Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens/Bowery Ballroom/August 28, 2014

As a child, Naomi Shelton sang with her sisters at church services in Midway, Alabama. As an adult, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, and became a self-employed apartment cleaner and organizer, but never stopped singing. On Saturday nights she sang both spiritual and contemporary soul songs in local nightclubs, but on Sunday mornings she sang the rock of ages in church. Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens brought a vintage gospel soul to the Bowery Ballroom. Shelton, her three backing vocalists and her band performed a date-stamped soul music that was informed by the church. The simplicity of the musical arrangements, with rolling organ and funky groove, along with the soulful charm of the senior citizen at the main microphone won over the rock fans. Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens perform every Friday night at Fat Cat.

Reigning Sound/Bowery Ballroom/August 28, 2014

After playing in several garage rock bands, vocalist/guitarist Greg Cartwright formed Reigning Sound in 2001 in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Cartwright in 2004 relocated his family to Asheville, North Carolina, and revamped the band lineup. Once known as a fiery garage rock band, Reigning Sound performed a more than polished set at the Bowery Ballroom. Perhaps it was middle-aged maturity, but Reigning Sound muted and tamed its wilder side. The quintet was even joined by a violin and cello player for part of the set. The raw guitar licks of Cartwright’s past rave-ups were evident, but were now more contained and calculated, as he often sang closed-eyed while offering his best rhythm & blues vocal licks. On several songs, Cartwright appropriated a taste of country blues as well. Fortunately for fans of an earlier era, driving Elvis Costello-styled rock and roll remained the evening’s prevalent genre.

Joanna Gruesome/South Street Seaport/August 29, 2014

Joanna Gruesome was formed in 2010 in Cardiff, Wales, and is fronted by vocalist Alanna McArdle. The fuzz-pop quintet closed the South Street Seaport’s outdoor summer concert series and upon taking the stage quickly scared away many middle-aged middle-of-the-road types who came in lawn chairs hoping for pleasant music under the stars. The energetic band performed a short but noisy concert that bordered on indie art pop, riot grrrl, garage rock and discordant feedback dissonance. McArdle both spit out hardcore punk grunts and sang whispering melodies to jangling guitar chord rhythms and fast primal-punk drumbeats. The band’s attempt to bring a few brief breaths of delicate tenderness to its utterly aggressive brashness was clashingly cute.

Red Moon/The Bitter End/August 29, 2014

The Bitter End seems to be the club in New York to find classic rock-style bands. Red Moon are a gritty-sounding New York-based power trio performing original songs influenced by many contemporary sounds. Bronx-born vocalist/bassist Scott Fanzo offered gutsy, bluesy vocals over his funky bass progressions. Guitarist Rene Ferrer intoned the hard rock riffs and jazz-rock leads into the mix. Drummer Sergio Leccese kept the rock and roll beat. Red Moon brought back the innovative rock spirit that dominated the same venue some 40 years ago.

Burlap To Cashmere/The Bitter End/August 30, 2014

Vocalist/guitarist Steven Delopoulos, his then-14-year-old guitarist cousin, John Philippidis, and a childhood friend, drummer Theodore Pagano, formed Burlap To Cashmere in 1994. Additional musicians were added, and two years later the folk rock and world music ensemble began performing regularly at The Bitter End. Burlap To Cashmere made a splash with two albums in 1998, but road fatigue split apart the promising band. Burlap To Cashmere have returned to performing regularly at The Bitter End. Imagine Simon and Garfunkel singing to the music of the Gipsy Kings. Delopoulos and Philippidis sang crisp and vibrant harmonies to Delopoulos’ inspirational and poetic lyrics, Philippidis played speedy flamenco-style acoustic guitar, and the band backed them with hot, driving, foot-stomping Mediterranean rhythms.

Modern Life Is War/Bowery Ballroom/August 30, 2014

Modern Life Is War formed as a melodic hardcore band in 2002 in Marshalltown, Iowa, and released three albums before announcing its breakup in 2008. The original band reunited in 2012 and recorded new music in 2013. Modern Life Is War confirmed its reputation as a unique hardcore band at the Bowery Ballroom. Familiarly born of youthful anger and despair, orchestrated with brutally intense musical arrangements, many songs fueled moshing and stage diving. Nevertheless, the overall sound was darker than most hardcore punk music. Vocalist Jeffrey Eaton harshly screamed and growled some uncommonly vulnerable lyrics while the band played a dirge-like wall of sound that often approached death metal. The slower pace and light melodies combined with the thrusting assault of the instruments turned many of the songs into epic-sounding anthems of youthful resilience. This was primal angst, as abrasive and aggressive as it is supposed to be.

Counting Crows/Irving Plaza/August 31, 2014

Vocalist Adam Duritz and guitarist David Bryson formed Counting Crows as an acoustic duo in 1991 in San Francisco, California. They grew to become a band by 1993, and the first album that year sold seven million copies. At Irving Plaza, the first thing to note was that the stage lighting was brilliantly bright and that the sound was exceptionally crisp to where every voice and instrument was heard clearly at all times. The band performed old songs and new, but did not play anticipated songs like “Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows’ first hit. Appropriate for New York, the performance began with “Sullivan Street,” named after a street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood which Duritz now calls home. (Later, “Washington Square” also recalled the same locale.) Duritz sang soulfully, mostly with his eyes closed, as the band played a soft rocking country-styled backdrop. Next, a Romany Rye cover, “Untitled (Love Song),” a little more electrified, leaned toward Southern rock. Performing 22 songs in 90 minutes, the concert showcased all of the band’s finer abilities. Duritz was a thoroughly passionate singer, evoking hope and melancholy even when the message of his lyrics proved puzzling. The other musicians’ warm multi-part harmonies and stinging, biting rock and roll accompaniment spun on Duritz’s axis. The tapestries were woven tightly and pleasantly. Duritz’s charming anecdotes and song introductions further endeared the fanbase. The show felt like a very special evening with a classic rock band.

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