Killcode/Marlin Room At Webster Hall/December 2, 2014

Vocalist Tom Morrissey and guitarist Chas Banellis in 2008 began recording original songs at Banellis’ home studio in New York City. Adding personnel, Killcode released a self-titled debut album in 2012. Opening for Red Dragon Cartel at the Marlin Room At Webster Hall, Killcode’s songs were hard rocking, as raw as punk and also as heavy as metal, smoothed with classic rock dueling guitars and Southern rock vocal melodies. The band’s deep bottom sound at times made the songs sound as sludgy as a four-wheel drive in mud, but then Morrissey’s melodic vocals cleared the dirt from the windshield for rallying hooks and choruses. After having played on every New York stage several times, the hard-working Killcode has refined its sound and is now ready to revive and save classic rock.

Red Dragon Cartel/ Marlin Room At Webster Hall/December 2, 2014

While in high school in San Diego, California, Jakey Lou Williams changed his name to Jake E. Lee and formed a popular local band called Teaser. He then played briefly in Ratt, Rough Cutt, and Dio, but is best known for his five years as Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist. Afterwards, Lee was in Badlands for five years, released solo albums and occasionally played on other people’s albums, then formed Red Dragon Cartel in 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Red Dragon Cartel is presently Lee, vocalist Darren James “D.J.” Smith, Badlands bassist Greg Chaisson, and drummer Jonas Fairley. Headlining the Marlin Room At Webster Hall, Red Dragon Cartel opened with “The Ultimate Sin” featuring Lee’s trademark guitar riffs, but with Smith singing with bluesy soul, very unlike Osbourne’s version. Drawing a set from three Osbourne, five Badlands and five Red Dragon Cartel songs, Smith sang in his own style, often sounding much like Paul Rodgers in his Bad Company days. Harmonizing the various epochs into one sound, Red Dragon Cartel recalled dark, heavy and raucous classic rock, with melodic singing very much in front and guitar wizardry between lyrics. The night belonged to Lee, however. His dazzling, crushing guitar licks drove the songs to masterful levels. By his extended solo on the last encore, “Bark At The Moon” from the Osbourne era, the night had proved to be a showcase for Lee’s superior talents. Red Dragon Cartel’s concert was a time trip to classic, old-school, riff-rocking heavy metal.

Relient K/Gramercy Theatre/December 4, 2014

Vocalist/guitarist Matt Thiessen and guitarist Matt Hoopes formed Relient K in 1998, their junior year in high school in Canton, Ohio. The band released three studio albums in the Christian rock and punk market before hitting the mainstream in 2004 with MmHmm. At the Gramercy Theatre, Relient K celebrated the 10th anniversary of MmHmm by performing the 14 songs from the album in order, walked off the stage and then returned for an eight-song encore drawing from five other albums and a forthcoming album. The set sparkled with the band’s wry wit in songs like “The Only Thing Worse Than Beating A Dead Horse Is Betting On One” and “Which To Bury, Us Or The Hatchet,” with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that had little to do with the titles. While there was always something amusing in the lyrics and the performance, the band demonstrated a more serious side as well with “More Than Useless” and “Let It All Out,” and closing the main set with the emotional “When I Go Down,” featuring vulnerable lyrics pondering an internal struggle with sin and reconciliation with God. The audience got it; the fans bounced, cheered and sang along to virtually every song. The revelry continued through encores that began with “Sadie Hawkins Dance,” during which Robin (as in Batman and Robin) danced on stage and then dove into the audience for a bit of crowd surfing. Oddly, the band ended the concert by walking off stage to a blasting “Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, turning the wholesome Christian audience into ravers. As they exited the theater, many in the audience sang along to that hip-hop standard as well.

Madball/Marlin Room At Webster Hall/December 6, 2014

Freddy Cricien was seven years old when he tagged older half-brother Roger Miret of New York hardcore punk band Agnostic Front. In 1988, Agnostic Front formed a side band, Madball, around 12-year-old Cricien singing previously unused Agnostic Front songs. Several personnel changes later, Madball evolved into a separate band by 1994. Madball’s current tour celebrated the 20th anniversary of the band’s iconic 1994 debut album, Set It Off. At the Marlin Room At Webster Hall, the Set It Off songs served as Madball’s testament to New York’s original hardcore spirit and legacy, and fans responded with serious stage diving and moshing. Focusing more on heaviness than speed, the energetic set plowed through the hall like a meteor scraping planet Earth. Now 38 years old, Cricien has spent nearly four-fifths of his life committed to hardcore and for this homecoming gig poured himself out onstage. He roared from the gut as he paced the stage perpetually. Between songs, he frequently developed camaraderie by pep-talking the community of fans, occasionally in Spanish. The band then rallied with a catalogue of Set It Off songs and new songs like the anthemic “Doc Marten Stomp” and the flag-waving “Hardcore Lives.” Madball’s live rumble embraced and gave new life to New York’s rich hardcore tradition.

Smashing Pumpkins/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/December 8, 2014

Billy Corgan worked in a record store in the Chicago area when he formed the alternative rocking Smashing Pumpkins in 1988, writing Cure-inspired mope-rock. Corgan added personnel and the Smashing Pumpkins became one of the biggest selling bands of the 1990s, selling over 20 million albums in the United States alone. Internal disputes, drug use, and diminishing record sales led to a 2000 breakup, but Corgan began using the brand name again in 2007 with various lineups. At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, the Smashing Pumpkins was comprised of Corgan, guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Killers bassist Mark Stoermer and Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk. The band performed an almost two-hour set that featured five songs from the new album, 10 older songs, a cover of David Bowie’s “Fame” and concluded with an as-yet-unreleased song from a forthcoming album. With Corgan’s snarly vocals way up front and a hard and heavy power-pop behind him, the band opened without fanfare with the new “One And All (We Are)” and “Being Beige.” Often singing with eyes closed, Corgan sang angst-filled lyrics to a dense wall of sound driven largely by his and Schroeder’s power chords. With pop melodies competing against loud guitars, much of the music seemed delivered by a raging bulldozer, such that the few softer moments provided temporary sonic relief. Audience response was greater to familiar songs like “Hummer,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “Disarm,” “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” In all, the Smashing Pumpkins hosted a 1990s revival, grounded in re-tooled and refined alt-rock.

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