays all originals and I enjoy their song “The Great Game Sorry.” They’re like the band Television, with the two lovely ladies leading the group.

Headlining is Lovewhip, which contains members of the opening act, now dressed up in hippie outfits and wigs. THIS band plays electro/dance rock. Like Blondie meets Talking Heads with a bit of reggae, afro beat and psychedelia mixed in. I love their covers of “007” by Desmond Dekker, “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic, and “Night Nurse” by Gregory Issacs. Wild stuff to end a crazy night.   (A.J. Wachtel)


ICA, Boston, MA


Since I’m currently abuzzed about new progressive prog rock acts (i.e. – Bent Knee and Courtney Swain), imagine my joy to come up with another otherworldly indie band – Iris Lune. A potent, passionate combination of mood and groove. Think Imogen Heap merged with Radiohead, sprinkled with Icelandic vocalisms (i.e. – Bjork or Emiliana Torrini). Fronted by the quiet ephemeral presence of singer/keyboardist, Ella Joy Meir, delicacy pervades their performance. Iris Lune seem to drift through their tunes. There are no power chords or thundering drums, just highly a nuanced filigree of notes and textures. On the back deck of the ICA, with Boston Harbor behind them on a beautiful evening, it is quite easy to be carried away by their spell. The music would build & subside, swell and swoon, with patterns emerging from the whooshing sounds. Their guitarist, Asher, spins phrases and melodies that never distract from the sonic tapestry. Bassist/additional keyboards Aaron and drummer Angelo constantly create a bed for the songs that either demands attention or drops off into rhythmic unpredictability. They effectively use a dose of processing (especially with Ella’s double mic set-up) that enhances their two recently released singles, “Bring Me the Moon” and “Triplets”. Both sets start with gorgeous soundscapes that lead into two fab tunes, “Never Regretting” and “Belly of a Whale” – both mystical and melancholic. A couple of other songs, “Lost in Chatter” and “Fistful of Thorns” are also worthy of attention. They even decide to throw in a funky improv number to demonstrate their compositional chemistry. I am anticipating the release of their debut EP. I’m convinced their sound is quite contemporary and evocative with undeniable talent, and with a bit more contrast, vitality, and design as they mature, will prove to be even more worthy. At the start of their career, I feel Iris Lune have successful days ahead. Best of luck and go get ’em!  (Harry C. Tuniese)








Geezer’s Summer BBQ

Outside in Stoughton, MA


This is my third or fourth time at Greedy Geezer’s annual bash. It’s held between a small pond and his house, and this year’s festivity is the best one to date. All the bands that play at his year round monthly night at The Granite Rail, in Quincy Center, are here. It’s like going to a family reunion.  Listen to this line-up: Yucca Flatts – Scruffy The Cat’s Dan McLennon’s latest bluegrass/acoustic venture, Joey Fingers & The Cottage Avenue Band, great guitarist Brian Cagle from Oklahoma, The Cyclones – 10 Foot Polecats’ Jay Scheffler’s hooting and hollering band, blues favorites Tokyo Tramps and surf rock kings Tsunami of Sound. Great R&B with a C&W and beach flavor all day long, while Geezer’s wife Mary and Joey Finger’s wife Barbara feed the hungry masses. Thank you ladies, you fill our bellies while all the music feeds our hearts and souls. A fabulous day of hillbilly and Muddy Waters outdoors under a tent, in a rural environment on a pond with the grills working overtime. There are FIVE different washboard players playing here today! Seeing an orchestra with a banjo is intriguing too.  In the past hour, I have heard “Flip Flop and Fly” from Big Joe Turner and “Drink, Fight and Fuck” by G.G. Allin. This is the way I like to hear my music in the summer – everything on it with a little bit of TWANG!    (A.J. Wachtel)


Opening for Joseph Arthur

Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA


Though I arrive late to the oldest coffeehouse in Marblehead on Mugford Street, the show is not in progress. There’s music playing behind the closed large sliding doors, but it’s a soundcheck for the Brooklyn-based folk-rock looper/painter, Joseph Arthur. Joseph’s tardiness, not only in arriving, but cooperating with the promotion for this show has initially tainted tonight’s atmosphere. After what appeared to be a difficult soundcheck, the doors slide open and the half-filled house welcomes Jenee Halstead who hits the refresh button and all is back to normal. She’s not your typical Me & Thee female folk singer. Her tight white short evening dress with large loop earring that could pass as a pair of dream catchers conger up a NYC, 5th Avenue, ex-hippie frame of mind. She’s out of the gate on acoustic guitar with “Bitten By the Night” (off her 2012 release Raised By Wolves) a sad, dark poem-like song of someone who has lost their mate and is dealing with the transition. They’ve taken to drinking and staying up late feeling restless and unsettled. I like the vulnerable state Jenee offers. Vocally she’s similar to Patty Griffin. As she switches over to a tenor ukulele, she brings up her pal Jake on accordion. This wasn’t planned and they need a little song preparation huddle. The accordion makes it feel like there’s a little band on stage now.  Jenee continues with “Deep Dark Sea” from The River Grace (2008), then switches over to piano for “Sophia” from new Edge of the World EP. Jake joins her again for “Dusty Rose,” where a wife confronts her husband about a 25 year affair he’s been having. She wraps it up by saying “Support local music – we are the future right now.” The immediate future includes Joseph Arthur who makes up for his effect on the early part of the night by delivering an artful experience.  (T Max)



















The Paige Farley-Hackel Memorial Playground Benefit

First Baptist Church, Newton, MA


Paige Farley-Hackel died a hero flying American Airlines on 9/11, and her step-son Peter has this worthy cause benefit every year to maintain the memorial park in Roxbury named after her. And like usual, the support given by local artists who know Peter and the people who knew Paige is extraordinary. James Montgomery says to about 400 people in attendance, as he turns around and looks at the talent behind him onstage and from under the towering church pipe organs above him, “This is the best band playing tonight in the U.S.A. Do you think they have shows like this in Akron, Ohio?” Funny but true. I really dig local folk legend Allen Estes joined by Chelsea Berry’s beautiful harmonies on his “All Fall Down.” I also appreciate the extraordinary covers of Jimi’s “Up From The Skies” and “Little Wing” by Jon Butcher and Berklee  Professor Tomo Fujita when, with only ONE practice, they duel and flirt by playing the same licks together in different octaves. And at the end of the night, as Montgomery, with a million dollars of talent surrounding him, goes from B.B. to The Rolling Stones – “The Thrill Is Gone” to “Miss You.” His version of a song he wrote while in Johnny Winter’s band, “Little Johnny,” featuring the blazing slide guitar of George McCann, has the church walls shaking like a Baptist born-again Mass should – full of fever and fervor. Even a holier-than-thou person like myself is caught up in the intensity. A highpoint of the night has to be seeing James act as an auctioneer and successfully getting $4000 and $3800 for two guitars signed by Steven Tyler! There are even female backup singers all night. Molly Martin, Michelle Jaynes, Jen Thayer, Adrienne Melling, and Kaylee Federman bring a feeling of Detroit to Newton with their great vocals and gestures the whole night each band plays music devoted to the loss of Paige.  I notice this and appreciate the work behind this incredible production. Hirsh Gardner the drummer from New England slowly walks down the aisle between the pews, plays an acoustic guitar and sings his band’s national hit “Never Want To Lose You” to the captive crowd. It’s magnificent. Having young Jay Park from Newton’s Charles E. Brown Middle School walk around with his violin entertaining the attendees at dinner and welcoming them outside is pretty cool too. I later see James Montgomery talking to the young artist about music. There is a lot of that “passing of the torch” feeling here tonight. Young guitarist Mark Gentile mixes it up onstage with veterans Joe Pet from The Joe Perry Project and Bruce Marshall from Toy Caldwell/Marshall Tucker. Even when Butcher and Fujita are dueling it out onstage, one gets the feeling of seeing and hearing the anguish of the past being passed down to the hope of the future. A moving night of passion in the mind’s memory. I can’t wait for next year’s celebration – can it possibly get better?   (A.J. Wachtel)

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