SARAH & THE WILD VERSATILE
Opus, Salem, MA
Tonight, North Shore native Danny Bedrosian is taking a break from his main gig as long time keyboardist in George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic and is bringing his three-piece side project, Secret Army, to the basement room of an upper scale Salem restaurant. Opening the bill, Sarah & the Wild Versatile, is led by two artists, singer Sarah Seminski and guitarist Eric Reardon, whom I am already favorably familiar with. They started playing together last year as the duo, Cozy Covers, on a night for Booker T. Jones. The band also features drummer Derek Hayden, multi-instrumentalist Derek Dupuis, Brian Cogger on trumpet, Jonathan Bousqet on sax, and Steve Burke on bass. They remind me a bit of an ’80s alt rock outfit. Sort of like Steely Dan meets Radiohead. Psychedelic grunge sung by a passionate singer with great stage presence. Sort of like Nikki Minaj meets Etta James. Great guitar, solid singing and harmonies, and a nice grungy, pop/rock sound. I really like their songs “Fall Into Grace,” “Sherman’s March,” and “Hands To The Sky.”
Next up is headliner Danny Bedrosian and his trio of funky fusion. Lige Curry on six-string bass, Benzel Cowan on drums, and Danny playing his red Nord Electro 73 and Novatim Bass Station keyboards. His band’s sound reminds me of Weather Report meets Spyro Gyra with no real breaks between songs. These cats have come to PLAY. I really dig “Country Life,” “Locksmith,” and “Set The TV on Fire” – a couple of cuts from different periods in Bedrosian’s career. The highlight of the night for me is when Danny lifts his synthesizer out of its stand mid-song and walks around the stage playing the board. After an impressive solo showcasing his amazing talent he returns to his original location and puts his other instrument into its stand BACKWARDS purposely, and he continues playing the song! I may be the only person in the audience that sees this but it sure is cool! Fun. Fun. Fun! (A.J. Wachtel)
Great Scott, Allston, MA
You might think that the first Sunday of the year, and the night before returning to work from a week’s vacation, is not the most opportune moment to choose for seeing your first show of the year. Under most circumstances I would agree. But in this case, the opportunity to see Washington, D.C.’s legendary hardcore band, Scream, play with their original line-up is just too much to resist. The show also comes with the opportunity to check out three local punk bands — always a plus in my book.
Playing to a room of 25 people is no easy task. Heavy rock trio, Nomad Stones, do their best to act as though it’s a full house. Their sound owes a little something to a less punk version of Motörhead and Rancid, playing up the more straightforward rock and roll leanings of both bands. They mix in a bit of Social Distortion-style punk as well. Trouble is, they lack the personality of any of those bands. The band shows good potential though. The guitarist clearly knows how to play and breaks out quality solos throughout the set. Not knowing anything about this band, I choose to chalk up their rough edges to inexperience. The fact that they have to restart at least a couple of songs and the guitarist screws up the names of the other bands on the bill, lead me to believe they haven’t been playing in front of audiences for very long. This gives me hope that with more experience they will evolve into something slightly more polished.
Silver Screams open their set with an ALL-esque instrumental that percolates and jitters like a cup of strong black coffee. Next they move quickly into a Nirvana-like power chord tune which sounds great even though the singer lacks Cobain’s fragile yet hammering vocal skill. The next couple of tunes have a classic punk flair in the style of D.O.A. Midway through the set they floor me when they blast out a cover of Hüsker Dü’s New Day Rising. The vigor with which they stomp through it more than makes up for the fact that they can’t quite pull off the manic harmonies of Hart/Mould. This is clearly a band that is about to make its mark on the city. They have the right combination of talent and influences to take them far.
When Trophy Lungs hit the stage I immediately feel very, very old. I’ve been around long enough to see the dangerous, southern California, hardcore punk rock of my youth coopted and turned into Broadway plays and packaged up for 16-year-old girls and top forty radio. Bands like the Descendents and Bad Religion paved the way. Then Green Day came along and, for better or worse, made the world safe for pop punk. Blink 183, Sum 41, and an endless run of like-styled bands have come and gone since. Yikes—I just saw 5 Seconds of Summer with my daughter at the Kiss 108 Jingle Ball. Sure sounded like American Eagle-ready, watered down punk to me.
With all that said, there’s still something lovely when you hear pop-punk done right. To me, it’s always sounded like my underground’s version of the Beach Boys. Sand, sun, and harmonies. Who gives a shit it I’m standing in a dingy club with 25 other crusty old punkers, it still makes me feel like I’m 16 again.
Trophy Lungs know how to do pop-punk. They pull out all the stops; nasally, whiney vocals; faux-British accents; blissful harmonies. Initially the nasally, Thom DeLong-like vocals that come from the mountain-man, bearded bass player are a little disconcerting. After a couple of minutes though, I regain my equilibrium and am able to enjoy the show. The guitarist plays the perfect counterpoint enabling the two to play off each other and trade lead vocals like a punk-rock Lennon and McCartney. They storm through a brief set, quickly making way for the main event, Scream. (George Dow)
Dedham Square Coffeehouse, Dedham MA
Originally from Connecticut, Matt Bednarsky has called Nashville home for some time. Tonight, he makes his return to the East Coast at one of my favorite little venues. His solo performance is a range of original tunes and covers, and even includes a mashup of well-known songs that delights the crowd. There’s little conversation among the two dozen people in attendance, some clearly there to enjoy the music, others walk-ins to get dinner or a beer.
Matt tells all kinds of tales that night, including one of the time his guitar was damaged in a wind storm in a small town. The local repairman said it couldn’t be fixed, so he went to another to get a second opinion – this person happened to be that town’s mayor.
Bednarsky’s voice is subtle and intense at the same time, with such a passion for his calling in his words, but spoken at a light volume. He debuts a few new songs, even one that “had only been spoken aloud a few times.” (Max Bowen)
Out of the Blue Gallery, Cambridge, MA
I must begin this review by applauding the bizarre and cozy “gallery” this show was held in. More accurately, it’s one of the best venues I’ve ever been in, because it’s so unique and so comfortable and casual. Part odd-gift-shop, part indie-rock art-studio cubicles, and a sprawling schizophrenic “gallery”. You can even see that some cheesy clothing store used to occupy this space, by the mirrors on the ceiling! Across the street from the Middle East Cafe, this space should hold concerts every night!
This show was put together by the lovely folks at the Boston Hassle, so I went blind, having heard none of the bands. And it couldn’t have been more perfect. Dyr Faser are a duo (possibly containing indie rock legend Thalia Zadek) doing lush, simple, vulnerable music, with twin reverb guitars over casio drum machine beats and a bit of cheap organ, while the video projections on the musicians made it look and feel like we’re seeing early Pink Floyd / Velvet Underground… except those bands didn’t play in a weird gift shop! I’d call it paradise – but then you’d think of a more-normal rock club! The audience even has a choice between love seats and recliners, or sitting on the carpeted floor, befitting the post-psychedelia of this first act.
The poor lads in Trigger. They would’ve made my Top Ten of 2015 had they only come up with a better band name and had some visual style, because they are thrilling and masterful: post-King Crimson (circa Red) indie-rock power-trio math rock, but not as derivative as most bands influenced by KC usually are. They have some monster riffs, but never fail to keep surprising me in new areas. Their sense of humor is also better than KC’s. And they are more fun than KC, too. Honestly, they are a lot better than I’m making them sound. I probably should’ve taken notes. Please, musicians – it’s not that hard to come up with a good band name. There are so many great words out there. Or invent your own. A name should advertise your music. If your name is boring, that means your music must be. See how that works? Make exciting or innovative music? Then come up with a band name that is innovative. See how that works? We’re all in this together! (Shauna Erlbaum)
The Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA
Speedy Ortiz cranked out a short winter tour with its Middle East date benefiting Girls Rock Campaign Boston. The GRCB is a program, which, though music education and performance, provides a supportive community to girls in order to foster self-expression, confidence, and collaboration.
Sadly I had to miss the early performances by graduates of the program in favor of my son’s high school holiday chorus production. I arrived just in time to catch the last few songs of Ursula’s set. The duo – guitarist and drummer –were a dark, gothic pair of ladies. There was much noisy grinding of guitar and banging of drums, accompanied by copious screaming and moaning. If you have ever seen any movie from the’80s depicting a goth or punk band, then you’ve seen something akin to Ursula. If you have ever heard the sound of cats mating while Black Sabbath plays in the background, then you’ve heard something akin to Ursula.
Next up, Providence, Rhode Island’s, Downtown Boys rip out an energetic set of political punk. Their sound combines the X-Ray Specs with the Plasmatics, and some Voodoo Glowskulls (sans the ska). It’s a killer combination that suits their far-left political passions.
Speaking frankly, I could do without the nonsensical political ranks that blossom between each song. Most sound like random non-sequiturs – combining fascism, abortion rights, religious tolerance, and revolution – than any cohesive statement of position.
Nonetheless, the music is stirring. Played hard and fast, bouncing from English to Spanish, they barrel through their half hour set like a multi-ethnic tornado. The most impressive aspect of Downtown Boys is their sax player. She looks and dresses like Cindy Williams – Shirley from the classis sit-com, Laverne & Shirley – and plays her sax like a lead guitar. She pulls out solos for every song and bounds around the stage unleashing Pete Townsend-esque leg kicks and mighty squawk from her instrument.
There is so much to say about Speedy Ortiz. It’s hard to know where to start. They came out of nowhere (well, out of North Hampton, Mass.) in 2012 and have taken Boston and the national indie underground by storm with their noisy ’90s alternative rock style. Speedy Ortiz sound a little like every one of your favorite bands from that era without ever sounding like a knock-off. You’ll find some Breeders, some Belly, some Letters to Cleo. There’s some Liz Phair, some Throwing Muses, and some Juliana Hatfield. How can you possibly go wrong?
As amazing as the players are, this is clearly Sadie Dupuis’ show. As she takes center stage in her baby blue and silver party dress, under blue and white lights, the band fades to the background. Her silver and blue hair, pale makeup and blue lipstick make her look like a like a cross between iZombie’s Liv Moore (Rose McIver) and Else from Disney’s Frozen. The effect is pale and icy while, at the same time, she pops like a sparkling, animated Cinderella. She is stunning and commands the audience’s attention without ever really having to try at it.
The music is pure ’90s alternative guitar noise buoyed by Sadie’s effervescent vocals. When I say noisy, think Pavement or the Pixies at their most abrasive; but mixed with a little Sonic Youth at their most tuneful – now you have the picture. The masterful mix of melody and noise is something that I have missed immensely over the past 15 years. Speedy Ortiz performs a master-class on this technique. I’m instantly transformed into my 25-year old self, circa 1995. I pine for they heyday of WFNX and the alternative rock boom of that decade.
Don’t get me wrong though. Speedy Ortiz is not a throwback act. This group resonates with both aging hipsters and the up and coming generation of indie rock fans. It is a pleasure to have been around long enough to experience up and coming bands take inspiration from the underground of my youth. And to be able to see someone do it as well as Speedy Ortiz is a true treat.
When I sit back and recall the fact that this entire show is being put on for the purpose of supporting female empowerment through music and performance, it’s hard to think of another band that would represent as well as Speedy Ortiz. (George Dow)
Hibernian Hall, Watertown, MA
Sometimes there’s a great notion to create a multi-purpose band that features sympathetic talents. As long as there are people that like to sing and send words into other ears, there will be a band that is required to have lived with the past to reaffirm their influences and still stay focused on creating modern music. Let’s say hello to Hummingbird Syndicate, featuring local luminaries Jon Macey (Fox Pass), Lynn Shipley (Adam & Eve), Chris Maclachlan (Human Sexual Response), Lenny Shea (The Stompers), and two Californian folks I don’t know, Mary Jaye Simms and Dan Coughlin (Children of Paradise) who are not here tonight, being replaced by Tom Hostage (Macey’s Parade) and Rich Lamphear and Linda Viens (Kingdom of Love) and additional singer Jennifer Lewis Bennett.
The Syndicate is built around an equal partnership of men and women with their merger of voices and three guitars. It’s a lot of wonderful songs with a guitar solo here and there, and a vibe that’s both sprightly and distinctly beautiful. For me, it feels like this group is bringing back the ’60s (in sound and spirit). Right out of the gate, we have pop for pop’s sake with upbeat melodies and lots of harmony. It is unusual to hear such a high concentration of covers (Monkees, Velvets, The Band, Dylan, Johnny Rivers, Grass Roots, Lefty Frizzell, Gene Clark, Flying Burritos, Ernest Tubb, lots of country/folk) amidst a handful of originals, but I guess that will change in time. The focus tonight is the release of their single, “Waterfall Away” b/w “I Want You to stay,” two lightweight retro-sunshine-pop tunes (which they play in both sets). They promise the imminent full album will include more pop, as well as moody tunes and non-pop stuff. Since this is only their first gig, we can only wish for more of their best. Good luck! (Harry C. Tuniese)
Cat in the Cradle, Byfield, MA
Back at the entertainment hub of Byfield, Massachusettes we’ve got Marina Evans opening for Lenny Solomon and his band. Every table is full in this big, square, high-ceiling room with the four-foot high stage. Host and booker Heidi Fram greets the audience and warmly introduces dues Marina who’s currently living between Rockport, MA, and Italy. Marina presents herself well – with God-given pretty features and a well trained voice she’s got a lot going for her. She starts with “Blue Yonder” and from from her banter you get the feeling that having a husband living in Italy and family and friends in Rockport is pulling on those heart strings. “Middle of the Ocean” also reflects on her current situation. Her sets peaks with a lovely song that she sets up perfectly. During last year’s brutal winter she spotted a solo mitten in a large melting pile of snow. “One of Two” takes the lone mitten and turns it into a wonderful metaphor of one hoping to be reunited with another. I guess this song also falls nicely into place with her pair of homes.
Lenny Solomon is up on the big stage next with the accompaniment of Andy Hollinger (lead guitar/ mandolin) and Don Barry (double bass). Lenny wears the classic country performer look well. He’s dressed in blue with long white hair and matching chin beard, topped off with a cowboy hat and a turquoise belt buckle. The trio does songs about Robert Frost, fracking, a rockabilly singer, drinking the blues, a cat… and my favorite of the night, ” The Ballad of Little Squirrel,” that is set up perfectly with a story. On August 27, 2013, Lenny was walking his dog when saw a baby squirrel on the ground looking pretty dead. He scooped him up and set him on a picnic table, left him there and decided he go back to check on him the next day after breakfast. When he returned he saw that the little guy made it though the night, so Lenny took him in as a pet and gave him a small bird cage to live in while he recovered. The squirrel grew in strength, graduated to an aquarium home, and became a good friend. When the squirrel was healthy enough, Lenny set him free. And to this day the fuzzy-tailed rodent comes back to visit almost every other day. The song is as wonderful as the story. It made my night. (T Max)