Live Reviews – June

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Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA


In a stroke of inspired musical matchmaking, the me & thee’s tireless impresario Kathy Sands-Boehmer booked two acts at the me & thee this evening that complement one another insanely, Wishbone Zoe and The Suitcase Junket, both with Massachusetts roots.

And both subscribe to what Wishbone Zoe’s Saera K. aptly characterizes on her website as “junkyard rock, crashitybash, and the distracted storytelling of important things.” It is a Waitsian everything-but-the-kitchen-sink DIY aesthetic that when done right takes the audience on a wholly original and gleefully demented carnival ride where the only musical rule is to have no rules.

Wishbone Zoe is the brainchild of Northampton’s Saera K., a visual artist and multi-instrumentalist force of nature, who builds her own instruments from treasures gleaned out of thrift shops and dumpsters. Tonight the stage is bedecked with racks of percussive metal objects – strings of used bottle caps, old keys and dented tin cans – hanging curtain-like from a frame, waiting to be kicked or struck by a broken drum stick or a rusty spoon.

Saera walks onstage looking like a punked-out Pippi Longstocking on acid. Around her neck sandwich board-style she wears a small radio with fuzzy AM tuning attached are measuring spoons, soup cans, chains and a triangle. Modest and matter of fact with a dry and playful wit, she quips Mad Hatter-style “I’d tell you some jokes but I don’t know any jokes” and “This is from an album that doesn’t exist yet and this last one was off an album that doesn’t exist at all.”

Wishbone Zoe’s set of six tunes is a layered, interloping sound collage, ferociously original and quite unlike anything I have ever heard before. At times, she plays a Fender guitar or a five-string banjo and builds the foundation of a song with a simple track on her loop station, adding track after gonzo track until she has demented and brilliant symphony. Her songs end abruptly and without warning. Her voice can be a tender, plaintive whisper as on “Lullaby for Olga” or a jagged buzzsaw. Halfway into her set, Saera is joined by fiddler Caroline O’Leary whose masterful playing adds a soulful dimension to tunes like “OH” and “Lullaby” from Wishbone Zoe’s forthcoming album Fossils Dream.

Wishbone Zoe’s arrestingly original, honest and otherworldly performance is the perfect bridge to Amherst’s Matt Lorenz aka The Suitcase Junket. Lorenz, who can only be described as a cross between a Woody Guthreyesque dandy and Salvador Dali with his long, curling perfectly waxed whiskers. Sitting on a battered old suitcase, looking like a forlorn carnival barker from another planet, and rhapsodizing in a high, lonesome voice into the sound hole of his equally battered guitar, sending out waves of wiry feedback we know we are in for a long, strange and delightful trip.

Like Wishbone Zoe, Lorenz’s stage is bedecked with quirky self-styled percussive instruments like pots and pans and a series of pedals that could sound a high hat, a ringing bell, or a thumpy, bassy kickdrum. “I’d like to take an opportunity to introduce the rest of the band,” he says with mock-solemnity. “On the left toe is a baby shoe hitting a gas can and on my right heel is a circular saw blade that makes a nice ringing sound.” This collection of self-styled percussive fantasies would bring a tear to Tom Waits’ eye.

Following the eery murder ballad that opened the set, Lorenz beguiles us with a throat-sung intro to his next song, “Earth Apple” from his 2015 release Make Time. For the rest of the set, Lorenz continues to throw in flourishes of throat singing, explaining that he learned the technique in a failed South Indian cooking class and giving us an impromptu lesson on how to throat sing at one point but urging us to practice this new skill only in the shower and not within earshot of others.

A sunny tune about a steeple on the roof of a garage in West Virginia featuring hints of throat singing and bright dings from Lorenz’s circular saw is played on a moldy guitar that Lorenz tells us he rescued from a dumpster at his alma mater. “Vinegar is really good at getting mold off,” he says cheerfully. This tune is followed by “Dauphine and Desire,” a sweet, swooning ballad about falling in love in the Crescent City.

Lorenz’s set is interactive and full of goofy banter – “this song features my dog Scribner’s musical debut which I will bark in his absence” – and invitations to sing the chorus. Most of the songs Lorenz plays are from last year’s disc Make Time and Dying Star, his most recent seven-song EP.

For an encore, Lorenz performs a new song, “Red Flannel Rose,” he has written where, he promises us, “you can hear the full crappiness of this guitar.” Standing onstage, strumming simply without a pickup, untrimmed strings shooting wildly from the head of the guitar, we all know that we are in the presence of a truly brilliant, protean performer like no other.   (Linda Werbner)


In A Pig’s Eye, Salem, MA


I arrive at the Pig just as the band finishes their first set and get to say hi to Jon Macey (guitar/ vocals) and Lynn Shipley (vocals) before the second set gets underway. I’m told Hummingbird Syndicate has core members and side members that play their folk/ rock when they are available. Tonight Steve Gilligan (The Stompers) plays mandolin, Chris Maclachlan (Human Sexual Response) is on bass, Tom Hostage (Macey’s Parade) twangs the lead guitar, and Lenny Shea (The Stompers) is on drums. Jon and Steve start the set with “Everything Under the Sun” and I’m immediately brought back to the days when these two played in Urban Caravan.  After the song Chris picks up the bass and Lynn start in on Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” Now the room is bopping through the B-side of Hummingbird Syndicate’s single “I Want You to Stay” penned by the band’s writers and producers, Jon and Lynn. Terry Brenner, the venue hosts, gets some people up and dancing while Jon and Steve croon together in Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from Highway 61.  Then they’re back into another original, “Sometimes It Just Gets This Way,” and I can hear Tom Petty choosing to cover it. All the tables in the Pig are full and the lights behind the band give glow to the photographs of Laura Dandeneau. The band perks up with “Okie From Muskogee,” reminding me that earlier today I heard someone on NPR’s Car Talk calling in from that well known conservative town. Jon mentions seeing the song’s author, Merle Haggard, perform live. Hummingbird Syndicate bounces over to David Bowie’s  “Queen Bitch” and flavor it with a little Dylan and The Modern Lovers.  Lynn introduces “Much About Me” and Terry Brenner asks me if it’s and original (yes, it is – soon to be on their CD). Jon leads on the Grass Root’s 1966 hit, “Where Were You When I Needed You.” Delicate acoustic guitar starts off “Vista,” another original with Lynn singing lead and it’s also going to be on the band’s upcoming CD. They end the second set with a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Keep You Distance” and the harmonies ring through my head. Hummingbird Syndicate is a fresh now outfit for you to check out this summer. (T Max)


Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA


Once every two years, Michael Chorney & Hollar General come down from rustic Vermont to unfurl their beguiling, easy-going, splendidly arranged music onto urban ears. Personally, I couldn’t ask for more – unless it was a second set or second evening. Tonight they have added a special guest, Dan Davine on vibes, and he fits in like a greased wheelbarrow, gliding over the tunes with precision and nuance, with golden tones. A perfect fit that I hope will continue. The group offered a standout selection from their past two albums (i.e. – “Luminous,” “Carry Water,” “Moline,” “Wake Me,” “Raft”), each tune featuring a stunning solo from a different member within the ensemble. Whether it is the sublime pedal steel of Brett Lanier, the deft groove of bassist Rob Morse, or the intricacy of drummer Geza Carr, it is the perfect combination to support vocalist, guitarist Chorney – a reserved but droll bandleader with highly accomplished compositional skills. Personally, I couldn’t get enough – I cheer for an encore, but nope. Guess I’ll have to wait another couple of years to enjoy more of this mesmerizing music.   (Harry C. Tuniese)


Once Lounge & Ballroom, Somerville, MA


I picked the wrong night to leave my earplugs on my dresser. Heavy ’70s-style psychedelic garage rock is not something to listen to without protection.

My first visit to the new Once Lounge & Ballroom in Somerville leaves me satisfied with the state of indie rock in the Boston area. It has the air of a DIY endeavor. The room looks like a converted Portuguese-American club function hall, complete with mirrored walls, thick, patterned wallpaper and a glass chandeliers. The staff has the look of veterans of the underground music scene. The sound system looks patched together from hand-me-down equipment but has clearly been put into the right hands. The sound is impeccable. It’s the perfect venue for a bill of psychedelic stoner rock bands. The room has the feel that is evoked every time I read about a show at the “insert-your-go-to-name-here” Ballroom from the early ’70s. There is no vestige of Boston’s commercial rock spaces in this new spot.

Sand Reckoner opens the bill which includes Boston’s own Ghost Box Orchestra and D.C.’s Dead Meadow who are supporting their March release, Haunter. Sand Reckoner’s short and tight set runs the gamut of their evolving sound. From the dark, desert blues of “The Priest,” to the Black Keys-ish garage rock of, “Designer,” and on to “Gunsmoke,” which sounds like a half-speed Canned Heat on mushrooms.

Throughout the set, every song commands attention. Guitarist and vocalist, Jonathan Lesh plays his hollow-bodied electric high on his chest, layering ample slide guitar into the mix; the signature of their rolling bluesy sound. When they get heavy, drummer Ben Hughes smashes a tribal beat, spending lots of time on the toms with felt-tipped sticks, creating deep, dark rhythms. When they pare back on the heavy he moves seamlessly to a lighter, jazzier style. Their new bass player bounces around the stage like a heavy metal head banger while rounding out the rhythms nicely. If the musical spectacle is not enough, the light show, comprised of a dueling projector backdrop of psych video rounds out the experience and immerses the room in a multi-sense deeply heavy experience.

I bail out at midnight, about two-thirds of the way through Dead Meadow’s set with ears ringing, hoping to get home in time to wake up to the alarm on Monday morning, smiling from ear to ear following a completely satisfying Sunday night of music.  (George Dow)


Danny Klein’s 70th Birthday Party

Thunder Road Music Club, Somerville, MA


Danny Klein has long been known as the “ace of bass” ever since he became famous playing the low end for The J. Geils Band. His side project Full House celebrates the music of the J. Geils Band and they are equally well known for their great talent, incredible catalog, and for being a first rate party band. Danny’s on bass, Jim Taft’s powerful lead vocals, Dave Quintiliani on keys, background and occasional lead vocals, Steve Gouette on guitar and background vocals, Jeremy Esposito pounding drums and Rosy Rosenblatt blowing harmonica are red hot and sharp as a tack. You have to be when your sets consist of material from The J. Geils Band – still the best live show around today. Here’s the music: “Musta Got Lost,” “First I Look at the Purse,” “Love Stinks,” “Centerfold,” “Freeze Frame,” “Give It To Me,” “Homework,” “Sanctuary,” “Lookin’ For Love,” “Whammer Jammer,” “Detroit Breakdown,”Hard Drivin’ Man,” and “House Party.” Between sets pretty women serve cupcakes and pieces from a cake of a naked woman to the crowd. Make no mistake, these cats play for keeps and take no prisoners. Taft has the difficult job of fronting the band and singing the tunes that everyone is familiar with Peter Wolf doing. And he does it perfectly. Taft’s voice is fabulous and he doesn’t make the mistake of copying Wolf’s persona on stage. Each of these classic love and party songs have his drastically different and superb voice communicating their meanings. Gouette is a great guitarist who has the known riffs down pat and he adds his own very talented expertise to the solos too. Quintiliani ably takes over Seth Justman’s onstage role and his chops are funky when needed and always rocking. Esposito behind the kit powers this hard driving band, and Rosy’s unparalleled harp playing gives the band its soulful Detroit character. And of course, D.K. wrote the book on rock solid, driving r&b bass. A great club. A great night. Simply rockin’. Simply the best. (A.J. Wachtel)



Right Turn, Watertown, MA


Arriving late to Right Turn, I catch the end of a sultry set of love tunes by Glenn Williams. He is co-founder of Lowbudget Productions, a complete music and multi-media production facility in Roslindale. He’s also the founder of BNN-TV’s It’s All About Arts – supporting all kinds of artists around the Greater Boston area. His crooning accompanied by his guitar and ukulele obviously thrills the audience.

Phil Kaplan has been on the local scene for almost 40 years and has never failed to create an intelligent and fascinating musical congregation from his plethora of musical comrades. From the initial literate skronk of Men & Volts in the early ’80s to the bluesy growl of The Funeral Barkers or the hepped-up wackiness of The Roys in the ’90s to the suave mystique of his Indian-themed groups, Bangalore or Raag Billy Bop, and the jazzy sophistication of Little Bang (with the late great saxophonist David Sholl) in the new millennium, each passing venture has been marked with brilliant writing and arrangements. So, here we go again with a fine melding of all those previous elements in a new “power trio” called Twine, featuring David Kulik (his former cohort from The Roys) on drums and Dave’s nephew, Sam Kulik on bass and trombone.  With the hum of a Tampura (an electronic deep drone to help center oneself and stay in tune with the Earth Mother) soothing the audience, Twine launches into “July Rain,” a brand new tune, and “Mirouchelli,” both featuring fiery lead guitar from Phil on his gui’tarode (designed and tuned to emulate the Sarode, the other main stringed instrument in Indian classical music beside the Sitar). This music is driven by the incredible drum work from Dave – original, dynamic, patterned, and nuanced – a far cry from his recent stints in cover bands. Also adding to the textures was special guest, Ryan Lee Crosby, playing another unique Indian instrument, Hindustani slide guitar (a.k.a. mohan veena). What gorgeous sounds are flowing off the stage! A few more Indian themed tunes appear before Phil switches to rock guitar, which ratchets up the evening into hyperdrive. Another new tune, “White Rabbit Funk,” is exceptional as Sam adds his trombone to the mix and we are now soaring into jazzy groove. As a conclusion, we return to re-arranged versions of early Men & Volts songs, “Cafe Society” and “Foreign Tongue” and the cycle is complete and unbroken. A major debut triumph for some long-serving talents. Come on, kids – let’s go!  (Harry C. Tuniese)








Chetstock II

Once Ballroom, Somerville, MA


Tonight’s showcase is a benefit to fund the upcoming documentary on Chet’s – the legendary punk club that sat across the street from the Boston Garden. A portion of the proceeds will also go to help support the Pine Street Inn. Once Ballroom has two floors and the top one is being used for the non-stop interviews being filmed for the photo drama and are being conducted by Dan Vitale from Bim Skala Bim. Chet’s brother is here in the lights being filmed and I have to smirk at the family resemblance. This is mainly a garage punk night beginning with a stellar performance by Chelsea Clutch with Linda Viens fronting and vocalizing with Tim Sprague on guitar/vocals, Agent Judy on vocals and percussion, Tak Atak’s on bass, Mark Chenevert on sax, and drummer James Matthews start the night off with a solid set. I really dig Linda’s melodies on “Visitor” and “Same Stars.” The Hopelessly Obscure is up nest and led by Kenne Highland who is not commemorating the memory of Chet’s by wearing a kilt with no underwear. He is instead fully clothed and fully bearded and his five octave powerful voice is in full form. Joining him are Ken Kaiser (six strings), Matt Burns (drums), Mike Quirk (bass) and John Keegan (sax) are on full throttle as they slay the audience with “She’s My Best Bette,” “No Sleep ‘Til Gino’s,” and “Everything She Says Is Cryptic (She’s So Obscure).” Great garage punk folks. Then up is more great music from Classic Ruins. Frank Rowe (lead vocals/guitar), Carl Biancucci (bass), and Dave Kowalchek (drums) give a lesson on three piece punk at it’s best. Songs like “I Can’t Spell Romance,” and “Labatts” are still killer and the packed house is swaying to the steady beat. I haven’t seen Xanna Don’t live in two decades and I can’t wait to see and hear her tonight. Miss Don’t doesn’t disappoint. She still has a bouffant and she still sings those country ballads like Patsy Cline. Her band includes rockabilly ace guitarist Jittery Jack, Bill Hoar plucking four fat strings, Peter Phair on guitar, and drummer J. Arcari (Moving Targets). These cats play so well together and having Xanna sweep me off my feet with her voice is a real pleasure that reminds me of seeing her perform a lifetime ago. She just wails on “River of Red,” “Damaged Goods,” “Hellbound,” “Train to Satanville,” and my favorite “Common at Noon” written by John Felice from The Real Kids. The Kids show up a bit late and have to cut their set to just a few songs so that the production crew can stick to the night’s schedule. John Felice, Billy Cole and Judd Williams show why they are a legendary band. “The Girl Don’t Get Me,” “Bad To Worse,” and “My Baby’s Book” are shaking the walls of the roof right off this cool club. To end the night, bassist Reno Daly, guitarist Matt Gilbert and drummer Bubba McBride, who still play together in The Gravedancers, are joined by original rhythm guitarist Bribo, who comes back into the fold just for tonight, and they become Harlequin again. Only lead singer Mondo Lobotomy is missing. I dig their metal/garage songs “Checkpoint,” “Loose Cannons/Deliverance,” “Natives Are Restless,”and “Tiny Blips on Radar.” As I’m leaving the club it’s hard to think of punk as retro while I’m still sporting a mullet. A great night for a great cause. I think Chetstock III is being planned right now and the documentary is due out in October.  (A.J. Wachtel)



Hi-Hat, Lowell


On the eve of the release of their splendid new album, Say So, Bent Knee have hit the road for an extended summer tour to drum up further interest in their sensational career. Because we’re unavailable to see their Boston record release show at Once Ballroom the following week, we travel to Lowell instead. The Hi-Hat is a tiny foyer of a room with a beautiful stage and stained-glass windows as a backdrop. We miss a third opening act, Shiloh, but instead are treated to a lovely, indie synth-pop duo from Portland, Maine called Forget, Forget, comprised of guitarist Tyler DeVos and keyboardist Patia Maule. Their intertwined vocals are mesmerizing and blissful, with exquisite layering of instrumental effects to flesh out their sound. I guess they were formally a quartet, but have pared it down to the essentials. I’ve seen this stylistic presentation before, but they bring a fresh turn with energy and charming songs (“Your Kid Sister” or “All the Kids”). Definitely a talent to keep track of.
Now, the main act, Bent Knee! Everything I watched develop over the past 18 months has finally reached fruition. With a totally supportive indie label, proper representation, a booking agent ready to help them reach new audiences, and a sound so honed and determined, this art-rock-prog sextet is set to conquer. If their set tonight is any indication, they have merged the highlights of their past two albums into a can’t-miss showcase. Opening with Say So’s “Black Tar Water” segueing into “Leak Water,” they explode off the stage and the audience has immediately succumbed and stands numb. Following with two tunes from Shiny Eyed Babies – “In God We Trust” and “Being Human” – the ensemble is clicking on all cylinders.
In Bent Knee music, there are no extended solos or grandstanding that once formulated the progressive rock sound, just an intricate pivoting of interlocking parts that enhance each piece. I have heard precedents of this approach from the long-distant past, but to hear it contextualized in contemporary music is absolutely thrilling. With great songwriting and a sense of being, these youngsters are adept in passing the musical torch along with skill and assurance – brilliant.
Keeping it fresh in mid-set, they offer a brand new tune, “Lean Animal.” They continue the mix with “The Things You Love,” “Hands Up,” and “Battle Creek,” winding their way to the set (and album) closer, the gorgeous, meditative “Good Girl.” As the dynamic drops to just their vocals, they urge us to “turn that little light of yours off.” They finish and the audience is wild with enthusiasm, marching straight to the merch table. Hands up for success!   (Harry C. Tuniese)

If you’d like to start writing live reviews of New England acts of your choice, contact – please put LIVE REVIEW in the subject.


Live Reviews – June — 1 Comment

  1. Dear A.J. Thank you for the mention in your piece on Chetstock II. It was an honor to be included in the night, and getting a chance to revisit some old material with such a wonderful squad, (Judy, Linda, Tak, Matthew, and Mark) now, that’s special. Cheers, Tim Sprague