Harvard General Store, Harvard, MA
On our way to the General Store, a unique venue in the center of bucolic Harvard, Mass., a regiment of Civil War re-enactors had set up their tents for the night. Seeing a group of bearded men in Grand Army of the Republic uniforms put us in a “time warp” state of mind that only continued as we went upstairs to see the much-heralded quintet, Town Meeting, with an opening solo show of swooping rock lieder Jessica Potts. This five-piece band has been gigging long enough to have more than 100 shows under their collective belt throughout New England. With their friendly, folky rock, they create a sound appealing to a fantastically diverse crowd.
Brothers Luke (guitar) and Ross Condon (cajón – a wooden box-shaped percussion instrument) anchored the stage, with third brother Brendan (Babe) on harmonica, and bassist/mandolinist Tim Cackett. Lead guitar is played by Dean Adrien, (formerly of Orphan, who has a long track record with stars like Jonathan Edwards and Tom Rush).
They have a fistful of lively, folky rock songs with gorgeous blended harmonies. “Missionary Street” matches a raggedy guitar rhythm with Adrien’s lively rock licks that make “lost soul” lyrics sparkle: “I woke up with a fat black eye and a suitcase torn apart/Well I’m not young anymore, oh no, no no.” (Yes, this is ironic, given the youth of 80 percent of the band). This was the fourth song in their show, which got the crowd (truly all ages, including my high school English teacher!) on their feet, and kept them there. A band to watch! Look up townmeetingmusic for more on them. (Sally Cragin)
Thunder Road Music Club, Somerville, MA
It’s always a real pleasure when Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin comes back to his hometown area for a gig and tonight’s performance is no exception. Back in Boston to support his latest release My Road (Vizztone Records), Margolin plays two sets packed with music and stories from his many years in the Muddy Waters Band right up until today and his new music. Known for executing hot Chicago blues licks My Road is a departure into country blues and tonight’s show showcases both sides of Bob’s tremendous talents. This evening is very cool on many different levels. I like the way the band comes in for sound check and spontaneously decides how they are going to set up onstage. They are a get together band of old friends playing tonight only. This is gonna be a loose and spur of the moment night by a veteran and top notch local blues artists that know exactly what they are doing. Rosy Rosenblatt on harp, Mike Mudcat Ward (Sugar Ray and The Blue Tones) on upright and electric bass and Mike Avery on drums sound tight, creative and inspiring together as bandleader Bob hand-motions the time for their solos to them. At the closing of one song the group ends precisely and Margolin smiles and appreciatively comments and notes to the crowd how they stopped together and on time. His casual talk throughout the night is the icing on the cake as he remembers old Boston landmarks and national legends to accompany his stellar performance..
The first set begins with one of Bob’s older Chicago blues songs “Boston Driving Blues” and follows with two songs from his new album. On the first, “Goodnight,” he plays searing slide guitar and dedicates it to the late local legend pianist David Maxwell, and the second, “I Shall Prevail,” sounds red hot and blue too. Next up is a cover of The Band’s “The Weight” and his verbal accounting of Levon Helm is a great way to personalize the song. Margolin can be seen in The Band’s movie The Last Waltz playing with Muddy and Levon and this cover, done as a country blues tune, is very passionate and intimate. Then comes “Mannish Boy” from Muddy’s catalog and a high point of this song is when, at one point, he puts down his ancient Fender Telecaster with the very worn fret board and starts talking about his time with Muddy. I love hearing him say: “You can’t take it with you….but Muddy did.” Up next is a killer cover of an old Little Walter song “Just Keep Loving Her” a thumping and jumping tune with a beautiful line: “I just keep going. I don’t know the reason why.” A great tune. Then the band brings it up a notch with the classic “How Long Blues” that changes mid-song into Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say?” And the crowd goes wild and the dance floor quickly fills up. It’s fab when Rosy and Bob play off each other for a few measures then play the exact same riff together a few moments later. Inspiring and real tight and real loose at the same time. Little Walter makes a recurrence in the next tune “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” where right in the middle of an incredible guitar lick Margolin opens his mouth and howls “Yeah!” And me and everyone in the audience knows exactly how he feels.
The second set has more of Muddy with Bob solo on “Rollin’ and Tumbin’” and Mudcat on upright joining him on “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” Bob tells a story about how the original was released in 1949 with only two people playing on it too, and that this is his favorite song. He also tells about how he was once in another room at Muddy’s house trying to get the playing right for this tune and he hears Muddy scream “WRONG!” from the next room where he is drinking champagne while eating dinner. As the crowd laughs he continues “I hope I got it right for you now.” Trust me. It’s perfect. The final Waters cut is “Long Distance Call,” and Margolin’s passion in his playing and singing makes this song stand out and a great tribute to his late friend and master. As the music continues, Bob brings up Ilana Katz Katz to play her tasty appalachian country blues violin and Dan Rubinstein on trumpet, and they finish the set playing masterfully and memorably together. Hearing each musician solo and then play together is the best onstage blues jam I’ve seen and heard all year. Between sets, local artist Paul Lowe presents Bob with an impressive painting of Johnny Winter, Bob and Muddy Waters onstage and it’s pretty cool to see how talented fans shows their appreciation. A hat’s off has to go to Charlie Abel and Dan Millan for bringing this great act to their club and to door man John Rusk and bartender Bart Williams for their productive parts in making this a historic night. (A.J. Wachtel)
Melissa’s, Stoneham, MA
Okay, I’m confused. I think I’m going to see a couple of acts tonight – one being my buddy Kier Byres playing in what is dubbed Two Day Threshold. But when I arrive at Melissa’s in Stoneham, Fil Pacino is set up to play and I ask him if he he’s seen Kier. He informs me that Kier is playing tomorrow night. I realize the mistake I’ve made and sit down at the table closest to Fil and get myself into live review mode – my pen and blank sheet of paper sit before me.
Fil starts his first set of the night by nimbly building up layers of rhythm guitar, percussion and bass all looped together before he breaks into the vocals of Bill Withers’ soulful “Use Me.” Fil combines a delicate touch with vigorous delivery, all while keeping the volume totally in check for his audience that is being served dinner and drinks. The room is small with only five tables and an eight-seat bar. There’s a walkway through to another room for those who want a quiet dinner experience. But they don’t know what they’re missing. In a black T-shirt and jeans, the dark haired, bearded and tattooed Mr. Pacino comes off friendly and super confident in his broad selection of songs. He combines Men At Works’ “Down Under” with Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and works up another pile of looped tracks to solo over. He masterfully takes on Zeppelin’s “Going to California” with all it’s finger picking, and vocally pulls off what Robert Plant made a stretch for every lead singer of a cover band to come. Fils’ Taylor acoustic guitar lays in a nice bed of reverb, softening the decay of his graceful and speedy playing. He says people think he’s worked up some Prince songs as a tribute, but stands his ground that he has been playing these tunes long before the departure of our missed purple superstar. “Raspberry Beret” follows. His audience perks up as the night rolls on. They slowly realize that Fil’s contribution to the room is a bit more entertaining than their conversation or the Sox on the tube losing to the Mariners. I check my watch and Fil has been playing for over an hour and has yet to break a sweat. He takes on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and digs deep for those low vocal melodies. An old friend, Debbie Catalano, shows up – she books and promotes Melissa’s. We talk between Fils’ songs. She is obviously a big fan of Mr. Pacino’s. Fil gets into a discussion of how it is possible to include Johnny Cash and Justin Bieber in the same set – he proves it by launching in Bieber’s “Sorry” – coloring it in a way only Fil can. After his jazzy/soulful rendition of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” he final takes a break – his one and a half hour set has kept my ears perked at all times.
It’s time for more people to hear what the talented Fil Pacino has to offer. Look him up, check him out, and see if you agree with me that he’s a total standout solo performer. (T Max)
The Regattabar, Cambridge, MA
Seeing a show at The Regattabar on the third floor of The Charles Hotel in Harvard Square is always a cool experience. I love how there is no raised stage. The musicians play right on the floor, in front of a bunch of little tables, where every seat is no more than twenty feet away from the main audio action. This two hundred and twenty seat jazz club is the perfect place to see Duke’s tight and talented quartet. Being just an arm’s length away while this red hot and blue band explodes right in front of you is an incredible experience you just don’t get in many clubs today. The audience becomes an immediate part of the event and that adds a lot to tonight’s excitement.
Starting out with the slow Chicago blues inspired original instrumental “Jesse’s Blues,” the band plays an 11-song, hour and 40 minute set complete with a cool cover encore of Tom Wait’s “Make It Rain” that Robillard still plays years after playing it ‘every night’ on their 2006 tour together. This band is my new favorite band in Boston. Duke on guitar, Bruce Bears on grand piano and electric keys, Mark Teixeira pounding and Brad Hallen on upright and electric bass. These cats play traditional and jump/ swing blues better than anyone else around today. Their tribute to Albert King on their upcoming September CD release Blues Full Circle, “Lay A Little Lovin’ On Me,” their tribute to B.B, “I’m Gonna Get You Told,” their tribute to T. Bone Walker “You Don’t Love Me And I Don’t Even Care,” and their tribute to John Lee Hooker “Want Ad Blues” mixed with original songs from his huge catalog are making this the perfect night for blues lovers. I really dig the set up of the band. In all the compositions, Mark and Brad are the rhythm section with Bruce sometimes joining their drive and other times dueling it out with Duke. He plays his ivories like a second guitarist and they riff off each other like a husband and wife. Other times, Duke will be playing great guitar wah wah wah wah-waaaaaah, and all of a sudden the band will accentuate his playing by collectively going wah wah wah wah-waaaaaah right along with him. And then they go back to their previous momentum and instrument parts. Very cool. Stand-out songs include Duke’s “You’re About As Welcome As A Fatal Heart Attack” he calls his theme song, the funky “Fishnet,” “The Blue Coat Man,” an uptempo shuffle about when cops come to raid your party, and Les Paul’s “Just Because” where I hear a few notes of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” mixed in with his solo. Les Paul always would play a few notes from another well known song in the middle of his tunes so this inside tip of the hat to Mr. Paul might only be noticed by a handful of people here, but it’s a very cool gesture in my book.
Many many moons ago Duke formed Roomful of Blues and tonight many of his jazz/ swing/ funk blues melodies sound like his former band – without the horns. A really big sound and interesting approach for four artists onstage. And the thick sound of his guitar tone is simply marvelous. I also really enjoy the dynamics they employ all of a sudden it gets so quiet you can hear a pin drop and from being seated so close to the performance this adds a real dramatic and special feeling. It also makes tonight extraordinary and exceptional. (A.J. Wachtel)
BENT KNEE /
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)
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