Ty Segall/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/September 17, 2014
Ty Segall was raised in Laguna Beach, California, but settled in San Francisco during college. The gritty Bay Area psychedelic-punk and garage-rock scene had a profound effect on the music he created with numerous local bands, but Segall was destined to be a prolific solo artist. At the first of two headlining shows at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Ty Segall and his band played a spirited rock set that cultivated moshing from the beginning. A metal barricade initially sectioned off a photographers’ pit, but it quickly started to tip in under the pressing crowd. An increasing force of security guards tried to push the barricade erect, but after a few songs, Segall asked the audience to step back so the barricade could be safely removed. From then on, stage diving ruled; even Segall leapt into the crowd three times. Segall opened with the lo-fi title-track of his current Manipulator album, snarling lyrics and playing crazy guitar leads to the band’s heavy-bottom backup. Over the next 80 minutes, Segall performed 13 songs from the 17-track double CD before launching into nine older songs and a cover of Wand’s “Fire On The Mountain.” Segall’s live set was a high-energy guitar-powered assault. Segall recreated ’60s guitar tones and played with reverb and feedback, making his fierce, ballsy fretwork a stomping counterpoint to his soft pop vocals and pop hooks. Segall did this with all the grace of a Laguna Beach surfer.
Sam Smith/United Palace Theatre/September 18, 2014
Sam Smith’s parents were impressed when they heard their eight-year-old singing one morning on the drive to school in Cambridgeshire, England. They placed their son in formal vocal training with a local jazz singer, and much of the boy’s childhood and adolescence was spent in choir and theater rehearsals and performances. Smith moved to London at the age of 18 and sang with Disclosure and Naughty Boy. At the United Palace Theatre, the 22-year-old singer opened with the sultry, haunting, piano-driven title-track from his Nirvana EP. He followed this with a song he originally sang for Disclosure, “Together.” After that came Smith’s specialty—a lengthy series of emotionally-charged heartbreak songs, beginning with “Leave Your Lover,” “I’m Not The Only One” and “I’ve Told You Now.” Smith’s luscious, soulful voice sounded best on these songs, as he flowed from alto to falsetto with ease. Sitting on a stool, Smith admitted his love of divas before covering Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” transforming the song from dance tune to an emotive, melancholic pop song. This style was limiting, however, because for all his talent as a singer, the set was largely comprised of sappy songs that sounded like they were born in a pre-rock era. For encores, Smith began with a slow, acoustic version of “Latch,” which he originally sang for Disclosure, then segued into “Make It To Me,” which he described as a “massive mating call,” and “Stay With Me,” on which the audience sang back to him. Accompanied by backup singers and a violin quartet, Smith cornered the market on contemporary schmaltz.
Stiff Little Fingers/Irving Plaza/September 20, 2014
As a schoolboy in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jake Burns sang and played guitar in a cover band called Highway Star, named after the Deep Purple song. The band switched to punk rock in 1977, at the height of the Troubles in the band’s homeland, and renamed itself Stiff Little Fingers after a Vibrators song. Stiff Little Fingers recorded politically-charged songs and became a pivotal punk band, but split acrimoniously in 1982 after nearly six years, four albums and many personnel changes. Burns revived the band five years later and remains the sole original member, but early bassist Ali McMordie rejoined in 2006. At Irving Plaza, Stiff Little Fingers mixed the punk of its earlier years with the pop of its later years. The band excelled most with its earlier catalogue, however, like “Wasted Life,” “Nobody’s Hero,” “Barbed Wire Love,” “Alternative Ulster” and a 10-minute version of “Johnny Was.” The band also fared well with new songs “My Dark Places,” a song originating from Burns’ personal bout with depression, and “When We Were Young,” which leaned toward country music. Burns sang well, was often personable between songs, and generally injected maturity into the 37-year-old band’s performance.
Shovels & Rope/Bowery Ballroom/September 22, 2014
Mississippi-born, Tennessee-bred Cary Ann Hearst and Texas-born, Colorado-raised Michael Trent were building solo careers when they met in 2002 at a gig in Charleston, South Carolina. They married in 2009, but generally recorded and performed separately. The couple finally committed to Shovels & Rope as a joint venture in 2012. Shovels & Rope brought a deadly Southern charm to the Bowery Ballroom: deadly in that the songs often described perilous times, and charming in that the harmonies made the danger sound so sweet. The opening song, “Swimmin’ Time,” with its catchy refrain of “I can see it coming,” forecasted a devastating flood or tsunami, for instance, while the two troubadours turned to face each other and looked longingly into each other’s eyes. The couple frequently appeared to be lovey-dovey, but the blue-collar story narratives were far from romantic. Drawing from solo albums as well as Shovels & Rope recordings, the lyrics were often snapshots of ordinary Americans having curious challenges or experiences. While the two usually sang entire songs together, Hearst’s brash and booming Dolly Parton-esque voice dominated, and Trent’s harmonies just made the songs sound more interesting. Throughout the evening, Hearst and Trent switched places, one person on guitar, the other with a foot on a bass drum pedal, a left hand hitting a snare drum and a right hand playing basslines on a small keyboard. It was a jamboree of traditional folk duet singing, bluegrass-styled lyrics, country rock melodies, Delta blues guitar licks and a healthy dose of rock and roll attitude, all rough around the edges.
After The Burial/The Gramercy Theatre/September 23, 2014
Guitarists Trent Hafdahl and Justin Lowe met in high school in Twin Cities, Minnesota. They founded After The Burial in 2004 and soon added bassist Lerichard “Lee” Foral into the progressive metal and “djent” band. The band has experienced two vocalist changes and two drummer changes and presently includes vocalist Anthony Notarmaso and drummer Dan Carle. At the Gramercy Theatre, After The Burial launched its set with “A Wolf Amongst Ravens,” the closing track from the Within Wolves album. Between harsh vocal verses, Notarmaso calmly surveyed the audience, as the band played a down-tuned mid-tempo groove leading to a high-end guitar lead. This was brutal metallic djent. An older song, “Cursing Akhenaten,” then revived the band’s former breakdown-laden percussion-thrashing machine-gun style. By the third song, “My Frailty,” both the musicians and the audience were bouncing high to the rhythms. There were accessible melodic lines, djenty grooves, searing chugs, patchwork riffs, coarse breakdowns, breakneck guitar solos and gruff vocals. After The Burial were experts in cohesive metalcore and grindcore.